I wonder if anyone in the Labour Party or UKIP has noticed there’s a Queen’s Speech on Wednesday. They are both so busy tearing lumps out of themselves that they will have little time to critique the legislation being proposed by the first all Conservative government in 18 years.

We can expect a hefty programme of legislation if the pattern of the last parliament is anything to go by. The Coalition put through most of its major legislation in the first two years leaving us with a zombie parliament in 2014-15. So we can expect bills on important things like a British Bill of Rights and the right to buy housing association properties. Then there is the Budget in July with the prospect of swingeing cuts in welfare. All this needs the attention of the Labour Party otherwise the Scot Nats will do it for them.

The other danger in Labour taking its eye off the ball is a repeat of what happened in the summer of 2010. While Labour was distracted electing Ed Miliband as leader, the Tories were discovering notes left by outgoing Ministers saying there was no money left and blamed Labour for the financial crisis. It was a charge that stuck right through from 2010 till this May.

UKIP is engaged in an even more damaging internal conflict. Having confirmed Nigel Farage as leader, they have now sacked two of the people who were capable of softening their image as a pack of old lads yearning for Britain as it was in the fifties. Economic spokesman Patrick O’Flynn and particularly policy chief Suzanne Evans provided an alternative to the brash Farage. They were never filmed in pubs but now they are gone from the leadership circle.


Last week the Gorton MP Sir Gerald Kaufman briefly took the chair as the new House of Commons met. He is Father of the House because he signed the member’s book in the House of Commons just ahead of Oldham West’s Michael Meacher in 1970. His job was preside over the re-election of John Bercow as Speaker, so not too onerous a task. This is just as well because the MP for Gorton is 84 and will be touching 90 when the next election comes.

But let’s move on from yesterday’s man to the 15 new faces from the north who will be attending their first Queen’s Speech on Wednesday.

A number of prominent councillors have taken the Westminster Way. Kate Hollern, the former leader of Blackburn with Darwen Council is the new MP for Jack Straw’s old seat. Will she enjoy as long a tenure as her predecessors Mr Straw and Barbara Castle who between them represented the town since 1945.

Peter Dowd, the leader of Sefton Council has taken over from the veteran Joe Benton in Bootle whilst Julie Cooper the leader of Burnley Council ousted the Lib Dem Gordon Birtwistle to represent the East Lancashire town.

Justin Madders who led the Labour group on Cheshire West and Chester Council is the new MP for Ellesmere Port and Neston whilst senior Manchester councillor Jeff Smith has made the Labour takeover of Manchester complete by taking Withington from the Lib Dems.

Other new Labour faces include Angela Raynor in Ashton and Rebecca Long-Bailey who succeeded the colourful Hazel Blears in Salford. Then we have the three new Labour MPs who helped to temper a bad night for the party by ousting Tories. They are Margaret Greenwood, Esther McVey’s nemesis in Wirral West and Chris Matheson in Chester. Finally keep an eye on Cat Smith the new MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood. Her early pronouncements indicate she is from the hard left wanting nothing to do with austerity cuts.

Our five new Conservative MPs divided their victories over Lib Dem and Labour incumbents. The most spectacular scalp went to Andrea Jenkyns who defeated Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls in the Leeds suburb seat of Morley and Outwood whilst Chris Green took Bolton West from Labour. The delightfully named Antoinette Sandbach has replaced Stephen O’Brien as the Tory MP for Eddisbury. Sadly the town of Sandbach is in the neighbouring seat of Congleton.

The long Liberal presence in south east Greater Manchester is over with William Wragg becoming the first Tory MP since Tom Arnold in Hazel Grove whilst Mary Robinson took neighbouring Cheadle.




Although the last months of the old parliamentary session gave the impression that MPs had run out of things to do, the Queen’s Speech had plenty of content, particularly to help small businesses in the North. Not that parliament’s success should always be measured by the amount of legislation passed. The old maxim “when it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change,” is a good one. MPs should debate the bills they do pass more thoroughly with at least two or three days for a second reading.

After the Lib Dem’s poor showing in the recent elections, there was a danger that David Cameron would be left riding into his last legislative term before the General Election with Nick Clegg strapped, half dead, over the back of his horse. Instead the Posh Boys have signalled that they are in it together till the end.

Lib Dem influence remains alive both in measures included, like infant free school meals, and bills left out, such as entrenching the E.U referendum in law.

The key elements in this Queen’s Speech are pension reform and help for business. It is a bold aim of the Prime Minister to make Britain the most business friendly country in the world but the list of support measures is long. Penalties on employers who undercut the minimum wage should help honest business people. Measures to reduce delays in employment tribunals, to tackle red tape (again) and simplify the collection of National Insurance from the self employed will all be welcomed.

The government pledge to help SMEs with access to finance will be met with some scepticism. A survey out this week found that a third of companies planning growth in the North West feared the banks would turn them down.

The pension changes will potentially affect people’s lives into the second half of the century. Giving people new rights over their pension pots and the proposed defined collective contribution schemes(DCCs) are not without their problems. There is a danger we will create a new class of feckless retirees who blow their pension pots and have to rely on meagre state pensions in their last days. In relation to the DCCs proposal, will there be enough employers prepared to band together to create pension funds with the clout to get better returns than the current annuity system? These funds will have to be managed by the financial whizz kids who were responsible for the mis-selling of financial products in the past.

Other measures in this surprisingly meaty Queen’s Speech included a continuing freeze on petrol duty and plans to elect the boards of our National Parks. A whiff of democracy in the Lake District and High Peak is no bad thing.

