“Hung be the heavens with black, yield day to night. Comets importing change of times and states brandish your crystal tresses in the sky” Henry VI Part I.

It seems an appropriate quote for the week when most opposition MPs stood by whilst the government gained parliamentary authority for a hard Brexit from the EU. It was the week when Nicola Sturgeon followed the historic example of past Scottish kings who made trouble on the border when English minds were focused on the continent. It was the week when there was little progress in forming a Northern Ireland government but plenty of talk about uniting the North and South.

There is no doubt that we are in a period of great constitutional uncertainty, unleashed by last year’s EU referendum. That is not good for business in the North nor is the uncertainty caused by the about turn on National Insurance(NI) contributions. After the pasty tax debacle under George Osborne, will Chancellors never learn? A Budget is not a place to road test ideas, only to withdraw them. The near equalisation of NI was a fair proposal but it was also a breach of an election promise and against the Tory instinct to help the self-employed. It was always going to meet with massive opposition, particularly because Tory backbenchers feel they can throw their weight around because of the feeble opposition.


Perhaps Nicola Sturgeon acted on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s latest careless word stream in announcing her intention to try and trigger a second referendum on Scottish independence, although I doubt it.

It is a massive gamble by the normally able leader. Was she pushed into it by SNP zealots? More likely she sees Brexit uncertainty as the last hope for an independent Scotland. The economic case against it is growing as North Sea oil runs out and the Scottish deficit rises. Trading on the vote to Remain in Scotland and the huge uncertainty of the UK Brexit negotiations, Sturgeon wants the vote before the end of the talks.

She is likely to be disappointed. The Prime Minister is unlikely to follow the practice of the Spanish government who just refuse Catalonia an independence vote, but she will likely stall for time. It is most likely a second referendum will follow the UK’s exit from the EU if it is held at all. Much will depend on the level of justifiable anger among Scottish remainers.

The further problem for the SNP is that they tend to exaggerate the level of support they have for remaining in/re-joining the EU. The Commission has made it clear it will only deal with one state, the UK, during the talks. If Scotland were to become independent it might have to join the end of the applicant queue, join the Euro and face the opposition of Spain who don’t want to set a precedent for Catalonian independence.

That is one part of our unhappy state.


The fact that Sinn Fein have nearly got parity with Unionists in the Northern Ireland Assembly following the recent elections is another consequence of the Brexit vote. A united Ireland inside the EU is an increasingly attractive proposition for some waverers. That mood will only be strengthened if a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic is the result of the UK Brexit talks. Another part of our unhappy state.


Finally, we come to the UK where England plays the major part. Ministers make optimistic noises about how it is in everyone’s interest to allow economic reality to overcome politics in the talks. That wasn’t the case in the Referendum where people’s feelings about immigration and alienation overwhelmed the strong economic case for staying in.

Our European friends feel mightily offended. Expect an early and possibly decisive clash on the divorce bill.


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The Prime Minister has been called an appeaser for her closeness to Donald Trump. That is a result of this country’s desperate search for new friends now that we are shunning our 27 partners in Europe.

So, while Labour are hurling insults with 1930’s echoes in them at Mrs May, let’s see if the same cap fits on Kier Starmer. He’s the Brexit spokesman for Labour. They’ve been assuring us during the passage of the bill triggering our exit from the EU that, whilst respecting the vote to Leave, they would fight hard for concessions. One of these was to get the government to have a vote in parliament at the end of the negotiations with a view to sending Mrs May back to the negotiating table if MPs found the deal unsatisfactory.

What happened in the Commons on Tuesday was frankly an embarrassment and shows the poor quality of Labour’s front bench. As soon as the government announced there would be a vote, Starmer hailed it as a significant victory. All we needed was for him to hold a piece of paper above his head, Neville Chamberlain style, and the image would have been complete. This is because it rapidly became clear that all the government was offering was approval of the package or an exit from Europe with no deal which few would vote for.

