With the NHS at breaking point, our prisons in meltdown and the government’s plan to solve the housing crisis widely criticised, the Tories don’t deserve any success in next week’s by elections.

The fact that the seats of Copeland and Stoke Central are in play is due to the literally incredible Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. It’s all so different from twenty years ago, when Labour swept the Tories out of Wirral South in a by election which was a foretaste of the Blair landslide to come months later.

 Things have reached such a pass that two talented, but vastly inexperienced, Greater Manchester MPs are being suggested as successors to the hapless Corbyn. Shadow Business Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey (Salford) and Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner (Ashton) have been MPs for less than two years and are virtually unknown on the national stage.

This speculation was provoked by a survey in Manchester that showed diehard Labour supporters giving Corbyn dire ratings. That supports what I am picking up from my sources within the party.

So why do I think Labour might hold on to both seats? The greatest threat to them comes in Copeland where Corbyn’s equivocal attitude to nuclear power and nuclear weapons is toxic in an area that depends on both for jobs. The Labour majority is slim. The seat includes the genteel town of Keswick as well as the more industrial coastal strip around Sellafield and Whitehaven and voters tend to punish parties when the sitting MP walks off the job as Jamie Reed did. That said the Labour candidate, Gillian Troughton, has made clear her support for all things nuclear, has distanced herself from Corbyn and is campaigning hard against plans to transfer maternity services from Whitehaven to Carlisle.

Theresa May visited the constituency this week. Prime Ministers don’t usually do that if they think their party is going to lose. That said Copeland/Whitehaven has been Labour territory since 1935 and they could cling on.


Tristram Hunt was imposed on Stoke Central in 2010 when that was the way things were done by New Labour. It was no surprise when he found the attractions of the ceramics at the Victoria and Albert Museum more attractive than representing the people of the Potteries, who voted heavily to leave the EU. Hunt’s departure has given UKIP the perfect chance to show that they can appeal to Labour voters fed up with the metropolitan values of the Jeremy Corbyn Labour Party.

But there are big risks for UKIP. Their new leader Paul Nuttall has had to put his neck on the line and fight the seat when his inclination may have been to give it more time before trying for parliament. He has quickly found out that being a candidate leads to unwelcome publicity. So it has proved as it has emerged that he did not lose close relatives in the Hillsborough disaster. His brand is that of a plain speaking scouser which might not play well in the Potteries. UKIP’s main challenge thought is to offer credible policies for the working class on other issues than Europe. The government is forcing a hard Brexit on us, so what’s the point of voting UKIP?

It may be that the disillusionment with politics that was so strong last June will give UKIP their first northern seat, but Labour still have a chance.

Follw me @JimHancockUK




Labour MPs I’ve met in the last week had a real look of despair in their eyes over Ed Miliband’s massive blunder posing with a copy of the Sun. Now comes woeful ratings in the latest opinion polls. 49% of voters want him replaced. Their wish won’t come true, but don’t you begin to have the feeling we’ve been here before? In the run up to the 2010 General Election it was clear that Gordon Brown was a liability. Loyal Labour MPs backed the leader whatever their private thoughts.

Rebel Southport Lib Dem MP John Pugh said of his leader recently “while it might be necessary for the captain to go down with his ship, it is not necessary for the ship to go down with the captain.” It looks like happening to Labour who have historically lacked the ruthlessness to do something about a leader who can’t win.

The Sun blunder really was bad. Miliband had got a lot of credit for standing up to the Murdoch press over phone hacking. Now he’s posing with the rag and preparing to have dinner with the paper’s representative. The Sun will trash Labour anyway in the election campaign. News International are fighting back.

But the most devastating aspect of the affair was the offence to the Hillsborough families. Miliband shouldn’t need advisers over this. Just ask Andy Burnham or any Labour MP within a hundred miles of Liverpool or Sheffield. Anyway his advisers are either all London based myopics or were dazzled by the chance to back the England football team.

