The May government is rattled by the growing perception that they are not serious about the Northern Powerhouse. So, it perhaps would have been easier for the Conservatives to be meeting in their other conference city, Birmingham. The city has been confirmed as the UK candidate for the 2022 Commonwealth Games following the election of a Tory West Midlands mayor. In Greater Manchester we elected Andy Burnham who has expressed his outrage at the decision to downgrade the electrification of the Leeds-Manchester rail line whilst giving the go ahead to Crossrail 2 in London.

We know the government is rattled because last week I was present at a meeting in Manchester where the Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, came out fighting over his government’s transport spending. He told a startled business audience that he was going to slay some myths and rattled off a whole series of road improvements from Cumbria to Cheshire before tackling rail. His argument seems to be that electrification could be an old hat solution and bi-modal trains with state of the art technology could be the answer.

The issue is sure to come up at a conference where the Tories are reeling on many fronts. Whereas I saw Jeremy Corbyn lauded at every turn in Brighton for losing the General Election, Theresa May comes to Manchester having “won” but with the worst Conservative campaign in living memory. The Tories are past masters at preventing unrest breaking out on the conference floor but there is sure to be some raking over of the General Election coals at the fringe meetings.

Europe will also be an issue to watch at the Manchester conference. The prospect of us effectively being in the European Union until 2021 has angered the hardline Brexiteers. There will be plenty of them in Manchester Central. The Tory activists who come to conference have always been very Eurosceptic.

Besides the Northern Powerhouse, the poor election campaign and Europe, the main challenge for the Tories this weekend will be to answer the growing opposition to austerity and cuts. Labour is shamelessly promising everything to everyone, even acknowledging that if they came to power there could well be a massive run on the pound. Nevertheless, they seem to have caught a tide of opinion against pay curbs, high rents and homelessness. The Tories’ austerity programme has been in place for over seven years now and people are fed up. There are some signs that ministers are recognising this but that can spell danger. Small concessions don’t necessarily assuage the anger. They can make matters worse as workers take industrial action to push for more and the uncertain tone from ministers gives the impression that the government is running out of ideas and is past its sell by date.

Jeremy Corbyn said in Brighton that he was a Prime Minister in waiting. It was a bold, some would say fanciful claim, but if the Cabinet infighting over Europe doesn’t stop, if the cracks are on display in Manchester, there can be no certainty over what might happen this winter.

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In 1942 the voters of Poplar South could be forgiven for a lack of interest in a by election. The Nazis were at the gates of Stalingrad and Rommel was threatening to conquer Egypt. 8% turned out.


Manchester Central’s voters had no such military distractions last week as they recorded the lowest turnout since those desperate wartime days.


The quality of candidates was high. Lucy Powell, Labour’s first woman MP, has already worked in key posts in the Labour Party. Marc Ramsbottom is a serious and able leader of the Lib Dem opposition on Manchester Council. Matthew Sephton deserves a seat with better prospects for the Conservatives.


The economy is still flat lining. Many people in Manchester Central are suffering benefit and service cuts and yet they didn’t see the parliamentary game as one they wanted to take part in. It is true that Labour were always going to hold this seat, but the lack of uncertainty about the result cannot be the full explanation for such apathy. People are losing faith that conventional politics can make a difference.


Low polls were also a feature of the elections for Police and Crime Commissioners (PCC) across the North. From Leeds to Liverpool the turnout averaged around 13%.


Mark Burns-Williamson won a run off with an Independent to become the PCC in West Yorkshire. One of his first tasks will be to appoint a new Chief Constable now that Norman Bettison is stepping down following the recent Hillsborough revelations.


In the rest of the Downtown patch, our new PCCs face the stark realities of cuts as they set police budgets against a very tough deadline.


Both Tony Lloyd (Greater Manchester) and Jane Kennedy (Merseyside) won on the first ballot for Labour. Keep an eye on Kennedy who is set to make some waves as she streamlines the bloated structure of the old police authority.


Given their poll ratings, the Conservatives can be reasonably pleased that they won two PCC races in the North West. In Cheshire John Dwyer saw off Labour’s John Stockton in a second round run off. A former Assistant Chief Constable, some are forecasting a difficult relationship with the current Chief Constable David Whatton. Meanwhile In Cumbria magistrate and Tory candidate Richard Rhodes also won a second round ballot run off against Labour candidate Patrick Leonard.


But the Conservatives couldn’t repeat their success in Lancashire, soon to be the scene for a hotly contested battle for control of County Hall. Conservative candidate Tim Ashton took Labour’s Clive Grunshaw to a second ballot but was edged out.


The Liberal Democrats got no PCC elected in the whole of England and Wales. In the Downtown area they came bottom of the poll in West Yorkshire,Lancashire and Cumbria and next to bottom in Cheshire. On Merseyside Paula Keaveney was five thousand votes behind her ex Lib Dem colleague Kieron Reid standing as an independent. Only in Greater Manchester did former copper Matt Gallagher put up a reasonable showing.


I was with two of the North West’s top election experts this week. They both forecast that Nick Clegg would be deposed by Vince Cable before the next election and the Lib Dems would leave the Tories as a minority government for six to twelve months before 2015.


The highlight of the North West Royal Television Society Awards for me was when the Best Live Event category was won by the BBC for their coverage of The Preston Passion. It recognised both the commitment of the BBC and the people of Preston for a great effort in poor weather last Easter.