MAGNIFICENT MANCHESTER

 

TONY SPEAKS FOR THE CITY.

Not for the first time a Tony speaks for Manchester. Ten years ago, it was the late Tony Wilson who could express the character of this kind, gritty city. On Tuesday it was poet Tony Walsh. His composition “This Is The Place” read out to a huge crowd in sunny Albert Square was just what was needed to try and pierce the blackness and fear caused by the abominable attack on young people at the Manchester Arena.

Terrible events bring out the best in the vast majority of us. If only, if only it wasn’t needed so often these days. But there it was for the world to see. The interviews with the young people who were at the Arena, and survived,were eloquent, thoughtful and sensitive. What a world we are handing over to them. We don’t deserve them. Then there were the Asian taxi drivers, waiving their fares to get people home and the takeaway shops throwing open their doors. That’s the answer to the so-called Islamic State’s attempt to divide us.

BACK TO THE ELECTION.

Terrorists hate democracy and therefore I agree, for once, with UKIP who were first to resume campaigning. It is a difficult matter to balance respect for the searing pain the bereaved and injured will be suffering and the need to demonstrate that we will not be prevented from our democratic business.

What effect will the terrorist attack have on the election? Casual and cynical observations that it will help the “law and order Tories” are offensive. Conservative candidates are overwhelmed with sadness in the same way as anyone else; and Mrs May has the burden of this tragedy being on her watch. There is a perception that people will swing to the right under terrorist provocation. That did not happen in France, although Marine Le Pen was a far less palatable candidate than Mrs May.

I’m sad to say that Labour could suffer from this terrible event, not because of a natural swing to the right in such circumstances, but because Jeremy Corbyn continues to be damaged by past ambiguous answers on his attitude to the IRA.

WOBBLY MAY.

Until Monday’s atrocity, Theresa May’s assertion that her strong and stable leadership was just what was wanted for those Brexit talks, was looking far less credible.

I don’t want antagonistic negotiations with 27 countries that should still be our partners in building an ever closer union. However, that ship seems to have sailed. If voters are looking for a Prime Minister who knows her mind, thinks things through and isn’t blown off course by the first whiff of trouble, why would you vote for May?

She called a General Election that she vowed not to do. She raised National Insurance contributions for self-employed workers and then back tracked. She then proposed a system whereby long term dementia sufferers could pay hundreds of thousands of pounds in home care fees before announcing a cap four days later. The EU negotiators must be rubbing their hands.

A final point, I gave some stick to Labour last week for uncosted manifesto promises. The Tory manifesto is also littered with them. The cost of cutting immigration, the £8bn for the NHS, and the cut off point for winter fuel allowances all have no price tags. Perhaps they are going to pay for it with rises in National Insurance and Income Tax!

 

 

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“MP ON THE MAKE AND ON THE TAKE”

 

 

FORTRESS WESTMINSTER.

 

I first worked at Westminster as a journalist a year after Airey Neave was blown up in New Palace Yard, the very place where brave PC Keith Palmer was stabbed to death on Wednesday. Security was tightened after that incident in 1979 and progressively since. But the gates where the terrorist gained access to the parliamentary estate remains a “weak point”. What to do about the access point where MPs rush through to vote in divisions goes to the heart of the balance between security and allowing democracy to flourish.

Cars may be banned from part of Parliament Square or a cumbersome double entry lock for cars put on the gates. That would be a big problem for the number of ministerial cars that head for Westminster when a vote is called, but we shall see.

Meanwhile we must continue to defend our democracy and defy the terrorists.

“MP ON THE MAKE AND ON THE TAKE.”

Those were the words of barrister George Carman at a libel trial involving the former Tatton MP Neil Hamilton who was accused of taking cash for asking parliamentary questions.

Twenty years on the current Tatton MP, George Osborne, is gaining the same image by his vast accumulation of extra parliamentary work.

He does not face the direct corruption charge that Hamilton failed to remove in two libel actions against Harrods’s owner Mohammed Al Fayed, but there is widespread concern that Osborne’s actions since being sacked as Chancellor are reinforcing that old charge against MPs that they are in it for themselves. Around 200,000 people have already signed a petition against five jobs Osborne.

This is a list of the extra parliamentary work that Osborne was engaged in even before he took the Evening Standard job. £771,000 from public speaking engagements, £650,000 for advising Black Rock Investments, and £120,000 from an American think tank.

He has now taken the editorship of the London Evening Standard on a reported £200,000 salary. I was surprised he hear that he applied for the job rather than being approached by the owner anxious for a marquee signing.

Some argue that the well heeled constituents of Tatton don’t have the caseload to keep the MP occupied. Not all Tatton is leafy Cheshire countryside and I thought we’d passed the time when MPs used to visit their seats once a year to receive the acclamation of the grateful voters. Besides an MP is expected to play a role on parliamentary committees at Westminster.

The Evening Standard editorship has been a step too far for many people. Apart from the fact that he has no journalistic experience, editing a paper is a full-time job. Can you imagine the workload in the Standard office this week dealing with the terrorist crisis? Supposing Osborne had been on a speaking engagement or think tank duties in America?

Of direct concern to us in the North is his Northern Powerhouse Partnership. Its purpose is to argue for a fairer share for the North. The editor of the Evening Standard will be promoting London’s case; a clear conflict of interest.

But maybe we shouldn’t be thinking of George Osborne as one of our own anymore. His Tatton seat is being abolished and maybe this is all about him heading south to park his tanks on Theresa May’s lawn. The Standard could adopt a Remainer critique of the government prior to Osborne launching a bid for Mayor of London or even the Premiership.