Nobody believes Ed Miliband reads the Sun or eats bacon sandwiches. He shouldn’t have stabbed his brother in the back and should now try to be authentic at least.


Because the Sun (or most of our press and broadcasters) didn’t cover it, doesn’t mean that Jean-Claude Junker can’t become E.U President.

MEPs have been determined to bring some democracy to this appointment and made it clear from a long way back that the party with the largest group in the European Parliament should provide the next President of the Commission. So hustings were held in the middle of May with candidates representing the main groupings and broadcast on BBC Parliament. You could have watched it (if the media had done their job and told you about it) and then you could have supported a party on that basis. For instance Martin Shulz, roughly Labour; Guy Verhofstadt, roughly Liberal, Ska Keller, Greens or good old Jean-Claude Junker, Conservative Federalist. They turned out to be the largest group after the elections so he has the right to be chosen as the next President of the Commission.

Now I hear two anguished cries going up. First “we’ve never heard of these people!” Not an excuse, just like I didn’t know the speed limit, the need for insurance cover etc. People have got to take some interest. The British media have got to raise their game over European coverage.

The second cry is “where was the candidate representing David Cameron’s anti federalist Tories in the European Conservatives and Reformist mini group. They didn’t put up a candidate! Brilliant. If you don’t buy a ticket you can’t enter the lottery or block the democratic choice of the people of Europe.

Cameron may still succeed in blocking Juncker. My advise would be accept him and stop being rude about him. After all Cameron is going to need him to help with a package of reforms which the Prime Minister(if still in office) has to sell to the British people to stop them from voting to get out in 2017.


What do the Hillsborough families, the victims of phone hacking and the brave soldiers who fought in Iraq have in common? They are being strung along by legal and political bureaucracies that need to remember the old maxim that justice delayed is justice denied.


Hillsborough happened in 1989,the Iraq War was in 2003, Leveson reported last November amid press and politician promises of swift action.




There are plenty of explanations for why those responsible for Hillsborough haven’t been brought to justice, why the verdict on the politicians who took us to war in Iraq has still not been delivered and why we still haven’t got an agreed structure to stop the press plundering people’s privacy. It is all taking too long and the result is that the Hillsborough agony is prolonged, the doubts about the Iraq war remain as we contemplate what to do about Syria, and the press remains defiant about legislation underpinning a new code of practice.


Of course accused people, whether they be South Yorkshire police officers, Tony Blair or press barons are entitled to time to defend themselves, but not this much time.


As Margaret Aspinall, who lost her son at Hillsborough, said recently “ I am really tired of this now. I want it over.” The euphoria after the quashing of the original verdicts has now been replaced by a realisation that justice is going to take a long time. The authorities are not moving as fast as they could. For instance at a pre inquest hearing recently the judge was told there had been delays in the Home Office signing off the recruitment of officers for the investigation. Inexcusable. This week the Home Affairs Select committee has said the Independent Police Complaints Commission is “woefully under equipped” for investigating the South Yorkshire force.


Meanwhile Anne Williams, who also lost a son, has died. Only after the new inquest verdicts are delivered (and depending on what they are) can any prosecutions begin. Am I alone in thinking the passage of time, and the apparent lethargy of some of those involved, could lead to the whole thing petering out to the intense frustration of the Hillsborough victims?




Kate and Gerry McCann were subject to gross misreporting and intrusion after the disappearance of their daughter Madeleine. The Dowlers’ missing daughter’s phone was hacked. Yet seven months after the Leveson Report politicians and the press are in a stand off that is a disrespectful to the victims of press excess. The political parties reached a deal on what should be done. Some press barons don’t like it, so what? As Lord Denning said “Be you ever so high, the law is above you.” Get on with legislation, there’s plenty of parliamentary time.




