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








Nigel Farage and Mayor Joe Anderson of Liverpool have gravitational pull at the moment. The effect is similar to dark matter; that’s the mystery force that’s controlling the behaviour of the universe. You can’t see it but you can detect it from the effect it has on other planets or in our case politicians.




Marie Rimmer has been deposed as the leader of St Helens Council. That’s a shame because we need more women leading our local councils Marie has been a doughty fighter for her town and didn’t think much of the idea of a Merseyside regional mayor. This was partly because she thought it would mean domination by Liverpool and particularly Joe Anderson. Marie has been replaced by her deputy Barry Grunewald. He learnt the dark arts of politics in Labour’s North West headquarters in Warrington.


The suggestion is that Barry is more disposed to the idea of a city region mayor. The gravitational force of Mayor Joe may be at work. However it is up to the government to bring in the reform and my betting is that there will be little progress on that front in this parliament.




UKIP’s breakthrough in terms of councillors elected was predominantly in east and south east England where Eastern European workers have been prepared to pick the strawberries and dig the potatoes that British people aren’t prepared to do.


They secured very few council places in Downtown land. Two in North Yorkshire, bordering Leeds, where the Conservatives retained a substantial majority. They lost their seat in Derbyshire where Labour gained control and are not represented in Cumbria. The council is still hung but with Labour gaining ten seats, a continuation of the unlikely Labour/Tory coalition seems unlikely.


Now we come to Lancashire. Some commentators have said Labour should have taken the county outright. That was a big ask following the drubbing they took in 2009. 22 gains gives them largest party status and political momentum.


Coalitions have not been part of the Lancashire tradition. During the only previous period when no party had overall control (1985-89) Labour had minority rule. This option is open to Jenny Mein or she could do a deal with the Lib Dems who performed better than their national opinion poll ratings.


However don’t underestimate Geoffrey Driver. As I write he has still not conceded power a week after polling day. UKIP may not have elected any councillors in the Red Rose county but they certainly exerted a powerful gravitational force on Mr Driver’s Tories. In twenty wards the combined Conservative/UKIP vote was greater than the winning total for Labour or other parties.


Driver faces Gordon Brown’s dilemma three years ago in trying to create a rainbow coalition. He needs more than the six Lib Dems. If the single Green Party councillor won’t play ball, The Tories would need two of the three Independents. It looks a bit rickety for Mr Driver who needs to keep his eye on ambitious Lytham councillor Tim Ashton.


You always need to watch your back in politics. Just ask Marie Rimmer.








Can Ed Miliband drill through the seam of local election apathy in Lancashire and release the gas that could help him soar to power in 2015?


The county has recently been shaken by shale gas exploration, could the same happen in the county elections next week? It is the Labour leader’s opportunity to show he has the ability to win back the middle class votes he needs in places like Chorley and Rossendale


It is that time in the local election cycle when the cities fall silent and the voice of the rural north is heard. Voters will be going to the polls in the shire counties across England including North Yorkshire, which skirts the northern suburbs of Leeds, Derbyshire, Cumbria and crucially Lancashire.


Four years ago the county elections were a harbinger of doom for Gordon Brown. The Tories gained a massive 22 seats in the Red Rose County to sweep into power under the controversial Geoff Driver with a majority of 18. The Liberal Democrats, then untainted by decisions in government, also did well gaining 5 seats from Labour in Burnley alone.


It’s sad in many ways that Lancashire councillors will be very vulnerable to the national mood of the electorate. A good local track record cannot always save you from defeat. That may also be true for Cllr Driver who many feel has done a good job whilst ruffling a few feathers. But he’s been doing that since he was Chief Executive of Preston many years ago. He has been prepared to defy his own party clashing with Education Secretary Michael Gove over academy primary schools in the county.


Labour’s opinion poll lead has weakened recently and they lag the Tories when people are asked about economic competence. That said the Conservatives look set for the mid term blues as people facing benefit changes, no work or just a general squeeze on their living standards take it out on the Tories and their Lib Dem allies. Although that Lancashire Conservative majority of 18 looks secure, 14 wards are held by the party with majorities under 500.


Burnley will be the main battleground for the Liberal Democrats. On the back of their county success in 2009,Gordon Birtwhistle won the parliamentary seat a year later. If his local colleagues lose to Labour, his power base will be eroded.


There is a strong tradition of female Labour leadership in Lancashire. The successor to previous council leaders Louise Ellman and Hazel Harding is Jennifer Mein. She has not made a notable impact so far and indeed there are rumours that David Borrow, the ex Ribble South MP, may challenge her for the leadership after polling day.


The Green Party will hope to gain on their 2 seat representation on the county from the city of Lancaster. The BNP are a diminished force and are expected to lose their presence at County Hall. That leaves Tom Sharrett as the Idle Toad Party representative from South Ribble. He’ll be hopping mad if he loses!


Let’s hope local issues like the care of the elderly, education, roads and the council’s attitude to fracking for shale gas get an airing in the campaign rather than it just being an opinion poll on the Coalition.



Cumbria County Council recently faced a similar major decision affecting the environment when it said no to permanent underground storage of nuclear waste. The county is run by an unusual Conservative-Labour coalition. It will be interesting to see if the two parties stick together if Labour becomes the largest party.


Labour will expect to regain Derbyshire whilst North Yorkshire looks set to retain a Tory majority even in this difficult year for the party.


The wild card in these elections is UKIP. Their policies on local government remain vague. But how many voters will stop to ask themselves what could a UKIP councillor actually do for me at the Town Hall where our membership of the European Union is not an issue?


UKIP will take most, but not all votes from the Tories. They may not win many seats but could make the difference in marginal wards