I do not mean to cause offence to democratic politicians who are rightly revolted by the Christchurch massacre. However, it is my view that references by Boris Johnson to Muslim women looking like “letter boxes” in their burkas, and Donald Trump calling Mexicans rapists is on one end of a spectrum that ends with the awful events in New Zealand at the other.

Populist politicians are regularly using language now that was once exceptional. The reason why Enoch Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” speech is still remembered today is because it was so unusual. Now populists in Turkey, Hungary, America and here are all too willing to resort to racist remarks to appeal to their intended supporters. The extra factor, not present in 1968, is social media. So, at one end of the spectrum we have populist politicians, who don’t remotely want people threatened or assaulted, but whose comments lead to a general coarsening of our public debate.

So, in the middle of the spectrum many are regarding people with differing views as enemies to be insulted and sometimes threatened. Women MPs have been particularly affected by this sort of thing.

Then right at the other end of my spectrum you have people who take this polarisation in our society to the ultimate which results in the murder of Joe Cox, Christchurch and a host of Islamic terrorist atrocities.

Populist politicians need to be far more careful about the words they choose.


Whatever I say in this blog will be out of date before you read it, so let’s just settle for excerpts from John of Gaunt’s speech in Shakespeare’s Richard The Second.

…….. “this dear, dear land. Dear for her reputation through the world, is now leased out like to a tenement or pelting (worthless) farm,.. is now bound in with shame, with inky blots and rotten parchment bonds. That England that was wont to conquer others hath made a shameful conquest of itself.”


British politics was in a pretty turbulent state exactly 40 years. The Labour government of James Callaghan fell following a motion of no confidence after a winter of strikes that had torn at the fabric of the country in a not dissimilar way to now.

The late seventies did see Michael Heseltine wielding the Commons mace when he felt procedure was being ignored. The minority status of the government did put parliament under strain. So, it was a crisis, but perhaps not on the scale of this one. The spring of 1979 saw the transition from a post war consensus which had initially delivered prosperity but had decayed into a world of inflation and widespread strikes; to the bracing economics of Thatcherism. The change was bound to be turbulent, but most were agreed, Mrs Thatcher in particular at that time, that the country would be turned around in the context of the European Economic Community. We would all prosper together.

Now not only is the current government in a shambles, but the future course of our country for decades to come is in the hazard.

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I want to comment briefly on the growing Brexit crisis before telling you about my encounter with Nigel Farage.

I still think Mrs May can get her deal through because as I have written many times before only a change in the law can stop Brexit, only the government can change the law and MPs won’t vote for no deal. The Commons can pass all the motions they like, but they ultimately have no effect. As March 29th approaches and the EU’s long extension offer loom, watch the dominoes collapse.

Now I want to my attention to my encounter with Nigel Farage in Chester. We Remainers are constantly chided for not accepting the result of the 2016 referendum by the de facto leader of the new Brexit Party. I have always believed there is no way Farage would have accepted the Referendum result if a majority of people had voted to Remain.

Ahead of his visit to the North West I looked up what Farage said in the hour after the close of poll in June 2016. Before results started to come in, he thought Leave had lost. He said the following “Whatever happens tonight, we are winning this war. The Eurosceptic gene is out of the bottle and will not be put back. My sense is that the government’s voter registration scheme has perhaps tipped the balance.”

Are these the words of a man preparing to accept the result, or getting his arguments in place ready to campaign for a second referendum?

I began my question by politely acknowledging that he had changed British history and then read the above quotes to him asking him to admit he would not have accepted a Remain result.

Instead of answering my question, he launched into a rant about the BBC (an organisation I have not been employed by for 13 years) betraying the people. The performance went down well with his audience which shows the power of this man. A few have told me since they were unimpressed and that includes me. Farage is a rabble rouser. He spends his time in the European Parliament insulting MEPs and tarnishing the image of our country. When he is here, he prefers a rant to responding to an uncomfortable question.

The truthful answer is that the ante brigade never gave up under John Major, Tony Blair and David Cameron and would have been undeterred by a Remain vote in 2016.


We may have seen the last financial statement of Philip Hammond. He would be unlikely to survive the fall of the Prime Minister. He is a top target for Brexiteers who increasingly run the Tory Party despite the fact that this week he was able to give an upbeat report on the economy. The budget deficit is at its lowest since 2001, wages are rising and unemployment low. His speech was laced with effective attacks on Labour’s high spending plans.

But he incurred the wrath of Brexiteers by warning that the economic recovery was being threatened by Brexit uncertainty and hinted at his support for indicative votes on Brexit options.

Grave offences in the eyes of those who’s priority isn’t to support a Chancellor delivering economic improvement but to risk all with a reckless Brexit.

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If MPs had any consideration for business, next week would see an end to the Brexit drama, but the mood music is gloomy this weekend. The most likely scenario is that Mrs May’s deal and no deal will be rejected, meaning a pretty dramatic day next Thursday. The odds must be that Tory MPs are whipped to vote against an extension. If the Commons votes for more time, the EU are unlikely to agree to a short one just to permit the parliamentary pantomime to continue. They may say the European elections and the need for a long period of reflection by our deadlocked parliament needs a two year extension.

