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



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.




The aerospace industry is vital to the North West economy, so the chance to partly assemble 126 Eurofighter Typhoon jets for the Indian Air Force must be fought for.

On a visit to Westminster this week I gained evidence that much is going on behind the scenes even though preferred bidder status has been given to the French.

Ben Wallace, the MP for Wyre and Preston North, along with his colleague Mark Menzies (Fylde) met the Prime Minister on Monday. Eyebrows had been raised when news came through that the French had stolen a march on us, because David Cameron visited India with a big trade delegation soon after coming into office.

Now more details are emerging about the situation which could have implications for the workforce at Salmesbury, Warton and beyond. The strength of the French bid apparently lies in their tie up with the Reliance Group, India’s largest private sector conglomerate. With annual revenues of $58bn it is far larger than Tata, the Indian company which owns the Jaguar plant at Halewood.

However this deal is far from done and with David Cameron on the case, efforts will be made to expose the weaknesses of the French position. I’m told Reliance has no track record in aerospace and there is very little detail on price which could be significant as the French are desperate to get a foreign order for their Rafale jet. 700 of the Eurofighters have already been sold.

Ben Wallace emerged from his meeting with the PM confident there was all to play for. Apparently in similar negotiations for these aircraft the preferred bidder has been overtaken on six occasions.

Wallace is a Conservative MP in the tradition of former members like David Trippier (Rossendale) and Malcolm Thornton (Crosby). They are Tories that believe that to be successful in the North West; it helps to come from the liberal One Nation part of the party.

Wallace has been in the House since 2005 but faces a brutal internal party battle to maintain his political career. Boundary changes are likely to see him, Mark Menzies (Fylde) and Eric Ollerenshaw (Fleetwood and Lancaster) competing for just two seats.

During our time together at the Commons  we bumped into Wallace’s neighbour Jack Straw (Blackburn). Jack seems to be almost equally concerned aboutIranand Blackburn Rovers these days. He feels his successor as Foreign Secretary, William Hague, is underestimating the growing crisis surrounding Iran.

On the crisis at Ewood Park Jack had made an unusual move for an MP, in calling for manager Steve Keen to go. He seemed unimpressed when I remarked that Rovers had been doing a bit better recently.

Around the Commons corridors much of the talk is about elected mayors and Police Crime Commissioners. Ben Wallace told me he’s lining up an ex-soldier colleague of his to contest the position for the Lancashire Police Authority.

On the mayoral front I had an interesting chat with former Labour Minister and Wythenshawe MP Paul Goggins. There has been a general feeling that Manchester will vote “no” in the May referendum on whether to have a directly elected mayor with council leader Sir Richard Leese being against the idea.

However Goggins does not rule out a “yes” vote in Manchester pointing out that in neighbouring Salford last month every ward voted “yes” in a referendum triggered by a local businessman. So although the turnout was low, support was consistent across that city.

Following the “yes” vote, candidates have piled in to be the Labour nominees. The former Eccles MP Ian Stewart, has been joined by Salford council leader John Merry and former Labour National Executive Committee member Peter Wheeler.