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.

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Since 1983, socialists have craved a red meat Labour manifesto that they could vote for. Now is the chance for them to come out in their millions and ensure that Mrs May doesn’t achieve a landslide.

Labour has improved its poll rating since the election was called, but the gap remains large. There are many attractive features in the manifesto around energy prices, housing, university fees, nationalising the railways and world peace. Labour is tapping into a feeling that business and the rich should contribute more. After all it is ordinary people who have been paying for the excesses that caused the crash in 2008.

But the party remains vulnerable on the cost of it all. Salford MP Rebecca Long-Bailey is the Shadow Business Secretary, and touted by some as a future leader of the party. She will need to do better than in a radio interview on the manifesto launch day. She was asked how the ending of the benefits freeze, not raising the retirement age beyond 66 and scrapping the housing benefits cap was going to be paid for. In each instance, she casually said they would be subject to review when Labour was in government. It isn’t good enough. The party knew the Tory hawks would be looking for unfunded promises, but Corbyn has gambled that his vision for a socialist Britain will pay off.

Meanwhile the transformation of the Tory Party from an organisation run by posh boys to one where strong and stable Theresa is in charge is well under way. Pledges on workers rights, council house building and intervention in the energy market may seem brazenly opportunistic, but the Prime Minister has forged a link with northern working class people that may pay off spectacularly.

This is because the Regressive Alliance bringing the Tories and UKIP together was demonstrated in the recent local elections, whilst the Progressive Alliance of all those parties representing the centre left isn’t working so far. The rallying point should be around the Lib Dems call for a second EU referendum. Leader Tim Farron should stick to that. Putting the legalisation of cannabis in the manifesto just plays to his enemies stereotyping of the party.


What does post war history tell us about surprise General Elections? The story is mixed for incumbent Prime Ministers. Clement Attlee came a cropper when, having won narrowly in 1950, he called another election the following year to increase his majority and lost to Winston Churchill. As soon as Anthony Eden succeeded Churchill, he successfully went to the country in 1955 to get his own mandate, a course not followed by Gordon Brown when he took over from Tony Blair in 2007.

Harold Wilson performed the double election trick twice. He increased a small majority in 1964 to a large one in 1966. Then in February 1974 Tory Prime Minister Ted Heath went to the country in a similar manner to Theresa May seeking a specific mandate. Heath’s was to defeat the miners. He lost and Wilson, after a summer of minority government, gained a slim overall majority in the autumn.

More recently the Lib Dems could have refused to serve in a coalition in 2010 but the fear always was that David Cameron would have formed a minority government and won an overall majority in a quick return to the polls.

Would he have done? Will Mrs May’s landslide gamble pay off? We shall soon know.

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With the NHS at breaking point, our prisons in meltdown and the government’s plan to solve the housing crisis widely criticised, the Tories don’t deserve any success in next week’s by elections.

The fact that the seats of Copeland and Stoke Central are in play is due to the literally incredible Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. It’s all so different from twenty years ago, when Labour swept the Tories out of Wirral South in a by election which was a foretaste of the Blair landslide to come months later.

 Things have reached such a pass that two talented, but vastly inexperienced, Greater Manchester MPs are being suggested as successors to the hapless Corbyn. Shadow Business Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey (Salford) and Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner (Ashton) have been MPs for less than two years and are virtually unknown on the national stage.

This speculation was provoked by a survey in Manchester that showed diehard Labour supporters giving Corbyn dire ratings. That supports what I am picking up from my sources within the party.

So why do I think Labour might hold on to both seats? The greatest threat to them comes in Copeland where Corbyn’s equivocal attitude to nuclear power and nuclear weapons is toxic in an area that depends on both for jobs. The Labour majority is slim. The seat includes the genteel town of Keswick as well as the more industrial coastal strip around Sellafield and Whitehaven and voters tend to punish parties when the sitting MP walks off the job as Jamie Reed did. That said the Labour candidate, Gillian Troughton, has made clear her support for all things nuclear, has distanced herself from Corbyn and is campaigning hard against plans to transfer maternity services from Whitehaven to Carlisle.

Theresa May visited the constituency this week. Prime Ministers don’t usually do that if they think their party is going to lose. That said Copeland/Whitehaven has been Labour territory since 1935 and they could cling on.


