The Conservative and Labour parties are now broadly in agreement about what needs to be done about the North-South divide.

I still think the Coalition was wrong to destroy the Regional Development Agencies and Labour needs to add a Council of the North to its plans to beef up the Local Enterprise Partnerships and Combined Authorities.

However even with our two main political parties broadly agreed on how to devolve resources and power to the North, there is a major obstacle in their path. It is secretive and bitterly opposed to any policy that would take power and influence away from Whitehall. It is the Civil Service. They used to wear bowler hats, now they are less identifiable. Their appearance might change but they’re basic attitude to the North will never change.

They know little about our area. They regard the North as a place populated with people with begging bowls, trying to get money which they haven’t the expertise to spend. They sometimes acknowledge people like Manchester Council leader Sir Richard Leese, but generally believe northern politicians are Town Hall minnows who can’t be trusted with the cash. At a recent conference I heard one former senior Treasury official bragging that as far as civil servants are concerned there never has been a regional policy.

This situation has prevailed for many decades even when there were civil servants in regional government offices. Some tried to make a difference, most couldn’t wait for a posting back to London.

Tony Blair invaded Iraq but he never had the guts to demand his civil servants implement John Prescott’s vision for well resourced development agencies democratically controlled by assemblies. We elect the politicians and they should tell the civil servants, with the threat of dismissal, to get on with what the elected government propose.

So let’s see what happens after the election. Both parties want to devolve money and power to the North. I forecast the civil service will first of all go slow, then the Treasury will reduce the money available, then the powers will be trimmed.

I hope I am wrong but it is going to need Cities Minister Greg Clarke or Labour’s Lord Adonis to have the full support of Cameron or Miliband to get this done.


We are set to celebrate Magna Carta. It was the start of democracy but when the democratic choice of the European Parliament gets the top job, people cry foul.

David Cameron says the Council of Ministers is more democratic than the European Parliament. How does that work? We directly elected our MEPs who’s political groups had decided who should be their candidates for President of the European Commission. Junker was the centre right choice. They got most seats. Bingo.

David Cameron was first elected as an MP, then became Prime Minister in which capacity he attends the Council of Ministers. I don’t see how he’s able to claim greater democratic authenticity than the European Parliament.

Anyway Cameron now faces a very difficult task in getting sufficient concessions to convince a Tory Party, and probably the British people, that we should stay in.


Very best wishes to Leeds and Yorkshire this weekend as the Tour de France begins in the fair county.

It is a huge opportunity for the region and a tribute to the people from business, sport and politics who have made it possible.



Labour MPs I’ve met in the last week had a real look of despair in their eyes over Ed Miliband’s massive blunder posing with a copy of the Sun. Now comes woeful ratings in the latest opinion polls. 49% of voters want him replaced. Their wish won’t come true, but don’t you begin to have the feeling we’ve been here before? In the run up to the 2010 General Election it was clear that Gordon Brown was a liability. Loyal Labour MPs backed the leader whatever their private thoughts.

Rebel Southport Lib Dem MP John Pugh said of his leader recently “while it might be necessary for the captain to go down with his ship, it is not necessary for the ship to go down with the captain.” It looks like happening to Labour who have historically lacked the ruthlessness to do something about a leader who can’t win.

The Sun blunder really was bad. Miliband had got a lot of credit for standing up to the Murdoch press over phone hacking. Now he’s posing with the rag and preparing to have dinner with the paper’s representative. The Sun will trash Labour anyway in the election campaign. News International are fighting back.

But the most devastating aspect of the affair was the offence to the Hillsborough families. Miliband shouldn’t need advisers over this. Just ask Andy Burnham or any Labour MP within a hundred miles of Liverpool or Sheffield. Anyway his advisers are either all London based myopics or were dazzled by the chance to back the England football team.

Nobody believes Ed Miliband reads the Sun or eats bacon sandwiches. He shouldn’t have stabbed his brother in the back and should now try to be authentic at least.


Because the Sun (or most of our press and broadcasters) didn’t cover it, doesn’t mean that Jean-Claude Junker can’t become E.U President.

MEPs have been determined to bring some democracy to this appointment and made it clear from a long way back that the party with the largest group in the European Parliament should provide the next President of the Commission. So hustings were held in the middle of May with candidates representing the main groupings and broadcast on BBC Parliament. You could have watched it (if the media had done their job and told you about it) and then you could have supported a party on that basis. For instance Martin Shulz, roughly Labour; Guy Verhofstadt, roughly Liberal, Ska Keller, Greens or good old Jean-Claude Junker, Conservative Federalist. They turned out to be the largest group after the elections so he has the right to be chosen as the next President of the Commission.

