Britain is being run by a Prime Minister constantly looking over her shoulder at hard line Brexiteer Tories who want to not only get us out of the European Union but use the withdrawal legislation to dismantle many elements of social justice.

The Opposition is led by a left wing populist who promises the earth to public sector workers and students and who has skilfully captured the anti-establishment mood. However, a Jeremy Corbyn government combined with Brexit would have a hugely damaging impact on business and the economy.

So where is the centre ground when we need them? I’ll find some of them in Bournemouth this weekend under their new leader Vince Cable. The others may be in Brighton the week after at the Labour conference. You won’t see them on the platform, even Andy Burnham, the newly elected leader of Greater Manchester, is struggling for a slot. The moderate Labour MPs are being made to pay for their treachery against Jeremy Corbyn.

It is difficult for moderates in the Labour Party. They are embarrassed by Corbyn’s “relative” success. And it is relative, it was Labour’s third successive defeat. They have not won a General Election for twelve years. They want the party to oppose Brexit but are worried about breaking promises to the electorate and have a leader who is probably a secret Leaver. Then there is the Blair problem. The most articulate spokesman for their point of view is discredited in too many people’s eyes to get a real hearing.

Both the Labour centre, and the Lib Dems, are also burdened by the legacy of the financial crash of ten years ago. A moderate Labour government was in charge under Gordon Brown when it happened and the Liberal Democrats were part of a Coalition that used austerity to clear up the mess afterwards. The Tories are always expected to be tough on economics but the crash and its aftermath left Labour and the Lib Dems vulnerable to the populist rhetoric of Nigel Farage. He used the European Union as a lightening conductor for people’s mistrust of bankers, the EU and centrist politicians whose wishy-washy politics had let them down.

And yet my gut feeling remains that a majority of the British people, and certainly business, want centre ground politics. Economic realism with a social conscience and if we can sort immigration out, continued membership of the EU.

The Lib Dems are too weak at the moment for the Labour centre to take them seriously as a partner for a new party. Vince Cable’s task this weekend in Bournemouth is to show that they have a strategy to win back seats and be open to the idea of a new centre party that can offer an alternative to Brexiteer Toryism of hard left socialism.

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One of the main arguments for the European Union and particularly its much derided Commissioners has been demonstrated this week.

The Commission’s demand that Ireland recover 13bn Euros from Apple is an excellent example of where a supra national organisation can bust cosy deals between nation states and multinational companies in the interests of ordinary people who pay their taxes.

Brexiteers go on and on about sovereignty and “taking back control”. I’m happy with shared sovereignty if it empowers the Commission to take the interests of all the people of Europe into account. Multinationals like Apple are more powerful than many individual countries. They can exert massive influence by threatening to relocate. Middle ranking countries like Ireland have found themselves in hock to Apple and don’t like the ruling. Ireland is normally a “good European” and rightly so. EU membership has moved it from an agricultural backwater into the high tech world of the 21st century. But its reaction to this ruling is very “non communitare”, suggesting the EU has got it right. And so they have. For Apple to pay virtually no tax on its European profits from 2003-14 is to deprive governments and people millions of pounds that should be spent on public services.

Starbucks, Amazon, Fiat, BP and McDonalds are all in the EU Commissioners sights. None of them are too big for the EU representing 500 million people or 435 million if we are foolish enough to actually leave.


The Labour leadership election is getting acres of coverage not because it will produce a possible next Prime Minister but because the media is fascinated by the corrosive campaigns being waged by Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Smith.

Because of the implosion of the Labour Party it is quite possible that UKIP will provide an attractive alternative to millions of Labour’s former supporters in the north of England. Therefore we should pay some attention to the battle to succeed Nigel Farage.

It is a bit of a shambles and in normal times one could conclude that this would mean the party vanishing into obscurity having secured the Brexit vote and being incapable of emerging from the shadow of its effective former leader Nigel Farage. But a word of caution is needed. Most people don’t follow the ins and outs of politics and however messy the process, when one of the five candidates is elected as the next leader of UKIP, they may get support because of the depth of disillusionment with Labour.

The outstanding candidate is Diane James, a UKIP MEP for the South East. However she’s refusing to attend hustings with the other four contestants suggesting she may lack the ability to bring this fractious party together.

It is surprising who isn’t standing. Steven Woolfe, a NW UKIP MEP, would have been a good leader but then it emerged he failed to disclose a drink driving conviction and didn’t get his nomination paper in on time. I’m amazed Former Deputy Leader Paul Nuttall, another NW UKIP MEP, didn’t go for it and Suzanne Evans the best candidate of all is suspended! You couldn’t make it up. There’s even Neil Hamilton. The ex Tatton MP is now a Welsh UKIP MEP. His would have been the ultimate comeback from the political graveyard.


The Green Party is also holding a leadership election. It is to be hoped that former leader Caroline Lucas will return, albeit in a job share. She wants to forge a progressive alliance with other parties willing to back electoral reform.




