The Prime Minister may be spluttering from a cold, what should make her splutter is Boris Johnson. How much longer must we endure the spectacle of fellow craven Cabinet Ministers making excuses for this excuse of a Foreign Secretary.

The buffoon is dragging the name of Britain through the gutter. The post of Foreign Secretary has been held with dignity by almost all holders of the office since the war. They only have to look around the grand building on Whitehall to realise that it was the base from which our wisdom was sought after centuries of foreign experience.

Johnson is in that worst tradition of upper class British toffs who think their mild racism is amusing. That it is funny to talk about clearing bodies away so that Sirte can become another glittering enclave of wealth amid Middle East poverty.

He should have been sacked over his Brexit interventions designed to destabilise the Prime Minister. He has now crossed a line which in any normal circumstance would have seen him sacked.

But at the end of this conference season we do not live in normal circumstances. My journey around the conference venues have taken me from The Lib Dems defiant in their policy of exit from Brexit under new leader Vince Cable, to Labour where their third successive defeat was celebrated like a victory and finally to Manchester. There the party that has, one way and another, won three elections was depressed and uncertain. Spooked by Jeremy Corbyn’s anti austerity rhetoric, they are now running before the Labour wind offering concessions on student fees and housing. The danger is they will get no credit for it whilst abandoning their reputation for economic rectitude. The last time that happened, in 1992, they were out of office for a long time.

The Tory conference began behind the most extensive security wall I had ever seen in Manchester. Thankfully there were no arrests and it was good to see, alongside the austerity protest, one opposed to Brexit. It is time Remainers found their voice.

But inside the cordon there was anger among the Tory grassroots over the election manifesto, the selection of candidates and the centralisation of the party. On the conference floor it looked as if  no ordinary representatives were called to speak, just a succession of Cabinet Ministers.

Labour on the other hand have reverted to allowing everyone a voice except MPs. The resulting chaos of card votes and remitted motions was a real throwback to the 1970s.

So where are we at the end of this conference season. I have always believed that Mrs May would be left in place because nobody else wants the inevitable criticism that will be hurled at the holder of the office when whatever Brexit deal is done.

After Manchester I am not so sure. The darkening weeks after conference is a dangerous time for Tory leaders from Mrs Thatcher in 1990 to Iain Duncan Smith in 2003.

If May goes surely the Tory Party won’t elect Johnson? Surely their love affair with the lovable tousled clown has turned to contempt for his incompetence as Foreign Secretary and impatience at his blatant careerism.




Jeremy Corbyn does not take easily to adulation. This weekend he would probably prefer to be tending his allotment than hearing “Oh! Jeremy Corbyn”, ringing out from the Brighton conference centre.

But Labour’s surprisingly good performance (they failed to win for the third time by the way) in June’s General Election has confirmed Corbyn in the leadership for years to come if he wants to stay. Except for Alison McGovern’s Labour Campaign for the Single Market, most moderate Labour MPs have become political zombies. They remain because of an admirable sense of loyalty, hoping the tide will turn. I fear they will be disappointed.

In Brighton at the weekend we will see the hard left not only buttress the current leadership in power but take steps to make the left revolution permanent. Corbynistas are set to take control of the Conference Arrangements Committee and National Constitutional Committee. Most people have never heard of these bodies but the former used to be used by New Labour to keep embarrassing subjects like unilateral nuclear disarmament off the agenda. The latter body came into existence after the expulsion of Militant in 1986, but would be unlikely to expel similar people today. “No enemies to the Left” is likely to be the guiding principle.

But Corbyn’s people are looking beyond the day when Jeremy returns to his marrows. The percentage of Labour MPs needed to nominate a leadership candidate is being reduced so that in future left wingers will not need misguided moderates like Frank Field and Margaret Beckett to put them on the ballot paper.

Don’t expect a huge row on the conference floor about all this. The outside chance that the Tories might implode under Brexit strains and Labour come to power in yet another General Election will probably ensure good behaviour.



If there is to be trouble for Corbyn, it is likely to come from the Wirral South MP Alison McGovern and her attempt to get the party to commit to staying in the Single Market for ever. The Shadow Brexit Secretary Kier Starmer won a surprising partial victory in getting the Eurosceptic people around Corbyn to commit Labour to the Single Market during the Brexit transition period. McGovern wants to go further with all the implications that has for continued freedom of movement. McGovern belongs to the Blairite Progress faction in the party which has recently suffered a huge financial blow from the total withdrawal of funding by Lord Sainsbury.


While Labour try to walk the tightrope between Remain and Leave supporters, Tory Cabinet infighting was patched up just ahead of the Prime Minister’s Florence speech. But that was after Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson repeated the lie over a £350m Brexit windfall for the NHS. Let’s remember we do not send £350m to the EU each week. After the rebate and European aid is considered the figure is £161m.

Meanwhile I was in Bournemouth with the Lib Dems. They were celebrating the EU with flags and yellow starred berets. They also reaffirmed their commitment to letting the people vote on the Brexit deal.

It would have been easy for the new leader Vince Cable to have taken the party’s poor election showing as an excuse to abandon this policy which shows no sign at the moment of being popular.

However, talking to representatives, I detected a hope that public opinion will undergo a massive change when the consequences of the botched Brexit talks become apparent. Let us hope that change of view is lead by the North, the area that was sadly deceived by the Boris bombast and which has most to lose from leaving.