Now I hear two anguished cries going up. First “we’ve never heard of these people!” Not an excuse, just like I didn’t know the speed limit, the need for insurance cover etc. People have got to take some interest. The British media have got to raise their game over European coverage.

The second cry is “where was the candidate representing David Cameron’s anti federalist Tories in the European Conservatives and Reformist mini group. They didn’t put up a candidate! Brilliant. If you don’t buy a ticket you can’t enter the lottery or block the democratic choice of the people of Europe.

Cameron may still succeed in blocking Juncker. My advise would be accept him and stop being rude about him. After all Cameron is going to need him to help with a package of reforms which the Prime Minister(if still in office) has to sell to the British people to stop them from voting to get out in 2017.



Northern voters could begin the process of the UK leaving the European Union next Thursday. If that’s what you want, vote UKIP, send the Tories into a tailspin and expel the Liberal Democrat MEPs who have had the guts to stand up for the European ideal.

Be in no doubt these, usually ignored, elections to the European Parliament are very important. On the night of Sunday May 25th the North West and Yorkshire and the Humber could well return six UKIP MEPs and no Lib Dems. Nationally UKIP could win the election. Pundits will be predicting that their bandwagon could roll on to the General Election.

Tory backbenchers will panic. The pressure on David Cameron to ratchet up his demands for reform of the European Union (already large) will make them completely unacceptable to our potential allies in Germany and Sweden. If re-elected Cameron will fail in the renegotiation. He will still campaign for a Yes vote in the 2017 referendum and Britain will vote to come out.

People must have this scenario clear in their minds as they vote in these European elections. As I say if you want out you know what to do, but if you realise the damage our exit would cause Britain, then you need to halt the UKIP bandwagon before it gets started.


European stalwarts are standing down. Sir Robert Atkins was that rare breed, a pro European Conservative. He’s going, along with Brian Simpson who’s represented Labour on and off for 25 years. The shock departure for the party is Arlene McCarthy. The highly effective campaigner on issues like banking reform and mobile roaming charges made a late decision to call it a day.

The voting system is proportional. The number of MEPs a party gets will be decided by the strength of their support across the whole North West. Who gets elected depends on their position on party lists that have already been drawn up. The North West will elect 8 MEPs.

It is likely Labour will get 3 MEPs. Theresa Griffin tops their list. A Liverpool councillor in the 1990s, she has been fighting these elections for years. Afzal Khan, the former Lord Mayor of Manchester is likely to join her and probably Julie Ward.

The Conservatives will re-elect Jackie Foster who first went to Europe 15 years ago. There was some surprise that she topped the Tory list ahead of the higher profile Saj Karim. He was first elected to Europe as a Liberal Democrat in 2004 and since his defection to the Tories has worked hard on trade relations between India and the EU.

Now we come to the big question. Will UKIP do well enough to knock out Chris Davies, a Lib Dem MEP for the North West for the last fifteen years? UKIP are bound to get their deputy leader Paul Nuttall re-elected. The region will also elect Louise Bours a 45 year old actress from Congleton. Then the question is will the region give UKIP sufficient support to elect UKIP s effective economics spokesman Steven Woolfe?

The eighth person elected only needs around 10% of the vote and Davies will be hoping that the residual pockets of Lib Dem strength in South Lakeland, Pendle, Liverpool and Stockport will see him through, but it is likely to be close.

The Greens did well in these elections back in 1989 and the anti fracking movement might put Peter Cranie in contention with Davies and Woolfe.

My analysis presumes that the BNP leader Nick Griffin will lose his seat. His party is riven with factions and nearly bankrupt plus UKIP have stolen the agenda on immigration.


An extraordinary series of events means that only two of the six people elected five years ago for this region are offering themselves again under the same party colours.

Edward Macmillan-Scott defected from the Tories to the Lib Dems. The other Lib Dem MEP, Diana Wallace stood down on health grounds. Godfrey Bloom of bongo bongo land and sluts fame left UKIP, is sitting as an independent and is not offering his talents to the voters again. The BNP’s Andrew Brons fell out with the party leader, has formed another right wing party and is not standing.

