Following difficult local council results, party gate and MPs sex scandals, the government will be desperate to change the agenda next week.

Their opportunity will come in the Queen’s Speech setting out their programme of bills. It is likely to be the last substantial tranche of legislation before the next election.

The problem is that the cost-of-living crisis which really matters to people is not easily solved by passing new laws, so ministers will have to try and please people in other ways.

Indications are that rather than move to a more consensual middle ground in the run up to the next election, the Queen’s Speech will contain a number of measures with a true-blue tint.

A bill to replace the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights will raise alarm bells, the privatisation of Channel Four is unnecessary, harmful to northern independent production companies and ideologically driven. There will be more support for giving the government the right to override the Parole Board over the release of Tier 1 offenders.

There will also be support for the Economic Crime Bill to further tighten sanctions on the Russians, more power for renters over landlords and a ban on conversion therapy. In the latter case controversy will continue the exclusion of trans people from the bill.

Some measures have been carried over from the last parliamentary session. These include the bill to protect people from online harm, a measure to guarantee free speech on university campuses (it is a scandal that this is even needed) and the legislation paving the way for the HS2 line from Crewe to Manchester. It will be interesting to see whether it will provoke debate over how the line ends at Piccadilly. The government want to bring the line in on an elevated overground route while the local solution is to take it underground.

There is some political significance in what is not going to be before parliament in the coming year. Faced with a choice of backing radical measures to meet the need for new houses or appease Tory backbenchers in their leafy constituencies, the government have backed the later. In place of the planned planning bill there will be a Levelling Up measure. It is not clear what this will contain of importance to the North, but it is expected landlords may be compelled to rent out empty retail units

The Energy bill will also see concessions to backbenchers over on shore windfarms. The knotty issue in this measure will be the government’s attempt to replace gas boilers with heat pumps in millions of homes.

Thankfully there seems little prospect of the government trying to curb judicial review or trying to scrap the Northern Ireland Protocol with legislation.


Now that the local polls are out of the way, we can turn our attention to a couple of fascinating by elections. Wakefield and Tiverton provide an ideal opportunity for Labour and the Lib Dems to ambush the Tories.

I would get Ed Balls to stand in Wakefield with a paper Lib Dem candidate whilst Labour would soft pedal in Devon giving the Lib Dems the chance to come from third place to win as they did in North Shropshire.



Next Thursday’s local elections are in many ways more significant for Labour than the Conservatives. The governing party is expected to do badly midterm and the opposition to sweep all before it.

The conditions for Sir Keir Starmer to do well are all in place. There is a serious standard of living crisis with people not only unable to see their finances getting better, but in many cases worrying whether to heat or eat. The Prime Minister can’t shake off Partygate and many members of the Cabinet don’t seem up to the job.

And yet support for Labour is nowhere near that golden period in the mid-nineties when Macclesfield was the only Tory authority in the North of England. The other problem for the party is that they already control most of the councils that are up for election. This is principally a poll of London and urban England; the Tory heartlands are not up for grabs.

Most of these seats were last contested in 2018. It was only four years ago but much has happened since then. The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, did quite well because Prime Minister Theresa May was becoming mired in her attempts to get a Brexit deal.


Let’s first of all say that there are no elections in Cheshire, or Liverpool. In the latter case that’s probably just as well for Labour. Following numerous scandals, the city is to have all out elections next year. Meanwhile eight Labour councillors have left to form the Liverpool Community Independents having refused to support budget cuts.

Most elections are for a third of the council, a system that is increasingly being criticised as confusing and not allowing for a definitive test of public opinion. The number of councils adopting all out polls is growing, with St Helens adopting that model this year. All outs will also be held in Rochdale and Bury.

Bury has had visits from both Johnson and Starmer, a sure sign that the town is maintaining its reputation as a bellwether of the nation. Labour is in charge, but Independents have been making gains in its stronghold of Radcliffe

The Lib Dems continue to flatline but have some hopes in Stockport. Their bid to lead the hung authority last year was thwarted by the Tories who preferred a Labour minority administration. If the Lib Dems, under their capable leader Mark Hunter, can make a couple of gains, expect him to seek to lead the authority.

Labour’s main target in Greater Manchester is Bolton where the Conservatives are hanging on with just twenty-two of the sixty seats and the support of three other parties.

In Lancashire Labour are targeting Rossendale and West Lancs and hope to make progress in Burnley. Pendle is always in the balance. This time expect the Tories to lose overall control.

Wirral Council should be a pick up for Labour but Greens or even the Tories could deprive them of full power.

Finally, the most dramatic change will be seen in Cumbria. The county and all six district councils are being abolished next year, so elections are taking place for the new unitary councils that will replace them. Cumberland is difficult to call because of the number of independents whilst Westmoreland and Furness could be a battle between the Labour stronghold of Barrow and the Lib Dems in the South Lakes.



