NO PARDON FOR SUFFRAGETTES

 

 

PARDONS.

This week’s commemoration of thirty-year-old women getting the vote in 1918 was marred for me by the suggestion that the women who resorted to arson and criminal damage should be retrospectively pardoned.

This is like Britain apologising for various historic crimes like slavery and changing the names of buildings named after slave owners etc.

History is history and cannot be changed. We cannot make ourselves feel better about our imperial past by apologising now. What we can do is conduct ourselves properly now.

The violent behaviour of the suffragette women was condemned at the time and certainly would be condemned by politicians today. Just because the arson and damage occurred a hundred years ago, doesn’t justify it. Nor did it achieve its objective. Indeed, one could argue that the suspension of violence during the First World War made it easier for opponents to admit defeat to this highly just cause.

POLITICAL EFFECT.

Can we trace the dramatic decline of the Liberal Party to their leader Herbert Asquith’s opposition to women getting the vote? The first election after women were allowed to vote saw a huge majority for the coalition led by the Liberal David Lloyd George. However, the three elections in the early 1920’s saw the great switch between Labour and the Liberals.

We should not overlook the fact that millions of working class men were also enfranchised which will have helped Labour.

TOP NORTH WEST WOMEN MPS.

This important anniversary had me thinking about some of the remarkable women MPs I have reported on over the years.

Way ahead at the top of my list is Barbara Castle, the Labour MP for Blackburn for thirty years after the Second World War. She showed how effective a woman MP could be. As Minister for Transport she introduced two of the most significant features affecting everyone who drives; seat belts and the breath test. She was subject to huge amounts of abuse from “one for the road” motorists or people arguing that wearing a belt was an infringement of their liberty. More abuse followed when as Secretary for Employment she tried to bring an end to wild cat strikes with her plan “In Place of Strife”. Then in the mid seventies when Labour returned to office she introduced a major improvement in pensions with the State Earnings Related Pensions Scheme.

From local government on the Labour side I would choose Louise Ellman. As leader of Lancashire Council in the 1980’s she saw a role for local government in the regeneration of areas. Lancashire Enterprises was a ground-breaking concept at the time with people claiming it wasn’t a council’s role. Now it is commonplace.

On the Conservative side I look to the Wirral. Lynda Chalker was the MP for Wallasey for many years and served in many ministerial departments. Of more recent vintage we have Esther McVey who was a Wirral MP but now sits in the Cabinet representing Tatton. I would also give a mention to Christine Hamilton who should have been an MP but did a brave job defending her husband Neil during the cash for questions drama.

As for the Lib Dems, Shirley Williams tops my list. Although only briefly MP for Crosby, she was one of the Prime Minister’s we should have had with her articulate support for the middle ground of politics.

So, let’s salute 100 years of women getting the vote without trendy gestures that muddle and confuse the issue.

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THIS SEVERED, NOT SCEPTERED,ISLE

 

MAY FIGHTING ON MULTIPLE FRONTS.

 

“Hung be the heavens with black, yield day to night. Comets importing change of times and states brandish your crystal tresses in the sky” Henry VI Part I.

It seems an appropriate quote for the week when most opposition MPs stood by whilst the government gained parliamentary authority for a hard Brexit from the EU. It was the week when Nicola Sturgeon followed the historic example of past Scottish kings who made trouble on the border when English minds were focused on the continent. It was the week when there was little progress in forming a Northern Ireland government but plenty of talk about uniting the North and South.

There is no doubt that we are in a period of great constitutional uncertainty, unleashed by last year’s EU referendum. That is not good for business in the North nor is the uncertainty caused by the about turn on National Insurance(NI) contributions. After the pasty tax debacle under George Osborne, will Chancellors never learn? A Budget is not a place to road test ideas, only to withdraw them. The near equalisation of NI was a fair proposal but it was also a breach of an election promise and against the Tory instinct to help the self-employed. It was always going to meet with massive opposition, particularly because Tory backbenchers feel they can throw their weight around because of the feeble opposition.

“NO PROBLEM WITH A REFERENDUM”.

Perhaps Nicola Sturgeon acted on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s latest careless word stream in announcing her intention to try and trigger a second referendum on Scottish independence, although I doubt it.

