I would guess that Barack Obama is more popular with the British people than most of our domestic politicians. His two terms in the White House have been characterised by cautious and wise leadership of the western world and efforts to create something resembling the National Health Service in America. In the latter endeavour he has had fight every inch of the way against a stubborn, narrow minded and nasty Republican dominated Congress.

When asked this weekend, he will offer the view that we should vote to stay in the European Union. He will do that from the vantage point of having had to take a global view of affairs since 2009. And what has the President observed in those eight troubled years? The emergence of Daesh in the Middle East, the growing economic power of China and a newly aggressive Russia on Europe’s eastern flank. On the last point nobody would be more delighted if the UK quits the EU than President Putin. He wants a weakened EU. Obama knows this and is fully entitled to support the Remain cause during his visit.

Of course the British people will decide, but they will have the President’s opinion to think about which is similar to most world leaders including the old Commonwealth that the Brexiteers remember with such affection. They will also be taking into account the hugely authoritative Treasury document that came out this week. Its claim that we would all be over £4300 worse off captured the headlines but perhaps more significant was its analysis that our current membership of the Single Market (which will not be available if we leave) is better than all the other models the Brexiteers favour (Norway, Canada or the World Trade Organisation.


It is certain that more people will vote in the Police and Crime Commissioner(PCC) elections in two weeks time than did so the first time around. The average 15% turnout in the gloom of November 2012 is not a very high bar to overcome. Early summer is clearly a more sensible time for such elections and people will also be voting for local councils at the same time.

There is another reason why interest in these posts might rise a little. The government are signalling that they see PCCs as a way of pursuing the growing agenda to join up public services. This is aimed at saving money and delivering more coherent delivery. The Home Secretary Theresa May has spoken about PCCs bringing many other services under their wing. These may include fire and rescue, probation and court services and possibly schools to support troubled kids and keep them out of crime.

Labour dominated the initial PCC elections in the Downtown area and there is little reason to expect a change this time. In West Yorkshire, which includes Leeds, Labour’s Mark Burns-Williamson is seeking a second term as is Clive Grunshaw in Lancashire. Grunshaw’s time in office has been overshadowed by two rows over his expenses. His strongest challenger is likely to be the Tory candidate, former Lancashire Police Superintendent Andrew Pratt.

On Merseyside, the former Labour MP Jane Kennedy looks nailed on for a second term, but in Greater Manchester there will be no PCC election. The post has already been absorbed into the office of the interim elected mayor Tony Lloyd, a trend that may develop across much of the North as the devolution process unfolds.





The bust up within the Greater Manchester Labour Party over who should be their candidate for elected mayor shows no sign of abating.

Last week Manchester Council leader Sir Richard Leese opined that Bury South MP Ivan Lewis’ twenty years in parliament didn’t qualify him for a job requiring experience of local government. A clearly offended Ivan is now pointing out that he was a councillor in Bury and chair of the Social Services Committee.

Observers remain surprised that Sir Richard Leese chose the occasion of his decision not to stand for the post to indulge in this red on red attack. There are now suggestions that despite his obvious qualification for the Labour nomination, he would not have beaten the current interim mayor Tony Lloyd(former Stretford MP) or Ivan The Terrible (Bury South MP) in the vote. There is apparently a strong desire amongst Labour chiefs in the nine other councils not to let Manchester boss the show.


So has the Northern Powerhouse (NP) got momentum after all? I wrote critically about the project a couple of weeks ago, so I thought it would be a good idea to go along to a big conference on the subject in Manchester. It was aimed at the business community who need to be convinced that NP is going to mean opportunities for new contracts and growth.

The conference didn’t get off to a great start. The Treasury Minister Lord Jim O’Neill had issued a prepared speech to the press but treated the audience to a defensive ramble about the government’s continued commitment to the NP. He attacked critics who said the North South divide was still widening by stressing it was a long term project. However he did acknowledge a lack of joined up thinking in government evidenced by the “pause” in the electrification of the Leeds-Manchester rail line. The project is now back on track.

The government seem to have taken on board criticism that NP is too focused on infrastructure. Sir Michael Wilshaw, the Chief Inspector of Schools recently warned that NP could be undermined because of poor secondary education in northern schools. Lord O’Neill said this, and the related issue of poor skills, would be addressed in phase two of NP.

John Prescott is a regular at these conferences and never fails to challenge the new orthodoxy that cities alone hold the key to northern regeneration. There he was waving a fading copy of his Northern Way document which, ten years ago, mapped out a vision for strategic thinking across the North. It was scrapped by the Coalition government in 2010 but Prescott pointed out that the recent appointment of ex CBI boss John Cridland as chair of Transport for the North showed the continuing need for strategic thinking beyond the boundaries of smaller Local Enterprise Partnerships and councils.

Prescott retains the belief that local councils will always compete with each other in their own narrow interest. Chief Executives from Leeds Newcastle, Liverpool and Manchester came together for a conference session where they insisted that they were going to set aside parochialism in the interests on NP. We’ll see if that works when a global company is weighing up the merits of locating in rival northern cities in the future.

There were good conference sessions on issues like transport and finance and the large attendance showed that business is taking NP seriously. It is, for sure, the only game in town if we are to get the North competitive with London. Let us hope the government stay focused when all the headlines are about our very future in Europe.




For most of his twenty years as Leader of Manchester City Council, Sir Richard Leese has avoided personal attacks in favour of a sometimes dull concentration on making Manchester the city it is today. He was never my go to person for a juicy quote or a bit of inside gossip.

