The strain on the unity of the UK is very great in the wake of the General Election. Scotland has voted massively for the Scottish National Party. England has reacted by backing the Conservatives. The Scots complaint that they never vote Tory but frequently get Conservative governments has been reinforced.
The fact that they ignored Labour’s warnings that a vote for the SNP would let in David Cameron, merely shows their total determination to express their frustration.
Although the SNP’s MPs have been elected to the Westminster parliament and the election was not a vote for a new independence referendum; the probable dynamics of the next few years point in that direction.
Far from being the power brokers at Westminster, the SNP will be shut out in the face of this unexpected Tory majority. Furthermore we will now have a referendum on our membership of the European Union. As I have argued before, there is a real prospect of a no vote. If the SNP isn’t already demanding a second independence referendum; they certainly will do as they are dragged out of the EU by English votes.
I thought the Tories would get the credit for the improvement in the economy but didn’t expect them to be rewarded with a majority. Nor did I expect the Lib Dems to be so brutally punished for their decision to go into coalition.
The parties performances across the North of England told the tale of the night. Labour did well in areas like Merseyside. They increased their majorities and took seats like Chester and Wirral West; although in the latter case the loss of Esther McVey as the sole Tory voice for the area may prove a disadvantage.
Around the Pennines Labour’s results were poor. Ed Balls defeat on the outskirts of Leeds attracted most attention but Labour missed target seats from Pendle to Pudsey.
The Lib Dems terrible night saw them lose their trio of seats from Withington to Hazel Grove. Ukip got impressive votes but no cigar in terms of seats.
Now we wait to see where the Tories will make twelve billions of cuts and whether the Northern Powerhouse will be fully developed across the north.




How do we feel Oop North about moving the Scottish border southwards? Then we could benefit from the inspirational leadership of Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the Scottish National Party and banish the male and stale politicians who have failed to grasp the full vision of northern devolution?

Nicola is wooing us. Her manifesto calls for a significant increase in infrastructure spending in the North of England. She wants HS2 started from Scotland down to northern England at the same time as the track is laid to Birmingham. She wants a Northern Cities Fund and concludes “while a strong London is good a strong Newcastle and Leeds is better.”

I am not actually serious about the border but we do need a counter argument to the Tory shroud waving about the SNP and how they will dictate the UK budget in a deal with Labour. Firstly I think Labour would rather rule as a minority or with the Lib Dems, Irish and Greens than reach an accommodation with the party that has nearly wiped them out in Scotland. For Miliband to work with the SNP could mean the permanent weakening of Labour north of the border.

Secondly Tory grandees like Lord Tebbitt and Michael Forsyth have warned the Prime Minister that stoking up English fears and resentment about the Scots plays right into the separatist cause.


I used to love the campaign trail, seeing our leaders face to face with the people they sought to represent and being heckled at open to all public meetings.

I am not planning to attend any visits by the party leaders to the North this time because I refuse to be kettled in a press pen to observe Dave, Ed and Nick surrounded by adoring activists keeping everyone else out. We need Mrs Duffy of Rochdale (Gordon Brown’s bigoted woman) to break through the ring and tell them what she thinks.

The campaign managers thinks it makes good telly. Do they really think people are so stupid as to think that their leaders are being universally welcomed in every town. TV producers have a duty to pan away from the tight throng of supporters and show the excluded public beyond.

On a more optimistic note I am pleased to report that hustings in individual seats are alive and well. I’ve hosted ones in Bolton and Hazel Grove with Withington and Chester to come. People still want to turn up at church halls to see their candidates in the flesh rather than communicating via new media.


Did you know that on May 7th we’ll also be having a big round of local council elections? There has been virtually no media coverage of the contests for the tier of government that actually delivers most of the services that matter to us. Furthermore with all the promises made about ring fencing the NHS and not putting up VAT and National Insurance, it is likely local government will bear the brunt of the further cuts promised by most parties after the election.