It is a massive gamble by the normally able leader. Was she pushed into it by SNP zealots? More likely she sees Brexit uncertainty as the last hope for an independent Scotland. The economic case against it is growing as North Sea oil runs out and the Scottish deficit rises. Trading on the vote to Remain in Scotland and the huge uncertainty of the UK Brexit negotiations, Sturgeon wants the vote before the end of the talks.

She is likely to be disappointed. The Prime Minister is unlikely to follow the practice of the Spanish government who just refuse Catalonia an independence vote, but she will likely stall for time. It is most likely a second referendum will follow the UK’s exit from the EU if it is held at all. Much will depend on the level of justifiable anger among Scottish remainers.

The further problem for the SNP is that they tend to exaggerate the level of support they have for remaining in/re-joining the EU. The Commission has made it clear it will only deal with one state, the UK, during the talks. If Scotland were to become independent it might have to join the end of the applicant queue, join the Euro and face the opposition of Spain who don’t want to set a precedent for Catalonian independence.

That is one part of our unhappy state.

SINN FEIN’S SUPPORT POST BREXIT.

The fact that Sinn Fein have nearly got parity with Unionists in the Northern Ireland Assembly following the recent elections is another consequence of the Brexit vote. A united Ireland inside the EU is an increasingly attractive proposition for some waverers. That mood will only be strengthened if a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic is the result of the UK Brexit talks. Another part of our unhappy state.

OVER THE CLIFF.

Finally, we come to the UK where England plays the major part. Ministers make optimistic noises about how it is in everyone’s interest to allow economic reality to overcome politics in the talks. That wasn’t the case in the Referendum where people’s feelings about immigration and alienation overwhelmed the strong economic case for staying in.

Our European friends feel mightily offended. Expect an early and possibly decisive clash on the divorce bill.

 

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BROKEN PROMISE,HEZZA GONE, AND BREXIT IGNORED

 

SHOOT THE MESSENGER.

Budget Day began with the news that Michael Heseltine had been sacked as a government adviser because he had voted to give the British people a meaningful vote on exiting the EU.

What a sad end for a man who has served the North, and Merseyside in particular, well. Let’s hope he continues to come to events held by the Heseltine Institute which bares his name. Last November, in a brilliant analysis, he dared to speculate that public opinion might change its mind on leaving the EU. That view has now cost him his advisory roles. The government will be the losers, but we live in an age when people don’t want to hear from experts.

WHAT! NO BREXIT?

While Hezza was sacked for his views on Brexit, the issue hardly got a mention from Spreadsheet Phil (The Chancellor, Philip Hammond) in the last Budget to be announced in the Spring. It was quite extraordinary that the issue that will have most impact on the British economy didn’t get a mention in the key economic statement. Nick Robinson on the Today programme likened it to a pilot asking passengers if they would like ice in their G and T as the plane was about to hit the mountain!

Why was this? Hammond was a Remainer in the EU referendum and is rightly worried about what faces the British economy in the medium term. Indeed, buried in the government documents that emerge after the Chancellor has sat down is a forecast that Brexit will damage our trade for ten years. Hammond didn’t want to antagonise his hard Brexit MPs by restating his real views. That’s because he had a nasty shock for them; he was going to break a key manifesto promise.

NATIONAL INSURANCE.

We know now that the promise not to increase Income Tax, VAT or National Insurance was made to fill a “news grid” on a slow day for announcements in the run up to the 2015 General Election.

It dramatically limits any Tory Chancellor’s room for manoeuvre in these fast-changing economic times. We will never know if George Osborne would have stuck to it but the increase of 2% in NI contributions for self-employed people has set off a firestorm on the Tory backbenches.

I actually agree with the measure to balance up the position of employed and self-employed workers but the refusal of the Chancellor to acknowledge that he has broken a manifesto pledge is pathetic.

THE BUDGET AND SMALL BUSINESS IN NORTH.

The year’s delay in quarterly tax reporting will be welcomed by small businesses wrestling with the costly change and, contrary to southern media based reporting, many northern businesses will benefit from the review. It was a shame Mr Hammond wasted £435m on measures to cushion the impact on businesses who’ve benefitted from the booming southern economy.

CONCLUSION.

Despite better than expected short term public finance figures, two elephants remain in the Chancellor’s room. They are Brexit and the National Debt. The fact that we are paying £50bn a year in interest is sobering. That is an HS2 every year.

