Metro Mayors – A sanctuary for frustrated Labour MPs?

Metro Mayors

This week Bury MP and former government minister Ivan Lewis declared his interest in the post of Greater Manchester Metro Mayor, a powerful position that has been established as part of the ‘Devo Manc’ deal. The election for the post will take place in 2017.

If George Osborne’s Northern Powerhouse plans go as he hopes, then Metro Mayors will be part of the new governance structure landscape in all core cities, and what Lewis’ declaration reveals is that these are jobs that will be of interest not only to local government leaders, but to national politicians too – particularly Labour MPs who see a long and frustrating period of opposition ahead under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.

So who else may be considering throwing their hat in the ring in Manchester? The sitting interim mayor is Police Commissioner Tony Lloyd, a former MP himself. There is little doubt that he will be in the running, whilst many from the business community will hope that the principle architect of the Manchester deal, Sir Richard Leese, will offer his services. Former Parliamentary candidate James Frith is another potential Labour nominee, though it is probably too soon for him; and what about that old acquaintance of Downtown, Terry Christian – never short of an opinion, he would certainly make an interesting Independent candidate. And if we are considering ‘A’ list celebrities, then surely Gary Neville would be a hot favourite if he decided to swap the financial rewarding world of football punditry, England coaching and property development for the blood, sweat and tears of running a city region. An unlikely scenario this one.

In Liverpool, the six leaders are said to be tantalisingly close to a deal with the chancellor, but the idea of an elected mayor has been the sticking point. More accurately, the idea of Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson being elevated to the more strategic role has been the problem for other Merseyside leaders. So, if not Joe, who are the alternatives? Refreshingly, there is a strong line up of female suitors for the role who would all make very credible mayoral nominees. The Police Commissioner for Liverpool city region, another former MP Jane Kennedy; and three existing Mersey MPs, the experienced Louise Ellman; shadow minister Luciana Berger, and Labour moderniser Alison McGovern would surely consider running. There have also been a whole host of individual’s names, from successful businessmen such as Sir Terry Leahy, through to celebrity hairdresser Herbert mentioned as a future Liverpool mayor – but the more likely outcome is that a Labour politician will have the privilege of heading up the Liverpool city region in eighteen months’ time.

Big Labour beasts will also be prominent in the Birmingham contest. MPs Gisela Stuart and Liam Byrne have little opportunity of career progression in a left wing dominated parliamentary group, and the attraction of having genuine power over a region that is bigger than some countries would whet the appetite of any serious politician. Local Enterprise Partnership chairman Andy Street has been mentioned to me more than once as a possible runner, and what about the ubiquitous Ed James, who would certainly be more likely to attract the younger voters support.

Leeds and Yorkshire is home to more victims than most as far as Labour’s recent collective nervous breakdown is concerned. Ed Balls lost his parliamentary seat even before the Corbyn bandwagon was an issue, whilst his very able partner Yvette Cooper lost out on the top party job. Could they see the Leeds metro mayor position as a way back into meaningful public office? Young talent, Leeds MP and former shadow treasury minister Rachael Reeves could be another who is considering her options, whilst on the Tory side, would such a high profile, high powered job tempt Yorkshire’s biggest political brain William Hague back into the fray?

Lancashire is still a bit off the pace as far as the devolution agenda is concerned, but as the leaders lunch with Sir Howard Bernstein hosted by Downtown Lancashire last week demonstrated, there was certainly support for the county to get its act together, form a Combined Authority and begin to punch its weight as far as business leaders in the room were concerned. Among those present LEP chairman Edwin Booth, Marketing Lancashire chief executive Ruth Connor, Enterprise Ventures boss Jonathan Diggines, Lancaster entrepreneur Trevor Hemmings and Lancashire County Council Deputy Leader David Burrow.

One thing is for sure, the creation of powerful city region leaders is about to reinvigorate interest in local government – at least among politicians who see a much more rewarding and influential future running their local regions than in sitting on the backbenchers in Westminster watching Jeremy ask Dave his six ‘people’s questions’ every week.

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.

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?

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.

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.