The dramatic fall of Tatton’s George Osborne, the vile atmosphere in the Labour Party and the opportunity offered to UKIP by Nigel Farage’s departure; just sit back and watch the three ring circus that is British politics.


For Northern business the most significant move of the new Prime Minister was the sacking of George Osborne. He was the only North West MP in the Cabinet and had driven the Northern Powerhouse (NP). We don’t know what the new Chancellor, Philip Hammond’s policy on devolution will be. We certainly know that leaders of northern cities are worried about

hundreds of millions of investment promises and possible signs of wavering on HS2.

Osborne deserved to go along with his buddy David Cameron. The two men were responsible for the disastrous referendum and that overwhelms even the considerable achievement of turning round the economy. Nevertheless Osborne knew the North and put the whole weight of his office behind devolution and the NP. If you have the Chancellor backing a project, it happens. if its an initiative of a more junior minister the chances of success are less certain.

We now see the broad shape of the May administration. The best we can say about the two at the top is that they are efficient politicians that get on with the job. Maybe that’s what the country needs. I remain to be convinced about May’s one nation rhetoric. We cannot even guarantee colour from Boris Johnson. They frown on tripwire antics in the Foreign Office. His roller coaster ride this year truly illustrates the unpredictability of politics. From loyal Remainer to traitorous Leaver, he was alarmed at his referendum success. Michael Gove detected this and sent him into political oblivion only for May to rescue him and rightly sack Gove from the Cabinet.

On the subject of the unpredictability of politics, look at the return of Dr Fox and David Davies. Fox left office in 2011 under a cloud and seemed like yesterday’s man. So did David Davies who lost the Tory leadership battle to Call Me Dave 11 years ago. Now they are deeply involved in ministries trying to get us out of the EU.


I don’t want to say much about Labour this week. It is too upsetting to see the party of Clement Atlee, Harold Wilson and Tony Blair reduced to a complete joke. Actually it is worse. Anyone who heard the trembling voice of National Executive Committee member Janet Baxter describing the atmosphere in this week’s meeting would never get involved in politics. She seemed on the edge of a nervous breakdown. What must the staff in the Wallasey office of leadership contender Angela Eagle be doing? Waiting for the next brick through the window?

The foul language of Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell this week in his description of some of his fellow MPs gives the lie to the leadership’s protestations that they want a clean fight. The minority of violent Trots pick up the vibes just as racists on the right have used the Leave vote to intimidate Polish immigrants.


UKIP should elect Steven Woolfe as their next leader. He’s a North West MEP and the party’s spokesman on finance. He is plausible and would not indulge in the bar room antics of his now departed leader Nigel Farage.

If UKIP can develop policies on health, housing, and social care as well as immigration, they could become a huge threat to Labour in the North and Midlands.

Let’s hope there is a strong centre left party to face them in 2020.




Nigel Farage believes in plain speaking. Well the UKIP leader now has a rival in that department. Manuel Barroso, the outgoing European Commission President has spelt it out for David Cameron as he seeks to appease UKIP over immigration.


An arbitrary cap on immigrants from eastern Europe would fall foul of the Lisbon Treaty of 2007 and the original Rome Treaty of 1957, Barroso said. So David Cameron would need a treaty change. The Polish ambassador to the UK has said Poland would veto such a change. Therefore Cameron would fail in the negotiations and would be under enormous pressure to campaign to come out of the EU. If he refused then Boris Johnson or the ambitious Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond would be eager to replace him and back a better off out campaign. Under those circumstances it is a racing certainty the British people would vote to come out.


I have believed for a long time that it is more likely than not that a referendum would lead to us leaving the EU, so it is time for business, small, medium and large to start speaking up and spelling out the serious consequences of our withdrawal for jobs.


Pressure is building up in the Labour Party for a switch in their position. It is one of the few principled stands that I admire Ed Miliband for. However MPs are in despair at his poll ratings and some want to grasp at offering an EU referendum in a desperate effort to improve their chances of winning next May. The close shave in the Heywood and Middleton by election has only added to the pressure. There is even talk of a northern Labour MP defecting to UKIP.




The City Growth Commission this week increased the pressure on the government to give more power and money to city regions. The Chancellor is expected to make an announcement in the Autumn Statement. Greater Manchester is preparing a partial back down in its opposition to Mr Osborne’s demand for an elected mayor for the conurbation. They are set to name Lord Smith of Wigan as leader of the Combined Authority. It is far short of the directly elected accountability that the government rightly demand but it may be enough for now.


If the Chancellor hands over 90% of business rates to cities like Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool, the vision of a northern powerhouse will begin to take shape. But what about the rest of the north? I was at an event in Lancaster this week where the economy of north Lancashire and Cumbria was under discussion. Places like Lancaster, Workington and Carlisle struggle to retain their talented youngsters who are drawn to the big cities. They also suffer from the scrapping of the regional spatial strategies that used to provide a framework for economic investment. Similar issues arise in North Yorkshire and the Humber.


So as we power up our big cities, we also need to convince the government that the whole North needs support from an overarching Council of the North