Hancock’s Half Page

THE PORK BARREL ELECTION

SPEND, SPEND, SPEND.

The spending plans of both main parties are getting ridiculous. Do they think we are fools? After years of austerity, the taps are being turned on big time. We need big investment in the NHS, elderly care, the climate agenda and the Northern Powerhouse but the spending plans lack coherence and already bear the hallmark of reckless promises being made just to win an election.

It would be better if both parties had published their manifestos where we could assess the total picture. Instead we have a promise a day. This is apparently to feed the 24-hour news agenda. If everything was announced at once in a manifesto, there would be nothing to feed the media on a daily basis. What nonsense. The media would be able to fill each day with proper analysis of the party’s plans. Instead the manifestos will hardly be out before postal voting starts.

I’m very wary of spending promises on this scale. Brace yourself if Johnson wins and inflicts a Brexit recession on the country, for that to be used as an excuse to renege on a lot of these spending plans. Attention will return to getting our debt burden down. That’s the right policy. It’s just being forgotten about now for election purposes.

YOU STAND IF YOU WANT TO.

I don’t know why the Tory press is so terrified as Johnson seems on course for victory. But the Mail is so worried about the Brexit Party, that they published the e mail addresses of the party’s candidates in a swathe of northern Leave seats urging their readers to plead with them to stand down to give Farage’s party a clear run against Labour. The Brexit Braggard has already run up the white flag in Tory seats and decided not to face the voters himself, so it’s no surprise to see him resisting further concessions.

It was deeply disappointing that Labour were not prepared to join the anti-Brexit alliance. They are likely to have plenty of time to contemplate the wisdom of this in ten more years of opposition.

But even the Lib Dems don’t escape my criticism over seat strategy. It is silly of Joe Swinson to oppose David Gauke in Hertfordshire and Rosie Duffield in Canterbury.

STOP BREXIT…SAVE THE UNION.

It is clear that the Conservative and Unionist Party is no such thing. They want to put a regulatory border down the Irish Sea and take Scotland out of the EU against its will. If we stayed in the EU, the “material change” that Nicola Sturgeon refers to justify a second Scottish referendum would disappear.

MUSK AND TUSK

Elon Musk’s decision to build his car design centre in Germany because the UK represents too much of a Brexit risk is a sign of things to come unless we believe his near namesake, the retiring President of the EU Donald Tusk. He is telling British voters there is still time to save ourselves from becoming a “second rate player”.

Remainers are stirring, we have the biggest pro-European organisations in the 28 countries of the EU. The enthusiasm for Europe, that was lacking in 2016, has been stirred but it is in danger of being overwhelmed by the appeal of the fatuous “Get It Done” slogan.

 

NORTHERN POWERHOUSE ON ELECTION WARPATH

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MURISON MAGIC.

The Tories were able to sweep away the North West Assembly, Development Agency and Government Office for the North West because they had failed to develop roots in the community. The media (with some exceptions) hardly reported their affairs and few politicians spoke up for the valuable work they did. Hence when the Environment Secretary Eric Pickles came with his wrecking ball, it wasn’t a surprise that the public didn’t care.

I’m pleased to report that Henri Murison, the director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, is made of sterner stuff. At a conference in Liverpool this week he plunged right into the General Election campaign. His speech coincided with a great initiative from papers like the Yorkshire Post, Liverpool Echo and the Manchester Evening News to hold the politician’s feet to the fire over real devolution to the North.

Murison praised the papers, who he said, were making sure that devolution would no longer be a niche subject but one that was relevant for the person struggling with the train service from Huddersfield to Manchester, or worried about kids disadvantaged simply because they lived in the North. Economic growth needed to be encouraged not blocked. He cited the long delay in giving devolved powers to Warrington/Cheshire as a case in point. A £50bn economy was waiting to be realised.

He also challenged people in the big cities to realise the value of the nuclear economy in Cumbria and attacked a right wing think tank that invented the concept of “Workington Man”. Murison called it “unhelpful”.

WILL POOR STARTS MATTER?

Both main parties have got off to a poor start, but will it matter in 6 weeks time? Its important to identify what will stick and what won’t.

I’ve got to be brutal here and mean no offence but Welsh Secretary Alan Cairns resignation, the distorting of Kier Starmer’s interview, and comparing Corbyn to Stalin, will be forgotten.

So, let’s look at what may make a difference. Jacob Rees Mogg has been indulged as an eighteenth-century eccentric for too long. His claim that the Grenfell residents lacked common sense shows that the nasty party is still alive and well.

The failure to publish the report on Russian interference in the Referendum of 2016 is scandalous. The Leave vote certainly suited Vladimir Putin. However, anything that casts doubt on that vote is not something Tories want to hear as they parrot “Get Brexit Done”.

Another scandal is ITV’s decision not to allow Jo Swinson to go head to head with Johnson and Corbyn. To have two Leavers debating and excluding the party that wants to stop the madness excluded is disgraceful.

I’ve mixed feelings about Tom Watson’s departure. He made a serious mistake giving credibility to the myth about an Establishment paedophile scandal. However, he pushed Labour towards a People’s Vote and rallied moderate Labour MPs against Corbyn’s hard left. A new leader will be urgently required when parliament reconvenes because in a hung parliament, Labour may have to bow to demands from other parties for a different |Prime Minster than Corbyn.

 

LIB DEMS WERE RIGHT TO TRIGGER ELECTION.

