Hancock’s Half Page

SIX MORE YEARS OF TRUMP?

STILL A BIG CHALLENGE FOR THE DEMOCRATS

50 years ago, Richard Nixon was elected President of the United States. He went down in disgrace because of the Watergate scandal. Until Donald Trump burst on to the scene, Nixon was generally regarded as the President who’d most debased the office in modern times.

Nixon was flawed by his awkward manner and paranoia, seeing enemies around every corner. But his weaknesses seem small compared to Donald Trump. In his midterm campaign, Trump ignored the good news he had to tell on the economy in favour of a racist message to get out his base vote. So toxic did it become that even Fox News refused to run one of the Republican ads. In his demeanour, attacks on the media and institutions Trump increasingly reminds me of the pouting former leader of Italy, Benito Mussolini. Trump is not a fascist, but he threatens the fabric of America. Words have consequences, especially amongst the unstable.

May I also share another nagging thought with you. Whilst in no way questioning the desperation of the people on the Central American refugee “caravan”, the timing was so convenient for Trump. Could it be that these poor people have been manipulated by shadowy figures to begin their march at this time?

This vile campaign turned off voters in the American suburbs and lost him the House of Representatives. But Trump increased the Republican majority in the Senate by getting out his base vote in the more rural areas.

Bill Clinton and Barack Obama lost the House in their first terms and went on to be re-elected. This could well happen to Donald Trump. Democrat morale will be boosted by winning the House, but if they only use their majority to block the President’s measures, spend ages investigating his taxes and links with Russia or even, very foolishly, contemplate impeachment, voters will conclude they are only interested in beltway politics and not their concerns.

Added to that there is a huge debate going on within the Democratic Party about how to deal with Trump. Should they abandon their centre left posture and the acceptance of big corporate funding in favour of the socialist platform advocated by Bernie Sanders? And who is going to be the candidate? It is true that winning candidates for President can emerge from nowhere, but obvious Democratic contenders seem particularly thin on the ground at the moment. Could it be the ageing socialist Bernie Sanders, the reassuring former Vice President Joe Biden, or the narrowly defeated Texas Senate contender Beto O’Rourke?

One feels Michelle Obama or Oprah Winfrey would give Trump a run for his money, but they have ruled themselves out so far.

Many people who despise Trump’s crudeness nevertheless voted for him because of the economy. If that tanked the Democrats might have a chance. They have the big issue of health care which, polls show, mattered more to voters than immigration.

THE WAR THAT DIDN’T END IN 1918.

I love my history and my mind keeps going back to the momentous events exactly a hundred years ago. The collapse of the German, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires, the consequences of which we are still living with today.

We will rightly celebrate the guns falling silent on the Western Front after all that dreadful suffering. However, it wasn’t the end of the war for many. Conflicts involving Poles, White and Red Russians, Greeks and Turks went on until 1924. Indeed, conflicts arising from the Versailles peace settlement in places like the Balkans, Iraq and Syria are still not resolved.

Lest we forget indeed.

Follow me @Jim HancockUK.

BURNHAM FUELS LABOUR BUDGET ROW.

 

TOPSY TURVY.

 

The budget has plunged Labour into a topsy turvy row over the Chancellor’s income tax cuts.

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham is generally seen as a Labour moderate. He says he is at a loss to understand why Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, a self-confessed Marxist, is supporting income tax cuts for the rich. McDonnell argues that, whilst the rich gain most, the move will help low income people too. The tax-free personal allowance is being raised to £12,500.

There is no doubt that Philip Hammond has presented Labour with a challenging budget where a commitment to balance the books by 2025 has been abandoned to fund increased spending, principally on the NHS. Unexpectedly high tax revenues have allowed Hammond to shake off his image as “spreadsheet Phil” in favour of the largest fiscal loosening since 2010.

He has clearly been driven to this move by the Prime Minister’s declaration that austerity was over. Privately he probably wanted to keep a bigger war chest than the £15bn he has set aside for a no deal Brexit and heed the warning of his predecessor George Osborne. On Tuesday the former Chancellor warned that trying to outspend Jeremy Corbyn would not help the Conservatives.

So, we carry on spending £50bn a year servicing the National Debt that currently stands at £1.8 trillion.

The decision to relax spending restrictions has meant the government has been able to tackle some of the many problems that years of austerity have created. A hefty amount of cash has been thrown at Universal Credit. UC could be the undoing of the Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey. The Tatton MP has made herself unpopular with the Chancellor with her demands for cash and Hammond notably praised her predecessor Iain Duncan Smith, not her, during his budget speech.

There was cash to ease the High Street crisis with business rate cuts for properties with rateable values under £51,000. Small businesses saw a cut in the apprenticeship levy.

The maze of organisations supporting regeneration continues to grow. Business led development corporations are on their way to join university enterprise zones, Local Enterprise Partnerships and Business Improvement Districts. Oh! for the regional development agencies. Simples!

There was more money for Northern Powerhouse Rail, £10m for a skills project in Manchester and cash for medicine research at Alderley Park.

Hammond was clearly irritated that many of his measures had been leaked in advance and there is speculation this could be his last Budget. I think that would be a shame as he is a steady hand on the tiller. His sin has been to warn about the damaging consequences of Brexit.

