Not for the first time Westminster has disrespected the local election process. The constitutional innovation of electing mayors for some of our great conurbations next Thursday should be at the centre of political attention at the moment. Instead it will be largely ignored as we focus on the June General Election. Theresa May is not the first Prime Minister to do this and won’t be the last.

It is difficult to judge what effect the calling of the General Election will have on the mayoral races in Greater Manchester and the Liverpool City Region (LCR)but it is unlikely to help turnout. In his blog this week Downtown’s CEO Frank McKenna says a poll of over 25% in LCR will give the winner credibility. It is a commentary on the low expectations we have of local democracy when such a case can be argued.

It has also been suggested that people will vote “down the ballot”. This might help the Conservatives, the argument being that people are making up their minds about where their political preference lies this summer. If they have concluded that Strong and Stable Government (I’m already fed up with it too) is the answer they will vote Caldera/Anstee in the mayoral elections and May in June. May in June! Boom! Boom!

Caldera is Tony Caldeira, the Cotton King of Knowsley. A successful soft furnishings businessman he has impressed people at the hustings. He stresses his contact with government ministers and his call for a register of brownfield sites for housing is a sensible one. Caldera is an example of a Merseyside Conservative in the tradition of David Hunt (ex Wirral West) or Malcolm Thornton (ex Crosby). He’s a One Nation Tory who doesn’t lay on his conservatism too thickly. I don’t think he’ll win but he deserves to be selected for a winnable seat in the General Election.

Victory in the Liverpool City Region will almost certainly go to Labour candidate, Steve Rotheram, representing “the place I love”. His central policy aims are the reregulation of buses, drives for skills and affordable housing and zero carbon city region by 2040. It had been expected that Rotheram’s victory would have started a running battle with the city of Liverpool’s elected mayor Joe Anderson who wanted the city region job. It now looks possible that Anderson will succeed Rotheram as MP for Walton if Labour’s National Executive doesn’t prefer Seb Corbyn, the party leader’s son.

Greater Manchester also has a good Tory candidate. As leader of Trafford Council, Sean Anstee was a significant broker between the Tory government and Labour controlled Manchester Council in drawing up the devolution deal. While all the other candidates criticise plans to build houses in the greenbelt, Anstee points out that tearing up the Spatial Strategy will allow speculative development to continue.

The likely winner, Labour’s Andy Burnham, says there has been too much concentration on building luxury flats in the city centre and executive homes on the main roads. He wants free bus passes for 16-18 year olds and improved connectivity between the outer boroughs.

There’s plenty of time for the General Election campaign after May 4th. Next Thursday let’s concentrate on who would be best to run the county of Lancashire and the city regions of Liverpool and Manchester.

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This week saw some significant developments in the roll out of devolution in Greater Manchester at least. It was always going to take a lot to fill the shoes of Sir Howard Bernstein, the retired Chief Executive of Manchester City Council, so it is no surprise that we now have two Chief Executives, Joanne Roney running the city and Eamonn Boylan the Combined Authority(CA).

I was in the new CA headquarters on Oxford Street last week and reflected that exactly 43 years ago I walked into County Hall on Portland Street, the Greater Manchester Council’s new HQ. In 1974, It was felt it was a good idea to have a strategic authority for the whole county. After a costly abolition in 1986, we are now back to square one in some ways, although having an elected mayor may make it different.

While the devolution band wagon is visible in the Greater Manchester and Liverpool city regions, elsewhere in the North the roll out is patchy and incoherent with a great deal of uncertainty about how far meaningful devolution will extend beyond the Liverpool and Manchester City Regions. Lord Porter, the Tory chair of the Local Government Association thinks devolution is dead because the government has encountered petty squabbling in areas of two tier local government or opposition to the concept of elected mayors in more rural areas.

That is an extreme view. Whilst it is true that Brexit is a major distraction in all departments and that the Communities Secretary Sajid Javid remains in an inactive sulk having been moved from his role as Business Secretary, there was enough energy and ideas at the recent NP conference in Manchester to convince me that the project is not dormant. But if business outside the Manchester and Liverpool City Regions want similar packages they need to knock politicians heads together across the rest of the North.


Leeds is the greatest underperformer so far. This great city should have been electing a mayor this May with a full devolution deal. Disputes with some surrounding authorities have prevented this and the latest idea for a mayor for a Yorkshire wide body across three combined authorities looks set for a ministerial veto as it would need new parliamentary legislation. Sheffield isn’t having a mayoral poll this year either. This is partly because of a row with Derbyshire over whether Chesterfield could be included in a new South Yorkshire authority even though it has no border with it.

Now we come to the town of Warrington which recently flirted with the idea of joining the Liverpool City Region. That would have scuppered the idea of bringing the town together with the two Cheshire councils in a powerful authority at the southern end of the North West. The Merseyside dalliance is now over and Warrington council leader Terry O,Neill is hoping for a devolution deal this summer. However, a new constellation has entered the Cheshire scene…literally. A grouping of Cheshire’s two councils and the Local Enterprise Partnership have come together with six Staffordshire authorities under the Constellation Partnership. They’re starry eyed about the economic potential of the HS2 hub around Crewe. However, the idea of an elected mayor may be a sticking point once again.

Lancashire has suffered for years from having sixteen councils, thirteen districts, two unitaries and the county council. The leader of Lancashire Council, Jennifer Mein, is the equivalent of the German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the sense that she has used calm and wise leadership to try and bring all the parties together. Wyre Council has stood out against a deal for a long time and Fylde has now joined them. A devolution deal will have to await the result of the closely contested county election next month.