That will be rejected by the Commons and with days to go the Prime Minister may be able to say, once and for all, it is my deal or no deal.

Rebel Labour MPs will be important. Long standing Brexiteeers like Manchester Blackley’s Graham Stringer may be joined by a few bribed by the offer of cash for left behind towns.

I criticised this pork barrel approach to regional funding last week before knowing the details of the government’s offer. We now find out that £281m will be coming to the North West over 6 years. That hardly compensates for the austerity cuts on councils or the damage Brexit is going to do.

However, there are a number of Labour MPs who want to follow a vote taken 3 years ago after a campaign where both sides failed to properly inform people of the dire consequences of withdrawing from the EU. They will feel able to defy a Jeremy Corbyn whip against the governments deal because Corbyn actually wants to get out and he has a record of defying the whip as long as your arm.

If by any chance the government’s deal is not voted through, the Commons will definitely vote the following day against leaving with No Deal. So, On Thursday it is possible Mrs May will whip her MPs against extending Article 50 and the brinkmanship will become even more irresponsible.


Cllr Nick for has been a major force in the devolution movement in the North. He has led Newcastle Council well and aspired to be the elected mayor of North of the Tyne. However, he was beaten for the nomination by fellow Newcastle councillor Jamie Driscoll who had only been on the authority for a year. But he had the support of Momentum and Corbyn and won easily.

In Wirral Phil Davies, who has been a good leader of the council, is standing down as the Labour group of councillors break up amid complaints about a toxic atmosphere in local party meetings.

Across the river in Liverpool people are asking why the Riverside and Wavertree parties have not been suspended following endless complaints of anti-Semitism against their MPs.

All this shows that the left takeover of the Labour Party is much deeper than in the 1980s. From the very top of the party to the grassroots, it is in the hands of the left.

There have been two reactions to this. The Tiggers have left and are about to form their own party. Their defection has received more publicity than a move that may be more significant in the long term. It centres around the party’s deputy leader Tom Watson and his gathering of moderate MPs around him.

I am sure his move has prevented mass defections to the Tiggers because it allows deeply unhappy Labour MPs to stay in the party rather than take all the risks of leaving. It is true Watson’s faction is a parliamentary organisation with no grassroots at the moment but if say 130 Labour MPs broadly identify with him, it will be a check on the hard left and will have the potential for a really big breakaway if Corbyn doesn’t change his ways.

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Mrs May could get her deal through on March 12th. A legally binding codicil to the Withdrawal Agreement stating that the backstop will not be permanent is the most that we can expect to break the log jam. Then Tory hardliners should vote for it, along with Labour Leavers.

If they don’t parliament will vote against No Deal on March 13th and then we would come to a real crunch the following day when an extension to Article 50 will be voted on. It is not certain the government would whip in favour of it, but presuming they do, that opens a whole range of possibilities. The EU could refuse a short extension if they think it is just for more wrangling. They could propose a long extension, which would not get through parliament.

If parliament has then rejected May’s Deal, No Deal and an extension, support for Labour’s new position of supporting a People’s Vote will rise, although I can’t see parliament approving it. So, a hard Brexit by default could happen.


While the parliamentary pantomime continues, business is wringing its hands.

After Brexit firms are likely to face skill shortages as our immigration policy tightens, so it is even more pressing that we address the skills gap in this country.

I attended a BBC event this week focusing on the problem in the digital sector which is growing in importance. With Media City in Salford, the Sharp project in Manchester, Liverpool’s strong cultural sector and Channel 4’s move to Leeds, the North has great potential in one of the industries of the future. But as with other sectors, a lack of skills is the issue.

It is a puzzle because young people are entirely comfortable with new technology when it comes to laptops and mobiles. The problem identified at the BBC event was matching them to the needs of media and digital industries.

Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, illustrated the problem when he visited a school in Oldham and the children told him that they didn’t think the digital/media opportunities in Manchester and Salford were for them. The mayor felt the problem was that these industries depend on contacts on the inside, so he urged companies to back shadow working schemes for young people. It is not a new idea and depends on firms making a real effort to make it a quality experience, but Burnham sees it as a contribution to his drive to build the digital future in the conurbation. That would also depend on the government devolving powers over education and skills tot eh Combined Authority, a demand also made by Liverpool City Region Mayor Steve Rotheram.

Chris Cordon should be an inspiration to young people. He was born in Salford, went to London because that’s where the jobs were, and has now returned as Director of BBC Digital. His department services BBC News, Sport, Weather etc and has 100m users every week. He wants the inspiration to start in secondary, even primary, schools. Talking to graduates is leaving it too late.

The meeting heard criticism of the school career advice service for being uninspiring or ignorant of the digital revolution.

The whole event was a reminder that after Brexit, a number of big challenges await.

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