Business should demand that next week’s European Summit should settle the terms on which the referendum will be fought in June.

The year has begun badly with the markets jittery and talk of a new recession. There are uncertainties we can’t control in Europe like the Syrian war and oil prices but business should be demanding that the leaders of the EU finally settle Britain’s renegotiation next week so that we can end this tedious debate which is debilitating for business.

Although perhaps one is being naïve in thinking that the June referendum will end this debate. It will if we vote to leave but I fear a narrow vote to stay will result in Euro sceptics blaming an establishment conspiracy and vowing to fight on. Just look at the Scottish Referendum. That’s why this whole referendum idea was a bad idea and I suspect David Cameron agrees with me.

I’m sad to say the whole European project is facing the biggest crisis in its history with its poor handling of the refugee crisis, economic issues and Russian pressure in the East. To lose the UK would be a hammer blow and therefore it is to be hoped that the other 27 countries will not water down the terms that the Prime Minister has negotiated. They are modest, as I always knew they would be, and will be difficult to sell to the British people as it is. But if next week we see Cameron humiliated by an attempt to modify his new terms, then the chances of a vote to leave will grow further.

The temptation will be to put off a decision with the result that the referendum will have to be deferred to the autumn or beyond. That would be highly undesirable for business waiting to make vital investment decisions.

I remain nervous that we will vote to leave as the refugee crisis intensifies during the summer and the Murdoch dominated press continues to spew out its rubbish about the EU. However all is not lost. The disarray in the leave campaign is laughable. Vote Leave, Leave EU, and Grassroots Out are all squabbling with each other. That shows a truth about those that want us to become little islanders off the coast of Europe. Their mentality is to divide and argue whereas the European project is to unite to solve our mutual problems.

So let’s look at what Cameron has negotiated in a positive light. He has won recognition that the UK is not committed to an ever closer union. He has a renewed commitment to a more competitive Europe and protection from Euro Zone decisions. The issue of migrant benefits has assumed an importance to our whole continuation in the EU that it does not merit. However an emergency break and a four year curb will be possible with agreement and there would be lower repatriated child benefit for migrant parents living here.

So for business sake let’s hope the renegotiated terms are agreed next week and all those who believe our future lies within the EU can unite against the squabbling Euro sceptics.








Labour’s conference in Manchester certainly didn’t feel like 1996 when the party was last preparing to take power.


Long before Ed Miliband’s blunder in “forgetting” to deliver his remarks on the economy and immigration, it was clear this gathering was not going to be the launch pad to victory. This was because the Scottish Referendum result has cast gloom not optimism across the Labour Party.


It was a victory for “no” which Labour supported but at what a price. The campaign exposed the degree to which previously loyal members in the industrial heart of Scotland (particularly Glasgow) were prepared to express their disillusionment with a party that is no longer radical enough for them. Then there were the images of Ed Miliband being jostled in a shopping mall whilst Gordon Brown showed what effective speech making was all about. Finally the referendum campaign has left Labour floundering for an answer on the English votes for English laws question.


Two last points on the Scotland vote. The high turnout wasn’t just because the question being asked was of the highest importance. Every vote mattered and was campaigned for whether it be in Kirkwall or Kilmarnock. In General Elections we have seen a growing trend for the parties to concentrate on 150 odd marginals. In the “safe” seats there is often little campaigning so it is no wonder the turnout next May could be around 65%. The other one is votes for 16/17 year olds. Ed Miliband was quite right to commit Labour to this extension of the electorate. The Scots youngsters were great. Let’s hope the other parties commit to the same proposal at a time when the issue of the prosperous old and the debt burdened young is rearing its head and needs a political voice.





So Labour delegates arrived in Manchester with a mixture of relief that Scotland was staying and concern about the trap being laid for them by the Prime Minister over English votes for English laws.


They remain ahead in the polls but can they win a majority or will they have to contemplate a deal with what’s left of the Liberal Democrats? I attended a couple of fringe meetings on that subject. There is a lot of antipathy to any deal. A Liverpool Unite delegate said the party would stop supporting Labour if such a thing happened, but there are pragmatists too.