A third of all the metro councils in West Yorkshire, Greater Manchester and Merseyside are up for election. Labour could gain Calderdale and Kirklees and threaten the Tories in Trafford and the Lib dems in Stockport.

There are all out elections in the unitary councils of Blackpool, East and West Cheshire. The latter is the most interesting with Conservative control under threat from Labour. A third of councillors are up for election in the other unitaries, Blackburn and Warrington.

There are full or a third elections in district councils in Lancashire and other parts of the North.


With a majority of under a thousand Tory David Morris has a fight on his hands to prevent Manchester councillor Amina Lone taking this seat for Labour.

Her strength is in the town of Morecambe and Heysham with its nuclear power station and busy port.

A major road improvement is under way to link Heysham to the M6 and the more Tory voting areas around Carnforth.

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The Scottish independence vote and immigration into the UK were dominant themes in 2014, but for all the talk little has been resolved. The Scots voted no but the Scottish National Party could soon be holding the whip hand over a weak minority government at Westminster.


Then there’s the issue of our national identity. It is becoming clear that we are not going to be able to stop free movement of labour within the EU. So do we feel so passionately about immigration that we want to risk our economic future outside the EU?


Both these questions remain unresolved at the end of a year which has seen much debate on how we should be governed both nationally and in the North. Even before the Scottish vote Chancellor George Osborne had launched his northern powerhouse concept. It was the beginning of a period of extraordinary activity by Osborne on this subject. There can be few hi tech or manufacturing plants in the north of England that has not had a visit from George. It culminated in the devolution deal done with Greater Manchester and his insistence on imposing a mayor for the conurbation to be elected in 2017. Similar deals for Leeds, Sheffield and Liverpool have not been concluded as wrangling continues about elected mayors and leadership.


The prospect of a powerful Scotland to our north has stimulated debate on what happens outside the city regions. There are signs that Lancashire’s fourteen councils may be getting their act together to bid for a county region and a Yorkshire Party has been formed. I remain of the view that a council of the whole north is the answer. It is already in embryonic form in organisations like Rail North and One North but it should have powers beyond transport.


The economy has continued to recover with unemployment falling along with inflation to the point where people are asking if a 1% inflation rate is a bad thing. Strange days indeed for those of us who lived through the roaring inflation of the 1970’s. But issues like low wages, the budget deficit, low growth in Europe, China and Russia remain dark clouds on the horizon.


Politically the year has been dominated by the rise of UKIP. In the North West and Yorkshire they secured six MEPs in the European elections, ending the long European career of Lib Dem Chris Davies in the North West. Tory Sir Robert Atkins also left the stage whilst Labour have a completely new team in the region, although little has been heard from them so far. In Yorkshire two stalwarts Richard Corbett (Labour) and Tim Kirkhope (Conservative) survived the UKIP surge.


Labour held its two by elections in the North West (Wythenshawe and Heywood) but UKIP’s John Bickley stood in both and came second, indeed he nearly won in Heywood and Middleton. UKIP also got councillors elected, spectacularly so in Rotherham. People keep asking if they have peaked. Not yet it seems.


So where do the parties stand at year end. The Conservatives have had a better year because of the economic recovery but still show no sign of getting enough support to win outright in 2015. David Cameron remains unloved by many of his backbenchers.


Ed Miliband has had a poor year as Labour leader, but may have picked on a gem of an idea in suggesting the Tories want to make deep cuts for ideological reasons to create a smaller state. However the people’s minds are largely made up against him and the party will have to try and win despite him.


There has been little comfort for the Lib Dems in the north. They did hold on to their councillors in places like South Lakes, Southport and Stockport but look set for the day of reckoning nationally in May. The Greens have begun to benefit by attracting disillusioned Labour and Lib Dem supporters particularly on the issue of fracking.

We marked the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War this year. Our horrors are on a smaller scale than theirs but ISIS and the Taliban remind us that we live in a world where we can land a probe on a distant comet but still resolve our differences in ways little changed from the Dark Ages.


Have a peaceful Christmas.