Andy Burnham is right. The Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF) has been top down rather than bottom up. This dry sounding document is set to make serious inroads into the greenbelt in the county for housing development.

One needs to take into account the rampant opportunism that most politicians display ahead of elections; that said the dismay of three of the candidates standing for elected mayor of the Manchester City Region over the housing plan is notable.

There were widespread demonstrations as the consultation period closed with claims that people were unaware of what was being proposed.

There has been an opportunity to put viewpoints on line and there have been drop in sessions across Greater Manchester for people to state their case. However, many feel that the exercise was cosmetic and a product of the Combined Authority, a body mainly consisting of the ten leaders of the councils in the area.

Will the elected mayor change this perception? Will the new post herald an era where there is full democratic debate on issues like housing, the congestion charge and health? The jury is out but talk of making the elected mayor “the eleventh member of the family” suggests that Manchester City Council in particular will want to prevent the elected mayor being truly independent. The model is flawed. District council leaders sit on the Combined Authority with no direct mandate from the people. The Local Enterprise Partnerships are business organisations and strategic bodies like Transport For The North do not open their meetings to the public.

Real devolution requires politicians directly elected for the purpose of making big decisions on housing, transport, skills and health. We have Police Commissioner elections in an area of policy where there is little controversy. Why can’t debate over issues like greenbelt and hospitals be argued back and forth in election campaigns for a regional or sub regional assembly?

There need not be more politicians, the number of district councillors could be cut (Manchester has 96) and replaced with directly elected assembly people.


I went to the Fabian conference in London last week to see if there was any sign of the Greens, Lib Dems and the anti Corbyn forces getting their act together. I was once more disappointed as they continue to rearrange the deckchairs on the Titanic.

Amidst self indulgent in fighting, there were small signs that thinking is being done about local deals to allow the strongest of the opposition parties in a particular area to fight the Tories. But mostly people remained in their trenches with the Greens being attacked by Labour for standing a candidate in Copeland where the issue of nuclear power is a key one in the by election.

One red faced Labour purist, Luke Akehurst of Labour First claimed the Lib Dems should pay the price for many elections for going into coalition with the Tories in 2010 rather than support a rainbow coalition under Gordon Brown. Supporting him was Johanna Baxter of Scottish Labour saying she would never work with the SNP. It didn’t seem to occur to them that the rainbow coalition would have needed SNP support to make it remotely stable.

At the same conference, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn made a better speech. He’s hired John Prescott’s son apparently as a writer. Consequently, it had more North of England references than north London for a change. His theme that the system is rigged against ordinary people has potential.


Follow me at www.jimhancock.co.uk







For most of his twenty years as Leader of Manchester City Council, Sir Richard Leese has avoided personal attacks in favour of a sometimes dull concentration on making Manchester the city it is today. He was never my go to person for a juicy quote or a bit of inside gossip.

So it is truly astonishing that he has used a blog finally confirming that he doesn’t want to be the elected mayor of Greater Manchester, to attack two of his Labour colleagues who do. His blog contained a list of reasons why he didn’t want the job but it was in an email follow up to Labour group colleagues that he reportedly let rip. His targets were the current Labour interim mayor Tony Lloyd, and the Labour MP for Bury South,Ivan Lewis. Both are running for the Labour nomination.

The BBC’s North West Political Editor Arif Ansari revealed the contents of the email and reports Leese telling colleagues that Lloyd had been an excellent MP but as interim mayor “had shown a lack of vision, drive and leadership.” Ivan Lewis “had strengths” but Leese “would take some convincing that twenty years in parliament was adequate preparation for the position of elected mayor.” Ouch! Leese says the Labour candidate should be twenty years younger and a different gender.

That seems to rule out sixty year old Hazel Blears. I don’t know if the former Salford MP wants the job but she is the most credible woman I’ve heard mentioned. At a recent Downtown event I questioned Leese on his future and he floated the gender issue as well as the possibility that the Labour candidate might reflect the multi cultural nature of Greater Manchester. So let us hope that Leese gets his wish and Labour do look beyond the usual suspects for a candidate.

