So the Conservatives arrive in Birmingham this weekend in a clear blue political sky. Their enemies are divided, they have a brand new leader and the UK is leaving the hated EU.

But look a little closer and things aren’t quite so simple. George Osborne, the former Chancellor, is on manoeuvres. He was not only sacked by Mrs May but she then made it clear that his pet project, the Northern Powerhouse, was sooo yesterday. Lord O’Neill of Gatley who was Osborne’s right hand man on the project has quit. From now on we have to talk about an “industrial strategy” which is far less Manchester focused. Osborne immediately set up his Northern Powerhouse think tank. This has as much to do with his power battle with the Prime Minister as it has to do with his ongoing commitment to the regeneration of the North. Proof of this comes from Judith Blake, the leader of Leeds City Council. Osborne was in such haste to put a shot across Mrs May’s bows, that she says Leeds knew nothing about the think tank.

Then there’s the former Education Secretary Nicky Morgan attacking the idea of more grammar schools and we are beginning to see a grouping of Osbornistas waiting to pounce if Theresa May should fail.


The Anti EU Tendency has had as decisive a victory in the Tory Party as Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters have had in Labour. Over the years they have pressurised and outmanoeuvred the pro Europeans. They have brought down at least two Prime Ministers, engineered our Brexit and still they are not satisfied as you will find out in Birmingham. The conference fringe will ring to the repetition of the vacuous phrase “Brexit Means Brexit”. Now we have another one “Leave Means Leave”. The Anti EU ultras are just waiting for Mrs May to betray them on the terms of Brexit.

They won’t be satisfied until the tariff barriers are up, our universities are stripped of EU researchers and Nissan and General Motors are relocating in Europe.


After my dispiriting visit to the Lib Dems in Brighton looking for centre left solidarity, I headed off to Labour’s gathering in Liverpool and came away with the view that Jeremy Corbyn’s opponents are pretty clueless.

I am of the view that there is a huge opportunity for centre left politicians to emerge from their bunkers and unite to put up a common front to the Tories. When I asked former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg about this , he went on about Labour’s bad behaviour in the electoral reform vote in 2011.

In Liverpool I decided to tackle Chuka Umunna. He’s the Labour MP who should have stood against Jeremy Corbyn but has funked it twice. At a fringe meeting he was regretting the referendum result, so I asked for his opinion on Lib Dem leader Tim Farron’s call for the Brexit package to be put to the British people. Umunna dismissed the idea as an attempt by Farron to get some attention for his party.

With some outrageous rigging of conference procedures the anti Corbyn forces are clinging on to control of the party’s National Executive, but they shouldn’t rely too heavily on Jeremy Corbyn’s promise not to introduce mandatory reselection for MPs. The left don’t need it, the boundary changes will provide the ideal opportunity to pounce.

At a fringe meeting I attended a platform speaker could not have been more clear when he dismissed the idea that Labour MPs should be elected in their twenties and stay until they decided to retire.

Meanwhile Jeremy Corbyn may be able to mobilise the dispossessed to vote in huge numbers to take him to power. A more likely outcome will be that the vision of high spending and no immigration controls that was approved in Liverpool this week will not appeal in Wirral, Morley and Nuneaton where Labour needs to win.







George Osborne may well have done enough to ensure the Conservatives are the largest party after next May’s General Election.


The underlying perception that the government has stabilised the economy has been around for a while and probably would have been enough to secure electoral success. This week’s blatantly electioneering autumn statement and accompanying announcements on roads, flood relief schemes and the scrapping of the trans Pennine pacer trains should prove the icing on the cake.


The fact that the election will be followed by a further massive attack on council spending, a probable failure to eliminate the deficit at any time in the next parliament and the real possibility of tax rises…well we’ll deal with that later.




Labour must be worried by the way that George Osborne has positioned himself as champion of the Northern Powerhouse but before we look at those measures, there is an important question. What happened to Nick Clegg’s promise that Leeds and Sheffield were to get their devolution packages before the Autumn Statement? Perhaps that was why the Lib Dem leader absented himself from the Commons. The word is that Clegg’s insistence that the package should not involve a directly elected mayor has not gone down well with the Treasury.


