The Prime Minister has been called an appeaser for her closeness to Donald Trump. That is a result of this country’s desperate search for new friends now that we are shunning our 27 partners in Europe.

So, while Labour are hurling insults with 1930’s echoes in them at Mrs May, let’s see if the same cap fits on Kier Starmer. He’s the Brexit spokesman for Labour. They’ve been assuring us during the passage of the bill triggering our exit from the EU that, whilst respecting the vote to Leave, they would fight hard for concessions. One of these was to get the government to have a vote in parliament at the end of the negotiations with a view to sending Mrs May back to the negotiating table if MPs found the deal unsatisfactory.

What happened in the Commons on Tuesday was frankly an embarrassment and shows the poor quality of Labour’s front bench. As soon as the government announced there would be a vote, Starmer hailed it as a significant victory. All we needed was for him to hold a piece of paper above his head, Neville Chamberlain style, and the image would have been complete. This is because it rapidly became clear that all the government was offering was approval of the package or an exit from Europe with no deal which few would vote for.

A Labour MP last week, who’s a friend, was gently chiding me last week for my view that there should have been a united front by Labour, the SNP and Lib Dems behind a second referendum. Labour’s way was better I was told. Well it clearly isn’t. Labour are constantly being pushed aside and divided by a Tory government where Brexit extremists are making all the running.

Don’t take my word for it. Listen to Claire Perry, the Conservative MP for Devizes. She said in the debate that she felt she was sitting beside jihadists on the Tory benches for whom no Brexit is hard enough. Their view was “be gone you evil Europeans and don’t darken our doors again.”

One can trace the ascent of this extremism in the Tory Party by listening to Ken Clarke, the only Tory to vote against the bill in principal last week. When he entered parliament in 1970, such people were still clinging on to the British Empire and denounced one nation Conservatives like Iain Macleod for giving away the colonies.

For a while they became less significant as Ted Heath took us into the Common Market and then Margaret Thatcher signed up to the Single Market. Soon after that the tide turned with the very same Margaret Thatcher doing a U turn. They then harried John Major into the biggest defeat the Tories had suffered in decades. In opposition, the scepticism grew and back in government they forced a weak David Cameron to allow a referendum with a ludicrous in/out option. Even though it was narrowly carried, they show no respect for that and are now hell bent on a hard Brexit.

The only choice for Labour was to back the Lib Dems clear position of a second referendum but centre left sectarianism triumphed and there is total disarray in the face of a skilful Prime Minister leading her hard line Brexiteers.

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Tory papers, perhaps out to make trouble, are reporting this weekend that veteran left winger Jeremy Corbyn is ahead in private polling for the Labour leadership.

I don’t think it will happen but the speculation has been fuelled by the sort of thing that happened on the Victoria Derbyshire debate on BBC 2 this week. In front of an audience of potential, former and current Labour voters three of the four candidates faced a struggle to convince the audience that they were worth voting for. Time and again Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall set out their policy stances, but back came the same response that they weren’t inspiring people to vote Labour. Only Jeremy Corbyn got real gutsy rounds of applause when he called for a fight against austerity.

Sadly Liz Kendall seems to be trailing badly with her pro business stance and insistence on cutting the deficit. Andy Burnham is campaigning against the London based elite that he says has run the party for years, but he’s burdened by his past record on letting private firms into the health service. Yvette Cooper is banking on saying little, relying on her Cabinet experience as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.

The problem for these three is that they are swimming against a left wing tide in the party that we have not seen since Michael Foot was elected leader in 1980. It was not a rational response to the election of Margaret Thatcher then, and is unlikely to be the right response to Cameron’s victory now. However the activists in the party have a right to express their views and elect who they want. Corbyn is catching that mood and the other three candidates are struggling with their various policy nuances, but with the basic belief that the deficit must be reduced and the Tories have caught the public mood on benefits.

Harriet Harman has hardly put a foot wrong in her long career. She has always kept in touch with the party mood and been popular with her commitment to women. It was therefore quite startling that at the very end of her time in front line politics she should have advocated a humiliating cave in to the Tories welfare reforms.

It posed one of the most difficult questions of our time, what is Labour for? Corbyn has his answer, fight austerity, support large families and ban nuclear weapons. The other three candidates have more complicated answers because they believe that is where Labour has to be to win back middle England.

Middle England, the elusive prize for Labour. What would they feel about Jeremy Corbyn leading the Labour Party? They would be more comfortable with a telegenic Burnham or perhaps a woman leading the party for the first time in Kendall or Cooper.

Meanwhile the Tories drive support to Corbyn with their latest proposals on strike ballots and having to opt into levy payments to the Labour Party. That goes down well in Middle and South East England where the tube strike wrecked havoc with people’s lives last week. But it angers grass roots Labour who feel they want to lash out, perhaps elect Corbyn and to hell with the consequences.




The year ends with the Chancellor smirking and Ed Balls going red in the face.