Meanwhile we must return to the possible reasons for Leese deciding not to stand, to sneer at the value of the post and attack his Labour colleagues.

It may be that Lloyd, who was the MP for Stretford, and Lewis who sits for Bury South are seen by Leese as “out of towners”. Manchester City Council has historically hated having anyone meddling in their affairs be it the Greater Manchester Council from 1974-86 or the North West Development Agency more recently. The Greater Manchester Mayor is probably seen in the same way, although steps have been taken to make him/her the eleventh member of the team of ten councils. It may also be that Tony Lloyd made himself unpopular in some circles when he defeated Lord Smith of Wigan for the interim post. Many felt Smith “deserved it” for his years of work on keeping the Greater Manchester family on the rails during the devolution discussions.

It was no secret that Leese has been lukewarm about the post for a long time despite the fact that his outstanding work as Leader of Manchester had been recognised across business and in government. But now his actual reasons are clear and they almost amount to the assessment of the position of the American Vice Presidency by one of its holders, John Nance Garner. He said it wasn’t “worth a bucket of warm spit.”

Leese doesn’t go that far but says in his blog that he would rather be having a pint in his local than be selling Greater Manchester to investment funds. He would regard being elected mayor as a “step down” from being leader of the city. He concludes that his current post is “infinitely more exciting than anything being Mayor of Greater Manchester has to offer”.

That signals that Richard Leese will be around for a while in Albert Square. His relationship with the Mayor of Greater Manchester will be interesting.



Liverpool Council will vote on Tuesday to deny the people a vote on whether they want an elected mayor.

Council leader Joe Anderson justifies this on the grounds that he can beat other cities to a package of powers and cash while they go through time wasting referendums. He had better be right.

The low turn out in Salford’s mayoral referendum last week (albeit with a yes vote) shows that this issue excites politicians and journalists far more than ordinary people.

A referendum could have been held in Liverpool if activists could have got just 5% of the citizenry to support it. They failed.

The document that Liverpool’s Chief Executive is putting before the council next week is instructive. It refers to the “proposed” deal with the government. Nothing is signed off yet. What happens if the deal collapses? Do we revert to a referendum? Chaos!

It concedes that “this package is not directly contingent upon an elected mayor.” It refers to the “inherent uncertainty” in not moving quickly without giving any evidence that the government is set to give fewer powers and cash to the 10 cities which are allowing their voters a say on whether they want this controversial post or not.

Actually I have never been a fan of referenda. The previous Labour government should have created an elected North West Assembly if it truly believed in democratic regional government. Instead it promised a referendum and then withdrew it.

In Liverpool’s case, the city was four months away from a promised referendum on the elected mayor issue and Joe Anderson risks giving the impression that this is a power grab to wrong foot other potential candidates.

He’s done a good job in his two years leading the city and will almost certainly win, but when he told a local paper this week “the electorate will have their chance to say yes or no” on May 3 that is manifest nonsense. The option to reject an elected mayor is not on offer.

Joe Anderson is not the only council leader plunged in controversy over elected mayors. Ahead of the Salford vote in favour, Richard Leese, the leader of Manchester City Council, told Granada TV such a result “could be a real obstacle” to the Combined Authority which runs Greater Manchester.

Yet speaking at the launch of Downtown’s Manchester Business Survey last Friday he felt there would not be a problem.

One feels his first reaction may be right particularly if Hazel Blears decides to quit parliament and stand. The Salford MP is used to “rocking the boat”.

At the moment Leese is campaigning for a no vote in May’s referendum in Manchester, although there’s still time for the government to seduce him with a package of goodies.

If Manchester votes no and Hazel looms up on the Combined Authority with a public mandate from Salford as elected mayor, it will have a potentially destabilising effect. Remember the rude things she said about Manchester when the parliamentary boundary commission proposed wiping her city off the map? She reminded us Manchester was a tiny village while Salford was already thriving in medieval times.

Leese must hope that Salford’s low profile council leader John Merry wins. Merry was opposed to an elected mayor but says he will now stand.