The row over the NI increase will further dampen any talk of a snap election however tempting that might be. The Chancellor’s mauling of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn during his speech was both surprising and almost cruel.

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JUST JIM 241

 

BROKEN PROMISE AND BREXIT IGNORED.

SHOOT THE MESSANGER.

Budget Day began with the news that Michael Heseltine had been sacked as a government adviser because he had voted to give the British people a meaningful vote on exiting the EU.

What a sad end for a man who has served the North, and Merseyside in particular, well. Let’s hope he continues to come to events held by the Heseltine Institute which bares his name. Last November, in a brilliant analysis, he dared to speculate that public opinion might change its mind on leaving the EU. That view has now cost him his advisory roles. The government will be the losers, but we live in an age when people don’t want to hear from experts.

WHAT! NO BREXIT?

While Hezza was sacked for his views on Brexit, the issue hardly got a mention from Spreadsheet Phil (The Chancellor, Philip Hammond) in the last Budget to be announced in the Spring. It was quite extraordinary that the issue that will have most impact on the British economy didn’t get a mention in the key economic statement. Nick Robinson on the Today programme likened it to a pilot asking passengers if they would like ice in their G and T as the plane was about to hit the mountain!

Why was this? Hammond was a Remainer in the EU referendum and is rightly worried about what faces the British economy in the medium term. Indeed, buried in the government documents that emerge after the Chancellor has sat down is a forecast that Brexit will damage our trade for ten years. Hammond didn’t want to antagonise his hard Brexit MPs by restating his real views. That’s because he had a nasty shock for them; he was going to break a key manifesto promise.

NATIONAL INSURANCE.

We know now that the promise not to increase Income Tax, VAT or National Insurance was made to fill a “news grid” on a slow day for announcements in the run up to the 2015 General Election.

It dramatically limits any Tory Chancellor’s room for manoeuvre in these fast-changing economic times. We will never know if George Osborne would have stuck to it but the increase of 2% in NI contributions for self-employed people has set off a firestorm on the Tory backbenches.

I actually agree with the measure to balance up the position of employed and self-employed workers but the refusal of the Chancellor to acknowledge that he has broken a manifesto pledge is pathetic.

THE BUDGET AND SMALL BUSINESS IN NORTH.

The year’s delay in quarterly tax reporting will be welcomed by small businesses wrestling with the costly change and, contrary to southern media based reporting, many northern businesses will benefit from the review. It was a shame Mr Hammond wasted £435m on measures to cushion the impact on businesses who’ve benefitted from the booming southern economy.

CONCLUSION.

Despite better than expected short term public finance figures, two elephants remain in the Chancellor’s room. They are Brexit and the National Debt. The fact that we are paying £50bn a year in interest is sobering. That is an HS2 every year.

The row over the NI increase will further dampen any talk of a snap election however tempting that might be. The Chancellor’s mauling of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn during his speech was both surprising and almost cruel.

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CHESTER BUSINESS CLUB SPEECH ON UK AND EU

CHESTER BIZ CLUB.BREXIT AND BEYOND.

 

 

 

 

On Sunday Len Deighton book SS GB comes to our TV screens. The premise is that we lost the war in 1940 and were occupied by the Nazis.

But we weren’t. Most of Europe has experienced Nazi or Soviet occupation and in the post war years Greece,Spain and Portugal were under military or neo fascist governments.

For them the EU is a political project,a badge of democratic honour, a resolve never to tear the continent apart again. The single market,Euro and freedom of movement are important but fundamentally it is their experience of the past that drives the project forward.

We have not experienced direct conquest for 1000 years. We don’t need to cleanse ourselves from the experience of occupation.Indeed our narrow escape in 1940 left us with a proud self confidence in our own identity that when others buckled we stood strong.

But fighting WW2 weakened us, we lost an empire and by the sixties we were looking for a role. As our economy weakened, the emerging Common Market was bringing prosperity to the war ravaged economies of Europe. Europe was an attractive proposition for our economy but nothing more. No need for it to remove the shame of the past, no need for the vision thing of an ever closer union, no need to get involved in the Euro or Shengen and by the way we want our rebate.

 

At its heart that has been the problem with our tortuous relationship with Europe that I have seen played out during my 40 years in journalism when I have met many of the players in the drama. I want to tell that story and weave in some of my anecdotes as we go along.

