The gig economy is nothing new. Before the Dock Labour Scheme of 1967, there was widespread use of casual labour in ports like Liverpool. Dockers depended on a tap on the shoulder to get work. The rise of the unions in the sixties and seventies forced back irresponsible bosses but the predatory instincts of capitalism are always waiting in the wings and have returned now with the gig economy.

Now before you fear I’ve been spending too much time with Shadow Chancellor and avowed Marxist John McDonnell, I should say that I believe private enterprise should flourish and make profits. Owners are entitled to benefit from their bright ideas and risk taking in setting up businesses and shareholders should get a return on their investment. But workers are also entitled to fair wages and secure employment if they want it.

A report was published this week by the former aide to Tony Blair, Matthew Taylor, which could have major implications for business, employees and “dependent contractors”. The last category is one we are going to have to get used to. It is the new name created by Taylor to describe the current position that former dockers found themselves in as they waited anxiously for a few hours work on the dockside.

Nowadays the demand of society is not for casually employed dock workers but for taxi drivers and delivery services. Digital technology has made it possible for people to gain casual employment by identifying a need on line. Many people want work that fits around their lives not employers. Rebecca Long -Bailey and the Labour Party need to recognise this before embarking on a crusade on behalf of workers who, when they look round, may not be behind them. She’s the Salford MP who is also shadow Business Secretary and says using Uber taxis is “morally unacceptable”. I prefer black cabs but I recognise that not everyone employed in the “gig” economy is trapped there by a ruthless employer.

Some are and that is why Taylor is right to call for good work for all with a baseline of rights and a ladder of progress. There is a need to distinguish between the genuinely self-employed and “dependent contractors”. Self-employed pay lower taxes in recognition that they don’t get pension and sick benefits. (There is no sign the government are going to look again at raising their National Insurance contributions). Meanwhile Taylor identifies “dependent contractors” as people working for employers who rely on zero hours, short hours or agency contracts when they should be planning their employment needs better. These workers should receive sick pay and holidays.

The reform would end the confusion which allows firms like Deliveroo to claim their workers are self-employed when in fact it is difficult for them to turn down work.

Over a million people are employed in the “gig” economy and they have contributed to keeping the employment figures healthy while we are in danger of heading into a Brexit economic downturn.

Whether the government will implement the Taylor Report is doubtful. The Prime Minister says she would need opposition support and Labour is already saying it doesn’t go far enough.

I promised to report on my lunch with Vince Cable. I didn’t make it due to a three hour delay on the West Coast mainline. Bring on HS2

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Not for the first time a Tony speaks for Manchester. Ten years ago, it was the late Tony Wilson who could express the character of this kind, gritty city. On Tuesday it was poet Tony Walsh. His composition “This Is The Place” read out to a huge crowd in sunny Albert Square was just what was needed to try and pierce the blackness and fear caused by the abominable attack on young people at the Manchester Arena.

Terrible events bring out the best in the vast majority of us. If only, if only it wasn’t needed so often these days. But there it was for the world to see. The interviews with the young people who were at the Arena, and survived,were eloquent, thoughtful and sensitive. What a world we are handing over to them. We don’t deserve them. Then there were the Asian taxi drivers, waiving their fares to get people home and the takeaway shops throwing open their doors. That’s the answer to the so-called Islamic State’s attempt to divide us.


Terrorists hate democracy and therefore I agree, for once, with UKIP who were first to resume campaigning. It is a difficult matter to balance respect for the searing pain the bereaved and injured will be suffering and the need to demonstrate that we will not be prevented from our democratic business.

What effect will the terrorist attack have on the election? Casual and cynical observations that it will help the “law and order Tories” are offensive. Conservative candidates are overwhelmed with sadness in the same way as anyone else; and Mrs May has the burden of this tragedy being on her watch. There is a perception that people will swing to the right under terrorist provocation. That did not happen in France, although Marine Le Pen was a far less palatable candidate than Mrs May.

I’m sad to say that Labour could suffer from this terrible event, not because of a natural swing to the right in such circumstances, but because Jeremy Corbyn continues to be damaged by past ambiguous answers on his attitude to the IRA.


Until Monday’s atrocity, Theresa May’s assertion that her strong and stable leadership was just what was wanted for those Brexit talks, was looking far less credible.

I don’t want antagonistic negotiations with 27 countries that should still be our partners in building an ever closer union. However, that ship seems to have sailed. If voters are looking for a Prime Minister who knows her mind, thinks things through and isn’t blown off course by the first whiff of trouble, why would you vote for May?

She called a General Election that she vowed not to do. She raised National Insurance contributions for self-employed workers and then back tracked. She then proposed a system whereby long term dementia sufferers could pay hundreds of thousands of pounds in home care fees before announcing a cap four days later. The EU negotiators must be rubbing their hands.

A final point, I gave some stick to Labour last week for uncosted manifesto promises. The Tory manifesto is also littered with them. The cost of cutting immigration, the £8bn for the NHS, and the cut off point for winter fuel allowances all have no price tags. Perhaps they are going to pay for it with rises in National Insurance and Income Tax!



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It’s the first wholly Tory Queen’s Speech since 1996 and David Cameron is in a hurry to get things done. That’s sensible politics because the grim reaper and rebel backbenchers may erode his fragile majority. Also after the EU referendum, the clamour will rise for him to depart. The downside is that the 20 odd bills are rammed through without proper scrutiny in the first session of the parliament in contrast to the zombie session that is likely in 2019-20. Our poor legislative calendar leads to poor laws.