With six places up for grabs, it is likely Labour will re-elect Linda McAvan and Richard Corbett, the Tories Tim Kirkhope and UKIP Jane Collins and Amjad Bashir.

The sixth place will be close between Alex Story for the Tories, Mike Hookem UKIP and Lib Dem Edward Macmillan Scott who has been in the European Parliament for thirty years and would be a real scalp for UKIP.




You may think the verdict on who will represent Yorkshire and the North West in Europe will be decided on May 22nd next year when the European Parliamentary elections take place.


In fact 90% of the decision making is taking place now as the political parties in the two regions are deciding in what order their candidates will be on the party lists. Next May voters will only decide which party to vote for. Who gets elected will depend on the total per percentage vote the party gets in the whole Yorkshire and North West regions. Therefore your place on the list is crucial. If you are below fourth, forget it.


So how is this playing out, who is likely to represent the North in the European Parliament 2014-19 when crucial decisions are taken about the shape of the EU and our membership of it?


UKIP are on course to win these elections. They are on a role domestically and this set of elections will be fought on their territory. It will be an ideal platform for their charismatic leader Nigel Farage to taunt the other parties with his clear message, vote for us to get out of the EU without the ambiguities of renegotiating the terms.




The North West has eight members in the European Parliament. There is a chance they could take three places next May. Their sitting North West MEP is Merseysider Paul Nuttall. He is arguably the UKIP politician with the highest profile after Farage with his frequent national media appearances as Deputy Leader of his party. Unlike the Tories and Labour he is not guaranteed top place on the list by virtue of being a sitting MEP but is certain to be elected in number one spot by North West UKIP members. If UKIP do get two others elected, the will be complete unknowns to most people. I am told that we should keep our eyes on Louise Bowers, a former Tory mayor of Congleton and Andrew Fairfoul, a Warrington teacher.


The Conservatives will be losing one of the great characters in North West politics. The cricket loving Sir Robert Atkins is retiring. A former Preston MP and Minister under John Major he represented a dying breed of Tories who wholeheartedly supported our membership of the EU. So top of the Tory list will be Saj Karrim who first represented the Lib Dems in Europe from 2004-07 before defecting to the Conservatives. He recently spoke powerfully at a Downtown debate on the value of the EU in trade negotiations with countries like India. Jackie Foster will be second on the list. She is the comeback girl having represented the North West from 1999-04 when she was defeated only to return five years later. If the Tories win their bitter battle with UKIP for a third seat, then seven other candidates are currently being voted on. They include Deborah Dunleavy who failed to take Bolton North East in the General Election having been fast tracked by David Cameron. Another is Cheshire West and Chester councillor Charles Fifield.


Labour will also be losing a long serving member. Brian Simpson first sat in the European Parliament for Cheshire East in 1989. He has done good work for the region on transport matters, but is now standing down. Arlene McCarthy MEP is guaranteed top slot on the list and there is a fierce battle going on for the number two position. Former Liverpool councillor Theresa Griffin has tried for years to win a European seat but she faces formidable opposition from former mayor of Manchester Afzal Khan and Kevin Doran Editor of the informative website.


Will Chris Davies retain his seat for the Lib Dems? A dedicated campaigner on European issues, often controversial and a fell runner, Chris has represented the North West for 15 years. His party is at a low ebb.

He’ll be hoping there are enough Lib Dem votes in places like Cumbria, East Lancashire and Liverpool to keep him in Brussels.


Another party at a low ebb is the BNP and it is very likely that their leader Nick Griffin will lose especially because UKIP are making the running on immigration.



In this vast region which embraces Leeds, The Dales and Hull the Tories have lost Edward McMillan Scott who defected to the Lib Dems. Tim Kirkhope will top the list with seven candidates contesting the vital second place on the list.


Labour had a poor showing when these elections were last contested in 2009 under Gordon Brown’s leadership. Linda McAvan will be hoping to be joined by a second Labour representative.


UKIP’s Godfrey Bloom is almost certain to be re-elected despite his views about the employability of women of child bearing age and is likely to be joined by a second UKIP representative.


As in the North West there has to be a question mark over continued Lib Dem representation. Sitting MEP Diana Wallis announced she was standing down after failing to be elected as President of the European Parliament.


Andrew Brons, elected as a BNP MEP has now joined the British Democrats and is hopefully destined for political oblivion.