The actual elections for the Mayors of the Liverpool City Region, Greater Manchester and possibly Leeds, won’t be held until next year. However in effect the people who are likely to occupy these posts will be settled this summer. Labour has an iron grip on our big northern cities and unless a spectacular independent candidate comes forward, whoever Labour members choose, will win.

The party’s choices will be made very soon. Nominations close on June 10th and the results will be announced on August 4th. Whoever thought it was a good idea to run these selections when the European Union Referendum was on needs their head examining. Labour Party members should be concentrating on getting out the Remain vote amongst its supporters. Without them the referendum could be lost. I guess it reflects leader Jeremy Corbyn’s lack of enthusiasm for the Remain campaign.

However the battle for the Labour nomination has been truly joined. The Shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham declared this week for the Greater Manchester job. Meanwhile in the Liverpool City Region, 2 MPs Steve Rotheram and Luciana Berger are set to throw down the gauntlet to Big Joe Anderson. There are also suggestions that Barry Grunwald, the leader of St Helens, might try and rally Labour members who want a candidate from outside Liverpool.

Joe Anderson has just started his second term as elected mayor of the city of Liverpool. He got a glowing report on his first period in office from the boss of the Heseltine Institute, Professor Michael Parkinson. However not everyone shares the academic’s views. Critics believe Joe brings a “my way or the highway” approach to the office. They worry about his ability to reach out to the people of Wirral, Southport and St Helens. They remember his petulance when Phil Davies, the leader of Wirral, was originally chosen as chair of the Liverpool City Region instead of him.

There has been a sense of inevitability about Anderson gliding from one mayoralty to the other and this is what Rotheram, Berger or Grunwald will have to combat.

Grunwald is quite a character, inheriting the feisty tradition of his predecessor Marie Rimmer. If he stands he will need to work hard to get name recognition across the city region, but he may be able to play on the fear that a Liverpool politician won’t represent the interests of the other councils.

Joe Anderson is now likely to have to battle with two MPs in the city. Steve Rotheram is the amiable MP for Walton and was a popular traditional mayor of the city some years ago. He has family and work connections with Knowsley, St Helens and Halton and is close to Andy Burnham. They would form a powerful alliance for a North West version of the Northern Powerhouse. Efforts may be made to depict him as a Corbynista. He is the leader’s Parliamentary Private Secretary but Rotheram nominated Burnham for leader and will want to portray himself as a good Labour man first and foremost.

Merseyside politics is very male and a female elected mayor would send out the sort of positive messages that Sadiq Khan’s election in London has done. Wirral South’s Alison McGovern was thinking of standing but is heavily identified with the Blairite Progress movement and is unlikely to run. So what about Luciana Berger? She is bright and personable but will have to deal with the, no doubt unfair, feeling that she is a posh outsider from London.


Sir Richard Leese recently expressed his disappointment at Tony Lloyd’s tenure as interim mayor of Greater Manchester. It is a blow for Lloyd as he seeks the post permanently. Leese is now believed to be backing Andy Burnham.

The Shadow Home Secretary’s decision to enter the contest is significant. He has Big Beast status in this municipal contest but it has caused dismay among some Labour supporters for what it says about Labour’s chances of winning the 2020 General Election. Burnham has decided that the only way he can be effective is to run Greater Manchester with no chance of becoming Home Secretary. He represents Leigh and so is not from the Manchester City elite. But will he be any match for the Bernstein/Leese partnership, the powerful Chief Executive/ Leader pairing that has dominated for 20 years?

The other candidate, Ivan Lewis, the Bury South MP, has made it clear that he thinks the devolution agenda has been too Manchester focused and concentrated on economic priorities at the expense of social ones.

It all means a high summer of high drama for Labour Party members in our big conurbations.



A source at Jaguar Land Rover tells me that Lorraine Rogers has a new job with them. The former Chief Executive of The Mersey Partnership apparently has two roles. One as a global brand director and another taking care of royal protocol.  Zara Phillips is a brand ambassador for the Halewood produced Range Rover Evoque.

Rogers resigned earlier this year as Chief Executive of the Mersey Partnership, paving the way for it to be absorbed into the new Liverpool Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).

I’m told a local newspaper is currently trying to get Lorraine to spill the beans on how hard it is for women to provide leadership in the macho world of Merseyside politics and business.

Tributes were paid to the work of The Mersey Partnership at the first meeting of the stakeholders in the Liverpool LEP this week.
The LEP is now in the hands of Robert Hough, a man vastly experienced in the politics of the North West.

He faces a big challenge in establishing the Liverpool LEP as the agency best placed to represent the interests of the city region stretching from Runcorn and Southport to Wirral and St Helens.

It’s not an easy task now that Liverpool has an elected mayor seeking to expand his influence. Also on the territory is Liverpool Vision, an agency that many see as the best vehicle to promote tourism across the city region rather than the LEP.