Four years ago Sir John Chilcot launched his inquiry into the Iraq War which took place ten years ago. Some people are speculating it could be next year before it reports. Presumably one of the reasons for mounting this expensive exercise was to inform future decisions about Britain’s foreign entanglements. So it would have been handy to have had the findings before us as we contemplate arming the rebels in Syria.


So what’s the delay? Officially it centres on the release of secret government documents but recently former Foreign Secretary David Owen gave a much more serious reason for the delay. He said Tony Blair and David Cameron were blocking the inquiry from seeing extracts of exchanges with former President Bush “using conventions totally inappropriate given the nature of the inquiry.”


Owen went on to suggest this was part of a strategy by Cameron to keep Tony Blair on side and to detach Tony Blair from Ed Miliband and the Labour Party.


True or not, the fact remains that the issues of Hillsborough, Iraq and the press are taking too long to resolve and ordinary people are left in suffering limbo.


The massive failure of the institutions of the state revealed by Bishop James Jones’ team must not fail again. There must be new inquests. There must be prosecutions for conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. But will it happen? The Hillsborough families have no faith in judges, police, coroners, some senior politicians and some journalists.


It will take the delivery of justice, individuals being held to account to begin to rebuild trust.


The Hillsborough Independent Panel’s findings are a vindication of the extraordinary persistence of the families in the face of a whole range of public institutions which failed them. The list is long. The stadium without a safety certificate, failure of police control on the day, the poor medical attention, the lies about the fans, the police cover up, the inadequate Taylor and Stewart Smith reports, the disgraceful inquests, the failure of the judicial system during the private prosecutions and not least, it must be said, an often unspoken wish of some people not directly affected for Hillsborough to be forgotten as an episode from a dark time in Britain’s history.


To try and explain (but not excuse) this establishment failure and deceit on such a large scale we have to remember the political world as it was in 1989. The Thatcher government was in the process of introducing legislation to make football fans carry ID membership cards. It was a daft idea but it was in response to rampant soccer hooliganism.


Hillsborough, without a safety certificate, was not alone in being a dump. Facilities in our ageing Victorian football grounds showed contempt for the fans comfort and many responded accordingly. Most stood and you still hear nostalgic calls for “the right to stand”. Let’s hope those cries are silenced now.


Also in 1989 memories were very fresh about the Miner’s Strike and the crucial role played by the police on behalf of the Thatcher government. Since the Independent Panel reported there has been a sharp exchange about this between two former Home Office Ministers. Labour’s Jack Straw claims the police had developed a sense of immunity from criticism after the strike, while Tory David Mellor criticised the remark and pointed out that the Tories had introduced major legislation on the police.


Not only do we need prosecutions, we also need a change of culture from within the organs of the state. We like to think we have moved on from the 1980s in terms of accountability. One barrister recalled this week that back then if you suggested in court that a police officer might be lying, you’d get short shrift from the judge. But has the mindset of those in the know really changed?


Tony Blair brought in the Freedom of Information Act, but now calls it his biggest mistake. The new post of Chief Coroner to oversee the creaking coroner’s system was nearly scrapped by the Coalition Government and there are moves to increase secrecy in cases involving national security.


Some politicians have emerged with credit from this sorry business. The Home Secretary Theresa May has redeemed her promise to allow all documents to be put before the Independent Panel. Local politicians like Leigh’s Andy Burnham and Walton’s Steve Rotheram have been outstanding.


But for a long time many politicians gave the impression that they wanted Hillsborough to go away. Jack Straw asked Lord Justice Stewart Smith to reinvestigate the tragedy in 1997. The inquiry revealed little. When asked this week if Stewart Smith had access to all the documents, Straw said “he wasn’t certain”. He was only the Home Secretary for heavens sake and should have ordered the full document disclosure that has, at last, been so effective.


I really hope the Crown Prosecution Service and the Attorney General realise they have to be proactive now and the families don’t have to drag justice out of the institutions of the state that have failed them so badly so far.