There wasn’t a great deal of coverage in the papers about the European Parliament’s victory over mobile phone roaming charges. But then it was a good news story about a body they like to pour contempt on rather than treating it like the impressive democratic forum of 28 nations, which it is. Anyway you will soon find sending home your selfies when you are on holiday a lot cheaper because the Members of the European Parliament have used their collective power to stop the mobile phone companies ripping you off.

Enjoy the benefit while you can because its increasingly likely that in 2017 we’ll be out of the EU on our own in the world. As soon as David Cameron announced the referendum in 2013 I warned that it would coincide with the mid term of the next parliament when  governments are unpopular. Never mind the issue, people from hard working doctors to those who’ve lost their tax credits will want to take it out on the Prime Minister. Cameron and Osborne will be campaigning to stay in, so many people will want to give them a bloody nose and will vote to come out.

We could see this begin to play out in the Oldham West and Royton by election on December 3rd. UKIP have chosen John Bickley. He’s a candidate for all seats having already fought Wythenshawe and Sale East and Heywood and Middleton. I profoundly disagree with his politics but he is an able candidate and will give Labour a run for their money.

Europe is poorly reported by our media generally. Not only did the European Parliament’s victory over roaming charges get little publicity, there was virtually no coverage of the Treasury Select committee’s inquiry into the actual consequences of our withdrawing from the European Union. I sat through two hours where witnesses who knew what they were talking about outlined the complexity, cost and uncertainty of what detaching ourselves from our friends and neighbours would mean.

Next week the Prime Minister is due to clarify what he actually wants from the EU in order to campaign to stay in. He will get an opt out from ever closer union and possibly a formal recognition that the £ will always exist alongside the Euro. He may get the ability for the Westminster parliament to “red card” some EU measures. But to convince Eurosecptics he wants a four year ban on EU migrants gaining access to in work benefits. Immigration is the big issue Cameron wants to deliver on and what he wants is illegal under European law because it discriminates against people because of their nationality.

That’s why I fear people will vote “no”. Cameron will be ridiculed for not stopping what some people call “benefit tourism” . Ironically the “living wage” project of the government will make it more attractive for foreign workers to come here to cut our lettuces, clean our streets and support the National Health Service.





As the Chancellor reels from his drubbing at the hands of the House of Lords over tax credits, he can fall back for solace on his pet project the Northern Powerhouse. Or can he? A poll out this weekend shows only one in four people in the North believe it will deliver. This is hardly surprising as they have been shut out of a project that has been cooked up behind the closed doors of Whitehall and the Town Halls.

I have been to Sheffield and Liverpool this week finding out just where we are with the devolution deals. The most interesting meeting was was Downtown’s Devo Scouse event. The networking organisation has now brought together twelve business organisations who insist on having their say in shaping the devolution deal for the Liverpool City Region.

The magnificent dozen came together after seeing the devolution proposition Merseyside’s politicians had sent to the government. It amounted to a fifty item shopping list of demands with little evidence to back it up and a paragraph on elected mayors almost designed to antagonise a government determined to support the idea.

They are putting their ideas to the councillors on the Combined Authority this weekend but they better be quick. Insiders tell me a government response may come on Nov 11th, even ahead of the Comprehensive Spending Review later next month. They have on board the doyen of devolution academics Professor Michael Parkinson (a possible independent mayoral candidate?) who told the Devo Scouse meeting that the City Region needed to produce evidence based solutions to the government’s problems over things like low skills, not the begging bowl. There needed to be more trust between the six districts that did form a coherent economic whole. There was no point having hang ups about Manchester which is currently the go to city for devolution. They had been at this business for 20 years not 20 months. Parkinson also observed that the politicians in Greater Manchester had their rows in private not on the front page of the echo.

Martin McTague of the Federation of Small Business praised the coming together of twelve business organisations and said Liverpool should pay attention to the details of devo deals done in Sheffield and the North East. They had been narrowly focused. One of the main issues that has caused disunity on Merseyside is the question of an elected city region mayor. The FSB spokesman said they should not get hung up about it because the ones agreed so far would only be chairs of the board of the Combined Authorities not an all powerful Boris type mayor.

