The Northern Powerhouse had the perfect backer. George Osborne was Chancellor, the second most powerful person in the government. It was his project and he could make reluctant civil servants (they always are when it comes to devolution) do his bidding. Finally he represented a northern constituency.

The new Prime Minister has set up an economy and industrial strategy committee. It held its first meeting this week and the term Northern Powerhouse (NP) wasn’t mentioned apparently. This may be because Theresa May’s antipathy to Osborne is so great that she is indulging in a strategy that has been so debilitating for northern devolution down the years. I refer to the chop change with every passing minister, leave alone government. There is never the long term commitment to one plan to allow business to invest with any degree of certainty. There was a perfectly satisfactory structure of Regional Development Agencies in place but the Tories, with shameful silence form the Lib Dems, tore it all down.

All may not be lost however. It appears Mrs May wants to help all towns and cities in the North. There is a valid criticism that the NP was very city focused. The voting pattern in the EU referendum showed cities like Manchester and Liverpool backing Remain whereas suburban and rural communities voted Leave. They wrongly felt the EU was doing nothing for them but they may have concluded that about the NP as well.

Perhaps the economy and industrial strategy committee will recognise that the Northern Powerhouse needs to address the needs of all the people in the North East, Yorkshire and the North West and restore the organisations designed to achieve some urgent tasks.

They include improving people’s chances of owning a home (this week’s figures were shocking for the North),northern productivity, getting on with transport projects like HS3 east west rail connections and most of all raising our skills. A massive biomedical research centre, the Francis Crick Institute is opening this month… St Pancras London. We need the skills base to make it possible for such investments to be made north of the Trent. We have a huge advantage over London in terms of house prices, the quality of life and commuting costs. If only the NP could deliver the skill base.

The NP needs champions at the highest level. Andrew Percy doesn’t do it for me. He is the MP for Brigg and Goole so is (just) one of us but the new Northern Powerhouse Minister is even more unknown than his predecessor James Wharton. We must hope that Lord O’Neill of Gatley stays in the government working on the NP. He was angered about the Hinckley nuclear power station “pause”. Although nothing to do with the north, it seems George Osborne’s “golden age” of cooperation with the Chinese is over. The idea had been for substantial Chinese investment to help finance not just the Hinckley project but the NP too. If that commitment is lessened, Mr Percy will need to deal with the already existing criticism that the NP is all talk and no financial heft.





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.







It has been a significant week for the future governance of the North of England. Exactly ten years after the people of the North East rejected the weak elected assembly on offer at the time, we now have the two major parties vying with each other to devolve real power to parts of the North


The Chancellor has promised major powers to Greater Manchester. Meanwhile the Labour leader, Ed Miliband, has set out a more measured approach offering powers to the whole of the north of England and House of Lords reform to address our current under representation in the upper chamber.


My sources in Manchester tell me they have become exasperated by Ed Miliband’s approach of awaiting a constitutional convention. Although Manchester is a Labour authority it finds it easier to deal with the fast moving Tory George Osborne. However the Manchester leadership needs to recognise that city regions aren’t the whole north, that the Tories may not be in a position to deliver their promises come May and a convention with everyone having their say is the right approach.


It has always been a weakness of the city regionalists that they don’t see the need for democratic accountability. They have been dragged into accepting an elected conurbation mayor in 2017 if the Tories get back. Sir Richard Leese is the favourite to take this role but I don’t think that will happen. The Greater Manchester Police and Crime Commissioner Tony Lloyd (who’s post will be taken over by the mayor) is a possible contender or possibly Jim McMahon, the leader of Oldham.




Some weeks ago I suggested a considered approach to the many constitutional issues that have arisen in England since the Scottish referendum vote. Ed Miliband’s plan provides for this.


He is looking at the wider picture- not just the city regions. He wants an English regions cabinet committee so that our problems are put at the heart of government and not forgotten by Whitehall civil servants. He also wants to address reform of the House of Lords once and for all by bringing the regions into the process. There is a crying need for this. It should be called the House of the South East at the moment. 31% of peers have their main residence in London and 23% in the South East. Just 5% of peers list their main residence in the North West and 4% in the North East. Miliband wants to create an elected Senate with representatives drawn from the nations, regions and cities of the United Kingdom.


At a time when the alienation of the people from politics is reaching dangerous proportions, this might be a way of turning things round. There are many misgivings about Ed Miliband and his leadership qualities but on this subject he has adopted a comprehensive approach to constitutional reform.