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Britain is being run by a Prime Minister constantly looking over her shoulder at hard line Brexiteer Tories who want to not only get us out of the European Union but use the withdrawal legislation to dismantle many elements of social justice.

The Opposition is led by a left wing populist who promises the earth to public sector workers and students and who has skilfully captured the anti-establishment mood. However, a Jeremy Corbyn government combined with Brexit would have a hugely damaging impact on business and the economy.

So where is the centre ground when we need them? I’ll find some of them in Bournemouth this weekend under their new leader Vince Cable. The others may be in Brighton the week after at the Labour conference. You won’t see them on the platform, even Andy Burnham, the newly elected leader of Greater Manchester, is struggling for a slot. The moderate Labour MPs are being made to pay for their treachery against Jeremy Corbyn.

It is difficult for moderates in the Labour Party. They are embarrassed by Corbyn’s “relative” success. And it is relative, it was Labour’s third successive defeat. They have not won a General Election for twelve years. They want the party to oppose Brexit but are worried about breaking promises to the electorate and have a leader who is probably a secret Leaver. Then there is the Blair problem. The most articulate spokesman for their point of view is discredited in too many people’s eyes to get a real hearing.

Both the Labour centre, and the Lib Dems, are also burdened by the legacy of the financial crash of ten years ago. A moderate Labour government was in charge under Gordon Brown when it happened and the Liberal Democrats were part of a Coalition that used austerity to clear up the mess afterwards. The Tories are always expected to be tough on economics but the crash and its aftermath left Labour and the Lib Dems vulnerable to the populist rhetoric of Nigel Farage. He used the European Union as a lightening conductor for people’s mistrust of bankers, the EU and centrist politicians whose wishy-washy politics had let them down.

And yet my gut feeling remains that a majority of the British people, and certainly business, want centre ground politics. Economic realism with a social conscience and if we can sort immigration out, continued membership of the EU.

The Lib Dems are too weak at the moment for the Labour centre to take them seriously as a partner for a new party. Vince Cable’s task this weekend in Bournemouth is to show that they have a strategy to win back seats and be open to the idea of a new centre party that can offer an alternative to Brexiteer Toryism of hard left socialism.

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Each party conference was marked by a headline catching bribe for the voters. Nick Clegg’s was child care. George Osborne made an unfunded promise to freeze fuel duty and most tempting of all Ed Miliband went to war with the gas and electricity companies.


But we shouldn’t be distracted by these give-aways. We need to remember what the Chancellor said about the economy. The battle to turn it round was “not even close to being over.” So the downward pressure on public sector spending would continue. Within a day the Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson was warning that within two years the city would only be able to run mandatory services. Other councils across the North privately fear the same thing.


I have attended a dozen fringe meetings in Glasgow, Brighton and Manchester over the last three weeks. The one that made the deepest impression on me was one addressed by Paul Johnson of the Institute for Fiscal Studies. Here are some of the startling observations he made. It will be 2030 before we get debt levels back to where they were in 2008. By next year we will only be half way to budget balance. Total spending is not falling. In the past we have been used to two years of cuts, soon we will have had eight.


People at the fringe meeting called for party conferences to conduct fundamental debates about public sector pay, tax levels and the funding of health and schools and not to be occasions for a Dutch auction of promises about relatively small amounts of money. Some hope.


With the exception of the Lib Dems, party conferences are a showcase for Ministers and Shadow Ministers and an opportunity for lobbyists and journalists to get out of London for a few weeks. It was particularly noticeable in Manchester how the Tory grass root members have been marginalised. That may explain their enthusiasm for the meeting in Manchester Town Hall addressed by Nigel Farage, the UKIP leader.


So where has the conference season left us? Ed Miliband is strengthened by his promise to freeze gas and electricity prices. People understand the concept and it chimes with his campaign on squeezed living standards.


Nick Clegg has got his party used to its role in government. No more jokes about sandals and beards. The party now favours fracking, nuclear power and austerity. Vince Cable is a somewhat diminished figure.


Blue water has opened up for the Conservatives. Choosing the conference slogan “For Hard working People” Cameron staked out his position and with Ed Miliband moving to the left, we might have an old fashioned election battle.



Tory councillors from Lancashire and West Cheshire at the conference were distracted by noises off. GEOFF DRIVER, leader of the Conservatives at County Hall  narrowly avoided a no confidence vote by his own group just after conference. Meanwhile MIKE JONES leadership  of West Cheshire and Chester Council is hanging in the balance. Councillors of all parties last night rejected plans for a major student village development on the outskirts of Chester. Although councillors made their decision on planning grounds the issue has deeply divided the ruling Conservative group. More on both these issues on my blog next week.


UKIP are expected to get at least two MEPs in the North West and Yorkshire and the Humber next May, so top slot on the party list is more important than ever. Merseyside based MEP JACKIE FOSTER has topped the poll among Conservative North West members, with SAJ KARIM MEP in second place. The Tories will have a real battle on with UKIP to get a third MEP but that would be Penrith farmer Kevin Beattie.


Tories in Hazel Grove are talking up their chances because, as forecast here recently, ANDREW STUNELL confirmed he would be standing down as Lib Dem MP. Will the new candidate, local woman Lisa Smart, be able to prevent the seat returning to the Tories after two decades?


And finally the Mayor of Oldham JOHN HUDSON (Tory Saddleworth South) says he’s not dismayed to lose high flying Chief Executive CHARLIE PARKER to Westminster Council. Parker is credited with turning the council around. Hudson believes they will get some good applicants on the back of that.