The Prime Minister may be spluttering from a cold, what should make her splutter is Boris Johnson. How much longer must we endure the spectacle of fellow craven Cabinet Ministers making excuses for this excuse of a Foreign Secretary.

The buffoon is dragging the name of Britain through the gutter. The post of Foreign Secretary has been held with dignity by almost all holders of the office since the war. They only have to look around the grand building on Whitehall to realise that it was the base from which our wisdom was sought after centuries of foreign experience.

Johnson is in that worst tradition of upper class British toffs who think their mild racism is amusing. That it is funny to talk about clearing bodies away so that Sirte can become another glittering enclave of wealth amid Middle East poverty.

He should have been sacked over his Brexit interventions designed to destabilise the Prime Minister. He has now crossed a line which in any normal circumstance would have seen him sacked.

But at the end of this conference season we do not live in normal circumstances. My journey around the conference venues have taken me from The Lib Dems defiant in their policy of exit from Brexit under new leader Vince Cable, to Labour where their third successive defeat was celebrated like a victory and finally to Manchester. There the party that has, one way and another, won three elections was depressed and uncertain. Spooked by Jeremy Corbyn’s anti austerity rhetoric, they are now running before the Labour wind offering concessions on student fees and housing. The danger is they will get no credit for it whilst abandoning their reputation for economic rectitude. The last time that happened, in 1992, they were out of office for a long time.

The Tory conference began behind the most extensive security wall I had ever seen in Manchester. Thankfully there were no arrests and it was good to see, alongside the austerity protest, one opposed to Brexit. It is time Remainers found their voice.

But inside the cordon there was anger among the Tory grassroots over the election manifesto, the selection of candidates and the centralisation of the party. On the conference floor it looked as if  no ordinary representatives were called to speak, just a succession of Cabinet Ministers.

Labour on the other hand have reverted to allowing everyone a voice except MPs. The resulting chaos of card votes and remitted motions was a real throwback to the 1970s.

So where are we at the end of this conference season. I have always believed that Mrs May would be left in place because nobody else wants the inevitable criticism that will be hurled at the holder of the office when whatever Brexit deal is done.

After Manchester I am not so sure. The darkening weeks after conference is a dangerous time for Tory leaders from Mrs Thatcher in 1990 to Iain Duncan Smith in 2003.

If May goes surely the Tory Party won’t elect Johnson? Surely their love affair with the lovable tousled clown has turned to contempt for his incompetence as Foreign Secretary and impatience at his blatant careerism.




This Easter weekend may see a pause in this relentless and everlasting General Election campaign. So it seems an appropriate moment to reflect on the careers of those northern MPs for whom the dissolution of parliament on Monday meant the end of their Commons careers.

The three titans to call it a day are Jack Straw, William Hague and David Blunkett. Straw is the one I knew best. His Blackburn seat has had extraordinary continuity in its parliamentary representation. Barbara Castle was elected in 1945 with Jack replacing her in 1979. Leaving aside his recent fall from grace, Jack Straw has managed to hold the great offices of state whilst still identifying closely with his constituency.

Holding the offices of Home and Foreign Secretary didn’t stop him taking to his soapbox outside Blackburn Town Hall to keep in touch with voters’ views, although he admits to occasionally planting a Labour supporter as a supposed Tory to keep things lively!

His pride in his constituency led to a famous exchange of visits with Condoleezza Rice, the American Secretary of State. In return for Jack visiting Birmingham, Alabama; Ms Rice was introduced to the delights of the East Lancashire town. I interviewed them in a broom cupboard at a local school having told the heavily armed American security guards that there was no room for them too.

That son of Sheffield David Blunkett is also calling it a day. From radical city council leader to hard line Home Secretary, his career has been an inspiration for all disabled people. To read in braille the reams of paper needed to run the Home Office is truly remarkable.

The most surprising retirement to me is that of William Hague. He had politics running through his veins from an early age when as a teenager he reminded the aged representatives at a Tory conference in Blackpool that they wouldn’t be around for much longer. He entered parliament in an extraordinary by election in Richmond (Yorkshire) in 1989. His 19,000 votes were dwarfed by the 28,000 for the Liberals. However those votes were split between the new Lib Dems and the continuing SDP under David Owen which was enjoying its last hurrah. Hague led the Tory Party at its nadir but finished with a flourish as Foreign Secretary and witty Leader of the House.

Salford’s Hazel Blears is leaving parliament but have we heard the last of this flame haired dynamic politician who loves nothing more than getting on her leathers for a bike ride? She unnecessarily split Cheshire in two when she was Communities Secretary and helped destabilise Gordon Brown’s government by her sudden resignation. Nevertheless she has been a force for good and may yet be a candidate for elected mayor for Greater Manchester.