Greater Manchester has been well run in the last few years. Its Combined Authority has been an exemplar of how councils with different political colours or aspirations can work together. One can understand the Chancellor’s wish to reward such progress, but he needs to look at the wider picture. The other city regions like West Yorkshire and Liverpool are promised powers, although not necessarily the same powers and on a different time scale. Then there is the suburban and rural North not covered by this. In other words if the Tories get back we will have a hotchpotch. This is intentional. The one size fits all approach is openly criticised but the Osborne way could also be a recipe for confusion and debilitating rivalry.


So if the Tories win we will have disparate devolution to some city regions, English votes for English laws and no reform of the House of Lords.


Labour’s constitutional convention approach should be supported.









There is a danger that an historic opportunity to reform our governance structures is going to be missed in the rush to settle the well named EVEL (English Votes for English Laws) issue.


We should take time, but not spin it out as some Labour Party politicians would wish.


I have tried to put together a whole range of issues that need to be addressed in a constitutional conversation with the people over the next 12 months. This could lead to legislation in the second year of the new Parliament. The purpose is to indicate the huge scope of change that politicians should be addressing rather than adopting our usual piecemeal approach to the subject.


I start from the lowest level of our democracy, on through what should happen in England and then deal with the House of Lords.




Every part of England should have a parish or community council with enhanced powers to deal with the really local issues that people care about.


Above them the whole of England should be run by unitary local authorities. It is unsustainable to have a situation in the North West for instance where Cheshire has four councils and Lancashire fourteen. The district/county model has always confused ratepayers and should have been swept away in 1974 at the time of the last reorganisation. This proposal would also deal with a major charge thrown against those of us who want a strategic tier for those parts of England that want it. The charge is that we would create more politicians. We would not. Hundreds of district councillors would be abolished. I don’t underestimate the political difficulty of combating the vested interests that will oppose this, but it should be tackled with courage.




The city regions have become embedded and have all party support. Elected mayors for the whole city regions would bring them the direct democracy and transparency that they sadly lack at the moment. However the City Regions do not cover the whole country. The priorities of major towns and whole swathes of suburban and rural England are excluded from the City Regions. Supporters of cities say outlying areas should become commuter dormitories for the cities. This is unacceptable. The Local Enterprise Partnerships do not have the scale to tackle the big challenge facing parts of England.


The challenge is this. Scotland will soon have powerful enhanced powers. London and the South East are on a different planet of prosperity. The other regions of England need strategic bodies to match Scotland and the South East. Here we encounter major problems. Regions are a dirty word to the Tories because they are the administrative divisions used by the European Union. The boundaries of regions also present problems. Cornwall does not want to be in a region with Gloucestershire. Oxford has nothing in common with Kent. Should Cumbria be in the North West or North East?


These identity issues play into the hands of centralising civil servants in London who are hostile to any devolution. They helped to prevent John Prescott giving real power to the North East in 2004 with the resulting defeat of the plan for an elected regional assembly. It is a major falsehood to suggest people rejected regionalism in 2004. They would have voted for it if it had meant real power.


We need the people’s consent to the regional map of England so the legislation should be permissive. So I would favour a Northern Council, an idea I will develop in a moment. The Midlands and East might want smaller strategic bodies. There could then be a tier of government covering the Thames Valley. The real South East could get together. Wessex could emerge once again and perhaps it is time to recognise Cornish identity.


Returning to my patch I would like to see a Northern Council. It would stretch from the Scottish Border to Hull and Crewe. It has the economy and population of some of the smaller states in Europe and should have powers to match. These would cover transport, health, strategic planning, skills, economic planning etc. They would get a block grant from London without strings and would benefit from resources currently going to Scotland as the Barnett Formula is replaced by the Scots raising their own taxes.


The Northern Council would be a democratic body with people elected from constituencies based on groups of Westminster seats.




I don’t want to go into the complexities of EVEL here. My solution would be for the designation of truly English legislation that could only be voted on by English MPs. There would be less of it than Labour fear, but they are right to demand that EVEL is conditional on a wider constitutional settlement.


Wales and Northern Ireland should get more devolved powers.


The House of Lords should be reformed once and for all. It should have 75% of its members elected from the English Regions. 20% should be appointed to allow for doctors, scientists, engineers to give their expertise . Such people might be reluctant to stand for office. 5% should be reserved for the faith communities.


We live in a time when the old party structure is crumbling. The voting system needs to reflect this. All elections for local, regional and national government should be by single transferable vote.


These changes can be dismissed as too radical and too challenging for vested political interests. The alternative is to patch up our existing arrangements against a background of growing alienating of the people from their politicians.

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