Tories must guard against complacency and splits


Having been pleasantly surprised at their ability to form a majority government following the General Election in May, the Conservative Party must have thought all their Christmases’ had come at once when the Labour Party, post-election, inexplicably elected a new leader who has as much chance of walking into Downing Street as Prime Minister as I have of scoring a cup winning goal for Everton.

However, from basking in the glory of their main opposition’s collective suicide mission, the Tories must guard against complacency, and returning to the deep party splits that, in significant part, led to its downfall in 1997.

Europe, the Osborne austerity agenda and politicians egos will be the challenges that will face the government in what is now likely to be a ten years stretch in power.

This week’s Tory conference was the first in what will be a series of beauty contests for the leading role, as David Cameron somewhat prematurely announced he would be stepping down following his second stint in number ten.

The main contenders are Boris, Teresa May and George Osborne. With what many would describe as an impressive handling of the economy; his Northern Powerhouse initiative; and the general acceptance that he ran the successful election campaign back in the spring, the chancellor is clearly seen as the favourite.

However, the one thing history does tell us about the Tories is that they don’t often do the obvious when it comes to electing leaders – and favourites are usually left shell shocked as party members look for something a little bit different.

Margaret Thatcher came from nowhere to succeed Edward Heath in the mid-seventies. Heseltine and Portillo were much more favoured than Major and Hague. Who would have thought Iain Duncan Smith could win a raffle, never mind the top job as leader of Her Majesty’s official opposition, and David Cameron was the outsider when he succeeded Michael Howard.

If I was a betting man I would still put my money on George. But don’t write off the chances of lesser known candidates in the field, and keep a particular eye on business minister and West Midlands MP Sajid Javid.

And they’re off….Tory leadership contest starts Monday

tory party

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.

Lies, damned lies and the tabloid press

lies damned lies

The press, as in newspapers, have not done themselves a lot of favours in recent years.

The scandals around phone tapping, bribing police officers for confidential information and an uncanny ability to just tell blatant lies that they justify as part of the readership war games they have with their competition, has all played a part in not only damaging the reputation of newspapers, but has also hitting sales figures too.

Of course, the explosion of social media and the internet has had a huge impact on the ability for newspapers to sell their wares. But the wholly incompetent response of the industry to those challenges, to sensationalise, go negative or just make things up, has been totally inadequate and, in some cases, criminal.

An unhealthy interest in and scrutiny of celebrities has been another element of a tabloid newspaper offer that leaves potential readers simply asking ‘why bother’ when it comes to the purchasing of a daily paper.

I had hoped that the dragging through the courts of News of the World and Sun executives and the subsequent public outrage may have ushered in a new culture for an industry that seems as rotten as the alleged corrupt football officials, politicians or businessmen they regularly berate in their columns and feature pages.

However, with few exceptions, those prison sentences handed down to Andy Coulson and his mates appear to have been forgotten by the industry quicker than an X Factor winner.

Of course there are notable exceptions to this picture of doom and gloom. Marc Reeves at Trinity Mirror in Birmingham has adopted a successful and innovative approach to the on line agenda; the Liverpool Echo recently embarked upon a positive campaign to re-brand the paper through an ‘Ask Ali’ initiative, giving readers and ex readers the opportunity to comment on the future of the Echo’s content directly to editor Ali Machray. At a national level, the work of the Sunday Times Insight team has been crucial in exposing the misdeeds of FIFA officials.

However, all of this good work is totally undermined and undone when one of the leaders in the industry chooses to serialise accusations about the Prime Minister that range from tit bits that would not look out of place in a Monty Python sketch, through to more serious questions of judgement that have simply been lost in the barrage of rubbish the Daily Mail has published.

The fact that these accusations are being made by a bitter old Lord who has admitted his personal vendetta against David Cameron very publically, makes the Daily Mail’s decision to run these stories even more bizarre.

If the adage ‘no publicity is bad publicity’ was the policy that Mail executives were following with this one, then job done, as most folk are aware of their coverage and are talking about the Daily Mail. However, in doing so, the Mail has knocked several more nails into the newspaper industry coffin. Whatever happened to integrity, credibility, reputation and backing a story up? This trash should never have seen the light of day in The Daily Sport never mind a title that would consider itself a serious publication.

Right Questions, Wrong Answers


Last Saturday the Labour Party took its first significant step to guaranteeing defeat at the next General Election.

