The party conference season comes to an end next week as the Tories visit Manchester, and they will be struggling to contain their joy following the gathering of a much depleted Liberal Democrat event; and a Labour conference that looked as if the party had somehow been transported back to the 1970s, not only in terms of what was being said, but also in how it looked.
Given that the Tories will now have to implode in spectacular fashion if they are to lose the next election, which is five years away, then they can get on with their own agenda in a relatively carefree fashion in the safe knowledge that Tim and Jerry (Farron and Corbyn) may be able to huff and puff – but they will fall a long way short of blowing the Conservative house down.
With this in mind, next week should see the phony war for the Conservative leadership begin in earnest, and the contenders will be looking to strike a smart balance between speaking to the country they govern, and to the party they want to lead.
For the chancellor, this will mean a further advancement of his devolution plans, described by Oldham council leader Jim McMahon at Labour’s bash this week as ‘a devolution of cuts’ – but still seen by most in local government as the best chance they have of maintaining at least some relevance in the twenty first century.
It remains to be seen if George, the favourite to succeed the alleged pig admirer David Cameron, will make firm announcements on the further city region deals that he will be supporting. More likely he will wait for his November budget to do that. However, it is no coincidence that the abandoned electrification of the Transpennine railway line has been reinstated before his party has landed in the heart of his much trumpeted ‘Northern Powerhouse.’
Expect to hear that phrase, and indeed the ‘West Midlands engine’ peppered throughout the Osborne speech. Cynicism from Labour leaders like McMahon aside, the chancellor has a genuine appetite to re-balance the UK economy; devolution is just one part of his strategy.
Of course, George being George, there is a political aspect to all of this Devo stuff too. He has long recognised the futility of the Conservatives, particularly when they control the levers of power on Westminster, attempting to win back control of Town Halls in our big northern cities and many other provincial cities this side of the Watford gap.
He hopes that the introduction of big powerful ‘metro mayors’ will see strong independents emerge as contenders in these Labour strongholds and eventually lead the electorate to conclude that councillors are a thing of the past.
Managing and re-balancing the economy is his day job, the bread and butter of our chancellor’s role. Shrinking the state, now that is his passion, and what gets him out of bed in the morning.