The programme reflects the Conservatives breaking free from the Lib Dems and business will welcome many of the proposals. The Enterprise Bill promises to cut red tape (where have we heard that before?) and sets up a conciliation service to deal with disputes between firms. The “Tax Lock” Bill has been criticised by former Chancellor Nigel Lawson, and quite right too. Passing a law to stop rises in income tax, VAT and National Insurance is unwisely restrictive. It shows how low political credibility has shrunk and there are ways round the income tax pledge anyway. The bill to let housing association tenants buy their homes will do nothing to deal with the underlying problems of the housing market. There are already signs of overheating in the South East now that the threat of a mansion tax has gone away.

One had hoped that in, what is effectively a second term, the Conservatives would have introduced wide ranging constitutional reform to deal with ending two tier local government and the House of Lords amongst other things. Instead a piecemeal approach is being adopted. Scotland will get devo max whilst Ministers hope to make low key changes to parliamentary standing orders to introduce English votes for English laws. Then we will have a bill to give power over transport, housing, planning and policing to northern cities. And that’s it. The interim elected mayor for Greater Manchester is due to be announced this afternoon. It may be a close vote between current Combined Authority leader Peter Smith and Police Commissioner Tony Lloyd.

Trade Union members are going to have to opt in to contribute to the Labour Party in a bill that also raises the threshold for calling strikes. We now need a bill to allow customers to deduct an amount from the price they are charged by companies that fund the Tory Party.

It is good news that the EU Referendum Bill will define the question to be asked, “Should the UK remain in the EU?” That gives those of us supporting our continued membership the opportunity to be on the bright positive “yes” side whilst the better off out brigade will be associated with the negative “no” proposition.


Manchester University is on a roll under the leadership of Vice Chancellor Nancy Rothwell. The institution is embracing the Northern Powerhouse with all the opportunities for business and the academic world to work together.

Now Lord Peter Mandelson wants to lend his shoulder to the wheel by becoming Chancellor. It is an honorary position but one where he could use his worldwide contacts to benefit the university. In government he had responsibility for higher education policy and was a northern MP.

He obviously brings some political baggage but he would be a high profile successor to Urban Splash boss Tom Bloxham.

Mandelson is opposed in the election by writer and broadcaster Lemn Sissay and the Music Director of the Halle Orchestra Sir Mark Elder.





How do we feel Oop North about moving the Scottish border southwards? Then we could benefit from the inspirational leadership of Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the Scottish National Party and banish the male and stale politicians who have failed to grasp the full vision of northern devolution?

Nicola is wooing us. Her manifesto calls for a significant increase in infrastructure spending in the North of England. She wants HS2 started from Scotland down to northern England at the same time as the track is laid to Birmingham. She wants a Northern Cities Fund and concludes “while a strong London is good a strong Newcastle and Leeds is better.”

I am not actually serious about the border but we do need a counter argument to the Tory shroud waving about the SNP and how they will dictate the UK budget in a deal with Labour. Firstly I think Labour would rather rule as a minority or with the Lib Dems, Irish and Greens than reach an accommodation with the party that has nearly wiped them out in Scotland. For Miliband to work with the SNP could mean the permanent weakening of Labour north of the border.

Secondly Tory grandees like Lord Tebbitt and Michael Forsyth have warned the Prime Minister that stoking up English fears and resentment about the Scots plays right into the separatist cause.


I used to love the campaign trail, seeing our leaders face to face with the people they sought to represent and being heckled at open to all public meetings.

I am not planning to attend any visits by the party leaders to the North this time because I refuse to be kettled in a press pen to observe Dave, Ed and Nick surrounded by adoring activists keeping everyone else out. We need Mrs Duffy of Rochdale (Gordon Brown’s bigoted woman) to break through the ring and tell them what she thinks.

The campaign managers thinks it makes good telly. Do they really think people are so stupid as to think that their leaders are being universally welcomed in every town. TV producers have a duty to pan away from the tight throng of supporters and show the excluded public beyond.

On a more optimistic note I am pleased to report that hustings in individual seats are alive and well. I’ve hosted ones in Bolton and Hazel Grove with Withington and Chester to come. People still want to turn up at church halls to see their candidates in the flesh rather than communicating via new media.


Did you know that on May 7th we’ll also be having a big round of local council elections? There has been virtually no media coverage of the contests for the tier of government that actually delivers most of the services that matter to us. Furthermore with all the promises made about ring fencing the NHS and not putting up VAT and National Insurance, it is likely local government will bear the brunt of the further cuts promised by most parties after the election.

A third of all the metro councils in West Yorkshire, Greater Manchester and Merseyside are up for election. Labour could gain Calderdale and Kirklees and threaten the Tories in Trafford and the Lib dems in Stockport.

There are all out elections in the unitary councils of Blackpool, East and West Cheshire. The latter is the most interesting with Conservative control under threat from Labour. A third of councillors are up for election in the other unitaries, Blackburn and Warrington.

There are full or a third elections in district councils in Lancashire and other parts of the North.


With a majority of under a thousand Tory David Morris has a fight on his hands to prevent Manchester councillor Amina Lone taking this seat for Labour.

Her strength is in the town of Morecambe and Heysham with its nuclear power station and busy port.

A major road improvement is under way to link Heysham to the M6 and the more Tory voting areas around Carnforth.

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