I would guess that Barack Obama is more popular with the British people than most of our domestic politicians. His two terms in the White House have been characterised by cautious and wise leadership of the western world and efforts to create something resembling the National Health Service in America. In the latter endeavour he has had fight every inch of the way against a stubborn, narrow minded and nasty Republican dominated Congress.

When asked this weekend, he will offer the view that we should vote to stay in the European Union. He will do that from the vantage point of having had to take a global view of affairs since 2009. And what has the President observed in those eight troubled years? The emergence of Daesh in the Middle East, the growing economic power of China and a newly aggressive Russia on Europe’s eastern flank. On the last point nobody would be more delighted if the UK quits the EU than President Putin. He wants a weakened EU. Obama knows this and is fully entitled to support the Remain cause during his visit.

Of course the British people will decide, but they will have the President’s opinion to think about which is similar to most world leaders including the old Commonwealth that the Brexiteers remember with such affection. They will also be taking into account the hugely authoritative Treasury document that came out this week. Its claim that we would all be over £4300 worse off captured the headlines but perhaps more significant was its analysis that our current membership of the Single Market (which will not be available if we leave) is better than all the other models the Brexiteers favour (Norway, Canada or the World Trade Organisation.


It is certain that more people will vote in the Police and Crime Commissioner(PCC) elections in two weeks time than did so the first time around. The average 15% turnout in the gloom of November 2012 is not a very high bar to overcome. Early summer is clearly a more sensible time for such elections and people will also be voting for local councils at the same time.

There is another reason why interest in these posts might rise a little. The government are signalling that they see PCCs as a way of pursuing the growing agenda to join up public services. This is aimed at saving money and delivering more coherent delivery. The Home Secretary Theresa May has spoken about PCCs bringing many other services under their wing. These may include fire and rescue, probation and court services and possibly schools to support troubled kids and keep them out of crime.

Labour dominated the initial PCC elections in the Downtown area and there is little reason to expect a change this time. In West Yorkshire, which includes Leeds, Labour’s Mark Burns-Williamson is seeking a second term as is Clive Grunshaw in Lancashire. Grunshaw’s time in office has been overshadowed by two rows over his expenses. His strongest challenger is likely to be the Tory candidate, former Lancashire Police Superintendent Andrew Pratt.

On Merseyside, the former Labour MP Jane Kennedy looks nailed on for a second term, but in Greater Manchester there will be no PCC election. The post has already been absorbed into the office of the interim elected mayor Tony Lloyd, a trend that may develop across much of the North as the devolution process unfolds.




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.



In 1942 the voters of Poplar South could be forgiven for a lack of interest in a by election. The Nazis were at the gates of Stalingrad and Rommel was threatening to conquer Egypt. 8% turned out.


Manchester Central’s voters had no such military distractions last week as they recorded the lowest turnout since those desperate wartime days.


The quality of candidates was high. Lucy Powell, Labour’s first woman MP, has already worked in key posts in the Labour Party. Marc Ramsbottom is a serious and able leader of the Lib Dem opposition on Manchester Council. Matthew Sephton deserves a seat with better prospects for the Conservatives.


The economy is still flat lining. Many people in Manchester Central are suffering benefit and service cuts and yet they didn’t see the parliamentary game as one they wanted to take part in. It is true that Labour were always going to hold this seat, but the lack of uncertainty about the result cannot be the full explanation for such apathy. People are losing faith that conventional politics can make a difference.


Low polls were also a feature of the elections for Police and Crime Commissioners (PCC) across the North. From Leeds to Liverpool the turnout averaged around 13%.


Mark Burns-Williamson won a run off with an Independent to become the PCC in West Yorkshire. One of his first tasks will be to appoint a new Chief Constable now that Norman Bettison is stepping down following the recent Hillsborough revelations.


In the rest of the Downtown patch, our new PCCs face the stark realities of cuts as they set police budgets against a very tough deadline.


Both Tony Lloyd (Greater Manchester) and Jane Kennedy (Merseyside) won on the first ballot for Labour. Keep an eye on Kennedy who is set to make some waves as she streamlines the bloated structure of the old police authority.


Given their poll ratings, the Conservatives can be reasonably pleased that they won two PCC races in the North West. In Cheshire John Dwyer saw off Labour’s John Stockton in a second round run off. A former Assistant Chief Constable, some are forecasting a difficult relationship with the current Chief Constable David Whatton. Meanwhile In Cumbria magistrate and Tory candidate Richard Rhodes also won a second round ballot run off against Labour candidate Patrick Leonard.


But the Conservatives couldn’t repeat their success in Lancashire, soon to be the scene for a hotly contested battle for control of County Hall. Conservative candidate Tim Ashton took Labour’s Clive Grunshaw to a second ballot but was edged out.


