One of Jeremy Corbyn’s main beefs with Tony Blair’s New Labour project was that it rode roughshod over the wishes of party members.

So, I am looking forward to going to Brighton this weekend to see how one of the most dramatic Labour conferences in years plays out. Most Labour members, including Momentum, want to stay in the EU. But before anyone has got to the South Coast, Corbyn has attempted to pre-empt the debate by declaring his position. It is that a Labour government would negotiate a new departure deal and put that to the country alongside the option to remain. Corbyn refuses to say which side he would campaign on, but the speculation is that he would remain neutral allowing Cabinet members freedom to support whichever side they wished.

The last part of that is in the finest tradition of the Labour Party. Harold Wilson did exactly the same in the 1975 Referendum. But Corbyn announcing his position ahead of the conference suggests that Unite are trying to fix the conference. Len McCluskey, the Unite leader, has always been keen to respect the people’s vote in 2016. He probably shares Corbyn’s view that the EU is a capitalist club.

So, we could see a clash between union power and the grass roots. That will be in the old Labour tradition as well when the unions have defeated the rank and file. Its just that we didn’t expect it under Corbyn who is in danger of losing all credibility. His opinion ratings with the general public are awful, and he now risks losing his claim to represent his members.

It is unlikely that Corbyn will ever be in a position to negotiate a new deal because I still think it is possible that the Prime Minister is going to be able to get something done on the backstop, warn off the spartans on his own backbenches and gain the support of the new MPs For A Deal. This group includes Tories, and Lib Dem MP Norman Lamb. He’s not the only Liberal Democrat rebelling over Jo Swinson’s Revoke stance even though the new Lib Dem leader has a case that a General Election which put in power a Lib Dem government with that manifesto pledge would surely overtake the 2016 referendum.

Lib Dem or Labour majority governments however remain highly improbable with a last-minute deal possible.


I had the pleasure of interviewing the BBC’s North America editor Jon Sopel this week. He was well informed, humorous and self-deprecating. The latter quality is not present in some of his colleagues which brings me to John Humphrys. I found his big send off on Thursday faintly embarrassing. I find media luvvies praising each other on air pretty uncomfortable. Save that for the farewell party. Humphrys has been a great journalist but the picture painted in the Radio Times by his fawning acolyte Justin Webb, paints a picture of a man who couldn’t come to terms with the modern world. Humphrys started each day by bawling out the producers who had worked hard on the morning’s programme. Webb doesn’t mind that macho male behaviour because when he was a young reporter Humphrys spoke to him. Webb then launches a vicious attack on the late Brian Redhead who, he says, never spoke to him. Well he spoke to me Mr Webb. Brian Redhead was one of the greatest journalists the North ever produced and championed Northern devolution. When Humphrys came up here a few years ago to host the Northern Convention he was unprepared and treated the whole thing as a joke.

Time to move on Today.





The budget has plunged Labour into a topsy turvy row over the Chancellor’s income tax cuts.

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham is generally seen as a Labour moderate. He says he is at a loss to understand why Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, a self-confessed Marxist, is supporting income tax cuts for the rich. McDonnell argues that, whilst the rich gain most, the move will help low income people too. The tax-free personal allowance is being raised to £12,500.

There is no doubt that Philip Hammond has presented Labour with a challenging budget where a commitment to balance the books by 2025 has been abandoned to fund increased spending, principally on the NHS. Unexpectedly high tax revenues have allowed Hammond to shake off his image as “spreadsheet Phil” in favour of the largest fiscal loosening since 2010.

He has clearly been driven to this move by the Prime Minister’s declaration that austerity was over. Privately he probably wanted to keep a bigger war chest than the £15bn he has set aside for a no deal Brexit and heed the warning of his predecessor George Osborne. On Tuesday the former Chancellor warned that trying to outspend Jeremy Corbyn would not help the Conservatives.

So, we carry on spending £50bn a year servicing the National Debt that currently stands at £1.8 trillion.

The decision to relax spending restrictions has meant the government has been able to tackle some of the many problems that years of austerity have created. A hefty amount of cash has been thrown at Universal Credit. UC could be the undoing of the Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey. The Tatton MP has made herself unpopular with the Chancellor with her demands for cash and Hammond notably praised her predecessor Iain Duncan Smith, not her, during his budget speech.

There was cash to ease the High Street crisis with business rate cuts for properties with rateable values under £51,000. Small businesses saw a cut in the apprenticeship levy.

The maze of organisations supporting regeneration continues to grow. Business led development corporations are on their way to join university enterprise zones, Local Enterprise Partnerships and Business Improvement Districts. Oh! for the regional development agencies. Simples!

There was more money for Northern Powerhouse Rail, £10m for a skills project in Manchester and cash for medicine research at Alderley Park.

Hammond was clearly irritated that many of his measures had been leaked in advance and there is speculation this could be his last Budget. I think that would be a shame as he is a steady hand on the tiller. His sin has been to warn about the damaging consequences of Brexit.


I welcome the decision of Channel 4 to relocate its headquarters to Leeds. Investment must be made across the North if the Powerhouse is to be fair to all. The eastern side of the Pennines needs a media jobs boost. Just a word of caution though, let’s see if the decision-making moves to Leeds or stays at Horseferry Road in London where the majority of Channel 4 jobs will still be based.


