It’s the first wholly Tory Queen’s Speech since 1996 and David Cameron is in a hurry to get things done. That’s sensible politics because the grim reaper and rebel backbenchers may erode his fragile majority. Also after the EU referendum, the clamour will rise for him to depart. The downside is that the 20 odd bills are rammed through without proper scrutiny in the first session of the parliament in contrast to the zombie session that is likely in 2019-20. Our poor legislative calendar leads to poor laws.

The programme reflects the Conservatives breaking free from the Lib Dems and business will welcome many of the proposals. The Enterprise Bill promises to cut red tape (where have we heard that before?) and sets up a conciliation service to deal with disputes between firms. The “Tax Lock” Bill has been criticised by former Chancellor Nigel Lawson, and quite right too. Passing a law to stop rises in income tax, VAT and National Insurance is unwisely restrictive. It shows how low political credibility has shrunk and there are ways round the income tax pledge anyway. The bill to let housing association tenants buy their homes will do nothing to deal with the underlying problems of the housing market. There are already signs of overheating in the South East now that the threat of a mansion tax has gone away.

One had hoped that in, what is effectively a second term, the Conservatives would have introduced wide ranging constitutional reform to deal with ending two tier local government and the House of Lords amongst other things. Instead a piecemeal approach is being adopted. Scotland will get devo max whilst Ministers hope to make low key changes to parliamentary standing orders to introduce English votes for English laws. Then we will have a bill to give power over transport, housing, planning and policing to northern cities. And that’s it. The interim elected mayor for Greater Manchester is due to be announced this afternoon. It may be a close vote between current Combined Authority leader Peter Smith and Police Commissioner Tony Lloyd.

Trade Union members are going to have to opt in to contribute to the Labour Party in a bill that also raises the threshold for calling strikes. We now need a bill to allow customers to deduct an amount from the price they are charged by companies that fund the Tory Party.

It is good news that the EU Referendum Bill will define the question to be asked, “Should the UK remain in the EU?” That gives those of us supporting our continued membership the opportunity to be on the bright positive “yes” side whilst the better off out brigade will be associated with the negative “no” proposition.


Manchester University is on a roll under the leadership of Vice Chancellor Nancy Rothwell. The institution is embracing the Northern Powerhouse with all the opportunities for business and the academic world to work together.

Now Lord Peter Mandelson wants to lend his shoulder to the wheel by becoming Chancellor. It is an honorary position but one where he could use his worldwide contacts to benefit the university. In government he had responsibility for higher education policy and was a northern MP.

He obviously brings some political baggage but he would be a high profile successor to Urban Splash boss Tom Bloxham.

Mandelson is opposed in the election by writer and broadcaster Lemn Sissay and the Music Director of the Halle Orchestra Sir Mark Elder.





The more the opinion polls stay stuck, the greater the frenzy of politicians to try and get them moving in their favour by a series of uncosted promises.

All parties are guilty of it to some extent but the Conservatives are particularly guilty. This was encapsulated by the here today and hopefully gone tomorrow Communities Secretary Eric Pickles. He announced the other day that workers would be given three paid days off to do community work. When he was asked how organisations like the NHS were going to pay the huge cost of employing people to cover for absent colleagues, he had no answer. He was reduced to saying “they’ll find a way.” When pressed by the exasperated interviewer, Pickles tried humour saying his answers were getting in the way of the BBC’s questions. Very droll Eric but not good enough.

The questions about where the cuts are going to be made will continue to be asked but the truth is no politician is going to risk pinpointing the specific groups who are going to face cuts until after the election. You can see why but it all adds to the rampant distrust that voters have for those standing for election.

Thank heavens for Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies. As the promises flow from the manifestos, he points out how many are uncosted. He also bemoans the short sightedness of this frenzy of retail politics. For instance in the housing field what we need are comprehensive plans to build more homes not the gimmick of selling off housing association properties.

Thank heavens also for the International Monetary Fund which has forecast that at the end of the next parliament, far from having a £7bn surplus, we are likely still to have a deficit. With all these spending promises and the likelihood of a Tory minority government being unable to force through big cuts, the IMF forecast has the ring of truth.


There will be little reporting by the media of the manifesto promises on devolution for the north.

The Conservatives confirm their support for the Northern Powerhouse, HS2 and 3, and science research. The Liberal Democrats would pass a Devolution Enabling Act to allow for the possibility of a Yorkshire Assembly.

Unlike the Tories, Labour are not demanding elected mayors in return for devolution. Hilary Benn, the shadow Communities Secretary says it is unfair for Leeds to have been given less powers than Manchester because it would not bend the knee to the concept of an elected mayor. Labour is also offering devolution to county regions. It is time Lancashire and Yorkshire’s needs were recognised alongside the cities.


Can the Liberal Democrats hold on to one of their safer seats in the North when the incumbent MP has retired? Andrew Stunell was the member for nearly twenty years and it could be difficult for Lisa Smart to retain the constituency even though she has been bequeathed a six thousand majority. Ms Smart was chief executive of an international development charity in London. If she does hold on she will help to redress the male domination of the parliamentary Lib Dem party.

Hoping to win the seat for the Tories is teacher and local resident William Wragg. His top issue is reform of the business rate. Hoping not to be squeezed out by the Lib Dem/Tory fight is Labour’s Michael Taylor, a familiar figure to Downtown in Business members, he wants a workforce that can make Britain competitive.

Votes lost by the Conservatives to UKIP could be crucial here. UKIP’s candidate is financial advisor Darren Palmer.




