Suspensions and shouting matches outside TV studios was not an ideal way for Labour to prepare for next week’s local elections. They were already going to find gaining seats difficult due to the election cycle discussed below. The anti semitism issue is important for Labour to sort out but it is also part of the internal campaign against Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters.

With all this said, next week’s electrions will be no easy ride for the Conservatives.



It was always going to be a difficult election for the Conservatives. They are facing their first Town Hall elections as the sole governing party since 1997. They are not only distracted by the EU Referendum but are also very split on the issue unlike any other party. The run up to these elections has been less than smooth with the Budget unravelling, Iain Duncan Smith resigning and a growing row over forcing all schools to become academies.

The latter issue is particularly relevant to these local elections. There was a time when education was one of the main battlegrounds between the parties because Town Hall influence in the running of schools was strong. Now the government is hell bent on side lining councillors as it moves towards creating academies in all schools. Not surprisingly many Conservative councillors have reacted angrily to this implied criticism of their role in many high performing schools. The move is hardly likely to raise morale amongst Tories as they fight the local elections.


Labour has been gaining ground at every local election since the Coalition government came into office in 2010. The last time these seats were contested in 2012, Ed Miliband did particularly well.

Labour controls virtually all the urban councils across the North from the Wirral and Cheshire West and Chester to South and West Yorkshire. The three councils running down the Pennines (Pendle, Calderdale and Kirklees) divide these two areas and are under no one party control. However Labour has them in its sights.

Labour has all the councillors in Manchester(in the interests of democracy and scruitiny it would be handy if some Greens could be elected) and 80 of the 90 councillors in Liverpool. It has gained control of all the district councils in southern Lancashire from Burnley and Rossendale to West Lancashire.

All this means that further gains are going to be difficult for Labour, although they will hope not to fall back.


The Coalition years proved devastating for the Lib Dems who are now reduced to defending their heartland in the South Lakes and trying to hold on to minority control in Stockport.

It will be Tim Farron’s first test as party leader. He was elected over Norman Lamb because it was felt he was better placed to rebuild the party through its activist base. Now comes the test. The Lib Dems 6% poll rating has hardly flickered since the General Election but Farron claims they have been making gains in the regular by elections that take place each week without much publicity. Free from governing with the Tories, now is the time the tide must turn for the Lib Dems.

UKIP has generally made slow progress in getting elected to northern councils in recent years, with the exception of Rotherham where the child abuse scandal has dealt a blow to Labour. They have often got substantial votes in wards but fell victim to the voting system. This year they have bigger fish to fry in the EU referendum and are not expected to make a big impression, particularly in the North West.


Next Thursday a third of the seats on the metropolitan councils of Merseyside, Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire are up for election.

All the seats are up for election in Knowsley and in the unitary authority of Warrington due to new ward boundaries. A third of the councillors on the unitary councils of Blackburn with Darwen and Halton are up for election.

A few shire district councils have a third of their seats up for election. They are Burnley, Chorley, Craven, Harrogate, Hyndburn, South Lakeland, Rossendale and West Lancashire.

Few councils will change hands. The Conservatives will be keen to cling on to their slim majority on their only metropolitan council of Trafford and if they are to make gains, these are most likely in Rossendale and possibly West Lancashire.

Labour will battle for Trafford too but are also targeting Pendle, Calderdale and Kirklees whilst the Lib Dems would like to edge towards the 31 mark needed for control of Stockport. They are currently on 26.


Jo Anderson is expected to defeat the challenge of six other candidates to win a second term as elected mayor of Liverpool. The Lib Dems and Conservatives have good candidates in veteran Richard Kemp and charismatic businessman Tony Caldeira respectively but Anderson won in 2012 with nearly 60% of the vote. He doesn’t plan to stay long as he wants to contest the Liverpool City Region elected mayor post next year, but other Labour figures may want to be nominated for that role too.

In Salford Labour’s Paul Dennett will take over from the retiring Ian Stewart.





A roller coaster takes you up as well as down. Critics of George Osborne’s budget have focused on the steep level of public spending cuts until 2018 followed by a positive spending forecast for 2019. To me it seems the Chancellor has plotted a route for the Tories to be in government until 2025.