I expect the awful Donald Trump to hold the Senate and perhaps even cling on to the House of Representatives in next week’s midterm elections. The economy is booming and for many voters that will matter more than the many failings of this obnoxious man. The Democrats are relying on a big turnout of angered women but lack the vision and leadership to give confidence that they are on course to win the presidency in two years’ time.

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Colin McKeown, the excellent straight speaking boss of LA Productions (Broken, Moving On, Common) summed it up well. “It is their loss not ours”. He was referring to Channel 4’s decision not to shortlist Liverpool for its new National headquarters.

It is a slap in the face for a city that would have been a perfect fit for Channel 4. Liverpool has creativity and attitude oozing from every brick. I’ve always found people in Liverpool far more media savvy than in other places. In terms of creativity, where do you start? The Tate? The Everyman? The rich popular music heritage from the Beatles to The Farm. Not forgetting that it has been the go-to location for hundreds of films and TV shows.

Colin McKeown struck the right note. Mayor Joe Anderson called the decision “hypocritical” pointing out that the move was meant to add jobs, opportunities and growth to places where the BBC and ITV aren’t already installed. Liverpool’s leaders must always guard against the “whingeing Scousers” label that its critics are all too ready to pin on them, but Joe has a point.

Which brings me to the shortlist, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. Manchester may well not be chosen because of the proximity of Salford’s Media City. It is now home to a major chunk of BBC and ITV production along with a growing cluster of media related industries. A decision by Channel 4 to move to this part of the North West would hardly be compatible with spreading media growth across the country.

Leeds should get it but probably won’t. Media production east of the Pennines is thin and Channel 4 could build on the heritage of Yorkshire Television, now a distant memory.

Birmingham is now favourite. It has been a dark time for media in the West Midlands since the closure of the BBC’s Pebble Mill studios. There is also a political factor to consider, although Channel 4 bosses would deny such influences. The Midlands Engine has become the focus of government largesse under Theresa May, especially since the election of Conservative Andy Street as mayor of the city region. Birmingham has been awarded the Commonwealth Games (another disappointment for Liverpool) and we could well see Channel 4’s national headquarters there.

The North isn’t in the running at all to be Channel 4’s Creative Hub. Newcastle and Sheffield have not made it on to the shortlist. It is a disappointment for Newcastle, another city of great creativity and identity. It is currently hosting the Great Exhibition of the North which is a fine expression of the culture of the North East. Apparently not good enough for Channel 4 bosses who have had to be dragged kicking and screaming to make this move out of London. Although it is welcome, less than half their staff will leave London and the channel will retain its base in Horseferry Road.

With media devolution you always must ask the question where the people are located that make the big decisions and sign the cheques. For the BBC, ITV and Channel 4, if the answer isn’t right here in the North then there is always the danger of London clawing it all back.

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Channel 4’s new “national base” should be in Liverpool. The city has a great cultural tradition and potential location sites that would surely be attractive to staff currently working in their cramped Horseferry Road headquarters.

It would have the full support of the Liverpool City Region mayor, Steve Rotheram, who has recently launched a major cultural initiative. It would also help to balance the growth of media related industries in the North West following the huge investment that has followed the BBC’s move to MediaCity in Salford.

The chance for Liverpool to welcome Channel 4 comes after a major wrangle between the TV company and the government. Ministers are determined to end the hugely disproportionate location of media jobs and editorial decision making in London. Channel 4 did not want to move hence a messy compromise whereby they will have a national headquarters outside London but will still retain their base on Horseferry Road. Although they are pledged to locate executives in their out of town “national” base, constant vigilance will be required to stop them slipping back.

I remember the era when the BBC was located in Oxford Road Manchester when departments that were formally located in the city and executives fleeing back to London on Friday afternoons.

Liverpool will face competition from the likes of Birmingham. We have already seen from the choice of the Midlands for the 2022 Commonwealth Games, over Liverpool’s bid that the presence of a Conservative mayor there is doing them no harm.


The media is increasingly important providing hi tech and creative jobs in the northern economy. It is also at the centre of the current debate around fake news and data mining.

To keep up to date with developments I recently attended a major media conference in Oxford where the first subject on the agenda was a very old one; the future of the BBC. I think we can put that on the backburner following remarks by the Culture Secretary Matt Hancock. He pointed out that licence fee funding had just been agreed for the new charter and what’s more there is overwhelming public support for it. Nevertheless, in the longer term one fears for that method of funding one of our great institutions.

Fake news inevitably came up and in a way that horrified me. Apparently on the night of the Manchester Arena terrorist outrage, a fake story was put out that Oldham hospital had also been targeted. The more sensational the story, the more clicks it gets. That’s the pernicious economic cycle that must be broken as Google and Facebook hopefully move from adolescence to maturity.

200 local papers have closed in recent years and there was a session on the issue of who is now reporting our courts and councils? Some good community sites have sprung up, but they are no substitute for professional and regular coverage by journalists. And into the vacuum come the angry, the ill informed and people with agendas.

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