The Confederation of British Industry has a confused position on devolution. This week its Director General, John Cridland,described the plethora of regeneration schemes like City Deals and Growth Funds as “a tower of Babel” that business had to try and cope with. He also complained about the multiple tiers of government, particularly with local councils in the shires, and accused politicians of doing devolution by deadline with back door deals. He told an audience in Manchester we needed to take things gradually and allow all voices to be heard.

So I asked Mr Cridland whether he would support a Constitutional Convention so that the CBI, along with everyone else, could have their say in shaping a coherent solution to a range of issues from the governance of the North and business support to the future shape of local government and the Local Enterprise Partnerships; he refused to commit himself. This was because we are in a General Election campaign and it is Labour Party policy to have a Convention. However in other answers he made it clear he favoured the sort of piecemeal approach to devolution which is likely to lead to the continuation of the confused picture of Combined Authorities, two tier councils, elected mayors and centralised government support schemes that we have now.

Despite this muddled thinking Cridland did make an important speech outlining how business sees devolution. Its central purpose had to be getting the regions to perform better. The CBI chief reckoned they could contribute £56bn towards the deficit of £90bn.

For the UK as a whole he regarded it as essential that we retain common business taxation and financial rules as well as a common energy and labour market.

For English regions he had three criteria for growth friendly devolution. They were evidence that it would boost growth, better local leadership and the minimisation of bureaucracy and complexity.

The CBI is dead against tax varying powers in City Regions. He reminded his Manchester audience of the years before uniform business rates when companies had to lobby each local council and rates varied wildly.

He however did support local tax retention schemes like Manchester’s buy back arrangements.

He praised the devolution deal that Greater Manchester had negotiated but posed the vital question about what happens to the rest of the North? Well Mr Cridland that’s the sort of issue that could be addressed in a comprehensive Constitutional Convention which the CBI needs to support.


Could we see the Straw dynasty survive in the new parliament? Jack Straw is standing down in Blackburn and there had been speculation that his son, Will, would succeed him.

But, unlike America where you can be President providing you are called Clinton or Bush, here we don’t care for dynastic politics. So Will is trying his hand in the much more marginal nearby seat of Rossendale and Darwen. Part of the constituency has Blackburn as its local council but it includes the south Lancashire communities of Rawtenstall and Bacup as well.

It has swung between Labour and the Tories over the years. Currently Jake Berry holds the seat with a majority of under five thousand having ousted Labour’s Janet Anderson in 201




The Scottish independence vote and immigration into the UK were dominant themes in 2014, but for all the talk little has been resolved. The Scots voted no but the Scottish National Party could soon be holding the whip hand over a weak minority government at Westminster.


Then there’s the issue of our national identity. It is becoming clear that we are not going to be able to stop free movement of labour within the EU. So do we feel so passionately about immigration that we want to risk our economic future outside the EU?


Both these questions remain unresolved at the end of a year which has seen much debate on how we should be governed both nationally and in the North. Even before the Scottish vote Chancellor George Osborne had launched his northern powerhouse concept. It was the beginning of a period of extraordinary activity by Osborne on this subject. There can be few hi tech or manufacturing plants in the north of England that has not had a visit from George. It culminated in the devolution deal done with Greater Manchester and his insistence on imposing a mayor for the conurbation to be elected in 2017. Similar deals for Leeds, Sheffield and Liverpool have not been concluded as wrangling continues about elected mayors and leadership.


The prospect of a powerful Scotland to our north has stimulated debate on what happens outside the city regions. There are signs that Lancashire’s fourteen councils may be getting their act together to bid for a county region and a Yorkshire Party has been formed. I remain of the view that a council of the whole north is the answer. It is already in embryonic form in organisations like Rail North and One North but it should have powers beyond transport.


The economy has continued to recover with unemployment falling along with inflation to the point where people are asking if a 1% inflation rate is a bad thing. Strange days indeed for those of us who lived through the roaring inflation of the 1970’s. But issues like low wages, the budget deficit, low growth in Europe, China and Russia remain dark clouds on the horizon.


Politically the year has been dominated by the rise of UKIP. In the North West and Yorkshire they secured six MEPs in the European elections, ending the long European career of Lib Dem Chris Davies in the North West. Tory Sir Robert Atkins also left the stage whilst Labour have a completely new team in the region, although little has been heard from them so far. In Yorkshire two stalwarts Richard Corbett (Labour) and Tim Kirkhope (Conservative) survived the UKIP surge.


Labour held its two by elections in the North West (Wythenshawe and Heywood) but UKIP’s John Bickley stood in both and came second, indeed he nearly won in Heywood and Middleton. UKIP also got councillors elected, spectacularly so in Rotherham. People keep asking if they have peaked. Not yet it seems.


So where do the parties stand at year end. The Conservatives have had a better year because of the economic recovery but still show no sign of getting enough support to win outright in 2015. David Cameron remains unloved by many of his backbenchers.


Ed Miliband has had a poor year as Labour leader, but may have picked on a gem of an idea in suggesting the Tories want to make deep cuts for ideological reasons to create a smaller state. However the people’s minds are largely made up against him and the party will have to try and win despite him.


There has been little comfort for the Lib Dems in the north. They did hold on to their councillors in places like South Lakes, Southport and Stockport but look set for the day of reckoning nationally in May. The Greens have begun to benefit by attracting disillusioned Labour and Lib Dem supporters particularly on the issue of fracking.

We marked the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War this year. Our horrors are on a smaller scale than theirs but ISIS and the Taliban remind us that we live in a world where we can land a probe on a distant comet but still resolve our differences in ways little changed from the Dark Ages.


Have a peaceful Christmas.