A TERRIBLE YEAR FOR THE CENTRE LEFT

 

THE CENTRE FALLS APART.

Let us hope 2016 represents the darkest hour for the centre left in Britain, Europe and the world. It is not just the defeats suffered by people like Hillary Clinton and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and the victories of Donald Trump and re-election of Jeremy Corbyn. It is the inability of the centre left to have any convincing answers to the problems of globalisation, terrorism and immigration. Because of this, Leave won in Britain, Putin was strengthened in Russia and President Obama became impotent in the Middle East.

2016 has seen a weakening of belief in organisations that have become part of the post 1945 architecture particularly the European Union, NATO and free trade. Comparisons have been made with the 1930s. They are exaggerated because we do not, yet, have large overtly fascist parties backed by tacit or overt military support that prevailed in that troubled decade. What we do have is a growing populist movement headed by politicians from right field offering to sweep away the old parties with their jaded remedies. The populist right offers simple solutions to complex issues to voters disillusioned by politicians who have failed to deliver for all. The other valid comparison with the thirties is even more worrying. These populist politicians have people to blame, usually immigrants. This has led to increases in racial abuse and worse.

The demand for instant solutions is made worse by social media with its opportunities for “echo chamber” fervour and vile abuse. There is a weakening support for democracy. The warning signs of how quickly things can disintegrate came with the razor wire fences erected in the Balkans against immigrants and refugees.

Our own EU Referendum showed how foolish David Cameron was to put a highly complex issue to a binary vote. His departure is one of the best things to happen this year. As the Brexit crisis drags on he will be increasingly be seen as one of the worst Prime Ministers in our history.

The centre left needs to assert the value of international and domestic cooperation, express enthusiasm for the European ideal, point out that we are in a global world whilst developing policies on immigration, a tough approach to tax havens and bank control.

SHADOW OVER THE NORTHERN POWERHOUSE.

The year has seen major figures at the heart of this important project leave, or prepare to leave, the stage. The Chancellor George Osborne paid the price for calling the EU Referendum, although he has formed the Northern Powerhouse Partnership think tank. That’s not to be confused with the Northern Powerhouse Partnership set up by Andrew Percy, the Minister in charge of devolution to the North.

There was a period of uncertainty about the government’s commitment to the Northern Powerhouse which saw the sad loss of Lord Jim O’Neill of Gatley who’d been a strong advocate of more power for the cities. We are also now in the final months of Sir Howard Bernstein as Chief Executive of Manchester Council who has helped shape the major devolution deal in his city and in wider areas.

With government uncertainty and local tensions a complex patchwork of devolution has developed during 2016 across the North. Greater Manchester has most powers with the Liverpool City Region resolving some of its internal difficulties to gain a reasonable devolution package for the incoming city region mayor.. Leeds has not resolved its issues with surrounding districts. HS2 was confirmed but despite the growing importance of the organisation Transport For the North, the Secretary of State, Chris Grayling, is saying he’s waiting to hear about the plans we have for improving East West connections over the Pennines. They’ve been around for years!

People need to see practical benefits from all this and want a say in what has been a behind closed doors exercise. The centrifugal forces of London are always there.

Despite everything I hope you have as merry a Christmas as possible.

Follow me at www.jimhancock.co.uk

POWERHOUSE SAVED BY TORY CONFERENCE

 

OFF THE RAILS.

After the shameful “pause” in electrifying the Leeds-Manchester rail link, we now have the shamefaced about turn.

In June when the “pause” was announced, I described it as one of the most disgraceful decisions ever made because it undermined the Northern Powerhouse based on connectivity, it undermined companies’ procurement plans and finally politicians must have known before the election about the crisis in Network Rail that caused the decision to be taken.

Be in no doubt that the decision to reinstate the electrification is directly related to the fact that the Conservatives are in Manchester this weekend for their annual conference. The Chancellor George Osborne will want Ministers to make frequent references to the Northern Powerhouse. He didn’t want critics asking how meaningful the concept could be without better rail links between the two principal cities of the Powerhouse.

Two independent enquiries had been set up after the “pause” was announced. The hapless Transport Secretary Patrick McLaughlin told us no decisions would be taken until they reported. But George Osborne, who I understand wasn’t fully in the loop on the “pause” decision, can’t wait for the enquiries and has ordered the go-ahead to be given.

All this faffing around comes at a price. It has delayed the project by three years so passengers can carry on standing until 2022.

DEVO DEALS.

I understand the Tory conference may also be used for announcements about devolution deals for Sheffield and the North East where agreement has been reached on elected mayors. The latter will be small consolation to the steel workers of Redcar.

JEREMY’S FINGER ON THE BUTTON.

At least the Tories are in power, Labour look a long way from it. That’s my conclusion after spending some sun drenched days in Brighton. The moon turned red but I fear that was more a sign of the Gods’ displeasure than a happy omen for socialism.

Much of the press coverage of the new Labour leader is over the top. Jeremy Corbyn has revitalised his party, he has caught the mood of public disillusionment with speak your weight politicians and some of his policies (housing and rail) have considerable merit.

But the Trident row has immediately highlighted the inherent instability of his leadership. In all honesty who really thought Prime Minister Corbyn would authorise the use of nuclear weapons? But by definitively saying he wouldn’t he has fatally undermined his chances of victory in 2020.

Most of the Shadow Cabinet criticised him as did the big unions whose members are employed in the nuclear industry. But most seriously Corbyn says repeatedly he wants the party to be more democratic. They voted, against his wishes, not to discuss changing the multilateral disarmament policy at the conference. Instead a defence review is under way when the issue of Britain, under a Labour government, becoming unilateralist would be discussed.

But what is the point of Maria Eagle, the Shadow Defence Secretary and Garston MP beavering away on her review when the would be Prime Minister has already told our potential adversaries that he will blink first?