The other devolution event I went to was organised by IPPR North in Sheffield. Former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott continued his campaign for a region rather than a city based approach to the Northern Powerhouse. I agree with him but I’m afraid that ship has sailed for the moment. Dan Jarvis, a Barnsley MP tipped as a possible future Labour leader acknowledged that Labour had been left trailing by George Osborne over the Northern Powerhouse. Christine Gaskell, Chair of the Cheshire and Warrington LEP reminded people of the power of her economy as a contributor to the Northern Powerhouse, whilst the only Tory speaker at the conference felt his Ribble Valley area was more an outhouse than a powerhouse.


The selection of a new Labour candidate for Oldham West and Royton will take place on Bonfire Night. Those that choose politics over pyrotechnics may see the leader of Oldham Council Jim McMahon chosen as the standard bearer.

Jon Lansman,a London based veteran of the Labour left in the 1980s, has ruled himself out. There are a couple of local councillors from the Asian community who fancy their chances in a seat with a large South Asian population and I’ve heard that Phil Woolas the able MP for Oldham East, who was disqualified from office by an election court in 2011 has been sizing up his chances.

Voting is expected by the end of November so UKIP will need to get their skates on and may choose the impressive John Bickley who nearly won Heywood last year.




It is a moving picture as I write, but David Cameron’s insistence that he will only do one TV debate with all the parties is the latest episode in a sorry saga that reflects badly on the Prime Minister

The TV companies had set the dates for three debates, two with seven parties and a head to head between Cameron and Miliband, before the Prime Minister’s very late move on Wednesday night. So will the TV companies back down or stick to their format and dare to empty chair him?

The endless wrangles have been yet another blow to the prestige of politicians. After 2010, the public now expect their potential rulers to subject themselves to this sort of scrutiny. This principle should have underpinned the discussions this time acknowledging that it was going to be more complicated than five years ago. This is because we have a coalition, and potentially other players because of the fracturing of politics away from the traditional parties.

Instead of trying to find a way through the difficulties, the TV companies have had to engage in a game of cat and mouse with David Cameron. The Tories have the age old fear of all incumbents that they can only lose by taking part. They fear putting themselves on the same level as their opponents. They also fear a “Natalie Bennett” episode.

This is nothing new. In my early years as a broadcaster my attempts to get constituency debates between candidates were often thwarted by what I came to call the “coward’s clause”. Election law required all candidates to agree to take part. It gave incumbent MPs a veto and both Labour and Tory MPs played that card. Later on the law was changed to say that all must be invited to take part but none could veto. Hence the opportunity for an empty chair arises in relation to the 2015 Election Debates.

It will be very interesting as one can’t believe that David Cameron would risk an empty chair but neither can one imagine Sky and Channel 4 showing Ed Miliband taking part alone on April 30.

Leaving the question of Tory participation aside, there are other problems with the format of the debates as proposed by the TV companies until Wednesday night. . We are not going to have a threesome of Cameron, Clegg and Miliband. I think the coalition partners and their potential replacement as the head of the government should have debated together. Cameron and Clegg would both have had to defend their record in government and criticise each other with Miliband throwing in his two-penneth. The coalition’s record would have been debated.

Given the Lib Dems current weak showing, I agree with the Cameron Miliband head to head bringing us a debate between the only two people who credibly can be Prime Minister. Cameron has now specifically rejected this.

But the third debate should have only involved parties fielding candidates throughout the United Kingdom. The arrangements, if they stand, for not one, but two debates, on April 2 on ITV and the BBC on April 16 are a mess. 7 parties will take part including the SNP and Plaid. The argument for the latter two is presumably on the basis that they could be players in deciding the policies of the UK government in coalition negotiations. Well what about the Democratic Unionists? They may well be players in the post election stramash. This is a fair point made by Cameron on Wednesday night. It seems the Prime Minister wants one debate with eight candidates.

Leaving aside the politics of the “hydra” debates, what will voters get out of seven or eight people all trying to have their say. There is a great danger it will either be a messy shouting match or so dull and formulaic that people will switch off.


UKIP are fading a little in the polls and the North West is not the most promising region of the country for them. Some have their eyes on Bootle where Deputy UKIP leader Paul Nuttall faces a massive Labour majority. More likely is Heywood and Middleton where last autumn’s by election left Labour’s Liz McInness just 617 ahead of UKIP.

She should be saved by the bigger turnout of Labour voters in a General Election but a word of caution. UKIP have a good candidate in John Bickley and working class voters, disillusioned by Labour, can see from the by election evidence that three hundred odd votes could have seen Labour ousted.

Follow me at www.jimhancock.co.uk.