One North West Tory MP has told me he is convinced Osborne harbours Tory leadership ambitions. Well he’s going a funny way about it. At the moment, many Tory MPs see him as an embarrassment and as the man whose threats about an emergency budget did terrible damage to the Remain case.

2015: TORY TRIUMPH,TERROR AND REFUGEES

 

 The year has been book ended by acts of terror that reminded us that however much progress we make in computerisation, medical research or space travel, mankind’s capacity for violence is still there. The murderous Parisian attacks on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo came in January, the one on the Bataclan Theatre in November. In between the arrival of hundreds of thousands of refugees tested the European Union to its limits. Linking the terror and the refugees was the widening war in Syria. It led to a decision that the UK should bomb Daesh with as yet unknown consequences for British politics.

What we do know is that in all likelihood 2015 saw the establishment of Conservative government in Britain until 2025. The run up to the contest in may was marked by squabbles over the TV debates and a skillful March budget by George Osborne where he determined that the Tories would fight the election on their Long Term Economic Plan. It was effective in reminding voters of the recovery that had taken place already and casting doubt on their Labour opponent’s economic competence. Ed Miliband made little headway with his plans for a mansion tax and freezing energy bills. However the Tories believed until the close of poll on May 7th that they had not done enough to win a majority. They were helped over the line by the surge in support for the Scottish Nationalists. The prospect of Ed Miliband and Alex Salmond running the country drove wavering voters into the Tory camp.

General Elections are always a time when the old guard hand on to new faces so 2015 saw northern legends like Jack Straw, David Blunkett and William Hague leave the Commons along with lesser lights like Grimsby’s Austin Mitchell and Salford’s Hazel Blears. The Class of ’15 will take time to build their reputations but quick out of the blocks has been left winger Cat Smith in Lancaster and William Wragg, the new Tory MP for Hazel Grove.

The year has also seen the final passing of two of the twentieth century’s leading Chancellors, Denis Healey and Geoffrey Howe. A miserable year for the Liberal Democrats was compounded by the death of their former leader Charles Kennedy.

General Election victory led to Tory hubris in the summer with plans for new laws curbing the unions, extra surveillance powers and cuts to tax credits. On the latter measure, by the autumn the Prime Minister was reminded that although he had a majority, it was only a slim one.

The most surprising consequence of the General Election was the victory of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader, the most unlikely holder of the post since the 1920s. A combination of reckless decisions by some MPs in nominating him was followed by a surge of support motivated by years of frustration at the approach of New Labour. The Oldham by-election has entrenched Corbyn’s leadership with most of the parliamentary party in frustrated murmuring revolt.

It has been a bad year for the European Union. The long drawn out crisis over Greek debt followed by the divisions over the refugee migration may help turn Brits against the EU in such numbers that we vote to leave.

Devolution has moved on erratically across the North this year with deals being struck in Sheffield and Liverpool but Leeds and Lancashire still mired in disputes with North Yorkshire and Wyre Councils before packages can be agreed. Tony Lloyd was installed as interim elected mayor of Greater Manchester and as the year ended it looked as if Joe Anderson would head up the Liverpool City Region in succession to Phil Davies of Wirral.

But for devolution and the Northern Powerhouse to mean anything to ordinary people, it has to achieve things that matter. It looks as if transport might be the first such activity. After “pausing” the electrification of the Leeds-Manchester line in the summer, the government ended the year with substantial announcements on rail investment.

Have a peaceful Christmas.

 

INTO THE BLACK HOLE.

 

It is understandable that when our stricken ally, France, calls for our help, that the Prime Minister wants to respond. It is also understandable that when the crimes of Daesh are carried out on the streets of Paris, Beirut and elsewhere that we want to lash out.

Although understandable we should not think that our joining in the bombing of Daesh in Syria will bring peace any nearer. We would be better concentrating on stopping the financing of Daesh, stopping or countering its poisonous message on the internet. Then there is Daesh’s oil sales with rumours that Turkey is a customer. If true we cannot take seriously Ankara’s desire to be a member of the EU.

Turkey isn’t the only big power with a complex agenda in the Syrian crisis. David Cameron has failed to give an answer to these complexities and therefore cannot claim to have a long term strategy. He refers to talks in Vienna but look at the agendas countries will bring to the table. Russia is currently committed to propping up Bashar al-Assad, the leader of Syria. There is talk that President Putin will look for a more acceptable alternative. There is little sign of it. Russia wants to send out a message to the world that it supports its friends. The retention of Assad, even in the short term is totally unacceptable to the “seventy thousand” armed opponents that David Cameron thinks are going to abandon fighting Assad to fight Daesh.

This is a major flaw in Cameron’s strategy. There is no prospect of any nation or group of nations putting enough effective boots on the ground to conduct a land war and conquer Daesh’s headquarters in Raqqa. The West doesn’t want to get burned again and most of the Arab armies are understandably terrified of Daesh brutality. Most Arab countries are not even conducting air strikes. Their rivalries and interests are too complex for them to become effectively involved it seems.

So what is going to happen? I called this blog “Into The Black Hole”, because that is where we are headed I fear. We will join France and the USA in bombing Daesh targets. The terrorists will get a propaganda boost from it. Sooner or later they will commit a major atrocity on British streets and what will we do then with our “no boots on the ground” policy?

There should be a solution to such terrible wars, the United Nations. Soon after it was first set up, the Korean War was ended by UN action. It has passed a resolution calling for military action against Daesh now but there is no UN army or the sort of leadership of a group of armies that prevailed in Korea. The UN is hobbled by lack of funding and often the self interested vetos of members of the Security Council.

Syria is a lethal cocktail of violence, frustration, big power self interest and regional rivalry. I wish I could see a way out of the black hole but I can’t at the moment.