The Liberal Democrats got no PCC elected in the whole of England and Wales. In the Downtown area they came bottom of the poll in West Yorkshire,Lancashire and Cumbria and next to bottom in Cheshire. On Merseyside Paula Keaveney was five thousand votes behind her ex Lib Dem colleague Kieron Reid standing as an independent. Only in Greater Manchester did former copper Matt Gallagher put up a reasonable showing.


I was with two of the North West’s top election experts this week. They both forecast that Nick Clegg would be deposed by Vince Cable before the next election and the Lib Dems would leave the Tories as a minority government for six to twelve months before 2015.


The highlight of the North West Royal Television Society Awards for me was when the Best Live Event category was won by the BBC for their coverage of The Preston Passion. It recognised both the commitment of the BBC and the people of Preston for a great effort in poor weather last Easter.




Next Thursday across the North West you have the chance to brave the dark and the rain to vote for Police and Crime Commissioners(PCC) in the five force areas in the region. These are new posts where power is being given to one individual to hold the police to account on behalf of the public. They will decide how the budget is spent and will develop a plan to tackle crime.


Merseyside police could be in for a big shake up if Jane Kennedy becomes PCC there next Friday.


The former Labour MP for Wavertree has ministerial police experience in Northern Ireland, so tackling the bloated bureaucracy of the outgoing Merseyside Police Authority should be a breeze. The authority that once chose Norman Bettison as Chief Constable has 29 committees and a posh headquarters in Pall Mall. All that could be set to change if Jane Kennedy wins.


If Merseyside voters don’t want the Labour candidate, they have five other options. Paula Keaveney is the former Lib Dem group leader on Liverpool Council but apart from her party’s dire poll ratings she is faced with the challenge of another ex Liverpool Lib Dem councillor Kiron Reid. He explains his defection from the party by stating that PCCs should be independent of party. Liverpool born Geoff Gubb is standing in the Conservative interest, Hilary Jones for UKIP and Paul Rimmer for the English Democrats.


In Greater Manchester another ex Labour MP, Tony Lloyd, seems assured of victory. The only question is why the ex Central and Stretford MP would want to give up a safe parliamentary seat and chairmanship of the Parliamentary Labour Party to take on the crime problems of this large urban force area.


For the Lib Dems, Matt Gallagher brings 30 years of frontline policing to his candidature. The problem is that his party has been haemorrhaging councillors across Greater Manchester in the last two years. Michael Winstanley represents the Conservatives, Steven Woolfe UKIP and Roy Warren is an independent candidate.


The outcome of the elections is less clear in the three remaining police force areas. Labour’s candidate in Lancashire Clive Grunshaw will face a spirited challenge from Tory Lancashire County Councillor Tim Ashton who’s pledging to end what he calls a “softly softly” approach to crime. Afzal Anwar stands for the Lib Dems and Rob Drobney for UKIP..


Cheshire may provide the closest contest. A former Assistant Chief Constable for the county,John Dwyer is the Tory candidate. Halton councillor John Stockton opposes him for Labour. Cheshire businesswoman Sarah Flannery is attracting some support for her independent candidature. Ex Macclesfield councillor Ainsley Arnold represents the Lib Dems and Louise Bours UKIP.


In Cumbria Patrick Leonard is standing in his first election for Labour. Barrister Pru Jupe represents the Lib Dems, magistrate Richard Rhodes the Conservatives and Mary Robinson is an independent.


Crucial to the success of these new Commissioners will be their relationship with their Chief Constables. Under the old police authorities there were major battles between the senior police officers and the authority chairs. Remember Margaret Simey and Ken Oxford on Merseyside and Gay Cox and Jim Anderton in Greater Manchester.


Operational matters are to remain with the Chief Constables under the new arrangements, but what is operational and what is a pet project of a newly mandated Police and Crime Commissioner. The potential for conflict is there.





I had the pleasure of hosting a hustings meeting for the parliamentary by election caused by Tony Lloyd’s decision to contest the post of PCC for Greater Manchester.


The Friends Meeting House was full to hear from ten of the eleven candidates standing. Labour’s Lucy Powell is certain to win but most of the candidates put up a good show. I was particularly impressed with the fresh approach to politics of Loz Kaye of the Pirate Party and Catherine Higgins of Respect. While her party leader George Galloway is all about himself, Catherine was all about the people of Hulme and Moss side where she lives.


I did get a bit exasperated with Peter Clifford of the Communist League who gave the same answer about the crisis in capitalism to all questions including one on fluoridation!


The by election is also on Thursday along with the PCC elections.