The budget will probably convince enough people that this government has done enough to turn the economy around to make the Tories the largest party on May 7th.

If the Conservatives are able to deliver their economic plan in the next parliament then by the time of the next election, they will be in a position to put the pain of cuts behind them and seek a full mandate on the back of positive public spending.

A lot can go wrong and the Chancellor is refusing to explain where the 2016-18 cuts of £12bn will fall. There is also the small matter of what damage will be done to the economy by the uncertainty over our membership of the European Union. But broadly this was a confident display by George Osborne who has put Labour on the back foot nationally and in respect of the Northern Powerhouse.

The budget had numerous references to that proposal, including the claim that Yorkshire was creating more jobs than France and that growth in the north was faster than the south. The Northern Transport Strategy will pave the way for the trans Pennine HS3 which is more relevant to the economy of the North than HS2.

The weakness in Osborne’s approach to the Northern Powerhouse is the apparent favouritism of Greater Manchester. The announcement that the councils can keep 100% of additional growth from business rates follows on from its combined authority and NHS deals. Meanwhile the West Yorkshire deal announced this week has been described by the leader of Leeds Council as “not matching our ambitions.” They are paying the price for not agreeing to an elected mayor.

The Tories have developed a strong relationship with Labour Manchester with Ed Miliband’s and Ed Balls’ vision for the North left unclear. They are right to point to the unfair share of the cuts being borne up here but there is no way they should have allowed the Conservatives to become the champions of cities where they scarcely have a councillor.

It was a budget designed to shoot as many of Labour’s foxes as possible. The expected £23bn surplus forecast in the autumn statement led to claims Osborne was taking us back to spending levels from the 1930s. The surplus has now been reduced to £7bn.

The £900m bank levy and tax evasion measures were designed to blunt Labour’s attack. To answer the charge that the Tories were shamelessly courting the grey vote, we have the cut in tax relief on pension contributions and the ISA for first time buyers.


This is Labour’s top target in the North West. The Tory MP Eric Ollerenshaw has a majority of just 333 in this seat that strangely combines two quite different communities. Fleetwood on one side of the Wyre estuary has a fishing background whilst miles away to the north Lancaster is a university city where the Greens have strength on the council.

The likely winner is Labour’s Cat Smith whose job involves supporting social work professionals.







It has been a significant week for the future governance of the North of England. Exactly ten years after the people of the North East rejected the weak elected assembly on offer at the time, we now have the two major parties vying with each other to devolve real power to parts of the North


The Chancellor has promised major powers to Greater Manchester. Meanwhile the Labour leader, Ed Miliband, has set out a more measured approach offering powers to the whole of the north of England and House of Lords reform to address our current under representation in the upper chamber.


My sources in Manchester tell me they have become exasperated by Ed Miliband’s approach of awaiting a constitutional convention. Although Manchester is a Labour authority it finds it easier to deal with the fast moving Tory George Osborne. However the Manchester leadership needs to recognise that city regions aren’t the whole north, that the Tories may not be in a position to deliver their promises come May and a convention with everyone having their say is the right approach.


It has always been a weakness of the city regionalists that they don’t see the need for democratic accountability. They have been dragged into accepting an elected conurbation mayor in 2017 if the Tories get back. Sir Richard Leese is the favourite to take this role but I don’t think that will happen. The Greater Manchester Police and Crime Commissioner Tony Lloyd (who’s post will be taken over by the mayor) is a possible contender or possibly Jim McMahon, the leader of Oldham.




Some weeks ago I suggested a considered approach to the many constitutional issues that have arisen in England since the Scottish referendum vote. Ed Miliband’s plan provides for this.


He is looking at the wider picture- not just the city regions. He wants an English regions cabinet committee so that our problems are put at the heart of government and not forgotten by Whitehall civil servants. He also wants to address reform of the House of Lords once and for all by bringing the regions into the process. There is a crying need for this. It should be called the House of the South East at the moment. 31% of peers have their main residence in London and 23% in the South East. Just 5% of peers list their main residence in the North West and 4% in the North East. Miliband wants to create an elected Senate with representatives drawn from the nations, regions and cities of the United Kingdom.


