Hancock’s Half Page




David Cameron has lashed out at the Prime Minister and Michael Gove over their behaviour in the 2016 referendum. There was much that was disreputable in Johnson and Gove’s campaigning. But the fact remains that Cameron was responsible for the decision to hold the referendum. From next week the Prime Minister who ran away from the chaos he created will be flogging his memoirs in a bookshop near you.

He’ll be hoping the focus on his decision to hold a referendum will die down and he’ll be able to talk about how he made the nasty party electable, solved the economic crisis and allowed gay marriage. However, the only question he should be pressed on is this:

In the face of the rise in UKIP support in 2012 why did you take an action which has torn our country apart, risked the union, spent billions on Brexit preparations and made us a laughingstock around the world? In the face of UKIP’s rise why didn’t you have the bravery to proclaim your belief in the benefits of being in the EU and if necessary, lose the election, split your party and resurface as a progressive pro-European party for the future?

Instead in 2013 David Cameron, with his Etonian arrogance promised a simplistic choice on a highly complex question in a referendum, So sure was he of winning that he didn’t even bother to put in a qualifying threshold of, say, 60% for such a fundamental issue.

The rest is sorry history. A Tory majority in 2015 led to an awful referendum campaign. There were lies from Remainers about immediate economic disaster and even bigger ones from Leavers about 80 million Turks coming to Britain, and how easy it would be to get good trade deals with the EU and the world.

The narrowness of the vote to leave was never respected as Farage and his Tory camp followers forced successive Prime Ministers into contemplating No Deal. Now we have parliament suspended, judges insulted, and our main political parties split asunder.

Was it worth it Mr Cameron to save you from a few years in opposition?


And yet could a deal be done? The Prime Minister’s “majority” is now around minus 40 so DUP support is much less significant.

There is at least the possibility that Johnson will negotiate a Northern Ireland only backstop and accept most of the rest of Mrs May’s deal. He will hope to capitalise on the utter weariness of MPs and the public with the whole thing. The DUP ma and Tory spartans might scream but there are two factors looming up to make it possible that the deal will go through.

Stephen Kinnock can probably muster 30 Labour MPs to vote for it and Johnson can probable convince most Tory MPs to support it. This is because once Brexit is done, he can plausibly promise a good majority in the General Election. In that campaign, Johnson will ridicule Labour’s utterly incoherent position on Europe and will dilute Corbyn’s appeal on ending austerity by pointing to the Conservative promises on schools, police etc.


Richard Kemp has been a major force for Liberalism in Liverpool for decades. Along with Mike Storey, he took the party to power in the city in 1998 and was a former leader of the Lib Dems on the Local Government Association.

Now he’s standing for and deserves to win the party’s Presidency. His message may be uncomfortable reading for the party establishment assembling in Bournemouth for their conference. Richard wants to build up the Lib Dems from the grassroots. He says recent defections to the party, like Wavertree’s Luciana Berger, will only have a short-term effect “unless underpinned by a phalanx of councillors and strong community action”.





In his first few weeks Boris Johnson seemed to carry all before him. Opponents of No Deal were wrong footed by a Prime Minister promising a No Deal Brexit and promises to spend billions on police, the NHS and schools.

But in the last few days Johnson’s zealotry on No Deal has seen the expulsion from the Tory Party of two former Chancellors and Winston Churchill’s grandson, the revelation that the government’s claim to be seriously negotiating in Brussels is a sham and two humiliating defeats in the Commons.

I have been very critical of the failure of anti No Dealers and Remainers to get their act together sooner. As I write it is still not certain that the anti no deal legislation will pass the Lords. The parliamentary mayhem of the last few days is partly because they didn’t get their act together in the summer and, for instance, prevent the party conference recess.

It also led to a cock up which allowed Labour MP Stephen Kinnock’s amendment to revive Mrs May’s Brexit deal be included in the anti no deal bill.

Nevertheless, late in the day twenty one Conservatives had the courage to stand up against their own party. A party now heavily infiltrated by former UKIP members. There is much attention on ultra-left entryism into Labour, but it is more serious with the Tories. A party that once prided itself in supporting a One Nation concept, and even under Margaret Thatcher, embraced and enhanced our membership of the European Union is now the Brexit Party lite, and not that lite either.

Former Chancellor Philip Hammond’s angry interview on the Today programme reminded me of Geoffrey Howe’s deadly undermining of Margaret Thatcher in 1990. Both were mild mannered, previously loyal Chancellors; but when they decided to make a move, their last hurrahs were effective. Hammond exposed the fact that the government weren’t seriously negotiating in Brussels. He pointed to the hypocrisy of Boris Johnson, who regularly voted against Mrs May’s deal now expelling senior figures in the Conservative Party at the behest of Downing Street aide Dominic Cummings, who wasn’t even a Conservative.

Such is the level of distrust in Boris Johnson that Labour are quite right to refuse to support a General Election until there is no chance at all of us leaving without a deal. The Prime Minister could refuse to present the no deal bill to the Queen for Royal Assent. If a mid-October election date was agreed and parliament was prorogued, one could envisage Boris Johnson announcing that, on further consideration more time was needed to discuss the issues in the General Election. A date could be fixed after Oct 31 when we would have left automatically. The fury of parliamentarians would be countered with some tosh about doing anything it takes to implement the 2016 Referendum result.