The Tory baiting of Ed Balls during the Autumn Statement debate brought parliament to a new low, but Balls had wound them up for years with his flat lining gestures. They are now redundant. 2013 saw the debate move from double and triple dip recessions to modest optimism about growth. It would be handy if the recovery could be based on manufacturing and exports rather than consumer and housing spending in 2014, but at the moment George Osborne is winning the plaudits. Labour ends the year relying heavily on their argument that the cost of living is the real issue.


This Christmas the Conservatives find themselves in a strange position. They lag behind Labour in the polls but in normal circumstances, they would expect to be able to surge past the opposition with the usual pre election sweeteners in the last full year of the parliament. However uncertainty over UKIP and how they will perform against Lib Dems has led to a pessimistic spirit this festive season.


When the tuition fees issue was at its height, there were forecasts that the Lib Dems would be sending their MPs elected in 2015 to Westminster in a taxi again. This year they showed signs that the darkest years that saw them virtually cleared out of Town Halls in the north may be over. They held the Eastleigh by election and leader Nick Clegg got support for policies at his party conference that would have seen grass roots revolts under previous Lib Dem leaders.


Ed Miliband is never likely to gain the adulation that Tony Blair enjoyed before he took office in 1997 but this year he has strengthened his position as party leader. By focusing on the cost of living he struck a rapport with voters and forced Ministers to take notice. There are many questions around his promise of an energy price freeze but it has made the political weather this autumn.


Miliband also won plaudits for his stance on military intervention in Syria. It led directly to the Americans having second thoughts. Whilst the war drags on and the poor refugees suffer, we are in a better place in the Middle East overall. Chemical weapons have been removed in Syria and the Iranians are coming in from the diplomatic cold.


In local politics we saw the Conservative regime of Geoff Driver defeated in Lancashire whilst two leading females departed in less than happy circumstances. Marie Rimmer lost her battle for the leadership of St Helens Council whilst Salford Chief Executive Barbara Spicer fell out with the Mayor of Salford. Happily Barbara has a new job heading up the Skills Funding Agency. Personnel changes are the least of the problems for Town Halls set against the continuing rounds of spending cuts.



The possibility of an energy gap has become more real this year as we wrestle with the problem of keeping prices down whilst dealing with global warming. The weather was rarely out of the headlines in 2013. A bitter winter was followed by a great summer. The Philippines typhoon was followed by a major battering for the coasts of the North West and Yorkshire. Fracking and nuclear power have risen up the agenda this year.


We are likely to be better connected after decisions taken in 2013. Final plans for the new Mersey Gateway Bridge were approved; the northern Rail Hub in Manchester got the green light; and consultations began on HS2.


The year saw the death of two of the twentieth century’s great figures; Nelson Mandela and Margaret Thatcher. Their politics were very different but they both made a difference and that’s all we can hope to do each in our own way.


Have a peaceful Christmas






When we booked John Major to speak to us parliamentary journalists this week we were expecting some gentle reflections on his time in office in the nineties. Perhaps some thoughts about his predecessor Margaret Thatcher being a back seat driver or about the soapbox he used in 1992 to deliver the Conservatives last General Election victory.


But no, the former Prime Minister decided to wade into the energy debate with a call for a windfall tax on the energy companies. It was a reminder to all that the man who won a fourth term for the Conservatives is still around. He rarely makes speeches and generally avoids embarrassing the government but it was clear from listening to him that he was getting a lot off his chest.




But to return to the hot political topic of the moment, energy. I thought I’d ask Mr Major if he felt any responsibility for the current crisis. After all it is the long term failure of successive government to invest in our energy infrastructure that has left us with a perfect storm. Coal and old nuclear power plants closing, the increasing need to import expensive gas and rocketing bills.


Major’s government was in office about half way between 1961 when Britain opened its first commercial nuclear plant (and led the world with the technology) and 2023 when the Hinckley Point station announced this week will come on line. The early nineties would have been the time to plan for the future given the long investment lead times needed. With the frankness only available to an elder statesman John Major told me that he was “happy to admit to a million errors and failing to do anything about civil nuclear power was one of them.”


One can admire his honesty but be appalled either at the short sightedness of our energy planners or the cowardice of our politicians in the face of voters fears about nuclear leaks or spending money on projects that would not bring short term electoral advantage.


Anyway the new nuclear programme is now under way with the Chinese and French in charge. It should mean plenty of work for us in the north of England where many of the skills are located. Let’s hope the waste issue has been thoroughly thought through this time as we continue to incur the massive decommissioning costs of the old nuclear industry.




Apart from energy we were treated at the lunch to some old fashioned one nation Toryism. Mr Major declared that his party would never fight back in Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool by pandering to its core vote. He referred to the “silent have nots, I know them, I grew up with them.” He mentioned “lace curtain poverty” and said Tory policy had to be addressed to them.


His time as Prime Minister was undermined by Euro sceptic rebels headed by the current Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith. He criticised the way he was handling the benefit reforms.


In an unguarded moment in 1995 he had called some of his Cabinet colleagues “bastards”. Getting years of frustration off his chest he told us on Tuesday “it was true, they were.”


He ended with a defence of our membership of the European Union that Ted Heath would have been proud of.


We may not hear from John Major again for some time but his words will need to be heeded by David Cameron who most of the time is being pressed to the right.