 

I didn’t start in journalism until 1974 and much had happened already in the story of the UK and Europe.

In 1946, with Europe still in ruins Winston Churchill spoke of a United States of Europe SPONSORED by the UK. Much controversy about whether he saw us in it.I read it this week to prepare for this speech and it is clear to me that he did not.

And that posture of  the UK standing on the sidelines prevailed as Germany and France first formed the coal and steel community and then the Common Market. The Treaty of Rome celebrates its 60th anniversary next month.

It is difficult now when Europe is never out of the news to think of Britain’s total indifference to the development of the Common Market in the 1950s.We had recovered from the war,indeed we were told we had never had it so good at the 1959 election won by Harold Macmillan.

But the dawn of the new decade brought a change of heart and a belief that we should be in.However events of WW2 still cast a shadow in the shape of President De Gaulle. In 1963 and 1967 he vetoed our application perhaps because of tensions with Churchill when De Gaulle elected himself as leader of the Free French or because he saw that in our hearts we looked to the open sea rather than Europe.

So we come to the 1970 General Election,a highly significant date in our story because it was this vote by the British people that saw us enter the European Community. The Conservatives were elected on this manifesto pledge

QUOTE.

The issue immediately split the parties, then as now. One of the leading Tories opposed to us joining the Common Market was a man called Enoch Powell.He was one of the most formidable politicians I encountered with his piercing eyes and formidable intellect. He offered some interesting advice on how to make a good speech. Do it on a full bladder. It would be too much detail for you to know if I have taken that advice today. Powell failed to block the bill as there were enough Conservatives and pro European Labour MPs to put the European Communities Act on the statute book and we joined in January 1973.

However within 15 months the architect of our entry Ted Heath was out of office and Britain was immediately faced with a referendum called by the Labour leader Harold Wilson. Why did he call a referendum? Because of a passionate desire to consult the people. No but because of internal party divsions. 1975 and 2016 no difference. Wilson and Cameron abandoning representative democracy for plebiscites.

In 1975 our membership was confirmed (DIMBLEBY) with the new leader of the Tory Party, I forget her name now, enthusiastically campaigning to remain with a jumper with the flags of Europe all over it.

Labour was the party opposed to Europe at this time,campaigning for withdrawal in 1983 under the influence of Tony Benn. He was one of the most formidable speakers I ever heard and a real challenge to interview.He was highly suspicious of the press.Indeed his paranoia could be compared to Donald Trump. He had some great lines. He said there were two kinds of politicians, weathercocks and signposts. Weathercock politicians turn this way and that, doing what’s popular at the time or what the whips tell them to do.The signpost politicians were ones who had a clear vision and stuck to it.

It was in the mid eightees that the 2 main parties began their major shifts. Labour slowly came to back the social and workers benefits of the EU. Mrs Thatcher, whilst approving the single European Act made herself unpopular by demanding a British rebate. This was followed by the arrival of Jacques Delors as President of the European Commission and his project of a federal Europe and single currency.

Up Your Delors said the Sun and Mrs Thatcher echoed the same sentiments in less colourful language in a famous speech in Bruges.

Margaret Thatcher was the dominant figure in the first part of my broadcasting career and whenever I interviewed her you could tell that she enjoyed the cut and thrust of the interview. Once when she was privatising the water industry I asserted that the new companies would be purely motivated by profits.She pointed her finger encased in a black glove at me and said “Profits Profits.Aren’t Granada Television interested in making profits. Her press officer apologised saying she had had a stressful day.I assured him that it was fine because I had got a great revealing quote.

In October 1990 Mrs Thatcher told the Commons she rejected Mr Delours plan for the future of Europe with the European Parliament as the democratic body,the Commission as the executive and the council of ministers as the senate. No,no no she said. But it was the answer to those who say the EU is undemocratic.

Within a month she was out leaving John Major in charge. It was a shock when he won the 1992 election after he turned round a failing campaign by bringing out his soap box in this very city and challenging an overconfident Neil Kinnock who had been telling his supporters “we’re alright we’re alright”. Almost immediately Major was engaged in  a titanic battle with his Euro sceptic rebels over the Maastrict Treaty which involved large transfers of power to the EU. The struggle nearly destroyed the Tory Party heralding 13 years of Labour ascendancy where calls for a referendum were fended off while eastern Europe freed from the Soviet Union joined. Blair was oblivious to the immigration time bomb that it created.But he shares some responsibility for the Leave vote which this very day he is seeking to reverse. Towards the end of his premiership I met him in his 2005 General Election campaign bus.When my interview was over I quoted Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar “if we meet again we’ll smile,if not this parting was well made”. Look what happened to him snapped the Prime Minister no doubt with Brutus Brown in mind.