Not that the Liverpool LEP lacks people to exert its influence. Unlike the tiny organisations that run LEPs in Lancashire, Greater Manchester and Cheshire, the Merseyside operation has taken in most of the 55 staff from TMP.

It was therefore ironic that David Frost, the head of the national LEP Network, should choose this occasion to call for better resourcing of LEPs across the country.

When the government recklessly scrapped the North West’s regional structure, they pledged that the LEPs would be free of the costly bureaucracy that, they claimed, was a feature of the development agencies.
But two years on here was Mr Frost telling delegates that LEPs couldn’t drive economic success on a shoestring. Key staff were needed for marketing and research.

I’m sure he’s right that for LEPs in Lancashire, Greater Manchester and Cheshire to become really effective, you do need people on the ground. So business needs to put its hand in its pocket because the public sector is skint.

My quarrel is with the government who thought that such organisations needed neither funding nor people.

Robert Hough’s task as chairman is to get members who signed up for The Mersey Partnership to remain with the new organisation. He told them it would be worth it as the Liverpool LEP concentrates on key sectors like Low Carbon, the Super Port, advanced manufacturing and the visitor economy.

He forecast that new activities could be given
to our LEPs. Lord Heseltine was looking at giving them a role in venture capital funding.

Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson pledged cooperation with 80% of the LEP’s activities but was clear that issues like World Heritage Status were matters for the city alone.

The LEP has to recognise that the name Liverpool is the attack brand on a global basis. The city has to realise that many of the economic engines of the sub region lie outside the city’s boundaries. Unilever and Cammell Laird are on the Wirral; Pilkington’s is in St Helens.

As we say so often politicians and business leaders need to work together across the city region to realise its full potential.




As forecast here last week, pressure is mounting on Merseytravel chairman Mark Dowd to go. His vigorous response to accusations of broken contract rule has merely galvanised opposition to him within his own Labour Party ranks.

Leading the way has been Liverpool Cabinet member Joe Hanson who it is now clear is the person behind a critical report on Cllr Dowd’s record. Hanson may be the man to challenge Cllr Dowd when the authority holds its annual general meeting later this month.

The fact that he is a Liverpool councillor, and traditionally such posts are held by politicians from councils in the rest of Merseyside, may now be less of a problem. Reports suggest that St Helens councillors on the transport authority have joined the call for Cllr Dowd to go. St Helens is traditionally the council most sensitive to Liverpool dominating the city region.


Who is going to fill the gap left by the departure of Chief Executive Diana Terris? Sources suggest she found it difficult to work with the Labour administration which came into office last year. My information is that the authority will take its time to make a permanent appointment. In the meantime we can expect an announcement shortly of an experienced pair of hands to guide the authority through the transition.


Labour does want its pasty and eat it.
I mean the government changes its mind about the tax on this product and an MP called Chris Leslie is all over our screens saying the whole budget is in chaos.

He’s miffed because he won’t be able to beat the Chancellor over the head about the issue again or the tax on static caravans. The tax on church conversions is rumoured to be next.

Of course George Osborne made a mess of his budget, allowing everyone to focus on these irritating issues which are small in the great scheme of things. This has obscured his determination to keep getting the deficit down and the fact that millions of poorer people have been taken out of tax. The latter largely because of Lib Dem pressure.

So the government has changed its mind. All credit to them I say for listening. That’s what democracy is all about.


Spin, sleaze and splits. That’s the staple diet of political journalism. But should we replace some of that with substance?

That was the question that the BBC’s Political Editor Nick Robinson posed at a memorial lecture this week in honour of that great North West journalist Brian Redhead.

Partly driven by the demands of editors and also by the incessant demands of 24 hour news, political coverage does tend to concentrate on those three s-words. But Nick was asking how far this has contributed to the yawning chasm that has opened up between politicians and the people.

If the public is constantly told their politicians are on the make, if they think the reporter is being manipulated by spin doctors or is telling them about internal party squabbles that they don’t care about, then probably journalism has some responsibility for low turnout.

So Nick suggested we need to do something about the fourth s-word, substance. Perhaps we should have more coverage of how policy is made, why it is so difficult, what factors are taken into account.

The problem is who would watch it or read it? Nick feared it might be regarded as “eating your greens television.” In other words good for you but not necessarily very enjoyable after a hard day’s work.

I was privileged to host a question and answer session after Nick had spoken at the lecture in Salford Quays. Nick had first worked for me at Piccadilly Radio (now Key 103) in January 1983. He had a year to fill because he could not go to university following a terrible car crash which saw his great friend Will Redhead killed.

Nick paid tribute to Brian, who included presenting the Today programme and editing the Manchester Evening News, amongst his achievements and said he had inspired him to take up journalism.

Brian encouraged all young journalists. In the early eighties I always hoped he’d be on the mid morning train to Macclesfield after we had both finished working in London. If he was you’d be guaranteed a couple of hours of inspiring chat which was substantial but included a bit about spin, sleaze and splits too.