More controversial is the measure to make fracking easier. Battle will be joined from Blackpool to Salford and beyond.


I had the privilege at the weekend to go aboard the first Cunard liner to dock in Liverpool for nearly forty years. The Commodore and crew of Queen Victoria all expressed their delight at returning to their spiritual home virtually underneath the Cunard Building on the Pier Head.

Mayor Joe Anderson, who has done much to get the cruise business back to Liverpool, announced that a restaurant in the Cunard Building is to be named Aquitania. It’s in honour of the longest serving express liner in the company’s history. The Aquitania made its maiden voyage from the port a hundred years ago.

Many people at the event were looking forward as well as back. Max Steinberg, the captain of the International Festival of Business told me it is hard to keep up with the number of events that are being added daily to the global networking event about to get under way in the city.


No wonder UKIP is doing well, the three main parties are in bigger crises than many people realise.


If you define leadership by who’s got the authority,who’s making the running, then the Tories are not being led by David Cameron but by a bunch of anti EU fanatics.


The problems of the Lib Dems are well known. They are paying a heavy price for being in Coalition with few people giving them credit for restraining the worst excesses of the Conservatives.


But Labour’s difficulties get less publicity. I was at a conference of one of the party’s main think tanks last weekend. Gloom and pessimism were all around. There was discontent with Ed Miliband and a recognition that their performance in the county elections had not provided the springboard for government. Commenting on the Labour leadership spin put on the results pollster Peter Kellner told the Progress gathering “If a 29% share of the poll is called a success, I’d like to see what failure looks like.”


Although I wasn’t around (just) British politics has the appearance of the 1930s with weak leaders, a disillusioned electorate and a few people with dangerous ideas about how to sort it out.

I am not for a moment equating those that want to get out of the EU with the fascists of the thirties. Wanting Britain to sever its ties with the EU is a perfectly legitimate political position. However it would be a dangerous gamble with our economic prosperity.


What is more worrying is the complete obsession Tory eurosceptics have about the subject. Warned by Cameron not to bang on about Europe, they do nothing else. They care not a jot for the damage they do to the credibility of the Prime Minister.


Just look at the events of this week. While Cameron was in America negotiating a EUROPEAN trade deal, he was forced to offer concession after concession to the Euro clowns back home. What good did it do him publishing a draft Euro referendum bill? None, and we end the week with 116 Tories regretting its absence from the Queen’s Speech and the prospects of a Tory backbencher introducing the bill through the Private Members’ Ballot.


When will Cameron learn there is no appeasing these people. They will take every concession and up their demands. The Tory MPs who are making the running on this issue aren’t interested in renegotiating terms, they’re not really interested in a referendum. They want us out of the EU.


Why don’t pro European Tories speak up? I had an interesting conversation with a senior pro EU Minister in the Commons this week. The gist of his answer was that that pro European Tories value party unity. If they were to confront the Euro sceptics, it really would be civil war in the Conservative Party.


I’m afraid that smacks of appeasement.


What everyone needs to remember is the finding of IPSOS/MORI, one of our leading pollsters on this matter. Unprompted, British people, when asked what their top priorities are, reply health, jobs, immigration and education. Europe is not in the top ten.


The out of the EU mob are trying to whip up a frenzy, so that we all come to believe that leaving the EU will solve all our problems. It wouldn’t and some of us are going to stand up against them with as much vigour as they display. Viva Europa!


As we’ve seen in the local elections, UKIP don’t have to win masses of seats to have a big effect on British politics.


Tory backbenchers are terrified of them and now want the European in/out referendum before the next election. They want legislation to trigger the vote in next week’s Queen’s Speech. Mr Cameron had tried to appease the Euro sceptics with a promise to put a renegotiated terms package to the people by 2017.


But there is no appeasing these anti EU fanatics, they will take the concessions and move on to the next demand.


How will the nation vote when actually faced with the consequences of coming out?


This week Downtown Liverpool held a debate and vote on this very subject. While it would be absurd to suggest the result is scientifically representative, nevertheless I think 17 for coming out of the EU, 21 against with a substantial 14 saying they don’t know feels as if it might be where public opinion is at the moment. In other words there is substantial support for withdrawal and a large number of votes to play for amongst people who choose not to obsess about Europe every day.


It was a lively debate, to be repeated in Manchester soon. I led off trying to cram too much into my allocated 5 minutes. I expressed my fear that Ed Miliband will be pressurised into supporting an in/out referendum, that the renegotiation will be unsuccessful, that nevertheless the three main parties will urge a vote to stay in and the British people will be swayed by the Murdoch press into voting to come out. I then foresaw a very difficult process of withdrawal with no guarantee that we could negotiate the same trade arrangements from outside the EU.


Dougal Paver, head of PaverSmith Communications Agency disagreed saying that it would not be in the EU’s interest to put tariffs on British goods. He also said that most of our trade was with the rest of the world now. He loved visiting Europe but didn’t want to be shackled by EU regulations on small businesses.


Kevin Doran is hoping to be elected as a Labour Euro MP next year and firmly wants to stay in the EU. He said David Cameron’s promise of a referendum had created uncertainty among long term potential investors in Britain. He also said it was unclear which powers Mr Cameron wanted to claw back from Europe.


The final speaker was Scott Fletcher, MD of ANS Group, who said the British people agreed to a European trade deal not the all singing, all dancing EU that we have got now. He said the way the EU was governed bore similarities to the old Soviet Union in terms of its unaccountability.


The vote was more or less a three way split and if that is where the UK is at the moment, pro Europeans are going to have their work cut out to prevent a disastrous no vote in 2017 whoever is in power.