Two leading northern Liberals are also leaving the House. I use the old title because Alan Beith (Berwick) and Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove) were part of the Liberal revival in the 1970s. Beith was one of a number of Liberal by election winners in the early seventies whilst Stunell served on Cheshire County Council before finally taking Hazel Grove in 1997. He was part of the Lib Dem team that negotiated the Coalition and it will be tough for the party to hold the seat following his departure.

St Helens is losing both its MPs. The contrast couldn’t be greater between Dave Watts, heavily identified with the town as council leader, then MP and Shaun Woodward. The latter was a Tory defector parachuted in from Witney who went on to serve as Northern Ireland Secretary.

Two hard working MPs that I’m sorry to see go are Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port) who’s done great work for science and Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton).

Two great champions of devolution for the North, Linda Riordan (Halifax) and Austen Mitchell (Grimsby) won’t be returning to parliament just at a time when more power for our regions might be realised.

Council leaders (Blunkett excepted) often find it difficult to shine at Westminster. That’s been the case with George Mudie. A former leader of Leeds Council, he succeeded the great Denis Healey as MP for Leeds East but only held junior office.


Michael Meacher(Oldham West) and Gerald Kaufman (Gorton) have already served 45 years each but plan to make it half a century. Kaufman will become Father of the House because he signed the oath of allegiance ahead of Meacher and Denis Skinner when they were new MPs in 1970.

Kaufman will succeed Sir Peter Tapsell who first entered parliament in 1959 when Harold Macmillan was Prime Minister, Hugh Gaitskill led the Labour Party and Winston Churchill was elected for the last time.


One of the most marginal seats in Yorkshire, this residential area near Leeds just returned Tory Stuart Andrew in 2010 with a majority of 1659. Fighting the constituency for a second time is Pudsey Town councillor Jamie Hanley. He needs to win to give Ed Miliband any chance of getting into government.





Jack Straw has been an outstanding MP for Blackburn.

He worked hard for the constituency and was proud to show it off to the American Secretary of State CondoleezaRice in a 2006 visit which I reported on for the BBC. He represented all his constituents including the quarter of the electorate from an Asian background. His relations with them were robust enough that he could be frank about sensitive issues. Mr Straw said wearing veils could make community relations harder. He spoke of some Pakistani men “fizzing with testosterone” seeing white girls as “easy meat.” Even in the age of Twitter and Facebook, he kept in touch with people’s views in the old fashioned way: from a soap box outside the Town Hall of a Saturday.

So it was with dismay and astonishment that I read this week that the former Home and Foreign Secretary had fallen for a media sting. A trap by the way that has been practised time and again on parliamentarians. Hopefully our elected representatives will be less gullible when the next set of pretty Chinese ladies come calling.

Jack Straw denies any wrongdoing, says he has always obeyed the appropriate rules and may be cleared by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. But in the meantime he ends his 36 years as an MP suspended by the Labour Party and in the words of the Wallasey Labour MP and Shadow Leader of the House has “serious questions to answer.”

Here are a few of them. Why did Jack Straw have his grubby conversation in his Commons office against the rules? He says it was because of time pressure. He had enough time afterwards to show his guests around the place. He went “under the radar” to change EU rules on behalf of a company, justifying it by saying this approach achieved results whereas a public campaign might not. The public are alienated from politics precisely because they sense they are shut out from what is really going on.

But the main problem thrown up by the behaviour of Straw and Sir Malcolm Rifkind is not to do with whether specific rules have been broken. Most of the British people will pay little attention to the detail. On the eve of a General Election many voters are turning to fringe parties disillusioned by years of revelations about politicians “on the make and on the take” (George Carman in the Hamilton case). Straw talking about getting £5000 for one speech and Rifkind feeling “entitled” to a standard of living related his professional background stokes the fires of resentment that people feel about the greed of some Westminster politicians.

Jack Straw clearly expected to go to the Lords. That will now be a tricky call for Ed Miliband.


Can the Conservatives hold on to their only Merseyside seat? Probably because of the profile of their MP, Esther McVey. The feisty former TV presenter and business woman is now a Minister of State and probably headed for the Cabinet. She finally won the constituency back from Labour in 2010 but with a majority of only 2436.

Labour candidate Margaret Greenwood will be drawing her strength from the wards on the edge of Birkenhead but McVey will be hoping that the middle class towns of Hoylake and West Kirby will support the Tories and not drift off to UKIP