Whether Jeremy Corbyn survives in his new role as leader of Her Majesty’s opposition for one month, one year or the remainder of the parliament, Labour’s folly in putting such a maverick and off the wall personality at the top of its tree has already turned off enough of the great British public to ensure another five year term for the Conservatives, probably led by George Osborne, in 2020.

I won’t rehearse all the arguments and objections that were consistently raised about Corbyn’s fitness to lead during the party’s leadership selection, as it is a matter of record that his opinions on a whole range of things from NATO membership to managing the economy are so out of step with even the vast majority of his own parliamentary party that it seems a little unnecessary and pointless to do so. All those interested surely know his policy pronouncements by now.

However, even the most controversial and ‘extreme’ politicians are not wrong about everything, and Corbyn, 35 years a parliamentarian, is no exception.

That the Prime Minister and the Chancellor have managed to persuade 37% of the electorate that there is no alternative to austerity does not mean that the validity of that option should not be challenged and scrutinised. In particular, the inequitable sharing of the pain between north and south in terms of public sector cuts is worthy of vigorous debate.

The renewal of a hugely expensive and updated version of the Trident nuclear deterrent may, once again, be generally accepted as having the support of a majority of voters. But have defence experts considered a different approach, a cheaper if no less aggressive and effective security system for the British Isles? Is this a question that, given our urgent need to find savings from every area of government spend, should not at the very least, be posed?

A policy that cuts welfare benefit payments to those who are currently in work is another scrap worth having, as not only does this strike many people as unfair, but it goes against the governments stated objective of encouraging people to find gainful employment.

The new Trades Union legislation, zero hours contracts, our future in Europe and immigration are all areas of policy that Corbyn has raised big question marks over.

Jeremy is certainly not short of questions. In asking the public what they would like him to quiz David Cameron on at Prime Ministers question time this week, the Labour leader received 40,192 suggestions.

No, he is not short of questions, our Jeremy. Unfortunately, he appears to be struggling for answers. And even where he has come up with proposed answers, they get his party even further away from the question they really need answering. How does Labour ever win an election in the UK again?

Life on Mars…

Life on Mars

We all like to indulge in a bit of nostalgia from time to time. Who among us doesn’t take a glimpse back into our past, usually through rose tinted spectacles, remembering the highlights and pining for ‘The good old days’?

This is one of the main reasons why TV programmes such as ‘The Seventies Revisited’; ‘The Fabulous Eighties’ and the ‘Naughty Noughties’ are so popular, alongside dramas such as ‘Life on Mars’ and ‘Ashes to Ashes’.

Though this mild obsession with the past is probably not the best use of our time, it is a harmless bit of whimsical melancholy that causes no harm.

The same cannot be said for our political leaders, some of whom appear to have been transported back to the seventies if some of their more recent policy pronouncements are anything to go by.

It seems likely that tomorrow the Labour Party will elect the man who was only put on the leadership ballot paper to ‘broaden the debate’. Jeremy Corbyn wants to include re-nationalising the utilities, re-opening coal mines and re-introducing flared trousers as compulsory dress wear in the next Socialist manifesto he presents to the country.

Not to be outdone in this back to the future approach to politics, the Conservative government have decided that Trades Unions are, indeed, the enemy within, and are about to introduce a raft of legislative changes to impact on union activity that can most graciously be described as cracking a nut with a bloody great sledgehammer.

David Cameron QUattro

The governments’ proposals are an outdated response to the challenges of the modern workplace and are counter-productive. This is not the cry from Lennie McCluskey, the General Secretary of Unite. It is the considered opinion of CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development.

They point out that the number of working days lost through industrial action today stands at less than a tenth of what it was in the 1980s, whilst consultation with its members suggests their relationships with unions are generally good.

CIPD chief executive Peter Cheese commented: “Government proposals appear to be targeting yesterday’s problems instead of addressing the reality of the modern workplace. The number of days lost to strike action in the last twenty years has dropped by over 90%.”

It may be that in the Westminster bubble that they claim to hate so much, the Corbynistas and the chancellor and his mates crave for a return to class war. But for business, the nightmare of the breakdown of consensus politics and a return to extreme positions on both left and right of the political spectrum, is seen as totally unnecessary and as irrelevant in the twenty first century as an abacus is for the schoolchildren of today.