Labour’s inexperienced leadership has been blind sided by the government over the terms of our leaving the EU. They have fallen for a reluctant promise from Theresa May to lay out her plans for the negotiations. Don’t hold your breath. The Tories didn’t want to do this. They deployed powerful arguments for keeping things close to Ministers chests. They still believe in that strategy and the document, when it is produced, is likely to be as clear as a December fog.

For instance will it reveal whether we want to be part of the Single Market or Customs Union? Will it reveal our position on freedom of movement? Will it indicate whether we are prepared to continue paying some EU contributions in return for concessions? I very much doubt it. However Labour have taken the pressure off the government. The threat to disrupt this unwise process of leaving the EU had been a cause Labour could rally around. It certainly paid off for the Lib Dems in the Richmond by election last week.

Instead the government have a blank cheque for triggering Article 50. Also the decision of the Supreme Court over whether parliament must pass an act to trigger Article 50 is rendered far less significant because Labour has paved the way for the government on the issue.

Labour’s blunder is particularly frustrating because it has been revealed during the Supreme Court proceedings that the EU Referendum was not legally binding. Indeed Ministers resisted an attempt to make it so. It was an advisory referendum so we Remainers are entitled to politely here the advice of the 52% and take a different view now that the implications of leaving are becoming clearer by the day.

One is reinforced in that view by my colleague, Mr McKenna, who writes eloquently this week about the pack of lies that was told by the Leave campaign. Amongst them was the threat that millions of Turks were about to come and live here. Last week the European Parliament (the democratic voice of the EU) voted to suspend any talk of Turkish membership because of its human rights record.


I recently completed my parliamentary boundary road show visiting Lancaster, Chester, Liverpool and Manchester. These hearings were on reshaping the parliamentary map to reduce the number of MPs and even out the size of constituencies.

Labour has expressed its anger that the population figures on which the calculations are based are out of date. They are expecting to lose seats in the shake up and I was expecting strong feelings to be on display. In truth there was barely a whimper. This was particularly surprising in regard to Wirral where two Labour seats are folded into one. There was mild concern in the eastern part of Greater Manchester over the splitting up of Oldham and the joining together of the very different communities of Hyde and Marple.

The changes will give the Conservatives more seats but ironically it has been the Tories kicking up the most fuss. They strongly objected to the linking of Lancaster and Morecambe in one seat and the creation of a vast North Lancashire constituency stretching from the Upper Lune Valley to the outskirts of Preston.

Further south the Tories have the problem of George Osborne’s Tatton seat being abolished. The former Chancellor has ruled out leaving the region. A close aide to Osborne has told me there will not be a battle with Graham Brady for the new Altrincham and Tatton Park constituency so we are denied the prospect of the ex Chancellor and the chairman of the 1922 Backbench committee and champion of grammar schools going head to head. So what will Osborne do? He may find the selection rules give him difficulties if he looks towards Weaver Vale or Eddisbury.

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Nigel Farage believes in plain speaking. Well the UKIP leader now has a rival in that department. Manuel Barroso, the outgoing European Commission President has spelt it out for David Cameron as he seeks to appease UKIP over immigration.


An arbitrary cap on immigrants from eastern Europe would fall foul of the Lisbon Treaty of 2007 and the original Rome Treaty of 1957, Barroso said. So David Cameron would need a treaty change. The Polish ambassador to the UK has said Poland would veto such a change. Therefore Cameron would fail in the negotiations and would be under enormous pressure to campaign to come out of the EU. If he refused then Boris Johnson or the ambitious Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond would be eager to replace him and back a better off out campaign. Under those circumstances it is a racing certainty the British people would vote to come out.


I have believed for a long time that it is more likely than not that a referendum would lead to us leaving the EU, so it is time for business, small, medium and large to start speaking up and spelling out the serious consequences of our withdrawal for jobs.


Pressure is building up in the Labour Party for a switch in their position. It is one of the few principled stands that I admire Ed Miliband for. However MPs are in despair at his poll ratings and some want to grasp at offering an EU referendum in a desperate effort to improve their chances of winning next May. The close shave in the Heywood and Middleton by election has only added to the pressure. There is even talk of a northern Labour MP defecting to UKIP.




The City Growth Commission this week increased the pressure on the government to give more power and money to city regions. The Chancellor is expected to make an announcement in the Autumn Statement. Greater Manchester is preparing a partial back down in its opposition to Mr Osborne’s demand for an elected mayor for the conurbation. They are set to name Lord Smith of Wigan as leader of the Combined Authority. It is far short of the directly elected accountability that the government rightly demand but it may be enough for now.