We have reached the nightmare scenario. A deranged world leader, Vladimir Putin, in control of nuclear weapons. A deluded country that generally seems to be supporting his ghastly atrocities, and opponents who are racing to accommodate themselves to the new world order.

I don’t want to be alarmist, but we really are on the brink of a dangerous escalation in the Ukraine crisis.

For how long are we prepared to stand by while the heroic Ukrainian people see more and more of their territory occupied by the marauding Russian Army? In a horrible way our supplying of arms is prolonging the agony. It certainly gives rise to the accusation that we are letting Ukrainians die for our interest.

The escalation can come in a number of ways. What if a stray Russian missile lands on Polish territory? It could be an accident. Lviv is only a few miles from the Polish border, and it is very possible that an incompetent Russian soldier could put inaccurate guidance information into the targeting mechanism.

How would we know if it was an accident or yet another effort by Putin to test our resolve? Would we accept Russian assurances it was an accident? I hope not because that would make a mockery of our warnings to Putin not to attack an inch of NATO territory.

So, a military response would be necessary. It is likely we would conduct one attack on Russia in the Donbas. Then the world must hold its breath and hope Putin takes his “punishment.”

If not, I can see the conflict rapidly escalating beyond Ukraine’s borders. In a conventional war I believe NATO will prevail. China will not get involved and we would knock out Russia’s air force and liberate Ukraine.

However, it is highly unlikely Putin would not resort to chemical, biological and ultimately nuclear weapons to prevent such a humiliation.

Another trigger for war could be an incident in the Baltic Sea as Putin attempts to dissuade, or protest against, Finland and Sweden, joining NATO. And finally, we may just be shamed into taking action if Russia conquers the Donbas and then attempts to take the rest of Ukraine.


One has no sense that people in the West are prepared for war with Russia. Most people seem to think, awful as it is, it will be contained in the Donbas. Well, I hope I have shown this could be wrong thinking.

NATO has shown considerable resolve since the invasion but there are questions over two key allies France and Germany. As Frank McKenna explains in his blog this week, an unlikely victory for Marie Le Pen in France this weekend would confuse things mightily. And Germany which should be at the forefront in this crisis is compromised by dependence on Russian energy and on underspending on its armed forces.

Despite these concerns, I still maintain that NATO, with the United States fully engaged, can prevail.

However, we need to get mentally prepared for what a full-scale war means.


I hope desperately I am wrong and other scenarios will play out.

It may be that Putin will take the Donbas and stop. A low-key war of attrition may go on for years, but he will have succeeded in taking land by force. In those circumstances we must maintain full sanctions. We don’t want the spectacle of nations and business slowly returning to business as usual.

Sanctions must be maintained and increased until surely the army, oligarchs or the people of Russia depose Putin and decide against all the traditions of their history that the West is not an enemy and wants to embrace the ordinary Russian people in the international family.



It is a comment on the state of our politics that many Tory MPs are not calling for Boris Johnson’s resignation because there is no credible alternative.

The Prime Minister should be gone, partly for breaking Covid rules, but mainly for flagrantly misleading parliament with his assurances that there were no parties, and no rules were broken. No sophistry about blaming civil servants for not informing him will do. The rules about not misleading parliament don’t include get out get out of jail provisions relating to poor advice received.

Crude politics is in play. The spectacular decline in the fortunes of the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has left the Conservatives short of credible candidates to take over with Johnson’s brand of being a certain election winner.

The Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is the bookies favourite. I would back Preston’s Ben Wallace who has enhanced his reputation with his arms support for Ukraine. He is a reasonable centrist Tory but has a low national profile. Johnson’s challenger in 2019 for the Tory leadership, Jeremy Hunt, is mentioned by many commentators. He is a fairly vanilla figure and certainly lacks any claim to be an obvious vote winner. A complete outsider is Tom Tugendhat. As Chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, he was calling for the West to take a much tougher stand on Ukraine before Russia’s invasion.

But all this speculation about runners and riders is otiose at the moment because Johnson is determined to carry on. If the local elections are a disaster and the cost-of-living crisis continues to mount, things might change. I was struck by a panel of experienced political commentators who this week all thought Johnson would lead the party into the next election.


The Prime Minister’s ability to brush off his fine is partly linked to the public’s lowered expectation of the behaviour of those in public and private office.

We have two MPs convicted of serious offences still in the Commons. We have had a series of scandals where individuals in charge have not been made fully accountable. Hillsborough, the contaminated blood scandal, sub post masters, maternity care at Shrewsbury and Morecambe Bay and cladding. The list goes on and on.

I can recall politicians in the past who have resigned from public office when, it turned out, there was no reason for them to do so. They did it because they felt, on balance, it was the honourable thing to do.

Now all the effort is put into finding some way to wriggle off the hook, find a form of words that will do or blame other people.

It might save their miserable careers in the short term but let’s hope the public rouse themselves from cynical lethargy to ensure we are once again led by people we can respect.