Elections are also due this summer in Cumbria where the idea of an elected mayor for this largely rural county has been a stumbling block. Relations between the districts and county are not good with talk of a combined authority being formed without Cumbria County Council’s involvement.

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They were selling T shirts with the slogan “the lady’s not for turning” in Birmingham this week. For the first time in a quarter of a century the Conservative conference was able to acclaim a determined woman leader. Margaret Thatcher made her defiant declaration in the middle of her monetarist revolution that laid waste to the North’s industrial base in the early 1980s. She was determined to reduce the role of the state, there was no such thing as society.

This week in Birmingham Theresa May reversed that thinking by signalling that her government saw a very definite role for the state. Along with an attack on the greed and unaccountability of some business practices, this was a speech of great significance. The Tories are occupying the middle ground vacated by vacillating moderate Labour MPs, a currently weak Liberal Democrat Party and UKIP who have given new meaning to snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Her keynote speech success on Wednesday followed a deft piece of political management three days before. When I arrived in Birmingham there was an uneasy atmosphere with Brexiteer Ultras poised to pounce on any backsliding over Brexit. Mrs May’s promise to trigger the EU withdrawal process by next March and her announcement of the Great Repeal Bill to scrap the 1972 European Communities Act ensured that the rest of the conference ran smoothly.


I received many assurances in Birmingham that the Northern Powerhouse was still a concept the new government embraced despite the total absence from the conference of its architect George Osborne and the resignation of Lord O’Neill of Gatley.

However one was struck by ministers vigorous support for the Midlands Engine and the constant evocation of the memory of Joseph Chamberlain, the nineteenth century statesman who was central to Birmingham great municipal development. One has a sense that Birmingham rather than Manchester will be the main focus of attention for the time being. This is because the Tories believe their candidate for elected mayor of the West Midlands, the former John Lewis boss Andy Street, has a real chance of victory. His Labour opponent Sion Simon meanwhile has had to deny he favours a merger of West Midlands football teams in order to win the Premiership.


The Tories chances of winning the position of elected mayor in Greater Manchester look far more difficult. This didn’t deter Sean Anstee, the leader of Trafford Council for throwing his hat in the ring when nominations opened this week. Cllr Anstee took the opportunity of addressing conference fringe events in Birmingham to stress that he has the advantage over Labour’s hot favourite, Andy Burnham, in local government experience. Anstee’s Conservative support for the Combined Authority deal was also crucial. xx












The selection of Steve Rotheram and Andy Burnham to be Labour’s candidates for mayor in the city regions of Liverpool and Manchester mean it is almost certain Jeremy Corbyn will be confirmed as leader of the Labour Party in September.

He will gain control of the party’s ruling National Executive (NEC) shortly afterwards following victories by the Momentum slate in this week’s NEC elections. The organisation was set up to buttress Corbyn support.

Following Corbyn’s victory, de-selection will face most of the Labour MPs who opposed him as the party becomes truly socialist as most of its huge membership desires.

Some of Corbyn’s opponents will seek to rejoin the Shadow team but we may see a majority seeking the Speaker’s recognition as the Official Opposition. This may be a prelude to the setting up of a new social democratic party. It would be a more credible organisation than the “Gang of Four” SDP that was created by Roy Jenkins, Shirley Williams, David Owen and Bill Rodgers in 1981. However its success will crucially depend on what the unions do with their money. There needs to be a big debate at next month’s Trades Union Congress about what they do. The unions founded Labour to win elections in order to put in place laws to help their members. When do they expect that to happen under Jeremy Corbyn? A huge membership is fine. Engaged, enthusiastic activists are to be admired but a programme of high taxes, weak immigration policy and unilateral nuclear disarmament will be rejected by Middle England in 2020 as it was in 1983.


It is unlikely that Liverpool’s elected mayor, Joe Anderson will remain “heartbroken” for long following his failure to be selected to be candidate for Labour in next year’s election for Liverpool City Region Mayor. He has already indicated he intends to deliver on his second term programme. He was only re-elected in May to serve till 2020.

One had heard of plans for Liverpool Council to revert to a leader/Cabinet model next year. Deputy Mayor Ann O’Byrne had even been mentioned as the person to lead the city if Joe became City Region Mayor.

The Lib Dems are launching a petition to scrap the Liverpool elected mayor post. Good luck with that. Joe will be staying,no doubt pledging to work in comradely fashion with Steve Rotheram but perhaps secretly warning that his former North Liverpool friend will lead the city region into a Militant style confrontation with the government.

Rotheram has a job of reassurance on his hands. He stayed as Corbyn’s parliamentary aide, and hosted Corbyn’s recent rally in the city. He is seen as Corbyn’s man and will need to satisfy the business community that he will not wreck the work done by Anderson in bringing jobs to the city.

Rotheram has revealed a strong bond with Andy Burnham who won the Labour mayoral nomination in Greater Manchester. They are planning a North West Powerhouse campaign to stop the backsliding on the devolution project that seems to be happening under the new Tory government.

Burnham’s Scouse connections did him no harm with Mancs in the end. Remaining in the Shadow Cabinet went down well with the Corbyn dominated membership. His analysis that devolution has been too Manchester centric and the politics top down and closed off,is right. But just as Rotheram has Anderson to deal with in Liverpool, Sir Richard Leese is still leader of Manchester Council, having made some disparaging remarks about the post that Burnham looks likely to be elected to.

We are all presuming that Rotheram and Burnham are going to defeat their opponents next year in these Labour dominated urban regions. I just wonder in these turbulent times if that is entirely wise.