 

SECOND REFERENDUM FANTASY.

Some Remain Labour MPs have criticised the Lib Dems for backing a General Election. They say support for a second referendum was growing and the parliamentary impasse would eventually lead to the government backing it. I’m afraid this a fantasy. Boris Johnson has embarked on a hard Brexit project and fears that a referendum would lead to a Remain victory, albeit narrow. He would have really died in a ditch rather than agree to it.

Furthermore, the Lib Dem leader, Jo Swinson, was right to draw attention to 19 Labour MPs who, far from moving towards a second referendum, voted for Johnson’s bad deal.

Swinson is now campaigning for a majority Lib Dem government to revoke Brexit. She can do no other, but as it is not going to happen, the BBC’s Andrew Neil was right to challenge her with the following uncomfortable truth. She, and all Remainers, are relying on a Labour minority government to get Brexit stopped. Hopefully Corbyn will have to work with 40 or 50 Lib Dem MPs, and 50 odd SNP MPs who will insist on a referendum choice between Remain and the softest of Brexit options being put to the country.

Although Corbyn will struggle to deal with the charge that Labour has been captured by the extreme left, it should be noted that in the last week two moderate MPs, Margaret Hodge and Diana Johnson have survived attempts to deselect them. It is perhaps a sign that there is sanity in the wider Labour membership that will resist Momentum.

JOE ANDERSON REACHING OUT.

Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson will be facing the voters again next year having fended off internal opposition and attempts to abolish the post, but next Wednesday he’ll encounter our CEO Frank McKenna at a Downtown event in the city. Ahead of that I’ve been listening to the key people involved in Liverpool’s future.

Anderson has his critics and acknowledged that recently in respect of the council’s first Inclusive Growth Plan for the city. He accepted that the Town Hall had not reached out enough to the public and stakeholders in its efforts to tackle the multiple problems the city continues to face.

He certainly needs all the help he can get now. Referring to the government’s claim that austerity was over, the city’s impressive new Chief Executive, Tony Reeves, has said “it doesn’t feel like it in Liverpool”. A Town Hall official tells me there are no reserves and there is an embargo on non-essential expenditure.

That said the mayor points out the positives. £58m more generated in the local economy than 9 years ago, the development of the waterfront with 70 cruise liners visiting the city.

 

Anderson claims the “Preston Model” of using local companies and people has been in practice in Liverpool too. He wants to use that approach in building schools. He wants a mutual bank to issue low deposit mortgages.

Tony Reeves observes that the city has some of the finest health expertise in the city’s universities and close by some of the worst life expectancy rates in the country. The new Inclusive Growth Plan aims to tackle that.

Michael Parkinson from the Heseltine Institute believes the time has come for the city to concentrate more on economic competitiveness than physical regeneration, the local economy being too small.

Urban Splash boss Tom Bloxham once observed that it takes 30 years to become an overnight success. Joe Anderson hasn’t that long, but he is on the journey.

 

 

GENERAL ELECTION ONLY HOPE FOR REMAIN.

WILL NORTH REALLY VOTE TORY?

It seems the only hope we’ve got of staying in the EU is by electing a government of parties committed to doing so. This parliament will not vote for a second referendum and the government would not pass the legislation and grant the money to do so. It would also make the current vicious political atmosphere even worse and would likely bring a tight result that would settle nothing.

The hope must be that in a General Election, the Tories will be wiped out in Scotland, the Brexit Party weakens the Conservatives in England and the Lib Dems make significant gains in the south of England. Then we come to the crucial question. Will Labour voters in the North really overturn a hundred years of voting behaviour and elect Conservatives who have taken workers rights out of the Withdrawal Agreement?

We must hope that all these voting patterns fall into place which will, in all likelihood lead to another hung parliament. It is a hope because frankly Labour are in no condition to fight a General Election. Their poll ratings are poor, Jeremy Corbyn has the lowest leader ratings in polling history, moderate MPs are facing trigger ballots that could remove them and anti-Semitism remains unresolved. Despite this some of Labour’s policies (ending austerity and reigning in capitalist excess) are popular. Maybe they can repeat the campaign boost of 2017. In those circumstances Labour will probably be the largest party and will want to put their Brexit deal versus Remain in a referendum. At least that way we get a chance to stop Brexit.

The reasons to stop Brexit have become much stronger since the publication of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill. It introduces a bureaucratic and costly nightmare for business traders in Northern Ireland. It leaves open the possibility of No Deal in December next year and gives ministers draconian “Henry VIII” powers.

For Leavers who want a clean break, it is an absolute joke. At least £33bn payments to the EU. The European Court will remain supreme during the transition. EU rules (including new ones) in force until possibly 2022 and an independent authority on citizens’ rights.

Despite this Rosie Cooper (West Lancs), Jo Platt (Leigh), Laura Smith (Crewe) and Lisa Nandy (Wigan) joined 15 other Labour MPs in voting for the government’s bill. Interestingly Graham Stringer (Blackley) a long-term leaver did not. Nandy says she voted to open detailed discussion on the bill and her final support is not guaranteed. It is one aspect of this wretched business to see this articulate, compassionate MP wrestling with the problems of representing a leave seat.

It is expected the EU will grant an extension tomorrow, but the French are running out of patience. Who can blame them when they see their northern neighbours, once renowned for stability and sense, casting it all away so that we can throw ourselves into the arms of Donald Trump, a man who is beginning the formal proceedings on withdrawing the United States from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.