When John Whittingdale was offered the Cabinet post which involved press regulation, why did he not disclose to the Prime Minister that some papers knew of his previous relationship with a woman who had tried to sell her story to said papers?

The government, and Whittingdale in particular has gone soft on press regulation. The Secretary of State is “not convinced” of the case to incentivize papers to sign up to a regulation panel under Royal Charter by exposing them to high costs in civil libel cases if they do not. Nor is there any sign of the second part of the Leveson Inquiry into the original failed police investigation into phone hacking at the News of the World.

The code of conduct for Ministers speaks of the need, not only for there to be no conflict of interest, but no “perceived” conflict of interest. The perception is certainly clear and the actual conflict possibly too. The press clearly had this embarrassing piece of information on Whittingdale and we can “perceive” that he may consider it wise to treat the press gently for fear of exposure.

His fear could be justified by the current press fury and frustration that they are injuncted from reporting on the affairs of a well known entertainer. That sits curiously with their decision that there was no public interest in publishing the story of Whittingdale and the dominatrix. Certainly Max Mosley, the former motor racing chief, thinks it’s odd bearing in mind how he was done over in a similar situation.

Whittingdale may have resigned by the time you read this, otherwise he must be moved in the post referendum reshuffle.


David Cameron made a horlicks over his tax affairs but the explanation that that was because he was trying to defend his late father, I found refreshingly frank.

The government need to take account of the growing public clamour for the fat cats not to be allowed to get away with it. If that means trimming the freedom of our overseas territories, hiring more tax officials and voting for tougher European Union action, then so be it.

Labour will be wise to concentrate on those measures and not imply that if Jeremy Corbyn became Prime Minister, they would threaten normal legal tax planning.


The Labour leader was in his element at a House of Commons event I attended this week. It was to celebrate the People’s History Museum (PHM) in Manchester and their fund-raising, Radical Heroes, campaign. On the banks of the Irwell in the centre of town, it is a great resource for telling the story of the struggle of people in the North for economic and political equality.

It is not just a Labour Party institution. Liberal Democrat MPs like John Pugh from Southport was at the event and in the nineteenth century Bury’s Robert Peel was the radical who abolished the Corn Laws and created the modern Conservative Party.

But most of the people there were Labour including former leader Neil Kinnock, who told me he thinks the party is in a worse position now than when he took over in 1983. He had previously told the New Statesman that he found it “difficult to see” Corbyn being elected.

We won’t have to wait long now for the new leader’s first nationwide test in May’s elections.




You don’t get me, I’m part of the union.”

On Monday the government will introduce in parliament the biggest crack down on the trade unions in thirty years. Len McCluskey’s Unite union is up for the challenge. The General Secretary will spend the weekend at the Trades Union Congress testing support for his call to break the law to resist the Tories plans.

The issue will be an interesting test for the new Labour leader. To support or oppose particular strikes has been one of the most difficult problems for Labour leaders for decades. Barbara Castle crossed the unions in the 1960s, Jim Callaghan’s government was brought down by them in 1979, Neil Kinnock’s discomfort over Arthur Scargill’s miners strike in 1984/5 is the stuff of legend and Ed Miliband’s refusal to take sides became a joke on You Tube.

The reason why the party, created by the unions, has agonised over the issue of union power is because it has feared losing moderate voters. It is this equivocation that has dismayed the left, and particularly the young. During the leadership election they have surged back to Labour in the expectation of more crusading policies. Their argument is that if the party fights with conviction for working people, more will join, Middle England will be overwhelmed and a socialist Labour Party will sweep to power in 2020. The battle over the Trade Union bill will be a first test.

The measure will make unlawful a strike unless 50% of those being asked to strike, vote in the ballot. 40% of those asked to vote must support the strike in key public services. The strike mandate will only last four months Unlawful picketing will become a criminal, not civil, offence. Most controversial of all is the right being given to employers to hire agency staff to break the strike. The Labour Party’s finances are set to be hit with a further provision to require union members to positively agree to pay the political levy.

The number of working days lost to strike action in the 12 months to April was 704,000, a far cry from the 13 million a year in the 70s. However there have been a number of strikes on the London Underground and in schools causing major inconvenience to parents and commuters. This has been the trigger for ministers to act. What will New Old Labour do?


I attended the excellent global soccer business conference in Manchester this week and thought I would share with you a comment by a panellist. It came during a discussion about fans’ use of new media. Facebook and YouTube had come out of left field with nobody seeing what impact they would have It was noted that some football clubs had given up trying to stop fans taking mobile phone shots of matches and embraced the clips on their websites.

Then the prediction of the next big thing, fans resistance to being the falls guys in the war between Sky and BT for TV soccer rights. As was correctly observed the poor fan now has to pay two huge monthly fees to get full match coverage. Who could stop this? Well perhaps Apple will come to the fans rescue, wipe out BT and Sky and unify the package at a cheaper price. Just a thought.





I never expected to say this after Eric Pickles destroyed our regional development agencies, but the party has a chance next week to position itself as the defender of the North.


The private consensus in Brighton was that Ed Balls was preparing us for a Labour government to scupper HS2. His remarks, and those of other party spokesman after his speech on Monday, went beyond legitimate worries over escalating costs. Balls has got his eyes on the £50bn projected cost of HS2 for other projects. The problem is that in practice that money has been assembled for this scheme and would not automatically be available for health or schools.


How depressingly familiar all this is. I thought the Olympics marked an end of timid party squabbling Britain unable to take the big decisions at the right time. In fact we are late with this scheme. The West Coast main line is already over capacity south of Rugby. That’s why places like Blackpool are denied a direct service. North of Rugby HS2 would connect our great northern cities like Leeds and Manchester and crucially allow the existing rail network to improve the service to towns and cities not directly on the HS2 line.


There are broadly three groups opposed to HS2. There are the small but vocal number of people directly affected by the line who’s homes are already blighted. We must sympathise with them and compensate them very generously. I know how it feels. My home was demolished for a roundabout in the 1960s.


There is the London lobby already campaigning for Crossrail 2 oblivious to the historic scandalous imbalance in transport investment between the capital and the rest of the country.


And now we have elements of the Labour Party and others who want to spend the money elsewhere. Their argument ignores the point I made above that £50bn won’t be available to be transferred, and it fails to answer the question of what will happen when we are trying to use a Victorian railway two hundred years after it was built.


So in Manchester next week I would suggest the Tories seize the initiative. They will be meeting in a building that symbolises the need to move on when it comes to rail investment. Manchester Central station closed in 1969 and is now their conference centre. The government are investing in the Northern Hub, the Ordsall Chord, and electrifying the Liverpool to Manchester line to dramatically improve services on the existing network across the North.


The Transport Secretary Patrick Mcloughlin should burnish his credentials as a former miner and claim that it is the Tories who have the best interests of the North at heart in backing HS2. They certainly need some arguments after Labour’s conference in Brighton.




I asked last week for some distinctive policies for Labour to campaign on and to be fair we got some. The promise to scrap the bedroom tax and the energy price freeze are the best indications yet of how different an Ed led party is from how his brother would have run things.


These are concrete proposals with a definite left wing thrust. The more the energy companies squeal the more will people identify with Ed. The claim that, in response to world market forces, energy prices go up like a rocket and down like a feather rings true with hard pressed families in the North.


The question is how broad this appeal will be? Are there enough struggling voters in the South to join Ed’s crusade or will they be frightened off as they were when Neil Kinnock was in charge?