Over the next three weeks I’m devoting my blog to the most important decision we will all have to make in our lifetimes. I’m emphatically, with every fibre in my body for Remain.

On June 23 we must take a decision that will bind us or sever us from Europe for the foreseeable future. A reassurance has been built in that treaty changes would trigger a future referendum if we stay in, but if we vote to leave there will be no going back. Some have sought to muddy the waters about the finality of the referendum vote. For instance while Boris Johnson was moving from his true belief (which is to remain) to his careerist position of leave, he flirted with the idea that a UK vote to leave would bring our European partners to their senses and we could have a second referendum on a renegotiated deal. That will not happen. It is a theory put about by some Brexiteers to convince waverers to vote to leave because they will get a chance to reconsider the reckless move.

No, this is it. In theory one vote will be enough to begin the whole ghastly, costly and complicated business of separating us from forty three years of complex arrangements with the EU. A tiny majority for Leave will certainly be enough for the Brexiteers. If there was any suggestion that a Leave vote could be ignored or fudged, the Brexiteers would be ready with their criticism that the EU was trying to get us to keep voting until they got the vote that suited them.

The problem will be with a narrow vote to remain. Nigel Farage, the leader of UKIP, has already indicated that the fight would be resumed the next day to get us out. You can already see the excuses being prepared. The government wielded unfair influence and made wild claims. The BBC was in favour of Remain. All that tosh is waiting to be deployed. So let’s get a big majority to Remain with an enthusiastic cheerful campaign that celebrates our membership of this great international institution that has replaced the ravages of war with the hope of peace and prosperity.

To achieve this it is essential that young people register to vote and then turn out. Most of them are in favour of our membership of the EU, why wouldn’t they be? They have grown up with the EU. They travel freely to work and meet new friends without borders getting in the way.

It is also vital that Labour voters turn out to vote to Remain. It is tempting to want to embarrass Cameron and Osborne by staying at home or voting no just to plunge the Tories into chaos. The far more important issue for socialists is to vote to remain. A lot of the Tory Brexitieers want us out so that they can dismantle people’s rights in respect of working hours, health and safety and parental leave. Tory Brexiteers see the EU as a barrier to the naked operation of the free market.

The UK was not conquered in the Second World War nor have we been ruled since by communist or neo fascist governments which was the experience of countries like Poland, Spain and Portugal. For those countries the EU is essential for very fundamental reasons. For us the EU has been a more pragmatic choice, that we are better off economically and politically in the world by being part of this great vision of bringing 28 countries together rather than sitting awkwardly on the global sidelines.

Although our reasons to be part of the EU are different, they are nonetheless equally important. We must Remain on June 23.




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





History is my passion so my thoughts are constantly going back to what people were thinking and doing as the summer of 1914 started.

They certainly weren’t thinking that an a world war would be under way before the leaves fell. The conflict they were worried about was in Ulster where the loyalists were threatening rebellion over Irish independence. At home the suffragettes battle for the vote commanded the headlines.

Very few saw the danger presented by an interlocking series of treaties between the Great Powers. There hadn’t been a general war for a hundred years since Napoleon’s time.

Now let’s come forward to this summer. Once again there is tension in a part of Europe most people know little about. We are focused on the economic recovery, the rise of UKIP or just running our lives. We have had peace for 70 years, partly because of NATO, an interlocking treaty that guarantees mutual support for the Baltic States and Poland should they be attacked.

Where is our Gavrilo Princip, the obscure Serb who’s assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne triggered the huge conflict? He may be found amongst the pro Russian militias currently destabilising East Ukraine. One of them bragged on TV the other day about not only taking East Ukraine but eventually taking Brussels.

A foolish and ludicrous piece of bravura of course but it made me wonder if we are fully aware of the potential danger we are in a hundred summers on from 1914.

Russia wouldn’t be reckless enough to invade East Ukraine would it? Well don’t be so sure. The Ukrainian army is showing signs of getting off its knees. If it inflicts serious casualties on the pro Russian militias, will Russia stand back?

Well Vladimir Putin has already annexed the Ukraine and lost his place at the table of the G8 world leaders.

Most significantly of all he is leading a country that is relying on military shows of strength to mask economic weakness at home. It is the classic formula for recklessness.

So suppose he seized East Ukraine. NATO would not react because Ukraine is not a member. What might well happen is a destabilisation of the Baltic States. Russian minorities in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia could well start clamouring to be reunited with Mother Russia. What happens if those revolts are put down by force. Would Putin be deterred from intervening by the fact that they are members of NATO? Probably, but only if America, Britain and France made it clear we would be prepared to start World War 3. Would our politicians have the mandate from the people to make such a threat? Can you see St Peter’s Square in Manchester or St George’s Plateau in Liverpool full of people singing “We don’t want to fight them, but by jingo if we do?”

No, me neither. After all this is 2014 the age of the computer, social media and comfortable living. The army does our fighting. The days of mass mobilisation are over. But if Putin truly believes this, then we would be in great peril. The dangers of miscalculation that were present in that summer a hundred years ago are present this summer.