After Brown was defeated no referendum followed for a further 5 years because of the Lib Dem presence in the Coalition government.

But pressure was growing for a vote on our European membership.In 1973 the European project was the bright alternative to a failing British economy.By 2015 the EU was associated with a failing Euro Zone, uncontrolled migration and a centralised inflexibility under the leadership of Jean Claude Juncker. Britain’s economy was doing relatively well and was a huge magnet for people from Eastern.UKIP had won the 2014 European elections a charismatic leader who aided by an increasingly Eurosceptic Tory Party spooked Cameron into promising an in/out referendum if he won with an outright majority. He didn’t expect to have to redeem his promise but as I forecast as soon as the promise was made the EU would’nt give him enough consessions, fed up with our half in half out approach down the years The referendum became a lightening rod for millions of peoples grievances where they could vote FREE of party loyalty.

 

The Remain campaign lacked the courage to put the positive case for Europe with joy and enthusiasm concentrating instead on excessive doommongering. This contrasted with a very effective “take back control” message from the leavers. Added to this was years of hostile   coverage in much of the press and we voted Leave.

Despite a narrow result hard line Brexiteers are in charge with Remainers in total disarray over how to get the small majority to respect the wishes of the 48% who wanted to remain. This is partly because the economy did not suffer a meltdown in the immediate months after the vote

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT.

It is important to realise that when we trigger Article 50 we have to leave the EU. I can’t see how the Lib Dem idea of a second referendum can happen, despite the merits of giving people a vote over the terms.

I have a feeling that Mrs May and the hard line Brexiteers are at their zenith now.  The Lords may huff and puff but will  trigger Article 50. Then the tough negotiations will begin against a potentially darkening economic position. We are currently fuelling growth by credit with personal debt on the rise

Brexit has devalued the pound and the price consequences of that are starting to feed through. The former Business Secretary Vince Cable warned the other day that business decisions are stalling and concerns about the future in key industries like cars, aerospace and pharaceuticals are growing. The future of the Vauxhall plant at Ellesmere Port will be an early test of whether not being in the Single Market matters. It surely can’t help with pressure from the German and French governments to consolidate car production on the continent.There are fears that migration controls could cause skill shortages and wage inflation just at a time when we want to launch a major programme of infrastructure building.

 

But we must acknowledge there is an alternative vision.Britain thrived on global partnerships before and may be able to do so again

Brexit will mean that we can intervene to protect our industries if the UK government is minded to do so.We certainly won’t be able to blame Europe anymore. We may be able to prevent hostile foreign takeovers like the one from Pfizer that nearly succeeded with Astrazeneca.

We will be free to alter things like the working time directive and environmental controls.But they have been put in place for good reason and we will see how much appetite there is amongst the British people to scrap them.

If it goes wrong my worry is that those areas that voted to Leave bear the brunt of our departure whilst the Remain voting London carries on unscathed.

We need to remember we are entering divorce proceedings.It is important to look at it from the 27s point of view.Remember what I said at the beginning.For them it is a much bigger project than a trade deal. We have destabalised a 5 year budget and encouraged forces in France and the Netherlands who want to undermine the EU.

They could present us with a bill of 40-50 billion withdrawal bill. We will almost certainly have to pay something for the deal we agree on.

The deal has to be negotiated with 27 members and some regions (remember Wallonia and the Canadian Treaty) with at least 20 approving. Then it comes back to Westminster where MPs will have the choice of approving it or exiting with no deal and world trade organisation terms.

Finally it goes to the European Parliament who will be determined that the deal is worse than that enjoyed by continuing members of the EU. How could it be otherwise? Members inside the Chester Business Club enjoy the benefits of membership not available outside.

The 2016 referendum was in a true sense historic.

We are apparently more comfortable ploughing our own furrow on the global stage aware of our proud history of independence. The vision of full partnership with a more European future that flared briefly in the 1970’s has faded. Let’s hope we made the right choice.