When John Whittingdale was offered the Cabinet post which involved press regulation, why did he not disclose to the Prime Minister that some papers knew of his previous relationship with a woman who had tried to sell her story to said papers?

The government, and Whittingdale in particular has gone soft on press regulation. The Secretary of State is “not convinced” of the case to incentivize papers to sign up to a regulation panel under Royal Charter by exposing them to high costs in civil libel cases if they do not. Nor is there any sign of the second part of the Leveson Inquiry into the original failed police investigation into phone hacking at the News of the World.

The code of conduct for Ministers speaks of the need, not only for there to be no conflict of interest, but no “perceived” conflict of interest. The perception is certainly clear and the actual conflict possibly too. The press clearly had this embarrassing piece of information on Whittingdale and we can “perceive” that he may consider it wise to treat the press gently for fear of exposure.

His fear could be justified by the current press fury and frustration that they are injuncted from reporting on the affairs of a well known entertainer. That sits curiously with their decision that there was no public interest in publishing the story of Whittingdale and the dominatrix. Certainly Max Mosley, the former motor racing chief, thinks it’s odd bearing in mind how he was done over in a similar situation.

Whittingdale may have resigned by the time you read this, otherwise he must be moved in the post referendum reshuffle.


David Cameron made a horlicks over his tax affairs but the explanation that that was because he was trying to defend his late father, I found refreshingly frank.

The government need to take account of the growing public clamour for the fat cats not to be allowed to get away with it. If that means trimming the freedom of our overseas territories, hiring more tax officials and voting for tougher European Union action, then so be it.

Labour will be wise to concentrate on those measures and not imply that if Jeremy Corbyn became Prime Minister, they would threaten normal legal tax planning.


The Labour leader was in his element at a House of Commons event I attended this week. It was to celebrate the People’s History Museum (PHM) in Manchester and their fund-raising, Radical Heroes, campaign. On the banks of the Irwell in the centre of town, it is a great resource for telling the story of the struggle of people in the North for economic and political equality.

It is not just a Labour Party institution. Liberal Democrat MPs like John Pugh from Southport was at the event and in the nineteenth century Bury’s Robert Peel was the radical who abolished the Corn Laws and created the modern Conservative Party.

But most of the people there were Labour including former leader Neil Kinnock, who told me he thinks the party is in a worse position now than when he took over in 1983. He had previously told the New Statesman that he found it “difficult to see” Corbyn being elected.

We won’t have to wait long now for the new leader’s first nationwide test in May’s elections.







Ed Miliband is staking everything on being the people’s champion against vested interests. He may be personally awkward and unable to eat a bacon sandwich but he is convinced that voters will rally to Labour as the party for people who are fed up with the fat cats getting away with it. He may be right and if he can get enough of them to vote, he might win. On the other hand the Tories may succeed in nailing him as a leftie with a downer on enterprise.


It is essential that Miliband breaks out of the torpor that has surrounded his leadership. He can’t change his personal image, he can’t change the fact that the economy is on the mend but he has developed a habit of courageously taking on vested interests.


This began with Rupert Murdoch when revelations about phone tapping first emerged. Next were the energy companies threatened by a price freeze. Now Stefano Pessina of Boots and Tory donor Lord Fink are caught up in Ed’s latest campaign for people to pay their fair share of tax in the UK.


He is definitely on to something here. It is a common complaint that ordinary people on PAYE, well known to Inland Revenue and Customs, are readily fined for being a few days late with their tax forms whilst it seems these fat cats with their money stashed abroad are treated with awe and respect. The approach is justified on the grounds that being nice and polite might get some money back whereas going in hard with court cases will be costly and not productive. Well let’s try it and see whether the bad publicity leads to lots of these tax exiles paying up at the court door.


This matters. We are talking billions of pounds that could be being spent reducing the deficit and saving public services. If Ed Miliband can convince people it won’t be business as usual under him, he might be on to something at last.




Each week between now and the General Election I will be looking at some of the key contests in the Downtown in Business areas of the North West and Leeds.


We start with the battle between the Conservatives and Lib Dems in the genteel streets of Southport. In times past the constituency fluctuated regularly between the two parties. But since 1997 it has been in Lib Dem hands, initially in the shape of the flamboyant Ronnie Fern, but for the last three elections John Pugh has held the seat. Pugh, a school teacher for thirty years was a big contrast to Ronnie Fearn. He has earned a reputation as a good constituency MP recently highlighting the economic problems of resort towns in a Commons debate. Shamefully overlooked for ministerial office in the Coalition, he has distanced himself from some of the government’s policies.


His Tory opponent is supermarket executive and Preston councillor, Damien Moore. He has to overcome a six thousand Lib Dem majority, so the party will have to be in real meltdown for this seat to change hands.


Next week: Rossendale and Darwen.





Downtown in Business  campaign for a “northern revolution” to close the North South divide got a major boost this week. A leading think tank has recommended that cash strapped councils and public agencies across the North should come together to find new ways of delivering services in cooperation with the private sector.


The Smith Institute launched the report in Leeds amid claims that public spending cuts were on such a scale that senior officers and councillors could quit in despair. The report’s author, Michael Ward, warned town hall trade unions that they must cooperate in change of suffer the fate of the print unions who led a futile fight against changes in newspaper production in the 1980s.


Public sector cuts are leading to a major rethink about the very basis on which services are delivered. Roger Marsh, Northern Leader for Government and the Public Sector for Price Waterhouse Cooper in Leeds feels the current system of delivering council services is broken. He believes the Combined Authority model already operating in Greater Manchester could be copied in West Yorkshire.


The report paints a gloomy picture of the central government’s ability to sustain local government from a shrinking pool of tax revenue. It says that North Sea oil is in decline and countries are engaged in a race to the bottom in slashing Corporation Tax.


The report analyses the claim that northern councils are doing worse than their southern counterparts in the current settlement. They find that it is so and point out that the New Homes Bonus is benefiting southern councils that would have built new houses anyway.


Mr Ward called on councils to use technology to cut costs so they could concentrate on personal services for children and the old. John Pugh, the Lib Dem MP for Southport, said it was not a good time for council’s to be visionary. His authority, Sefton, was totally preoccupied with coping with the cuts.


Mr Ward ended with a rallying call for a Constitutional Convention for England to debate his proposals. Perhaps he will join Downtown’s Northern Revolution.