At a time when the alienation of the people from politics is reaching dangerous proportions, this might be a way of turning things round. There are many misgivings about Ed Miliband and his leadership qualities but on this subject he has adopted a comprehensive approach to constitutional reform.




Greater Manchester has been well run in the last few years. Its Combined Authority has been an exemplar of how councils with different political colours or aspirations can work together. One can understand the Chancellor’s wish to reward such progress, but he needs to look at the wider picture. The other city regions like West Yorkshire and Liverpool are promised powers, although not necessarily the same powers and on a different time scale. Then there is the suburban and rural North not covered by this. In other words if the Tories get back we will have a hotchpotch. This is intentional. The one size fits all approach is openly criticised but the Osborne way could also be a recipe for confusion and debilitating rivalry.


So if the Tories win we will have disparate devolution to some city regions, English votes for English laws and no reform of the House of Lords.


Labour’s constitutional convention approach should be supported.









Forty years ago this week local government boundaries across the North were ripped up in a major reform of how we are governed locally. It was meant to herald a more efficient system of administration with functions being carried out at an appropriate level reflecting communities that people could identify with.


In fact the last forty years has seen continued tinkering with the system, the scrapping and then the reinventing of city regions and, in some areas, a refusal of people to come to terms with the 1974 settlement. There is still much to do.


In 1974 local government across the north consisted of a patchwork of county boroughs covering the main population centres with a series of small urban and rural councils around them with boundaries that did not reflect the urban expansion since the Second World War.


In 1969 very wise man called Lord Redcliffe-Maud proposed that most people should have one tier of local government. His idea was rejected but it remains the obvious solution to this day. Instead the Heath government decided to create metropolitan councils for West Yorkshire, Greater Manchester and Merseyside. They dealt with transport, police, fire and structural planning whilst metropolitan districts handled schools, housing, social services and collected the rates.


The old shire counties had chunks taken out of them. Yorkshire lost Saddleworth to Oldham and Todmorden to Lancashire. The Saddleworth White Rose Society still campaigns for the old historic boundary. Cheshire lost Wirral to Merseyside. Lancashire,who’s southern border had been the Mersey, lost communities from Stretford and Whiston and Ashton and Droylesden to the mets and in the North the Furness area to Cumbria. Perhaps most contentious was the incorporation of Southport into Merseyside. A Southport Party campaigning to return the resort to Lancashire has enjoyed poll success in Sefton Council elections.




Cities like Manchester were never happy with an upper tier authority over them and shed few tears when the metropolitan counties became collateral damage in a war between Margaret Thatcher and Ken Livingstone, leader of the Greater London Council in the mid 1980s.


There was turbulence in the shire counties too. In Lancashire, Blackpool and Blackburn became all purpose authorities in 1998. It was typical of the piecemeal nature of local government reform in recent decades. Why wasn’t Preston given unitary status? Why have 12 district councils in Lancashire and yet in 2009 reduce the number of councils in Cheshire to two?


There was a moment of hope that a real overall coherent vision would be given to all this when John Prescott proposed regional assemblies to democratise the work of the Regional Development Agencies. It would have required unitary local government throughout the North, reducing the number of politicians not increasing them as critics of Prescott mislead people into believing.


Prescott was replaced by the current Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles who vowed to oppose any more reorganisation. In fact under the current government we have seem the rise of Combined Authorities in Greater Manchester and soon in Merseyside and West Yorkshire. They are reinventions of the metropolitan councils of 1974 recognising that there is a need for strategic thinking in the mets.


In Greater Manchester the antagonisms of 1974-86 have been avoided. The jury is still out elsewhere particularly in the Liverpool City Region.


A plethora of initiatives have been launched by this government. Local Enterprise Partnerships, elected mayors, City Deals etc. It is a confusing mess which people don’t understand and have little democratic control over.


Forty years on from the reform of 1974 we await the government with the guts to override petty local politics and introduce root and branch reform of our constitution from the House of Lords to parish council.