So it is truly astonishing that he has used a blog finally confirming that he doesn’t want to be the elected mayor of Greater Manchester, to attack two of his Labour colleagues who do. His blog contained a list of reasons why he didn’t want the job but it was in an email follow up to Labour group colleagues that he reportedly let rip. His targets were the current Labour interim mayor Tony Lloyd, and the Labour MP for Bury South,Ivan Lewis. Both are running for the Labour nomination.

The BBC’s North West Political Editor Arif Ansari revealed the contents of the email and reports Leese telling colleagues that Lloyd had been an excellent MP but as interim mayor “had shown a lack of vision, drive and leadership.” Ivan Lewis “had strengths” but Leese “would take some convincing that twenty years in parliament was adequate preparation for the position of elected mayor.” Ouch! Leese says the Labour candidate should be twenty years younger and a different gender.

That seems to rule out sixty year old Hazel Blears. I don’t know if the former Salford MP wants the job but she is the most credible woman I’ve heard mentioned. At a recent Downtown event I questioned Leese on his future and he floated the gender issue as well as the possibility that the Labour candidate might reflect the multi cultural nature of Greater Manchester. So let us hope that Leese gets his wish and Labour do look beyond the usual suspects for a candidate.

Meanwhile we must return to the possible reasons for Leese deciding not to stand, to sneer at the value of the post and attack his Labour colleagues.

It may be that Lloyd, who was the MP for Stretford, and Lewis who sits for Bury South are seen by Leese as “out of towners”. Manchester City Council has historically hated having anyone meddling in their affairs be it the Greater Manchester Council from 1974-86 or the North West Development Agency more recently. The Greater Manchester Mayor is probably seen in the same way, although steps have been taken to make him/her the eleventh member of the team of ten councils. It may also be that Tony Lloyd made himself unpopular in some circles when he defeated Lord Smith of Wigan for the interim post. Many felt Smith “deserved it” for his years of work on keeping the Greater Manchester family on the rails during the devolution discussions.

It was no secret that Leese has been lukewarm about the post for a long time despite the fact that his outstanding work as Leader of Manchester had been recognised across business and in government. But now his actual reasons are clear and they almost amount to the assessment of the position of the American Vice Presidency by one of its holders, John Nance Garner. He said it wasn’t “worth a bucket of warm spit.”

Leese doesn’t go that far but says in his blog that he would rather be having a pint in his local than be selling Greater Manchester to investment funds. He would regard being elected mayor as a “step down” from being leader of the city. He concludes that his current post is “infinitely more exciting than anything being Mayor of Greater Manchester has to offer”.

That signals that Richard Leese will be around for a while in Albert Square. His relationship with the Mayor of Greater Manchester will be interesting.







Must we presume that the interim mayor of Greater Manchester has to come from the Labour Party? May we not consider the possibility that another party or an independent could hold this post? Might it not be healthy for the all powerful Manchester City Council to have to deal with someone not of their stripe, holding a post they never wanted?


The Labour dominated Greater Manchester Combined Authority has drawn up a job spec for the person they will appoint as interim mayor to fill in until a directly elected mayor is chosen by the people in 2017. The person has to be an elected member of one of the ten councils or an MP. Two other post holders, the elected mayor of Salford and the Police and Crime Commissioner for Greater Manchester are specifically included (which may be very significant in the latter case).


It is unlikely that many rank and file councillors will fancy challenging their leaders for the post and MPs have a General Election to fight. So the chances are that the interim leader will either be a current council leader, the Elected Mayor of Salford (Ian Stewart) or Police Commissioner Tony Lloyd. the current chair of The current chair of the Combined Authority Lord Smith of Wigan might still go for it but the hot money is on another Labour man, Tony Lloyd. He would lose his job under a Labour government as the party is pledged to axe the post of crime commissioner. It’s unlikely people like Sir Richard Leese (Manchester) and Jim McMahon (Oldham) will be interested in this interim position. They are aware that a Labour government might not implement the permanent post and even the Tories may be distracted in another minority government.


It is open to Sean Anstee, the Tory leader of Trafford to put himself forward. Good luck with that.


Then we come to Stockport where the Liberal Democrats head up a minority administration. The leader Sue Derbyshire shows no sign of wanting to stand for interim mayor, but her colleague Lord David Goddard may do.


David Goddard has had a roller coaster ride in politics. Once of the Labour party, he switched to the Lib Dems and became council leader. He lost his seat in 2012 in a targeted campaign by Labour, won it back two years later before becoming a peer . As an Offerton councillor he is eligible to be the interim mayor and is reluctant for the post to go to a Labour politician by default.


Goddard has been an active member of the Combined Authority(C.A), helping to negotiate the City Deal, the first C.A Environment Commissioner and represented the nine local authorities on the Airport Board during crucial investment talks . He was a leading member of the successful campaign against plans for a congestion charge in Greater Manchester.


That was a rare defeat for Sir Richard Leese and Chief Executive Sir Howard Bernstein but it was an indication that Goddard is prepared to stand up to the mighty Manchester.


The Combined Authority plans to have an interim mayor in place by June and we must see what happens if Lord Goddard finally puts himself forward. Let’s hope he does because it is important, if the Greater Manchester Mayoral Election does take place in 2017,that it is not seen as just a rubber stamp for a member of the Labour hierarchy.