It is striking what benefits Greater Manchester is reaping from its coherent political leadership. On top of last month’s devolution package it is to get the Sir Henry Royce Materials Research Centre and a new theatre space at the old Granada TV site. It is to be called The Factory Theatre, a fitting tribute to Tony Wilson, founder of Factory Records, who did so much to champion the cause of Northern devolution.


But the rest of the north hasn’t been forgotten. Improved access to the Port of Liverpool, flood defence schemes at Rossall in Lancashire and the Humber Estuary and a College to train people for the oil and gas industries in Blackpool are all welcome.


A sovereign wealth fund is be set up so that northern communities can benefit from shale gas extraction and under new franchises for Northern and Trans Pennine rail services, the dreaded pacer trains are to finally be replaced.


The government is still not addressing the major devolution questions for the whole of the North, people are on low wages, food banks grow and the services people depend on may be swept away, but it is going to be difficult for Labour to match the Tories Northern Powerhouse concept.




There has been criticism that George Osborne has had two jobs, as Chancellor and Tory Party strategist. But you can see the virtue of it after Wednesday’s statement.


The Stamp Duty changes make Labour’s mansion tax proposals look clumsy and complex. It is true that their mansion tax would bring in a revenue stream every year whereas Stamp Duty is paid once. However the rich really will be clobbered by the changes whilst people buying lower priced houses are benefiting immediately from a welcome windfall.


To further tackle the perception that the Chancellor favours his rich friends, banks are facing a new tax and there will be an attempt to get multinationals to pay tax properly in the UK, although Osborne’s unilateral move is attracting criticism that it is not being coordinated internationally.


National insurance relief on apprentices, loans for post graduates, measures on Air Passenger Duty and ISAs, plus the petrol duty freeze will all contribute to a good feeling going into the election campaign.


Labour will rightly point to the big picture failure of the Chancellor to redeem his promise to balance the books in this parliament and the day of reckoning that awaits us all, but will that sway the voters?








The Conservative and Labour parties are now broadly in agreement about what needs to be done about the North-South divide.

I still think the Coalition was wrong to destroy the Regional Development Agencies and Labour needs to add a Council of the North to its plans to beef up the Local Enterprise Partnerships and Combined Authorities.

However even with our two main political parties broadly agreed on how to devolve resources and power to the North, there is a major obstacle in their path. It is secretive and bitterly opposed to any policy that would take power and influence away from Whitehall. It is the Civil Service. They used to wear bowler hats, now they are less identifiable. Their appearance might change but they’re basic attitude to the North will never change.

They know little about our area. They regard the North as a place populated with people with begging bowls, trying to get money which they haven’t the expertise to spend. They sometimes acknowledge people like Manchester Council leader Sir Richard Leese, but generally believe northern politicians are Town Hall minnows who can’t be trusted with the cash. At a recent conference I heard one former senior Treasury official bragging that as far as civil servants are concerned there never has been a regional policy.

This situation has prevailed for many decades even when there were civil servants in regional government offices. Some tried to make a difference, most couldn’t wait for a posting back to London.

Tony Blair invaded Iraq but he never had the guts to demand his civil servants implement John Prescott’s vision for well resourced development agencies democratically controlled by assemblies. We elect the politicians and they should tell the civil servants, with the threat of dismissal, to get on with what the elected government propose.

So let’s see what happens after the election. Both parties want to devolve money and power to the North. I forecast the civil service will first of all go slow, then the Treasury will reduce the money available, then the powers will be trimmed.

I hope I am wrong but it is going to need Cities Minister Greg Clarke or Labour’s Lord Adonis to have the full support of Cameron or Miliband to get this done.


We are set to celebrate Magna Carta. It was the start of democracy but when the democratic choice of the European Parliament gets the top job, people cry foul.

David Cameron says the Council of Ministers is more democratic than the European Parliament. How does that work? We directly elected our MEPs who’s political groups had decided who should be their candidates for President of the European Commission. Junker was the centre right choice. They got most seats. Bingo.

