Osborne prepares to kill Labour – and become PM


It is a long time since a northern constituency could boast a Prime Minister. The late Harold Wilson, who represented the Merseyside constituency of Huyton, was the last northerner to hold the highest office, and he vacated number 10 back in 1976.

However, the regions wait for another PM is coming to an end, certainly if chancellor George Osborne MP for Tatton, Cheshire, has anything to do with it.

His Northern Powerhouse agenda has dominated the debate and discussion of local government and many in the media for over a year now. The powers he has ceded to Manchester, and is prepared to offer other local authorities who are able to provide proof positive that they can deliver – with a metro mayor – has won him the reputation as an innovator who wants to genuinely try new things to re-balance the UK economy.

That he has done this in partnership with (mostly) Labour council leaders is testament to his impressive negotiation skills, matched only by his ability to spin.

A whole list of announcements on spending in the north, most particularly on infrastructure projects, looks like ‘new’ money. Often it is cash that local councils’ themselves have had to find from ‘efficiencies’.

His incredible persuasiveness in convincing his former treasury colleague and coalition mate, Lib Dem Daniel Alexander, to do the tour of television and radio studios every time there was bad news to sell, whilst Osborne himself saved his brief appearances for the ‘feel good’ pronouncements should be noted too. I’m sure it is something the now former MP Alexander has reflected upon since being permitted by his constituents to spend more time with his family.

But, it is the chancellor’s activity since the election that is most impressive. Surprised though he and his next door neighbour Dave were in securing a victory, he has had the air of a man who has hit the ground running, and has a plan to get on and deliver.

His spring budget included a host of policies that will see a greater acceleration of the shrinking of the state and public sector services. He has cut taxes, and will continue to do so during the lifetime of this parliament. And he unashamedly stole Labour’s ‘Living Wage’ policy whilst he was at it.

Now he is preparing a blitzkrieg on the official opposition’s next leader. If, as is predicted, it is Jeremy Corbyn, he knows that his only problem will be weighing the votes that his party will get in the marginal constituencies across the country.

However, he is not one for complacency, George. So expect legislation around Trades Union laws; immigration; the economy and welfare throughout an autumn that will be set full of Westminster traps for the Parliamentary Labour Party.

Osborne wants to cement in voters’ minds the notion that Labour has turned into a ‘loony left’ protest group that is as out of touch with reality as Lord Sutches old ‘Raving Loony’ party.

Once this mission is accomplished, he will be quickly on to his next project. Succeeding Dave in an orderly manner and, in the nicest possible way, ‘doing in’ his closest rivals for the number one job, Teresa May and Boris.

Prime Minister Osborne? At this stage, you wouldn’t bet against him.

Labour Isn’t Dead – The Tories Will Save It


“I grew up in a working – class household, had the traditional loud left leanings in my young manhood, but the Labour Party is receding into the mists of history, as relevant to our own time as the Whigs or the Monster Raving Loony Party. There is no Old Labour or New Labour anymore; there is only Dead Labour – a 20th Century party who find themselves as pertinent as banana rationing.”

So wrote my favourite author of fiction Tony Parsons in his latest column for GQ magazine, in a sarcastic, cynical and, to be fair, at times accurate rant dressed up as an obituary for the Labour Party.

As we approach the end of what has been an unmitigated disaster of a leadership contest for the official opposition, it would be easy to agree with Parson’s analysis that, for Labour, there is no coming back from this.

Even if Jeremy Corbyn fails in his bid to become leader, the damage Labour has suffered as a result of it behaving like a sixth form debating society, and worse allowing the extreme left to hijack its post- election post mortem is clearly significant.

It will take more than one parliament for Labour to recover, and it will be relying on local government leaders such as Sir Richard Leese in Manchester, Joe Anderson in Liverpool and, they hope, Tessa Jowell in London, to keep Labour alive, even in its ‘heartlands’.

However, what Parson’s and other Left turned Right commentators forget is that Labour has been here before – and managed to come back spectacularly.

Margaret Thatcher swept to power on the slogan ‘Labour isn’t Working’ in 1979, and the Conservatives were then presented with a run of 18 years in government as their opponents elected Michael Foot as its leader, and in 1983 offered the British electorate a red blooded, Socialist Manifesto described after a record General Election trouncing as ‘the longest suicide note in history’.

Not until 1997, with a bright young thing that was Tony Blair, was New Labour able to extinguish an image of union domination, endless strikes, the winter of discontent and a politics of envy.

