I think the fevered talk of plots to dislodge the Prime Minister is exaggerated. Whoever is PM on Brexit Day better stand by for massive criticism either for paying the Europeans too much or keeping us too close to the EU. Better to leave Mrs May to take the flack is surely the wise course for aspiring leaders. Reports that some Tory MPs want to go into opposition to refresh the party are ridiculous.

All that said the government is in a fragile state and is relying on Philip Hammond to deliver a good budget next week. I’ve got a lot of time for Phil The Till. When you look around the Cabinet table and see charlatans like Johnson and Gove, there is something reassuring about the grey man with his spreadsheets. He knows Brexit is a dangerous threat to the economy. He knows we are spending billions servicing our debts. Yet he is bated for exuding gloom when he should be apeing Johnson’s unfounded cheerfulness.

On Wednesday the Chancellor ought to loosen the purse strings to help with housing, the NHS, and elderly care. He needs to address our woeful productivity and skills record. But he should be bold enough to put up some taxes to pay for it and go back on a manifesto promise to raise the 40p income tax threshold to £50,000. The elderly should have to pay some National Insurance to begin the task of tackling intergenerational unfairness.

Unlike many commentators I don’t think a General Election is at all likely so now is the time in the political cycle to take a risk with incurring the wrath of those opposed to any tax rises.

But Phil Hammond faces strong opposition in his own party. Former Minister Nick Boles wants the Chancellor to scrap his deficit reduction target. He believes it is fine for the annual deficit to remain at 2.6% indefinitely. This in the face of an Institute for Fiscal Studies warning the deficit could be on course to be £20bn higher than expected by 2021/22.


The former Prime Minister has been in the North this week to boost sales of his memoirs. I had a lot of time for the granite integrity of this Scottish son of the manse. His one great achievement in No 10 was in October 2008 when he showed global leadership in the middle of the economic crisis.

His great flaw was his undermining of Tony Blair in his desire to be Prime Minister. Why did he want the job so badly? When he got it, he didn’t know what to do with it. Was he a continuity man for New Labour or something else?

He claims his differences with Blair were over policy and he had nothing to do with the personal attacks. The fact is Brown could have reigned in his spin doctors Damian McBride and Charlie Whelan who were constantly briefing against the Prime Minister.

Blair should have sacked Brown after the 2001 General Election, but it’s not just weak Prime Ministers who find it hard to dismiss troublesome Cabinet colleagues.

Follow me @JimHancockUK




The General Election result indicated a turning of a corner in the sentiment of the nation, the reaction to the dreadful Grenfell Tower fire, confirmed it.

The tide of anti-State, anti EU feeling is on the ebb. People are beginning to realise that a lot of “red tape” is there to protect people and keep them safe. I doubt if ministers will be calling for three regulations to be abolished for every new one in the future. That’s not to say business should not continue to identify silly or bureaucratic impediments to commercial transactions. But where regulations are in place to protect people, we should recognise their purpose and remember the poor victims of Grenfell Tower.

On Europe, a YouGov poll this month showed most people now think it was wrong for us to vote to leave the EU.

Tory and Labour politicians need to take this changing world into account. There are signs from the Queen’s Speech that the Conservatives will modify their austerity agenda and use some of the £23bn slack in the government coffers available to 2021 to fund schools and public sector pay rises.

It is going to be down to Labour to reflect the changing sentiments on Europe. Apart from that poll, there were two developments this week which show the stupidity of leaving the EU. On the very first day of the Brexit talks we had a taste of the EU’s strength. The idea that we could negotiate future trade in parallel with the divorce terms was blown out of the water. Then came the Queen’s Speech and the revelation that eight huge pieces of legislation are going to be needed over the next two years to implement this wholly negative exercise.

So, whilst we fail to deal with pressing issues like the future of social care, MPs will be up all night repatriating powers over nuclear waste or money laundering which having a glaring need to be done across the EU.


The low-key State Opening of Parliament seemed appropriate. The Queen didn’t ride to Westminster in her golden carriage and the crown rested on a table beside the monarch as she delivered the paired down proposals of the government. She looked as if she was being delayed in getting to Ascot and the whole occasion which usually anticipates a new government with interesting proposals was flat and dreary.

There is considerable anxiety that government momentum behind the Northern Powerhouse has drained away. We’ll get a better sense of that following an important transport conference in Manchester on Monday. But in the Queen’s Speech I only noticed a bill to extend HS2 from Birmingham to Crewe and a reference to the new industrial strategy.

Business needs to speak out about issues around skills, productivity and the Northern Powerhouse. I don’t know if bosses felt restrained by the election campaign. They shouldn’t have been because that is the very time to speak out. Anyway, the net result has been that business and the economy were topics that dare not speak their name.