Ed Miliband needed to make a game changing speech but failed. Both he and Ed Balls (for different reasons) are the weakness at the head of the party. However there is potential on the front bench. Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham’s idea to bring social and health care together is good. A policy well explained at conference by a man who must have another run for leader. Women like Mary Creagh, Stella Creasey and Rachel Reeves are also future stars.


This was the last Labour conference in Manchester until at least 2019. My sources suggest the city has priced itself out of the party’s reach. Liverpool have stepped in to host the next two northern conferences.


Now it is on to Birmingham and the Conservatives. You can write the lines now “Ed Miliband may have forgotten the economy but we haven’t etc”. However economic optimism is likely to be overshadowed by how the Tories deal with UKIP who could be poised for by election victories not only in Clacton but Heywood and Middleton too.









Why should I let Labour back so soon? That’s the question floating voters will expect an answer to from Brighton next week. We need exciting policies that really differentiates Labour from the Coalition. Perhaps its time for a bit of socialism. For instance take the bedroom tax or spare room supplement. Labour rail against it, there’s a shortage of smaller houses for the folk affected to go to. So will they promise to scrap it….no.


I don’t think we will be inspired by Brighton. Mr Ed is reported to be frightened of disclosing his hand too soon or of having policy ideas blow up in his face. The problem is that people are beginning to make their minds up about the next election. Some have already concluded that Mr Ed is a bit odd, betrayed his brother or the memory of the last Labour government is too green.


Then there is the modest upturn in the economy. That presents a problem for Labour. The Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls is now being depicted as a prophet of doom who’s been proved wrong and Coalition Ministers are saying there has been gain from the pain. The answer to this in Brighton will be that despite the upturn people are still getting worse off because inflation is ahead of wage rises. Who will win this argument?


It’s not all gloom for Mr Ed. Arguably he helped create the breathing space for an alternative solution to air strikes in relation to Syria’s chemical weapons Also I don’t expect the conference to be derailed by a row with the unions. Mr Ed is on to something in wanting real Labour supporters involved in the party rather than being token ones on union membership lists. Whatever the merits of the issue, a floor fight was averted at the TUC and it surely will be in Brighton.




I’ve been north of the border this week and have got the full force of the Scottish independence debate. With a year to go until this decision is made I went to the old fruit market in Glasgow where my old Radio Manchester colleague Victoria Derbyshire was conducting a debate. She had supporters of both sides and a large number of people undecided because in their heart they want to be free but fear cutting ties with England might hit their living standards.


In the debate broadcast on BBC Radio 5 Live, passions were highest amongst those wanting independence and their indignation about being ruled by Conservatives at Westminster when they are virtually non existent in Scotland was a major cause.




The Business Secretary Vince Cable got a taste for the spotlight when he did that Strictly cameo in 2010. He spent the whole of last week in Glasgow drawing attention to himself. He was going to stay out of the economic debate, then he arrived surrounded by cameras. Then he was rude about the Tories to the consternation of the right of his party, and he finished up saying the Coalition might collapse before the election.


Anyway my time in the Scottish capital was not wasted, so here’s the gossip.


I heard a rumour that the LIVERPOOL ARENA has extracted generous compensation from the Lib Dems following the party’s decision to pull out of their planned conference in the city next autumn because of a clash with the Scottish Referendum…….opinion is divided on whether North West MEP CHRIS DAVIES can hold his seat against the UKIP onslaught in next May’s European elections……HAZEL GROVE Lib Dems are warning party HQ not to interfere if Sir Andrew Stunell stands down and they have to choose a new candidate…..and CLLR BILL WINLOW is enjoying his role as Scrutiny supremo at Lancashire County Council. The Lib Dems are supporting the minority Labour administration and according to Bill he gets first sight of most of the policy ideas.


Now let’s see if Brighton rocks!