Perhaps the truth is that Jeremy Corbyn is determined to shake up the Labour Party, give it back its socialist principles and then hand over to someone more electable in a few years time.

 

DON’T MENTION THE NORTHERN POWERHOUSE IN BUDGET GEORGE.

 

RAIL BETRAYAL.

I have rarely been so angered as I was on hearing the government had pulled the rug on major rail plans including the electrification of the Leeds- Manchester line.

It’s difficult to know where to start with this act of betrayal, almost deceit, being perpetrated on the people of the North. So here is a brief list of the things that were wrong with the announcement of the Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin.

Number one, the fundamental principle of the Northern Powerhouse is connectivity, bringing closer together the great cities of Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Hull and Newcastle. This “pause” which is a Whitehall weasel word for cancel, drives a coach and horses through the whole proposition.

Number two, for decades businesses dependent on government contracts have complained about the stop start approach of Ministers. The reason why our infrastructure is so poor is that successive governments have kept turning the investment tap on and off, making long term planning impossible.

Number three, for a year in the run up to the General Election Tory politicians were promising more and more spending on our rail connections. They must have known at least some of the truth. No wonder people are utterly cynical about politicians’ promises.

Number four, the chairman of Network Rail is made the scapegoat when the Transport Secretary should have gone too.

And finally will Crossrail 2 in London be affected by this plan? I don’t expect so. In which case the huge disparity between transport spend in the capital and the North will widen still further.

The only answer is to to devolve most of the transport budget to a Northern devolved government where we can make decisions for ourselves.

So George Osborne, don’t dare to tell us how much you support the Northern Powerhouse when you announce your budget on Wednesday because few will believe you.

BUDGET PREVIEW.

In his first budget this year George Osborne had Lib Dem Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander reminding him he was in a Coalition. Alexander has now gone back to his old job with the Highland Tourist Board for all I know. Anyway Osborne is now free to show us what the first fully Tory budget since 1997 looks like.

Will he implement £12bn of welfare cuts? Will he continue to hammer local council spending? Will he pursue an ideological approach to create a smaller state? The Chancellor has planned a roller-coaster of deep cuts at the beginning of the parliament followed by spending increases on the back of a surplus at the end. Great politics but it has attracted criticism from business that wants a smoother path to aid planning.

The Chancellor will have to fulfil his extraordinary promise to enshrine in law no increases in VAT, Income Tax and National Insurance. Other election promises centre around a rise in the threshold for Inheritance Tax and more measures on tax avoidance.

A growing issue is the UK’s poor productivity. Measures to tackle that would be good…..and that rail investment for the north.

 

WARSI QUIT OVER EUROPE TOO.

 

 

TORY TURMOIL.

 

No sooner had the Tory cat (David Cameron) gone off to Portugal, than the mice began to play back home. Sayeeda Warsi’s resigned and Boris Johnson threw down his Westminster gauntlet.

 

The press has concentrated on the criticism of the Prime Minister’s stance on Gaza but Warsi’s statement also contained significant criticism of his European Union policy and this was picked up by North West Tory MEP Saj Karim.

 

Karim began life as a Lib Dem MEP and clearly retains his pro European credentials. He joined Warsi’s criticism of the government’s Gaza policy saying Israel was being given more room than any other state but then went on to refer to the “directional shift” in European policy. He told the BBC that we would miss the advice of Ken Clarke and former Attorney General Dominic Grieve and could be embarked on a path to undermine our ability to negotiate concessions from the EU.

 

Ken Clarke has been the most prominent pro European Tory member of this Cabinet and Grieve’s sacking is widely believed to have been to clear the way for a fundamental reshaping of our relationship with the European Court of Human Rights.

 

Warsi’s resignation may be quickly forgotten, particularly if the Gaza ceasefire holds. However her criticism of the sacking of pro European cabinet members may be the first sign of a real fightback by the EU positive wing of the Conservative Party who have been silenced by the Eurosceptic madness that has swept the party up to now.

 

NO LEAP FOR THE SALMON.

 

After years of being called dull and boring the former Tory Chancellor Sir Geoffrey Howe had one great speech in him and it helped to bring down the mighty Margaret Thatcher.

 

Another former Chancellor, Alistair Darling has been similarly criticised for being dull. However on Tuesday those distinctive black eyebrows were fairly bristling during his debate with the leader of the Scottish Government, Alex Salmond. Darling believes we are better together and hammered away at what an independent Scotland would do for a currency. Mr Salmond, who had a great reception in Liverpool the other week, was deflated by the onslaught. It may have been Darling’s Geoffrey Howe moment and it may have saved the Union.

 

WHERE’S WARRINGTON?

I was travelling back from London the other day and it soon became apparent that the lady in front of me had got the wrong train. Instead of getting off at Milton Keynes, I told her the first stop would be Warrington. She phoned her waiting father with the bad news and in desperate tones asked him “Where is Warrington?”

 

The question had the fearful tone that I expect Russian dissidents expressed when they were told they were heading for exile in Novosibirsk, Siberia.

 

I don’t think she had ventured out of the South East before. The episode highlighted once again for me that for people living in the London area, the North is another country. It is a mindset which has influenced government policy and led to massive underinvestment in our transport infrastructure.

 

Let’s see if that’s going to change. It has taken years to begin to repair the damage done by the coalition in dismantling regional policy but now our big cities like Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool are trying to force the Chancellor to make real his pledge to create a powerhouse of the northern cities.

 

It may help that George Osborne is the MP for Tatton and will listen to demands for £15bn spending on trans Pennine transport links. He’s called the plan “imaginative” and promises a full response in the Autumn Statement.

Let’s see if big city power can deliver.

 

Follow me at www.jimhancock.co.uk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I