The year has been book ended by acts of terror that reminded us that however much progress we make in computerisation, medical research or space travel, mankind’s capacity for violence is still there. The murderous Parisian attacks on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo came in January, the one on the Bataclan Theatre in November. In between the arrival of hundreds of thousands of refugees tested the European Union to its limits. Linking the terror and the refugees was the widening war in Syria. It led to a decision that the UK should bomb Daesh with as yet unknown consequences for British politics.

What we do know is that in all likelihood 2015 saw the establishment of Conservative government in Britain until 2025. The run up to the contest in may was marked by squabbles over the TV debates and a skillful March budget by George Osborne where he determined that the Tories would fight the election on their Long Term Economic Plan. It was effective in reminding voters of the recovery that had taken place already and casting doubt on their Labour opponent’s economic competence. Ed Miliband made little headway with his plans for a mansion tax and freezing energy bills. However the Tories believed until the close of poll on May 7th that they had not done enough to win a majority. They were helped over the line by the surge in support for the Scottish Nationalists. The prospect of Ed Miliband and Alex Salmond running the country drove wavering voters into the Tory camp.

General Elections are always a time when the old guard hand on to new faces so 2015 saw northern legends like Jack Straw, David Blunkett and William Hague leave the Commons along with lesser lights like Grimsby’s Austin Mitchell and Salford’s Hazel Blears. The Class of ’15 will take time to build their reputations but quick out of the blocks has been left winger Cat Smith in Lancaster and William Wragg, the new Tory MP for Hazel Grove.

The year has also seen the final passing of two of the twentieth century’s leading Chancellors, Denis Healey and Geoffrey Howe. A miserable year for the Liberal Democrats was compounded by the death of their former leader Charles Kennedy.

General Election victory led to Tory hubris in the summer with plans for new laws curbing the unions, extra surveillance powers and cuts to tax credits. On the latter measure, by the autumn the Prime Minister was reminded that although he had a majority, it was only a slim one.

The most surprising consequence of the General Election was the victory of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader, the most unlikely holder of the post since the 1920s. A combination of reckless decisions by some MPs in nominating him was followed by a surge of support motivated by years of frustration at the approach of New Labour. The Oldham by-election has entrenched Corbyn’s leadership with most of the parliamentary party in frustrated murmuring revolt.

It has been a bad year for the European Union. The long drawn out crisis over Greek debt followed by the divisions over the refugee migration may help turn Brits against the EU in such numbers that we vote to leave.

Devolution has moved on erratically across the North this year with deals being struck in Sheffield and Liverpool but Leeds and Lancashire still mired in disputes with North Yorkshire and Wyre Councils before packages can be agreed. Tony Lloyd was installed as interim elected mayor of Greater Manchester and as the year ended it looked as if Joe Anderson would head up the Liverpool City Region in succession to Phil Davies of Wirral.

But for devolution and the Northern Powerhouse to mean anything to ordinary people, it has to achieve things that matter. It looks as if transport might be the first such activity. After “pausing” the electrification of the Leeds-Manchester line in the summer, the government ended the year with substantial announcements on rail investment.

Have a peaceful Christmas.





Exactly thirty years ago Neil Kinnock launched his famous attack on Liverpool’s Militant Tendency at the party conference. His reference to taxis being hired by a Labour council to take redundancy notices to the city’s council staff has become legendary or infamous depending on your point of view. The speech marked the beginning of a necessary purge of Trotskyist infiltration. It also marked the last time the Labour conference was a showcase for disunity.

For over a decade the Labour conference had laid bare its divisions for the TV audience to see. That had to be stopped. However over the years, and particularly after Tony Blair’s public relations team took over in 1994, all dissent was marginalised. Real debate was discouraged and policy was formed in the National Policy Forum which was firmly in the grip of the leadership. It was an overreaction to the mayhem of 1975-85.

So what’s going to happen this weekend now that the party is lead by Jeremy Corbyn, the arch dissenter. He wants real debate in a democratically run party. Let’s hope we get it. The public might respond well. They seem to have liked his style at Prime Minister’s Questions. On the other hand a demonstration of total policy incoherence might turn them away. That was what worried the party managers under Kinnock, Blair, Brown and Ed Miliband.

I am certainly looking forward to my second visit to the south coast to see the rebel of thirty years standing now in charge. Some are speculating this will be his only conference as leader, but I wouldn’t be so sure. Over the next few months leading up to important elections next May, Corbyn has the ability to rally different sections of the electorate to his new way of doing politics. There are many Scots who deserted the party out of frustration with austerity rather than any desire for independence. If they come back in numbers in the Scottish Parliament elections, Corbyn’s critics will be muted. Then there are Green supporters impressed by his environmental policies and general radicalism. But the largest group of all are the young, the poor, people disillusioned with politics or who have never engaged. Some were mobilised by the Corbyn campaign. Will they stay around? Will others join them? Will they watch the coverage of a party conference for the first time?


Whilst Scots, Greens and radicals might rally to Corbyn, the Liberal Democrats were hoping this week that they could occupy, what they saw as, the huge gap opening up in the middle of politics. Although at one fringe meeting after another I heard speakers saying they weren’t in the centre, they were Liberals they nevertheless believe the Tories have swung right because they are no longer in Coalition with them. With Corbyn off to the left, they see an opportunity. What they must avoid is opening the door too easily to defecting Labour MPs. They mostly won’t be true Liberals, just careerists trying to save their seats.

If Labour’s conference in Brighton is going to return to real debate, it is only fair to point out that the Lib Dems have always maintained that tradition. The debate last Monday on the Trident nuclear weapons system was open and excellent.