But, as much as Blair, Mandelson, Campbell, Brown and even Prescott can take a degree of credit for their party’s rehabilitation, Labour’s recovery was most significantly contributed to by – the Conservative Party.

The poor quality of opposition, the belief that they were unbeatable, an arrogance that was felt and, eventually loathed, by most of us outside of the Westminster bubble, was the real undoing of Conservative rule, and the beginning of a record thirteen year run of Labour power than would have seemed beyond impossible just fourteen years earlier.

Mrs Thatcher’s introduction of the poll tax; cash for questions with Neil Hamilton; Norman Lamont’s economic disaster that was the ERM; David Mellor’s extra marital activities in a Chelsea shirt; Cecil Parkinson’s extra marital activities without a shirt; the Tories obsession with Europe and John Major’s ‘Bastards’ moment – the list of gaffs, mishaps and downright moments of incompetence became endless.

Blair was an attractive alternative for the electorate to turn to, and his modernisation of Labour helped deliver a landslide for his party in ’97. But, Blair or no Blair, Labour would have won that election anyway.

For, in the end, it is government’s that lose elections, rather than opposition’s winning them.

It will take Labour time to recover from its current self- indulgence, but recover it will. Because, in time, whether it be another huge split over Europe, a cut too far, personality clashes between Boris Johnson and George Osborne, or just politicians acting like humans and getting caught out, the Tories, at some point, will save Labour. That’s why Tony Parson’s latest column in GQ is simply another piece of fiction.

Will Councillors Become Extinct?

Councillors Extinct

There are huge changes taking place in local government at the moment. In fairness, there have been huge changes taking place in local government for well over a quarter of a century.

In the name of making local democracy more efficient, more transparent, or more effective, Westminster politicians have meddled in the affairs of council’s big and small, always in the name of ‘supporting’ the strengthening of local authorities and their autonomy.

It is nonsense of course. Most of the changes that have been implemented have undermined local government, and simply resulted in increasing power to Whitehall mandarins.

From the abolition of metropolitan county councils such as Merseyside and Greater Manchester in the 80s – motivated by Margaret Thatcher’s hatred of the Ken Livingstone led Greater London Council – through to a shake-up of governance structures by New Labour that placed most powers and decision making in the hands of a few councillors on what we now call council ‘cabinet’s’, leaving the remainder of our elected representatives as glorified ‘scrutineers’, Parliamentary assistance to local authorities has been anything but helpful.

In more recent times, the government’s austerity programme has meant a huge hit to the resources of council’s, particularly in the north, whilst the cap that has been imposed on council tax increases that has been long imposed, has robbed local authorities of any fiscal ability to map out comprehensive, genuine long term plans and strategies.

Cynics may suggest that our wonderful civil service, who have to be admired for sustaining its own power and influence throughout a whole range of ‘modernisation’ initiatives over the years, have been undermining local government to justify their own positions for all eternity.

However, more reasonable observers may concede that though the methods employed to try and drag local government into the twenty first century are ineffective at best, at worst cruel, there is little doubt that a massive and radical review of local democracy is long overdue.

George Osborne addresses some of the issues through his Northern Powerhouse agenda, which devolves strategic powers to city region bodies and, eventually, to elected metro mayors.

However, for counties and areas that cannot boast a city ‘hub’, there seems to have been little thought given as to how they will contribute to this new world order.

In simple terms, I believe that we need fewer council’s and far fewer Councillors. The world has changed, and the days when we needed a council for every small town, and a councillor for every street has long gone.

As the old saying goes, chickens don’t vote for Christmas, and so the chances of local authorities addressing this issue themselves voluntarily appear remote.

However, Merseyside authority Knowsley is currently reducing its number of Members by a third, for which they should be applauded; Birmingham will go from 120 to 100 councillors in two years’ time. It seems inevitable that more of the smaller borough and district council’s in the country will be forced to merge just to survive at some point in the foreseeable future.

If this pragmatic approach gathers momentum, and local government leads in providing its own solutions to the challenges it faces, it may survive as we know it. If not, the notion of civil servants being dispatched from their London desks to look after us needy souls in the rest of what remains of the Empire, will be a more attractive proposition for a government that is more interested in cutting the deficit than increasing local democracy. Why do we need councillors, they will ask, particularly as so few of the electorate even bother to take part in local elections.

Council’s without councillors seems a bit of a barmy notion. But if local authorities bury their heads in the sand and ignore what is going on around them, including the very real attacks from Whitehall, then it is a very real prospect in the future.