Theresa May could stumble out of office at any time but I still think she’ll last two years. People who think Boris Johnson is the answer should listen to his car crash performance on “PM” on Radio 4 on Wednesday. His “wing it” approach to policy was effectively exposed. The nation should tire of this clown.



It’s true! I have had lunch with both the current and former Prime Ministers since I last wrote. I was in the company of many other political journalists, but there’s nothing like seeing these top statesmen in the flesh, studying their mannerisms and demeanour, in order to form a view of where we are heading in 2013.




Whatever he may be feeling inside, David Cameron shows none of the angst and pressure that attended his predecessor Gordon Brown. He peppered his remarks with a number of quite good jokes, the most significant being one about Nick Clegg. He told us Nick would be along to offer his separate Christmas greetings, “although it won’t be very different from mine.” It was an obvious reference to the separate statement Clegg had made on the Leveson Report.

However much discontent there is among grass roots Tories and Lib Dems with their leaders, the Posh Boys retain that easy personal relationship that was displayed in the rose garden on the day the Coalition was formed in 2010.


Talk of the Coalition breaking up next year is foolish. This lot are in it for the long haul as Cameron told us at the lunch. The Autumn Statement showed the government’s determination to move away from current spending (servicing debt and benefits) to capital spending on infrastructure. He claimed that previous Tory governments had not tackled school and police reform. This was being done now said the PM. A Comprehensive Spending Review was being undertaken as was a document outlining Coalition priorities for the second half of the parliament. Whether it will amount to much, we will have to see but the aim is to project forward momentum. That is vital. There is little going on in parliament following the hole created by the absence of the Lords Reform Bill. This creates a danger that the government could be depicted like a boxer hanging over the ropes being pummelled by the economic crisis if Cameron and Clegg don’t keep things moving.


Cameron observed that planning for the second half of the parliament had been made easier by the passing of legislation to ensure the government had a full five years in power. In the past speculation would already be rife about a possible snap election next year.


When that election comes we may not have the Prime Ministerial debates. Cameron told us he felt they sucked the life out of the campaign in 2010. Perhaps he fears the possibility of UKIP leader Nigel Farage forcing his way into the debate on the back of a strong performance in next year’s Euro elections.


Cameron was disappointing when asked about the North South Divide. He waffled about people understanding tough decisions had to be taken. This is a government with a London perspective which makes it difficult for our Tory MPs in the North West like Graham Evans. The Weaver Vale MP was my guest at the lunch. He’s a moderate Conservative and was broadly happy with what Cameron said. However he reflected the widespread grass roots unease about gay marriage. Many of his supporters feared that safeguards for religious communities would be overruled by the European Court of Human Rights.




The centrist convictions that delivered Labour three victories were still on display when Tony Blair spoke to us just before Christmas. The “third way” and “centre ground” peppered his remarks.


He left office just before the roof fell in on the world economy. So what did he feel about planned measures to prevent the casino banking that operated during his years in office? He warned against going too far. What about companies paying their proper tax in the UK? He acknowledged the mood had changed but we were none the wiser what he felt about it. Perhaps he’s “intensely relaxed” about it.


Liverpool Council reckon they will have lost £284 million a year since 2010 and are to hold a large cities crisis summit shortly. Mr Blair was asked about this and gave what I thought was a callous answer. He claimed the public services needed more reform, not less. The financial crisis had exposed the need for change. The former Prime Minister advised councils to be innovative.


I always felt Tony Blair was out of touch with Labour’s working class on the issue of immigration. He was responsible for policies which eventually saw a major influx of people from Eastern Europe into Britain. Any regrets that he had not made it clear to people that this would be the consequence of an increase in member countries of the European Union? Immigration was good for Britain said Mr Blair. The Polish community had brought fresh energy to our economy.

This may all be true, and I agreed with his comment that in relation to European policy we must have no empty gestures or empty chairs, but on immigration there was no acknowledgement of the feelings of ordinary people (not bigots) when their communities are transformed and jobs threatened.


Lisa Nandy was my guest. The Wigan MP is already on Labour’s front bench despite her radical views on many issues. She agreed with Blair that the party has to be pragmatic in delivering public services better. But that was not enough. She told me “the world has changed since 1997. People are crying out for a principled stand on the issues of fairness and equality.” She thinks Ed Miliband, who broke from Blair’s New Labour, will provide it.




As the political class are too cowardly to mark the event properly, can I be the one person in the country to raise a glass to our 40 years membership of the European Union.


After Empire, the EU has provided us with a new role in the world as a leading member of a group of nations we helped to liberate in 1945. Let us hope in the next 40 years we will provide that leadership and stop looking at the exit door.