A Labour MP last week, who’s a friend, was gently chiding me last week for my view that there should have been a united front by Labour, the SNP and Lib Dems behind a second referendum. Labour’s way was better I was told. Well it clearly isn’t. Labour are constantly being pushed aside and divided by a Tory government where Brexit extremists are making all the running.

Don’t take my word for it. Listen to Claire Perry, the Conservative MP for Devizes. She said in the debate that she felt she was sitting beside jihadists on the Tory benches for whom no Brexit is hard enough. Their view was “be gone you evil Europeans and don’t darken our doors again.”

One can trace the ascent of this extremism in the Tory Party by listening to Ken Clarke, the only Tory to vote against the bill in principal last week. When he entered parliament in 1970, such people were still clinging on to the British Empire and denounced one nation Conservatives like Iain Macleod for giving away the colonies.

For a while they became less significant as Ted Heath took us into the Common Market and then Margaret Thatcher signed up to the Single Market. Soon after that the tide turned with the very same Margaret Thatcher doing a U turn. They then harried John Major into the biggest defeat the Tories had suffered in decades. In opposition, the scepticism grew and back in government they forced a weak David Cameron to allow a referendum with a ludicrous in/out option. Even though it was narrowly carried, they show no respect for that and are now hell bent on a hard Brexit.

The only choice for Labour was to back the Lib Dems clear position of a second referendum but centre left sectarianism triumphed and there is total disarray in the face of a skilful Prime Minister leading her hard line Brexiteers.

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Andy Burnham is right. The Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF) has been top down rather than bottom up. This dry sounding document is set to make serious inroads into the greenbelt in the county for housing development.

One needs to take into account the rampant opportunism that most politicians display ahead of elections; that said the dismay of three of the candidates standing for elected mayor of the Manchester City Region over the housing plan is notable.

There were widespread demonstrations as the consultation period closed with claims that people were unaware of what was being proposed.

There has been an opportunity to put viewpoints on line and there have been drop in sessions across Greater Manchester for people to state their case. However, many feel that the exercise was cosmetic and a product of the Combined Authority, a body mainly consisting of the ten leaders of the councils in the area.

Will the elected mayor change this perception? Will the new post herald an era where there is full democratic debate on issues like housing, the congestion charge and health? The jury is out but talk of making the elected mayor “the eleventh member of the family” suggests that Manchester City Council in particular will want to prevent the elected mayor being truly independent. The model is flawed. District council leaders sit on the Combined Authority with no direct mandate from the people. The Local Enterprise Partnerships are business organisations and strategic bodies like Transport For The North do not open their meetings to the public.

Real devolution requires politicians directly elected for the purpose of making big decisions on housing, transport, skills and health. We have Police Commissioner elections in an area of policy where there is little controversy. Why can’t debate over issues like greenbelt and hospitals be argued back and forth in election campaigns for a regional or sub regional assembly?

There need not be more politicians, the number of district councillors could be cut (Manchester has 96) and replaced with directly elected assembly people.


I went to the Fabian conference in London last week to see if there was any sign of the Greens, Lib Dems and the anti Corbyn forces getting their act together. I was once more disappointed as they continue to rearrange the deckchairs on the Titanic.

Amidst self indulgent in fighting, there were small signs that thinking is being done about local deals to allow the strongest of the opposition parties in a particular area to fight the Tories. But mostly people remained in their trenches with the Greens being attacked by Labour for standing a candidate in Copeland where the issue of nuclear power is a key one in the by election.

One red faced Labour purist, Luke Akehurst of Labour First claimed the Lib Dems should pay the price for many elections for going into coalition with the Tories in 2010 rather than support a rainbow coalition under Gordon Brown. Supporting him was Johanna Baxter of Scottish Labour saying she would never work with the SNP. It didn’t seem to occur to them that the rainbow coalition would have needed SNP support to make it remotely stable.

At the same conference, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn made a better speech. He’s hired John Prescott’s son apparently as a writer. Consequently, it had more North of England references than north London for a change. His theme that the system is rigged against ordinary people has potential.


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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.