After the shameful “pause” in electrifying the Leeds-Manchester rail link, we now have the shamefaced about turn.

In June when the “pause” was announced, I described it as one of the most disgraceful decisions ever made because it undermined the Northern Powerhouse based on connectivity, it undermined companies’ procurement plans and finally politicians must have known before the election about the crisis in Network Rail that caused the decision to be taken.

Be in no doubt that the decision to reinstate the electrification is directly related to the fact that the Conservatives are in Manchester this weekend for their annual conference. The Chancellor George Osborne will want Ministers to make frequent references to the Northern Powerhouse. He didn’t want critics asking how meaningful the concept could be without better rail links between the two principal cities of the Powerhouse.

Two independent enquiries had been set up after the “pause” was announced. The hapless Transport Secretary Patrick McLaughlin told us no decisions would be taken until they reported. But George Osborne, who I understand wasn’t fully in the loop on the “pause” decision, can’t wait for the enquiries and has ordered the go-ahead to be given.

All this faffing around comes at a price. It has delayed the project by three years so passengers can carry on standing until 2022.


I understand the Tory conference may also be used for announcements about devolution deals for Sheffield and the North East where agreement has been reached on elected mayors. The latter will be small consolation to the steel workers of Redcar.


At least the Tories are in power, Labour look a long way from it. That’s my conclusion after spending some sun drenched days in Brighton. The moon turned red but I fear that was more a sign of the Gods’ displeasure than a happy omen for socialism.

Much of the press coverage of the new Labour leader is over the top. Jeremy Corbyn has revitalised his party, he has caught the mood of public disillusionment with speak your weight politicians and some of his policies (housing and rail) have considerable merit.

But the Trident row has immediately highlighted the inherent instability of his leadership. In all honesty who really thought Prime Minister Corbyn would authorise the use of nuclear weapons? But by definitively saying he wouldn’t he has fatally undermined his chances of victory in 2020.

Most of the Shadow Cabinet criticised him as did the big unions whose members are employed in the nuclear industry. But most seriously Corbyn says repeatedly he wants the party to be more democratic. They voted, against his wishes, not to discuss changing the multilateral disarmament policy at the conference. Instead a defence review is under way when the issue of Britain, under a Labour government, becoming unilateralist would be discussed.

But what is the point of Maria Eagle, the Shadow Defence Secretary and Garston MP beavering away on her review when the would be Prime Minister has already told our potential adversaries that he will blink first?

Perhaps the truth is that Jeremy Corbyn is determined to shake up the Labour Party, give it back its socialist principles and then hand over to someone more electable in a few years time.







Tony Benn used to berate the media for concentrating on political personalities rather than policies. But politics is a heady mix of issues that affect real people and the people we elect to change our lives.


Personalities do matter. Colourful leadership attracts media attention and affects or improves morale amongst party activists. Politics is a turbulent brew of people and policy and unlike business management it is constantly changing. In a political life a politician will constantly face elections where he or she is pitted against colleagues on the climb up the greasy pole.All this has been in evidence over the past week both at Westminster and in our Town Halls.



Esther McVey’s promotion to Employment Minister caught everyone’s attention. The image of the Wirral West MP striding up Downing Street in a beautiful floral silk dress provided the picture the Prime Minister wanted of a northern woman on the up in the Tory Party. Esther ticks so many boxes. Whilst the national media have focused on her television career, we know her best as a Merseyside business woman who has devoted much time to encouraging other women into business. She may well be in the Cabinet before the General Election.


The emphasis on promoting women means it’s tough for talented Tories like Eric Ollerenshaw (Lancaster), David Morris (Morecambe), Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) and Ben Wallace (Preston North).



I heard Maria Eagle make a great speech on rail fares at the Brighton conference. She was across her brief but has been moved to shadow Environment,Food and Rural Affairs, an odd choice when you remember her constituency is the urban Garston and Halewood. She continued to speak up for HS2 after Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls had cast doubt on Labour’s support for the project and it looks even more now that the project could be cancelled if the party comes to power.


Luciana Berger(Wavertree) and Alison McGovern (Wirral South) got new jobs but Stephen Twigg lost his Shadow Education post. He’ll now handle constitutional issues. Twigg has been a victim of Labour’s confused position on issues like free schools, which is not all down to him.




It has also been quite a week in local government. Barbara Spicer is quitting as Chief Executive of Salford Council. The elected Salford Mayor Ian Stewart said he hoped “false rumours about personality issues do not taint the good work she has done for Salford.” I doubt that statement will quell suggestions there has been a major falling out between the two.


Two of the region’s most colourful and talented local government Tory figures are in trouble. Before a recent county council meeting Geoff Driver narrowly survived a vote of no confidence in his leadership of the Conservative opposition. They lost power to Labour in May. Driver’s robust style is clearly not to the taste of many in his group but he remains undeterred. At the meeting he attacked the Labour administration for accessing his emails as part of an investigation relating to the suspension of the county’s Chief Executive Phil Halsall. He also supported a motion pointedly praising Mr Halsall’s work in securing Preston’s City Deal. This provoked a debate about the merits of the suspended officer which may have conseqences down the line.


Another Tory in trouble with his group is Mike Jones, the leader of Cheshire West and Chester Council. Cllr Jones has given vigorous leadership to the authority and has a senior position in the Local Government Association nationally.


However I was at a packed Chester Town Hall last week where plans for a student village on the outskirts of the city were thrown out with one vote in favour. Cllr Jones was known to favour the project but took no formal part in proceedings because of his friendship with the developer.

The run up to the vote saw the sacking of the Tory planning chairman and suspension of four Conservative councillors for voting to take the matter to a full council meeting.


Like Geoff Driver, Mike Jones won a vote of confidence in his leadership this week but still has a lot of bridges to build with his group. Meanwhile the problem of student ghettos in inner Chester remains.