Lost Labour

Lost Labour

It is fair to say that the Labour Party was not expecting to be defeated in the manner in which it suffered on 7th May.

Most members, activists and MPs, had accepted the fact that Ed Miliband was an unpopular leader among the electorate, but comforted themselves with the notion that Cameron and Osborne were equally unpopular.

The polls also convinced many Labour supporting pessimists that, actually, a hung parliament was inevitable, and therefore the party had another five years to get their act together, without the Tories being able to implement a comprehensive Conservative programme.

The General Election result produced such a radically different outcome to what Labour bosses expected that they had no idea how to react – and almost three months later they still don’t.

The leadership contest has been a bore fest, with none of the candidates able to really capture the mood of their party, let alone reach out and interest the wider electorate. The Parliamentary Labour Party’s (PLP) decision to allow the left wing ‘standard bearer’ Jeremy Corbyn on the leadership ballot paper in the name of ‘fairness’ was incredibly stupid and naïve – and may turn out to be even worse than that should the latest polls of Labour members be an accurate reflection of who they are going to support.

This week, the same PLP got themselves into a totally unnecessary mess over the government’s welfare proposals; and in Liz Kendall, Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper Labour appears to have three leadership hopefuls who have very narrow, and in some cases extremely inconsistent views, over the big policy and strategic issues that matter, not least the economy.

The shambles that is Labour is leading some to suggest that the party is finished as a political party of potential government; and it is easy to see why such a conclusion could be reached.

The Tories will use their small majority to press ahead with constituency boundary changes that will shrink the number of ‘safe’ Labour seats. Whoever wins the leadership election would appear to be Labours Iain Duncan Smith, rather than its David Cameron. And it has come up with absolutely no narrative to suggest it has the first clue as to how to win back votes in Scotland.

However, a man who led them to three consecutive election victories was back on a Labour platform this week, explaining why this doesn’t have to be the end for Labour.

Speaking at a Progress meeting in London the man who led Labour to victory over a Conservative government that had been in power for eighteen years, and then proceeded to oversee record levels of spending on health and education; regenerate our core cities; introduce the national minimum wage; restore the UK as a serious participant in the EU; take 800,000 children out of poverty; introduce working tax credits and devolve power to a Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament, is someone that Labour needs to listen to.

Tony Blair, that heinous war criminal to some, but a Prime Minister whose record on the domestic scene is second to none, reminded Labour that this is where it was in 1983. In a detailed contribution covering the economy, welfare, immigration and how to tackle the SNP, Blair offered Labour a way out of its current mess. Will the party heed his message, or become an irrelevance by electing a man whose policies are so out of touch with voters that they would be lucky to retain the support of their core vote, let alone convince the voters they need to return to power.

Let’s stick together

Power to the North

“If you’re in this city, the competition can be Everton versus Liverpool. If you’re in my city its City against United. In business terms we often see the competition as Manchester versus Liverpool. But then if the cockneys start make disparaging remarks about the North, we all bond together and have a go back at London. Then if the French slag off England, we unite with London to fire back at France.”

The delivery of this excellent observation came from Mr Deansgate, Nik Maguire, addressing the digital forum which was part of the series of excellent Liverpool Business Week events hosted by Downtown this week.

It was a point that was well made at a time when, in trying to compete in a global market and establish a Northern Powerhouse, the necessity for us to identify common goals rather than focus on traditional rivalries is increasingly obvious.

The good news is that, a few notable parochial internal spats in Lancashire and Merseyside notwithstanding, our regional business and political leaders have taken note.

The degree of co-operation taking place between Leeds, Manchester, Lancashire, Liverpool and the other core cities of the north on transport infrastructure is significant.

Equally, arguably the greatest of city rivalries between Liverpool and Manchester, has been put aside on many occasions over the past eighteen months, with the cities sharing platforms, marketing collateral and policy development in a whole range of areas. The London based MIPIM UK property festival in October will see Manchester and Liverpool share exhibition space for the second consecutive year.

And, as Liverpool gears up to host the UK International Festival for Business in twelve months’ time, the man tasked with making a success of this unique three week jamboree, Max Steinberg, is reaching out to the rest of the country, in particular other parts of northern England, to help showcase what is the best of British.

The festival is a great opportunity for businesses from across the country – but also a chance to show that we can genuinely establish a Northern Powerhouse where our great cities and counties work together when needed for the greater good.