As the Chancellor reels from his drubbing at the hands of the House of Lords over tax credits, he can fall back for solace on his pet project the Northern Powerhouse. Or can he? A poll out this weekend shows only one in four people in the North believe it will deliver. This is hardly surprising as they have been shut out of a project that has been cooked up behind the closed doors of Whitehall and the Town Halls.

I have been to Sheffield and Liverpool this week finding out just where we are with the devolution deals. The most interesting meeting was was Downtown’s Devo Scouse event. The networking organisation has now brought together twelve business organisations who insist on having their say in shaping the devolution deal for the Liverpool City Region.

The magnificent dozen came together after seeing the devolution proposition Merseyside’s politicians had sent to the government. It amounted to a fifty item shopping list of demands with little evidence to back it up and a paragraph on elected mayors almost designed to antagonise a government determined to support the idea.

They are putting their ideas to the councillors on the Combined Authority this weekend but they better be quick. Insiders tell me a government response may come on Nov 11th, even ahead of the Comprehensive Spending Review later next month. They have on board the doyen of devolution academics Professor Michael Parkinson (a possible independent mayoral candidate?) who told the Devo Scouse meeting that the City Region needed to produce evidence based solutions to the government’s problems over things like low skills, not the begging bowl. There needed to be more trust between the six districts that did form a coherent economic whole. There was no point having hang ups about Manchester which is currently the go to city for devolution. They had been at this business for 20 years not 20 months. Parkinson also observed that the politicians in Greater Manchester had their rows in private not on the front page of the echo.

Martin McTague of the Federation of Small Business praised the coming together of twelve business organisations and said Liverpool should pay attention to the details of devo deals done in Sheffield and the North East. They had been narrowly focused. One of the main issues that has caused disunity on Merseyside is the question of an elected city region mayor. The FSB spokesman said they should not get hung up about it because the ones agreed so far would only be chairs of the board of the Combined Authorities not an all powerful Boris type mayor.

The other devolution event I went to was organised by IPPR North in Sheffield. Former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott continued his campaign for a region rather than a city based approach to the Northern Powerhouse. I agree with him but I’m afraid that ship has sailed for the moment. Dan Jarvis, a Barnsley MP tipped as a possible future Labour leader acknowledged that Labour had been left trailing by George Osborne over the Northern Powerhouse. Christine Gaskell, Chair of the Cheshire and Warrington LEP reminded people of the power of her economy as a contributor to the Northern Powerhouse, whilst the only Tory speaker at the conference felt his Ribble Valley area was more an outhouse than a powerhouse.


The selection of a new Labour candidate for Oldham West and Royton will take place on Bonfire Night. Those that choose politics over pyrotechnics may see the leader of Oldham Council Jim McMahon chosen as the standard bearer.

Jon Lansman,a London based veteran of the Labour left in the 1980s, has ruled himself out. There are a couple of local councillors from the Asian community who fancy their chances in a seat with a large South Asian population and I’ve heard that Phil Woolas the able MP for Oldham East, who was disqualified from office by an election court in 2011 has been sizing up his chances.

Voting is expected by the end of November so UKIP will need to get their skates on and may choose the impressive John Bickley who nearly won Heywood last year.



The first eagerly awaited test of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party is likely to come next month. Party chiefs are likely to move quickly to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Michael Meacher. They won’t want UKIP to gain momentum (sorry to use that word, labour moderates) in a constituency perilously close to Heywood and Middleton where Nigel Farage’s outfit nearly beat them in a by election a year ago.

How will the Labour voters in this deprived working class seat react to Jeremy Corbyn. They have been content to elect Michael Meacher twelve times with thumping majorities and he was always on the left of the party being a close ally of Tony Benn when Labour was in a very similar position to where it is now in the 1980’s.

The choice of Labour’s standard bearer will be very interesting. On a personal level the leader of Oldham Council Jim McMahon has an important decision to make. He is a rising star and leads the Labour group on the Local Government Association. He is spoken of as a possible candidate for elected mayor of Greater Manchester in 2017. Unless a Labour government is elected and he rises to Cabinet rank, he would be more likely to have real power up here rather than at Westminster. McMahon may not want it or might not be selected. Momentum is the new Corbynista activist group in the Labour Party. Moderate MPs think there agenda is to start deselecting people who don’t agree with the Labour leader. How influential will they be in the choice of the Oldham candidate?

UKIP do face an uphill task in the seat. Meacher had a majority of nearly 15,000. It has a large south Asian population and the party is preoccupied with infighting about which pressure group is going to leader the EU Out campaign. Nevertheless a divided Labour Party with a poor candidate, an anti Corbyn backlash and a low turnout could produce a surprise.

I referred to Michael Meacher’s dozen victories between 1970 and this May but he began with a defeat. In 1968 the Wilson Labour government was deeply unpopular. So much so that Manchester City Council was controlled by the Conservatives! In a by election in this seat that summer the Conservatives won the seat beating the young Michael Meacher.

We do seem to be getting more than our fair share of by elections in the North West. This will be the fifth since 2010. Oldham East went to the polls after Phil Woolas was unseated in 2011. Tony Lloyd’s resignation to become Police and Crime Commissioner for Greater Manchester sent Manchester Central voters to the polls in 2012 and the deaths of Paul Goggins and Jim Dobbin caused further by elections in Wythenshawe and Heywood in 2014.