David Cameron was first elected as an MP, then became Prime Minister in which capacity he attends the Council of Ministers. I don’t see how he’s able to claim greater democratic authenticity than the European Parliament.

Anyway Cameron now faces a very difficult task in getting sufficient concessions to convince a Tory Party, and probably the British people, that we should stay in.


Very best wishes to Leeds and Yorkshire this weekend as the Tour de France begins in the fair county.

It is a huge opportunity for the region and a tribute to the people from business, sport and politics who have made it possible.


This week France and Germany celebrated the 50th anniversary of their reconciliation after a century of war and carnage. Britain, which shed much blood to make peace possible, signalled that it didn’t want to retain its place in the triumvirate shaping the destiny of Europe. David Cameron prefers us to have a role yapping ineffectively on the sidelines.


The Prime Minister knows that he has unleashed a process that could do the most profound damage to Britain’s economy. He’s done it to appease his party that has become obsessed with the issue. It will do him no good. If he wins the next election, he will attempt to undertake a major renegotiation of our membership terms. He will substantially fail despite the German Chancellor’s conciliatory tone at the moment. However Cameron will pretend that the scraps that he gets are a good enough reason to vote yes in the referendum. He will be ridiculed by UKIP and half the Tory Party who will campaign manically for their once in a lifetime chance of getting a no vote. They will be egged on by the Murdoch press and I fear the British people will vote to come out.


Long before 2018 and the start of the vast and messy task of disentangling ourselves from the EU, the damage will already be done. Indeed it is probably starting today. In some boardroom in Europe or Asia a company will be putting on hold a long term decision to invest in or trade with Britain. They will be doing this because there is total uncertainty about what Britain’s business environment will be like by 2020, detached from Europe.


Great uncertainty surrounds Cameron’s shopping list but we can get a hint from looking at the demands of the influential Tory “Fresh Start” group. It includes the directives on working time, temporary workers, transfer of undertakings, health and safety, rights to information, parental leave, employment protection for part time workers and equal pay.


There are two big problems with that list. Firstly they are at the heart of the Single Market. They ensure that all members of the EU compete fairly. There is not a cat in hell’s chance that our partners are going to allow us to employ cheap labour on short term contracts to gain an advantage for British goods.


The second problem is this. Do you want Britain to return to a situation where hospital doctors work a hundred hours a week, you lose your job when one firm takes over another, where corners are cut on health and safety, where parental leave may be cut, where bosses are free to discriminate against women over pay and part time workers are exploited?


That’s often what is meant when people vaguely talk about “Brussels red tape”. What they really want is to return to the days when workers could be rampantly exploited. They cry that employers are reluctant to take on staff because of all this “red tape”. Really? Have you noticed this week’s employment figures?

Bosses seem to have weathered the recession and lived “the red tape” without unemployment going over three million.


I am not misty eyed about Europe. There is a lot that needs changing in the Common Agricultural Policy, fishing quotas, and strengthening the European Parliament. If Cameron wants to be really macho he should get tough on the ridiculous nonsense of the MEP s traipsing off to Strasbourg once a month.


The Tory Party will go quiet for a while on Europe, but UKIP will still offer the clearer path to leaving. The Lib Dems have offered an in/out referendum in the past but I can’t see them backing Cameron’s approach.


Labour worry me deeply on this issue. The pressure on Ed Miliband to offer an in/out referendum in 2015 will be intense. The confusion this week after Cameron’s speech was not good. The party should have the courage to say that while it will constantly look for reform, it would only offer a referendum if it was proposed to transfer new powers to Brussels. That legislation is already on the statute book.


It is clear David Cameron knows we need to stay in the EU but he is attempting to appease people who will never be satisfied until we are out.


It would now be best for Labour to win the next election and for the Tory Party to reform itself in opposition. The Eurosecpticshould join UKIP and the rest form a modern Conservative Party prepared to govern Britain playing its full part in the EU and eventually the Euro zone too.