Here’s one person who’s prepared to be joyfully enthusiastic about our remaining a member of the European Union. Somebody needs to get away from the grinding negativity of both sides in the referendum campaign and state boldly why they are proud that Britain is in the EU and would be ashamed if we left.

Yes ashamed that a country like ours with so much to give to the EU in terms of common sense and our different perspective, should turn its back on our 27 friends and try our luck in an uncertain world.

I am proud that two million Brits are comfortable working in the EU, that many of our elderly are able to move easily to Spain to get some sun in their retiring years and that British Ministers and MEPs are at the negotiating table when trade negotiations are done. We are not done down all the time in these votes by the way. 95% of the time our partners see it our way.


The North has benefited hugely from its EU membership. Merseyside was pulled back from the brink of collapse by the EU regional and structural funds. We remain a major recipient of such aid currently worth £800m. Leave claim it is “our” money coming back. However there was no guarantee British governments would have given Merseyside that priority, indeed Mrs Thatcher’s administration was advised to manage the decline of Liverpool.

The International Festival of Business(IFB) is about to start in Liverpool. It is supported by organisations like Downtown and the North West Business Leadership Team (NWBLT). The conference continues right through the drama that will be Referendum Day so will provide a fascinating forum for instant business reaction to a result that could have momentous consequences for northern business. Our own Chief Executive Frank McKenna has made his position clear on wanting to remain and the NWBLT is now putting its shoulder to the Remain wheel. Its Chief Executive, Geoffrey Piper points out that the Midlands and North are most dependent upon our trade links with Europe particularly in respect of the car and engineering sectors. Membership of the Single Market (which Leave now admit we couldn’t be part of) gives us real clout with the rest of the world.

Piper addresses the argument of Leave that there is a world beyond the EU waiting to do deals with an isolated Britain. He points out that the major trade negotiation with the US and others, like Japan, will soon mean that 80% of the world will be covered by EU agreements. He concludes we would get less favourable global deals on our own.

Freeing ourselves from EU red tape is the cry of Leave, superficially attractive to any business person. But this “red tape” usually ensures that workers aren’t exploited over their hours, that they get maternity/paternity leave, that machines are safe and products reliable. As Piper points out there is one set of regulations for 28 countries. Leave and we’d soon be in a blizzard of red tape.

The NWBLT also address the thorny issue of immigration with a brave assertion that, whilst the vast majority of our northern workforce is recruited from UK nationals we do need specialists from the EU in the boardroom and staff from the EU to keep the NHS running.


Whatever NWBLT, Downtown, most economists and international organisations think, the polls are showing Leave edging ahead. Immigration is becoming more salient than economic common sense.

Everyone who believes in 28 nations bound together in harmony and with a common purpose must get out and campaign for Remain. That’s especially the case with Labour and young Remain supporters. Every vote is going to be vital. It will be very close and there is no going back from Brexit.



During one of Tony Benn’s great rants against the modernisation of the Labour Party, he forecast that one day delegates to the party conference would be told that they weren’t there to debate issues but merely to blow up balloons for the leader’s triumphal entry.


Benn’s forecast came to my mind as I watched the recent Republican and Democratic conventions. With our version of the conventions, the party conferences, starting this weekend I thought it might be worth comparing the two.


Way back in American convention history, they were the events at which candidates were chosen and policy formed, not any more.


The primary contests which start across America in the previous winter mean that the candidates are known well in advance. The last time a Republican Convention met with any uncertainty about the candidate was in 1976 when Ronald Reagan attempted to wrest the nomination from Gerald Ford. In the Democrats’ case it was Ted Kennedy’s effort to unseat Jimmy Carter in 1980.


This year yet again there was no opportunity for delegates in Tampa, Florida or Charlotte, North Carolina to influence the policy platform. Similarly while there will be debates on policy motions at the Labour conference in Manchester and the Tory gathering in Birmingham, it will only be Liberal Democrat delegates who will actually make policy line by line when they meet in Brighton.


The wives of political leaders are playing a growing role on both sides of the Atlantic. Here we’ve seen Sarah Brown introduce her husband at a Labour conference. Sam Cam is a fixture with the Tories, but they are bit parts compared to the central roles that Anne Romney and Michele Obama played at their conventions this month. Both put on sparkling performances in contrast to the more staid performances of their husbands, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.


Celebrities at party conferences were certainly a feature of the Blair era and many of Hollywood’s finest supported the Democrats this year in Charlotte. The Republicans however scored an own goal with a bizarre rambling performance by the ageing Clint Eastwood. It didn’t make their day.


So what might be coming to our party conferences in the future? The CNN news channel played the party videos shown to the delegates whereas the BBC always cut away when similar screenings are made at our party conferences. The BBC says it isn’t in the business of broadcasting straight party propaganda. That strikes me as odd considering the rest of the conference is just that.


In the American videos we saw the families of the candidates heavily featured. Everyone with a distant relationship to Romney or Obama was interviewed.

Another striking feature was the emphasis on families with relatives serving in the military.


It’s a close race in the US election this year with the Republicans turning up the heat on the economy and Obamacare (the President’s attempt to introduce something like the NHS to America). There is no doubt that the “Yes we can” Obama optimism of four years ago has faded but incumbent Presidents are rarely turned out. Only Jimmy Carter (1980) and HW Bush (1992) have suffered that fate since 1945.


So in 2012 will we just get balloons and stage managed baloney at our conferences? The Liberal Democrats do still have a real policy making conference and all credit to them. Labour needs an honest debate on its economic policy as the party is taken more seriously again and those Tories who really are unhappy with Cameron need to come out of the woodwork. I doubt it will happen.