If the Chancellor hands over 90% of business rates to cities like Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool, the vision of a northern powerhouse will begin to take shape. But what about the rest of the north? I was at an event in Lancaster this week where the economy of north Lancashire and Cumbria was under discussion. Places like Lancaster, Workington and Carlisle struggle to retain their talented youngsters who are drawn to the big cities. They also suffer from the scrapping of the regional spatial strategies that used to provide a framework for economic investment. Similar issues arise in North Yorkshire and the Humber.


So as we power up our big cities, we also need to convince the government that the whole North needs support from an overarching Council of the North





Who’s going to pull us out of this economic mess? Big companies, SMEs, or the North West’s answer to Mark Zuckerberg lurking on one of our university campuses like Lancaster or UCLAN?

Unemployment might top three million by year end according to some forecasters.

Certainly last week’s jobless figures did nothing to raise spirits in manufacturing areas like Lancashire.

Hard on the heels of the unemployment statistics came news of disappointing sales results at BAE Systems. That’s a big company employing thousands of people at Warton, Salmesbury and Chorley.

They’ve been hit by falling defence orders and may lose a major contract for Eurofighter Typhoons for the Indian air force to the French. It should be pointed out however that Dassault Aviation is only the preferred bidder and frantic efforts are being made to ensure all is not lost.

Then there’s AstraZeneca employing three thousand people at Alderley Park in Cheshire. There’s another giant in the job cutting business because producing new highly profitable drugs is getting more difficult.

Finally in this catalogue of tottering titans, we have General Motors which owns the Vauxhall plant at Ellesmere Port. Despite a highly efficient and cooperative workforce, the American based management is reported to be contemplating cuts in its European operations here and in Germany.

So what’s to be done? BAE, AstraZeneca and Vauxhall are big potatoes in the North West economic stew. If they are downsizing, where are the jobs to come from?

The Institute for Public Policy Research North published a report last week that might provide part of the answer.

The document “Beyond bricks and mortar boards: universities and the future of regional economic development”, points out that knowledge-based industries employing staff with high level skills will see the most significant growth in job creation by the end of the decade.

So universities like UCLAN will be central to skill creation, but the report says there needs to be wider recognition of the role universities can play in the North West economy.

As well as producing highly skilled people, the report identifies their economic impact in university towns like Lancaster where high incomes are generated and the institution is a significant employer.

Like everyone else, universities have had to adjust to the new regional policy landscape which has seen the Regional Development Agency and North West Universities Association swept away.

The report challenges the new Local Enterprise Partnerships to make the best use of the universities in this region.

At the launch of the report in Manchester there was an acceptance of this approach, but efforts by a few attendees to trash the reputation of the RDA were resisted. The Vice Chancellor of Manchester Metropolitan University, Prof. John Brooks, was not alone in criticising the lack of regional focus in the new arrangements.

From the rarefied company of academics in Manchester I was quickly back to low politics on Merseyside.

First I dropped in on Alec Salmond charming an audience in St George’s Hall with his demand for Scottish independence. The First Minister is a clever politician lacing his address with references toLiverpooland all the fine football managers his country has bequeathed the city.

I wanted to ask him a key question but wasn’t lucky enough to be called so I’ll ask it here. “Mr Salmond, you have a mandate for a yes/no referendum on Scottish independence. What you don’t have is a mandate to ask a question about ‘ devo max’ which could muddle the answer and would show your lack of confidence that you can get full independence. What’s your answer?’’

Then it was on to Wallasey Town Hall to see the latest chapter in the soap that is Wirral politics. Steve Foulkes has been deposed as Labour leader after just nine months back in office by a coalition of Tories and Lib Dems which may only have three months in power before Labour sweeps back in the May elections.

Wirral was one of the councils most opposed to a city region mayor. I fear they will become increasingly marginalised conducting their power struggles whilst Liverpool benefits from the cash that will follow the election of a mayor.

On that subject I have only one thing to say this week and it is to Phil Redmond. In a Liverpool newspaper, the Tarporley resident tells us he wants to be provided with a series of answers before he deigns to tell us if he’s a candidate or not.

Find out for yourself Phil, and then decide one way or the other. Unlike arty seminars, politics requires decisions.