CHANNEL 4 DECISION GOOD FOR NORTH.

I welcome the decision of Channel 4 to relocate its headquarters to Leeds. Investment must be made across the North if the Powerhouse is to be fair to all. The eastern side of the Pennines needs a media jobs boost. Just a word of caution though, let’s see if the decision-making moves to Leeds or stays at Horseferry Road in London where the majority of Channel 4 jobs will still be based.

ECONOMY BOOST FOR TRUMP.

I expect the awful Donald Trump to hold the Senate and perhaps even cling on to the House of Representatives in next week’s midterm elections. The economy is booming and for many voters that will matter more than the many failings of this obnoxious man. The Democrats are relying on a big turnout of angered women but lack the vision and leadership to give confidence that they are on course to win the presidency in two years’ time.

Follow me @JimHancockUK

 

AN “AUSTERITY OVER” BUDGET?

 

PM BATTLES ON

As I have forecast for months, Theresa May has seen off the noose wielding Brexiteers with their empty threats. They are given too much credibility by political journalists who should know better. I remain of the view that the Prime Minister will present an EU deal to parliament which will get through with the support of some Labour MPs and the opposition of far less Tory Brexiteers than some commentators suggest.

THANKS A LOT THERESA.

So, let’s concentrate on Monday’s budget which is overshadowed by Mrs May’s claim that austerity is over. That’s probably not the view of the Chancellor who is correctly wary about the economic damage we are about to inflict on ourselves over Brexit. He is also aware that the roll out of Universal Credit is not giving a lot of people the impression that “austerity is over”. £7bn of George Osborne’s working-age benefit cuts are still to come. Will Philip Hammond do anything about that or the other government department cuts that are still due to kick in for the next three years?

The NHS is to get £20bn by 2024 but what about the police crisis? Criminals are getting the message that the diminished police force is being overwhelmed by criminality. You will get a crime number but what are the chances of the offender being caught these days?

The Chancellor has been cut some slack by a better than expected cut in the deficit and strong tax receipts. Nevertheless, Mr Hammond has hinted that taxes will need to go up to ease the pressure on public services. But I didn’t realise that after eight years of Tory, or Tory dominated governments, tax levels are close to a post war high.

As an alternative he could let the deficit drift up again. However, is already 80% of national income and would be badly placed to deal with a post Brexit recession.

HIGH STREET CRISIS.

One thing Hammond must tackle is the crisis in our high streets. Crippling business rates combined with on-line shopping are seeing shops closing in city centres and suburban retail strands.

Foreign tech firms like Amazon should be properly taxed on their actual retail turnover in the UK. That revenue will help a cut in business rates. There also needs to be a reform of the whole system so that business rates are reviewed annually and linking them to local economic success by removing the revenue cap.

SLEIGHT OF HAND OVER EURO FUNDS?

One of the many disadvantages of leaving the EU will be the loss of European Structural and Investment Funds. Instead of going straight from Brussels to the places in need, they will come from a UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF). That will be administered from Whitehall where the priorities of the regions are not well understood.

The Chancellor should use the Budget to tell us how much money there is going to be in the UKSPF and the criteria for its distribution to the North in particular.

We really do need to watch Whitehall on this. Otherwise the temptation might be for the Treasury to swallow these well directed funds into the black hole of general spending.

Follow me @JimHancockUK

LIVERPOOL BUSINESS FESTIVAL FUTURE UNCERTAIN.

 

SLIPPING THROUGH OUR FINGERS.

Are politicians and the business community going to back another International Festival of Business in Liverpool in 2020?

There are worrying rumours that carping over costs, lack of vision and parochialism could see this event move to Manchester or Birmingham who are likely to be only too happy to snap it up.

To begin with let’s remind ourselves that this summer over 9 days, 200 speakers addressed representatives from 102 countries at the city’s exhibition centre in Liverpool. It was the third time the city had hosted this event since 2014. On each occasion it has provided a forum for international companies to network and meet investors, suppliers and partners. Thousands of business people have attended everything from big events with keynote speakers to practical workshops where deals get done.

This year for instance the Duke of Cambridge was a prestige visitor to the gathering that also brought together all the elected mayors in England for the first time.

The Merseyside economy benefitted, and delegates from the business community in the UK and round the world experienced a warm welcome in a spectacular city.

The festival is now under evaluation, and rightly so, as with any project supported with public money. Legitimate questions have been raised about whether the festival goes on too long and whether the publicity was good enough. However even before the reports are published there are ominous signs that there may not be a festival in 2020. Some are questioning the cost, but also a parochial attitude that has dogged Merseyside in the past is rearing its head. There are accusations that the gathering did nothing for other council areas in the Liverpool City Region with demands that festival events be held outside the city if there is to be a future festival.

Finally, there is the attitude of business institutions in Liverpool (Downtown very much excepted). I understand that there is dismay amongst festival organisers at the lack of backing they have received over the years.

Downtown is in no doubt where it stands. The Combined Authority, Local Enterprise Partnership and City Region Mayor would be mad to allow this festival to be snapped up by another rival city.

Follow me @JimHancockUK