These thoughts will be rapidly overtaken by events. I still fear we are going to leave the EU, but let’s retain the belated energy shown by no deal and Remainer opponents for the future re-entry campaign when the scales fall from people’s eyes.




    I mostly agree with our MD, Frank Mckenna, in his excellent blog about the PM’s “coup” yesterday.
    Remainers are bleating about having time snatched away, why did they support the business motion allowing a three-week conference recess in the summer before the House rose?
    The truth is they have had plenty of time to plan a strategy but have never been able to agree on anything. The SNP are for straight revocation of our leaving the EU. The Lib Dems want a second referendum. Some Tory rebels agree with that, some want a very soft Brexit. Labour have been hopelessly split.
    Even during August, with Johnson in Downing Street, there has been no agreement on the grand strategy. Firstly, Corbyn tried to get the government’s opponents to unite around his idea of leading an emergency government. That was never going to fly. So, on Monday they switched to the legislative approach.
    That seems to have spooked Johnson into his outrageous move to dispense with parliament for a whole month this autumn. Does this popinjay of a Prime Minister think we are all fools when he says he needs a Queen’s Speech on Oct 14th to outline his plans for the next session of parliament? He could have waited until November. Indeed, it would have been sensible to do so, as he has a multi-billion pound uncosted list of promises to fulfil. He may well have to curb his pre-election bribes when the chaos of a No Deal Brexit is let loose on us after Halloween.
    There is just a chance that the government’s disgraceful behaviour might galvanise the Remainer rabble into some coherent attempt to legislate to stop a No Deal. They will have the assistance of the Speaker. By the way I do not support Bercow’s decision to strip away any pretence of his impartiality. The Tories may no confidence him if they get a majority.
    But a stop Brexit bill stands little chance of success. Time is now very short and Tory peers could filibuster the measure.
    While Remainers are all over the place, both sections of extreme Brexit are well organised. Farage’s Brexit Party are now demanding a No Deal Brexit. The removal of the backstop is no longer good enough for them. They don’t want to pay our dues to Europe or salvage any element of Mrs May’s deal.
    The government are also in the extreme Brexit camp, still frightened by people to the right of them as Cameron and May have been since this sorry saga began in 2013.
    No respect is offered to the 48% who voted Remain. There is no acknowledgment that such a tight result required the softest Brexit or a second vote. No respect is offered to the one and a half million people who in 24 hours have called for this to be stopped.
    Remain voters have been let down by Prime Ministers May and Johnson but most of all by dithering Remain MPs in the Commons.


    In the late seventies I reported every week from Gigg Lane for Piccadilly Radio on Bury’s games. It was always a friendly club and I am so sad it has lost its football league status.
    I hope it can start again a few leagues down and come back. Look at what Fleetwood and Salford did coming up the non-league tree. Bury 2019 FC owned by its magnificent fans can surely rise again. Come on you Shakers.


Is HS2 really what the North needs? My doubts have been growing, and I welcome the government review whatever its underlying motivation.
I originally thought it a good idea, The Japanese and French have had high speed trains for decades, so should we. But that was before the total inadequacy of our local train links in the North became a nightmare last year. The Greater Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham, insists this isn’t an either or but both game, involving HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail. But is that realistic? HS2 could cost £100bn. Is there really going to be enough public money to invest in our trans Pennine and other local connections?
If the government does cut back or cancel HS2, the saved budget must be spent on northern infrastructure.
Burnham also argues that plans for Northern Powerhouse Rail partly depend on integration with HS2. I’m sure the plans can be redrawn to cope with a cancellation of the project.
Other doubts have crept into my mind. Isn’t HS2 just going to become a talent drain to London? Won’t the best be attracted to that great economic engine that will remain London?
Then there is new technology. I much prefer face to face meetings, but new technology will shortly offer all sorts of new ways of “virtual” meetings that will come naturally to the next generation of tech savvy business people. For them the idea of time consuming, expensive rail travel will seem like something out of the arc.
There is a suggestion that the scheme could be pared back so it would terminate at Birmingham. This would clearly be unacceptable to the North, although it would satisfy the Tory mayor of the West Midlands. Another option is to end the line at Crewe. Cheshire and Staffordshire local authorities and businesses have invested their hopes in developing a major hub here, but it is not central enough to the North as a whole.
This isn’t a black and white issue for me. I had the privilege of hosting forums for the rail engineering industry a few years ago. I was impressed with their plans to invest in apprenticeships for the young engineers that would be working on this project in the next two decades. Let’s hope there is plenty for them to do on the trans Pennine routes.
There is also the argument that £7bn has already been spent, including homes already being bought up in Cheshire. But I suppose you don’t throw good money after bad.
There will be a big row if it is scrapped, or even scaled down as questions are asked about our commitment to major infrastructure spending. It will also reinforce the view that politicians can never be relied upon to see through projects that stretch beyond one election cycle.
We will also be left with the West Coast stretched to capacity and requiring another disruptive upgrade in the not too distant future.
On balance I think I would cancel on condition that northern transport investment is given a huge investment. No ifs or buts, Mr Johnson, you know the phrase.