Tristram Hunt was imposed on Stoke Central in 2010 when that was the way things were done by New Labour. It was no surprise when he found the attractions of the ceramics at the Victoria and Albert Museum more attractive than representing the people of the Potteries, who voted heavily to leave the EU. Hunt’s departure has given UKIP the perfect chance to show that they can appeal to Labour voters fed up with the metropolitan values of the Jeremy Corbyn Labour Party.

But there are big risks for UKIP. Their new leader Paul Nuttall has had to put his neck on the line and fight the seat when his inclination may have been to give it more time before trying for parliament. He has quickly found out that being a candidate leads to unwelcome publicity. So it has proved as it has emerged that he did not lose close relatives in the Hillsborough disaster. His brand is that of a plain speaking scouser which might not play well in the Potteries. UKIP’s main challenge thought is to offer credible policies for the working class on other issues than Europe. The government is forcing a hard Brexit on us, so what’s the point of voting UKIP?

It may be that the disillusionment with politics that was so strong last June will give UKIP their first northern seat, but Labour still have a chance.

Follw me @JimHancockUK





So the Conservatives arrive in Birmingham this weekend in a clear blue political sky. Their enemies are divided, they have a brand new leader and the UK is leaving the hated EU.

But look a little closer and things aren’t quite so simple. George Osborne, the former Chancellor, is on manoeuvres. He was not only sacked by Mrs May but she then made it clear that his pet project, the Northern Powerhouse, was sooo yesterday. Lord O’Neill of Gatley who was Osborne’s right hand man on the project has quit. From now on we have to talk about an “industrial strategy” which is far less Manchester focused. Osborne immediately set up his Northern Powerhouse think tank. This has as much to do with his power battle with the Prime Minister as it has to do with his ongoing commitment to the regeneration of the North. Proof of this comes from Judith Blake, the leader of Leeds City Council. Osborne was in such haste to put a shot across Mrs May’s bows, that she says Leeds knew nothing about the think tank.

Then there’s the former Education Secretary Nicky Morgan attacking the idea of more grammar schools and we are beginning to see a grouping of Osbornistas waiting to pounce if Theresa May should fail.


The Anti EU Tendency has had as decisive a victory in the Tory Party as Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters have had in Labour. Over the years they have pressurised and outmanoeuvred the pro Europeans. They have brought down at least two Prime Ministers, engineered our Brexit and still they are not satisfied as you will find out in Birmingham. The conference fringe will ring to the repetition of the vacuous phrase “Brexit Means Brexit”. Now we have another one “Leave Means Leave”. The Anti EU ultras are just waiting for Mrs May to betray them on the terms of Brexit.

They won’t be satisfied until the tariff barriers are up, our universities are stripped of EU researchers and Nissan and General Motors are relocating in Europe.


After my dispiriting visit to the Lib Dems in Brighton looking for centre left solidarity, I headed off to Labour’s gathering in Liverpool and came away with the view that Jeremy Corbyn’s opponents are pretty clueless.

I am of the view that there is a huge opportunity for centre left politicians to emerge from their bunkers and unite to put up a common front to the Tories. When I asked former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg about this , he went on about Labour’s bad behaviour in the electoral reform vote in 2011.

In Liverpool I decided to tackle Chuka Umunna. He’s the Labour MP who should have stood against Jeremy Corbyn but has funked it twice. At a fringe meeting he was regretting the referendum result, so I asked for his opinion on Lib Dem leader Tim Farron’s call for the Brexit package to be put to the British people. Umunna dismissed the idea as an attempt by Farron to get some attention for his party.

With some outrageous rigging of conference procedures the anti Corbyn forces are clinging on to control of the party’s National Executive, but they shouldn’t rely too heavily on Jeremy Corbyn’s promise not to introduce mandatory reselection for MPs. The left don’t need it, the boundary changes will provide the ideal opportunity to pounce.

At a fringe meeting I attended a platform speaker could not have been more clear when he dismissed the idea that Labour MPs should be elected in their twenties and stay until they decided to retire.

Meanwhile Jeremy Corbyn may be able to mobilise the dispossessed to vote in huge numbers to take him to power. A more likely outcome will be that the vision of high spending and no immigration controls that was approved in Liverpool this week will not appeal in Wirral, Morley and Nuneaton where Labour needs to win.