We really are in worrying times. I suppose I shouldn’t rise to the bait of the Daily Mail who have characterised this opportunistic General Election as an opportunity to “crush the saboteurs”. (That’s all of us who believe that Britain should remain in the EU and those who at least want the Single Market). After all the Mail has form. They recently dubbed judges “enemies of the people” for insisting Parliament have a say on Article 50. But in their dark past they published a headline “Hurrah for the Blackshirts”. That was a reference to Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts.

But if we can regard the Mail as being the mouthpiece of an ugly middle England which we rather didn’t exist, the really worrying development is the attitude of the Prime Minister to dissent. She is going to the country because the opposition parties in the Commons and Lords are doing their job in scrutinising the Brexit process. She says while the country is “increasingly united, Westminster remains divided.” The country is not united, 48% of us voted to remain and Westminster should be divided, it’s a place where parliamentary debate should be taking place for heaven’s sake.

Mrs May says Westminster is holding up her plans for Brexit. The last time I looked MPs gave Article 50 a thumping majority. Since then preparations were underway for the Brexit talks to begin.

All was calm until another set of opinion polls showing Labour in a dire state destroyed May’s claims to be a calm honest woman and showed her as a political opportunist. This election is all about cutting and running ahead of economic shocks ahead and a Brexit negotiation which will leave us with a whacking bill, immigration still high and a worse trade deal with Europe than we have now. Mrs May wants to be able to stay in power till 2022 to try and ride out the storm of unpopularity that will follow Brexit. That is why she has gone to the country now and that is why those who want to stop Brexit in its tracks now have a slim chance of doing so.

It is a slim chance because Labour are hopeless on this issue. Corbynistas secretly hold their 1980’s belief that the EU is a capitalist club. Labour moderates have failed to leave and form a pro-European centre party. Most Labour MPs have voted for Article 50 and the early General Election. There was a case to be made for the Fixed-term Parliaments Act. Do we really want to go back to the time when the final two years of a parliament is dominated by endless speculation about when the General Election is going to be held? Why didn’t Labour say this and speak up for the people who are sick of trekking to the polls?

We are told this is because they would be voting to prolong a Tory government till 2020. Well by voting for May’s cut and run they have probably extended Tory rule till at least 2022.

Only massive support for the Lib Dems can thwart May’s plan. Tim Farron’s party are the brave clear standard bearers for Europe but they have a huge task. Have memories of their time in Coalition faded? If so some Tories are vulnerable to them, not so much in the far South West which voted Leave but in the West country around Bath and South West London. The Lib Dems lost a lot of seats in Scotland but winning them back from the SNP who share their views on Europe is going to be very difficult.


And finally, did you notice that George Osborne has decided not to contest Tatton. I wonder how his local party, which only recently pledged their support for him, feel now? The constituency needs the return of Martin Bell. They voted for him twenty years ago.






I first worked at Westminster as a journalist a year after Airey Neave was blown up in New Palace Yard, the very place where brave PC Keith Palmer was stabbed to death on Wednesday. Security was tightened after that incident in 1979 and progressively since. But the gates where the terrorist gained access to the parliamentary estate remains a “weak point”. What to do about the access point where MPs rush through to vote in divisions goes to the heart of the balance between security and allowing democracy to flourish.

Cars may be banned from part of Parliament Square or a cumbersome double entry lock for cars put on the gates. That would be a big problem for the number of ministerial cars that head for Westminster when a vote is called, but we shall see.

Meanwhile we must continue to defend our democracy and defy the terrorists.


Those were the words of barrister George Carman at a libel trial involving the former Tatton MP Neil Hamilton who was accused of taking cash for asking parliamentary questions.

Twenty years on the current Tatton MP, George Osborne, is gaining the same image by his vast accumulation of extra parliamentary work.

He does not face the direct corruption charge that Hamilton failed to remove in two libel actions against Harrods’s owner Mohammed Al Fayed, but there is widespread concern that Osborne’s actions since being sacked as Chancellor are reinforcing that old charge against MPs that they are in it for themselves. Around 200,000 people have already signed a petition against five jobs Osborne.

This is a list of the extra parliamentary work that Osborne was engaged in even before he took the Evening Standard job. £771,000 from public speaking engagements, £650,000 for advising Black Rock Investments, and £120,000 from an American think tank.

He has now taken the editorship of the London Evening Standard on a reported £200,000 salary. I was surprised he hear that he applied for the job rather than being approached by the owner anxious for a marquee signing.

Some argue that the well heeled constituents of Tatton don’t have the caseload to keep the MP occupied. Not all Tatton is leafy Cheshire countryside and I thought we’d passed the time when MPs used to visit their seats once a year to receive the acclamation of the grateful voters. Besides an MP is expected to play a role on parliamentary committees at Westminster.

The Evening Standard editorship has been a step too far for many people. Apart from the fact that he has no journalistic experience, editing a paper is a full-time job. Can you imagine the workload in the Standard office this week dealing with the terrorist crisis? Supposing Osborne had been on a speaking engagement or think tank duties in America?

Of direct concern to us in the North is his Northern Powerhouse Partnership. Its purpose is to argue for a fairer share for the North. The editor of the Evening Standard will be promoting London’s case; a clear conflict of interest.