Perhaps the Conservatives will try it in Manchester next month but don’t hold your breath.




You don’t get me, I’m part of the union.”

On Monday the government will introduce in parliament the biggest crack down on the trade unions in thirty years. Len McCluskey’s Unite union is up for the challenge. The General Secretary will spend the weekend at the Trades Union Congress testing support for his call to break the law to resist the Tories plans.

The issue will be an interesting test for the new Labour leader. To support or oppose particular strikes has been one of the most difficult problems for Labour leaders for decades. Barbara Castle crossed the unions in the 1960s, Jim Callaghan’s government was brought down by them in 1979, Neil Kinnock’s discomfort over Arthur Scargill’s miners strike in 1984/5 is the stuff of legend and Ed Miliband’s refusal to take sides became a joke on You Tube.

The reason why the party, created by the unions, has agonised over the issue of union power is because it has feared losing moderate voters. It is this equivocation that has dismayed the left, and particularly the young. During the leadership election they have surged back to Labour in the expectation of more crusading policies. Their argument is that if the party fights with conviction for working people, more will join, Middle England will be overwhelmed and a socialist Labour Party will sweep to power in 2020. The battle over the Trade Union bill will be a first test.

The measure will make unlawful a strike unless 50% of those being asked to strike, vote in the ballot. 40% of those asked to vote must support the strike in key public services. The strike mandate will only last four months Unlawful picketing will become a criminal, not civil, offence. Most controversial of all is the right being given to employers to hire agency staff to break the strike. The Labour Party’s finances are set to be hit with a further provision to require union members to positively agree to pay the political levy.

The number of working days lost to strike action in the 12 months to April was 704,000, a far cry from the 13 million a year in the 70s. However there have been a number of strikes on the London Underground and in schools causing major inconvenience to parents and commuters. This has been the trigger for ministers to act. What will New Old Labour do?


I attended the excellent global soccer business conference in Manchester this week and thought I would share with you a comment by a panellist. It came during a discussion about fans’ use of new media. Facebook and YouTube had come out of left field with nobody seeing what impact they would have It was noted that some football clubs had given up trying to stop fans taking mobile phone shots of matches and embraced the clips on their websites.

Then the prediction of the next big thing, fans resistance to being the falls guys in the war between Sky and BT for TV soccer rights. As was correctly observed the poor fan now has to pay two huge monthly fees to get full match coverage. Who could stop this? Well perhaps Apple will come to the fans rescue, wipe out BT and Sky and unify the package at a cheaper price. Just a thought.





David Cameron doesn’t really deserve to “win” next Thursday’s General Election, but the Conservatives will probably be the largest party and have first dibs at forming a government.

The Tory campaign has lurched from defending their economic record, to attacking Ed Miliband as a backstabber and latterly depicting Nicola Sturgeon as a female version of William Wallace set to pillage England. There have been a series of retail promises on things like the right to buy and inheritance tax. Some will impress voters but most will ask how the sums will add up. So a bit of a vision less mess really. However it is usually the economy that clinches it, and despite some dodgy figures this week, most people will probably want to give the Conservatives another term to sort things out. However this may be a very late decision by people, on polling day itself, not detected by the opinion polls. As they lift the stubby pencil, is it the devil we know or Miliband?

Ed Miliband has had a good campaign. No gaffs and an increasingly relaxed style combined with the theme of fairness which has been delivered well. However he is coming from a long way back in terms of public approval, people remember the Brown years and he is facing potential wipe out in Scotland. With those handicaps his route to Downing Street looks tortuous indeed. We have to go back to 1923 to find a party that didn’t have most MPs, forming a government. Miliband wouldn’t want to do a deal with the SNP that had just destroyed his party in Scotland and a pact with “the others” looks as incredible in 2015 as it did in 2010.


Here are the seats to look out for in Downtown land from Leeds to Liverpool in order of their marginality.

Bolton West Lab maj 92: Should have been won by the Conservatives last time. Cameron tells us he only needs 23 seats for a majority. This is one of them.

Lancaster and Fleetwood Con maj 333: Labour’s No 1 target.

Wirral South Lab maj: The Tories held this seat up till 97 and Cameron needs this as part of his 23 for victory.

Morecambe and Lunesdale Con maj 866: Another must win Lancashire seat for Labour.

Weaver Vale Con maj 991: A Cheshire Labour target near George Osborne’s Tatton constituency.

Warrington South Con maj 1553: An intense campaign being waged here as Labour’s task gets harder.

Pudsey Con maj 1659: Labour should take this sort of seat on the outskirts of Leeds in a good year.

Burnley Lib Dem maj 1818: Very tough for the Lib Dems against Labour.

Manchester Withington Lib Dem maj 1894: The Lib Dems are pleading with voters not to make the city a one party Labour state at parliamentary and council level. They may be disappointed.

There are other Labour targets where the Tories have majorities over two thousand. They are Blackpool North, Bury North, Wirral West, Chester, Keithley, Pendle and Rossendale.

The Lib Dems are in a fierce battle with the Tories in Hazel grove and Cheadle and UKIP hope to land a sole North West victory in Heywood and Middleton.


Julie Hilling’s victory here for Labour in 2010 did great damage to David Cameron’s stature in the eyes of many of his backbenchers. He was not a winner as John Major and Margaret Thatcher had been. The failure to secure an overall majority was because of Cameron’s inability to win seats like this.

Susan Williams, the former leader of Trafford Council, was a great candidate. It will be a tough task for the Conservative standard bearer this time, Chris Green, even though he only has to overturn a majority of 92 in this, the most middle class of the three Bolton seats.