Following Greater Manchester’s devolution deal, the race by other northern combined authorities is on with a vengeance. In Leeds last week the Deputy Prime Minister announced that packages for Leeds and Sheffield would be agreed before the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement. Lord Heseltine is trying to bang heads together in Liverpool which is displaying its usual propensity for internal bickering. Meanwhile talks are under way amongst Lancashire’s myriad number of councils to try and get the first powerhouse deal outside the major cities.


I have attended a number of devolution conferences in the last week and watched nearly all of the BBC’s regional debates across England. My worst fears have been confirmed. Apart from the city regionalists, people from smaller towns and rural areas are hopelessly divided on what devolution they want. There is no clarity on how to solve the issue of English votes for English laws. There was virtually no debate on how an elected Lords could represent the North and not just the South East.


So it looks as if the Tories get back we will have piecemeal devolution to a number of city regions with little for the rest of the North which will be left with its confusing patchwork of district, met and county councils and ad hoc bodies created to deal with major infrastructure issues. Labour’s promise of a comprehensive constitutional convention seems worth voting for.


A couple of final thoughts on the position of Leeds and Liverpool. The Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg told us in Leeds that we should not presume that Leeds (and Sheffield) would have to have elected mayors. This seems strange when the government, in the shape of George Osborne, insisted on it in Greater Manchester as a democratic requirement. Will Leeds and Sheffield get less powers in return for no elected mayor? Is Clegg doing his own thing in Yorkshire? This is what happens with a piecemeal approach. Different strokes for different folks ends in chaos.


In Liverpool Jo Anderson continues with his schizophrenic performance. He has used leadership and imagination to save the city’s libraries but on the issue of devolution he is not handling things well. He needs to work with Phil Davies, the leader of the Combined Authority, not continue to make snide comments about part time politicians meeting every four weeks. Also his ambition to be the elected metro mayor takes no account of the democratic processes of the Labour Party. If an elected mayor was on offer, Phil Davies or Jane Kennedy (the current Merseyside Police Commissioner) might at least want to offer an alternative to Joe’s coronation. The important thing here is that all the infighting is putting off the government from granting the Liverpool City Region its powers. It is also fuelling the prejudices of those who claim that nothing really changes in Liverpool. It is manifestly not true but people need to stop shooting themselves in the foot.




The much derided European Court of Justice has come to David Cameron’s rescue. So we can stop benefit tourism after all. It is a much exaggerated problem anyway. Most foreign workers want to come here make our sandwiches, pick our potatoes and pay their taxes.


The interesting question is whether it will slow UKIP’s momentum in next week’s Rochester by election. At the moment it looks as if the reckless Reckless will win. The Tory candidate is very poor. If UKIP do win, the Tories need to steady their nerve and pro European Conservatives need to have the guts to speak up for the EU and not just leave it to Ken Clarke.









Harold Wilson resigned in 1976 when he kept seeing the same issues landing on his desk time and time again.


It’s a bit like that in politics at the moment. Cash for questions, party funding, Lords Reform. This incompetent political class keep being caught in the headlights by the latest scandal. What it should be telling politicians is that bold courageous reform is needed.


At 800, there are too many Lords. Many do an outstanding job, bringing their lifetime experience to shape legislation often sent in ill considered form from the Commons. But 800 is far too many and is about to be topped up by another set of peers. Let us hope that list doesn’t include people who are put in the Lords because of donations to political parties.


Although Nick Clegg’s efforts to reform the Lords last year crashed and burned and people wrote off the issue for a generation, it won’t go away. The House of Lords needs to be reformed. This government has lost its appetite to do it. So the next one needs to decide the Lords’ powers and how the chamber should be elected. Then drive it through. The method of doing this would be the one threatened a hundred years ago namely to create enough temporary peers to vote through reform. The threat worked in 1910, so why not now? Consensual reform was desirable but isn’t going to be possible.


My model would be a chamber of 150 or so. 80% would be elected from the regions of the UK. 20% would be nominated by an Independent Appointments Commission who would choose people with useful life experience, and representatives of all faith communities.


If any of these peers were convicted of an imprisonable offence, they would be excluded from the Lords for life. The same would apply to MPs in the Commons.



Labour is at last succumbing to the pressure to reveal its economic policy, but the bit of ankle we’ve seen so far is uninspiring. Abandoning universality in respect of the winter fuel allowance is a mistake on two counts. Firstly a line has been crossed and it will only be a matter of time before free TV licences and bus passes face bureaucratic means testing. Secondly Labour is accepting the policy reasoning of the Coalition on allowances, benefits and even deficit reduction.


People may well conclude that they might just as well stick with the people who implement such policies with conviction.



A little noticed part of Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls “iron discipline” speech included a swipe at the new Police and Crime Commissioners. He said more was being spent on them than the old Police Authorities.


In the North West their performance has been patchy with the Commissioners in Cumbria and Lancashire embroiled in rows over their expenses. In Merseyside Commissioner Jane Kennedy has faced criticism from former Merseyside Police Authority Chair Bill Weightman who was a rival for the Labour nomination.


As most of the Commissioners elected in the North were Labour, Mr Balls might face quite a row if he gets to No 11 and tries to scrap them.


I’m not as bothered that the ancestors of some current peers are bastard sons of Charles the Second than that so many of them come from the South East of England.

It’s a fact that the vast majority of the 826 members of the House of Lords are either from that corner of the country or live there now.

This means that most members of the upper chamber who play a crucial role in our law making know little or nothing about our neck of the woods, so roll on regional peers.

The way in which a reshaped House of Lords will be elected has received little attention from the Westminster Village journalists. That’s not surprising as most of them are from the London area.

However the bill to be debated on Monday contains plans that could give a real voice to the North. 80% of the new house will be elected by proportional representation. These new democratic Lords will sit for one 15 year term and they will be elected from the regions of England. So the North West, North East and Yorkshire will be able to elect representatives who know about our patch and its people.

This proposal will also have the advantage of reasserting the concept of the North West of England. The Coalition has spent two years comprehensively wiping regions off the map. Now they are beginning to realise the usefulness of uniting Cumbria, Lancashire, Cheshire and the great cities of Liverpool and Manchester. Better together indeed.

When the time comes we will need to make sure that independent people have a real shot at getting elected. The main political parties will choose their candidates on a list and depending on the votes they get, their peers will be elected in the same way as we choose our members of the European Parliament.

It is a system that locks out the public in favour of party cabals so we will have our work cut out to get independent voices to beat them, but that’s not for now.

What is immediately required is support for the government in getting the Lords reformed. It currently looks as if the Coalition Government is faced with a Coalition of political opportunists and peers with self interested reasons for seeing no reform at all.

All parties are split. The Lib Dems are most in favour but watch some of their representatives in the Lords who may not be too keen to lose their seats. A large number of Tory backbenchers are against for various reasons. There is a group following in the tradition of their predecessors 100 years ago who were prepared to draw the monarchy into politics as they fought against Lords reform. Others are spoiling for a fight with the Lib Dems who are most committed to the measure.

Then there is Labour who are in a mood of dangerous opportunism. They have been in favour of full Lords reform since Kier Hardy (their founder) was a lad. However they can’t resist embarrassing the government by calling for endless debating time on the bill. If they vote with rebel Tories on the motion which decides how long Lords Reform is going to be debated, it could effectively kill the measure.

If that happened the North West would be denied a real chance for a voice in this country’s second chamber.