But maybe we shouldn’t be thinking of George Osborne as one of our own anymore. His Tatton seat is being abolished and maybe this is all about him heading south to park his tanks on Theresa May’s lawn. The Standard could adopt a Remainer critique of the government prior to Osborne launching a bid for Mayor of London or even the Premiership.

One North West Tory MP has told me he is convinced Osborne harbours Tory leadership ambitions. Well he’s going a funny way about it. At the moment, many Tory MPs see him as an embarrassment and as the man whose threats about an emergency budget did terrible damage to the Remain case.




Extreme Brexiteers may rail against the figures, but the fact is we are going to pay a heavy price if we exit the European Union. That is the most important message from the Autumn Statement Some of us hope public opinion will change and we can yet halt this madness. But as it stands we are heading out and the Chancellor has spelt out the consequences of Brexit.

£59bn of the staggering £122bn of extra borrowing is directly attributable to Brexit according to the Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR). Because of that borrowing our debt to gross domestic product is set to peek at 90% in 2017-18. The weaker pound caused by the Brexit shock is forecast to lead to a 5% increase in food prices next year. A real problem for the Just About Managing.


Perhaps it has been lost a little amidst the analysis of the immediate impact of the Autumn Statement but Philip Hammond this week flagged up a major area of controversy for the next parliament. The triple lock on pensions is to come under review. Rightly so, whilst some pensioners still struggle, most have never had it so good, to coin a phrase. In any case it is the young burdened by tuition fees, job uncertainty and the inability to buy a home that must be top priority for government in the third decade of this century, if not before. The problem is that up to now the elderly vote in larger numbers than the young. In the next parliament ministers will have to be courageous. I think pensioners will get the point but well done Mr Hammond for preparing the way for a change of policy.


At one point it looked as if George Osborne’s pet project was going to be quietly forgotten by his successor. However there was enough support for devolution to force the Chancellor to input significant funds into the Northern economy. £3bn for northern local enterprise partnerships in growth deals, a £400m investment fund to support smaller businesses and £60m in development funding for Northern Powerhouse Rail.

Areas about to elect city region mayors like Liverpool City Region and Greater manche4ster will get new borrowing powers. There is talk of a municipal bond to aid infrastructure investment. The continuing failure of Leeds to resolve the elected mayor issue and avail itself of these incentives is notable.

Specific road improvements include the highly congested part of the M60 near Worsley, the Waterfront Link in Warrington and dualling the A66 in the North Pennines.


The big challenge for business in the North is productivity. Nationally we are 30% less productive than the Germans and the North lags well behind London. A Productivity Investment Fund will help. There was relief that the increase in the Living Wage was modest and a welcome for the further cut in corporation tax. Some wanted a VAT cut to mitigate rising inflation but that wasn’t going to happen, nor apparently reform of business rates.


There is widespread dismay that the Chancellor did not address the growing adult social care crisis but overall Philip Hammond showed himself to be a safe pair of hands on his début. He is not as close to the Prime Minister as George Osborne was to David Cameron but nor is there the ruinous rivalry of the Blair/Brown years.

Follow me at



The Northern Powerhouse had the perfect backer. George Osborne was Chancellor, the second most powerful person in the government. It was his project and he could make reluctant civil servants (they always are when it comes to devolution) do his bidding. Finally he represented a northern constituency.

The new Prime Minister has set up an economy and industrial strategy committee. It held its first meeting this week and the term Northern Powerhouse (NP) wasn’t mentioned apparently. This may be because Theresa May’s antipathy to Osborne is so great that she is indulging in a strategy that has been so debilitating for northern devolution down the years. I refer to the chop change with every passing minister, leave alone government. There is never the long term commitment to one plan to allow business to invest with any degree of certainty. There was a perfectly satisfactory structure of Regional Development Agencies in place but the Tories, with shameful silence form the Lib Dems, tore it all down.

All may not be lost however. It appears Mrs May wants to help all towns and cities in the North. There is a valid criticism that the NP was very city focused. The voting pattern in the EU referendum showed cities like Manchester and Liverpool backing Remain whereas suburban and rural communities voted Leave. They wrongly felt the EU was doing nothing for them but they may have concluded that about the NP as well.

Perhaps the economy and industrial strategy committee will recognise that the Northern Powerhouse needs to address the needs of all the people in the North East, Yorkshire and the North West and restore the organisations designed to achieve some urgent tasks.

They include improving people’s chances of owning a home (this week’s figures were shocking for the North),northern productivity, getting on with transport projects like HS3 east west rail connections and most of all raising our skills. A massive biomedical research centre, the Francis Crick Institute is opening this month… St Pancras London. We need the skills base to make it possible for such investments to be made north of the Trent. We have a huge advantage over London in terms of house prices, the quality of life and commuting costs. If only the NP could deliver the skill base.

The NP needs champions at the highest level. Andrew Percy doesn’t do it for me. He is the MP for Brigg and Goole so is (just) one of us but the new Northern Powerhouse Minister is even more unknown than his predecessor James Wharton. We must hope that Lord O’Neill of Gatley stays in the government working on the NP. He was angered about the Hinckley nuclear power station “pause”. Although nothing to do with the north, it seems George Osborne’s “golden age” of cooperation with the Chinese is over. The idea had been for substantial Chinese investment to help finance not just the Hinckley project but the NP too. If that commitment is lessened, Mr Percy will need to deal with the already existing criticism that the NP is all talk and no financial heft.