It is easy to be distracted by the drama of the Tory leadership contest from the main issue of Britain’s membership of the EU. But just before I turn to that, it is a shame that the Conservatives won’t be electing Rory Stewart. Yes, he is a bit eccentric, but he represents that One Nation Conservative tradition that the party used to embrace. Now the Tories only ambition is to choose a leader who can out bluster the braggard Farage. Hopefully Stewart will have another chance when the party comes to its senses.

Meanwhile there has been a little reported development on the Labour side that could help the new Prime Minister. 26 Labour MPs have come out in favour of voting for a Tory deal. In the North West they are Julie and Rosie Cooper (Burnley and West Lancs), Yvonne Forvague (Makerfield), Justin Madders (Ellesmere Port), Jim McMahon (Oldham), Lisa Nandy (Wigan), Jo Platt (Leigh), and Laura Smith (Crewe). When you add in Blackley’s Graham Stringer, you can reckon that there are now 30 Labour MPs who will overwhelm any Tory MPs bent on crashing their own government.

They have responded to the growing pressure on Jeremy Corbyn to campaign to stay in the EU. Why Labour Remainers are doing this beats me. It would only lead to another half-hearted performance by Corbyn who wants to leave and get on with “real issues”. Everyone would see through a false conversion and the Labour leader can’t bring himself to do it.  I suppose he should get some credit for that.

Meanwhile the pressure generated by Watson, Starmer and even McDonnell is leading to tactical mistakes. The big one recently was to try and get June 25th for a day to introduce backbench legislation to stop No Deal. It failed partly because, with the Tory leadership election underway, few Conservative MPs were going to embarrass the candidate they support by voting for such a proposition.


I always thought the concept of ChangeUK was flawed. There were no policy differences between them and the Lib Dems. Raking up Lib Dem support for austerity and student fees is almost as out of date as the EU Referendum result.

So now that Change’s biggest beast, Chuka Umunna, has not only joined the Lib Dems but joined the frontbench, why am I a little worried.

Partly it is because he has had five political positions this year already. Labour, Independent, Change, Independent and now Lib Dem. It smacks of calculation rather than conviction.

I also remember the damage David Owen did to the Lib Dems when he became leader of the SDP. The last party to break away from Labour had good relations with the Liberals whilst ex Chancellor Roy Jenkins was SDP leader . When Owen assumed control his personal arrogance and lack of understanding about what Liberalism is all about led to endless friction. The parallels are not exact but if I was Jo Swinson or Ed Davey, I would have one eye on Chuka as the Lib Dem leadership election continues.








I hope you shared my admiration for the biggest multi-national act of democracy in the world at the weekend. Brexiteers constantly complain that the EU is “undemocratic”. It is true there needs to be reform to give the European Parliament greater powers over the Commission and Council of Ministers. In fact, you will see the MEPs demanding a major influence over the selection of the leaders of the Council and Commission in the coming weeks. But all that said from Bucharest to Belfast and Vilnius to Valletta millions of people voted for their representatives in the European Union. It was a democratic exercise for a democratic body where we share our sovereignty.


Next, who won? Nobody. Certainly not the Brexit Party. Although the one policy outfit topped the poll everywhere in England except London, the combined total of parties opposed to Brexit came to roughly 40%. Brexit, Con and UKIP got 44% and when you distribute Labour’s 14% between broadly southern Remainers and northern leavers, one concludes that the country is split. The only thing that has changed since the 2016 Referendum is that people are much more polarised between No Deal and Remain.


The Tory leadership contest is broadly turning on whether you want to let the clock tick down to No Deal on October 31st or try to reopen talks. Will Conservative MPs keep Boris Johnson off the shortlist? It seems unlikely and in his limited public pronouncements the former Foreign Secretary has indicated he is prepared for No Deal. Incidentally his need to appear in court over his 2016 lies on the cost of our EU membership will only enhance his reputation amongst his supporters. As with Trump and the Russian connection, fans of Boris and Donald just see their man being persecuted rather than the rules being observed.

Immediately after the European results came in, it was presumed that with Mrs May’s withdrawal agreement dead, there was nothing for Remain MPs to vote on that could stop an automatic Halloween exit. But the Speaker is surely right that Parliament will not sit on the side lines and let that madness happen. John Bercow will be justified in allowing MPs to stop No Deal one way or the other.


It was a shame the Remain parties couldn’t work together. ChangeUK paid the penalty. They need to join the Lib Dems as soon as possible. Change claimed the taint of working with the Tories over austerity in the Coalition was a barrier. It isn’t anymore. The Lib Dems have had two good election results and are about to get a new leader. Their brand is toxic no more.

It would be great if the Greens could also help to form the new centre grouping the UK so badly needs. Let’s hope the new Lib Dem leader can listen to the growing environmental concerns in the country and make it possible for a grand merger.

Nigel Farage says he is prepared to fight a General Election. Will that be on one policy again for the Brexit Party or will the people of Britain be entitled to know where he stands on tax rates, elderly care, university funding, devolution and nuclear weapons?

Finally, we come to the pitiful state of the Labour Party. There is an expectation that Corbyn will finally pivot to a People’s Vote. Don’t be so sure. The expulsion of Alistair Campbell shows the real instincts of the leader and his close advisors. Stalinist party control, the EU is a capitalist club and the EU debate is a distraction from implementing a socialist programme for Britain.

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I am uneasy with the way the Prime Minister is being bullied from office. I fundamentally disagree with leaving the EU, but Mrs May has tried to do an impossible job as best she can. She has been caught between the rock of the referendum result and the hard place whereby any Brexit harms the British economy.

She has lacked dexterity in her negotiations and is poor at the clubbable skills essential to politics, but she does not deserve the humiliation she is getting. It is driven by the hard line Brexiteers in her own party and by the braggard Farage who are terrified that a second vote on Brexit might reverse the decision.

But why this desperate urgency to remove the Prime Minister today, tomorrow or by the weekend? If the Brexiteers they think Boris Johnson or some other true leaver Prime Minister will be able to take us out with no deal on Halloween Night, they haven’t reckoned with the growing confidence of the Remain camp to prevent it.

A lot will depend on the percentage vote for leave and remain parties when the European Parliament totals are counted on Sunday, but if Farage

Can be kept around 30%, the determination of parliament to do whatever is necessary to block no deal will be reinforced.

So as the Tory leadership circus gets underway, it is worth remembering that the parliamentary maths does not change. There is no majority for a reckless departure from the EU under Johnson, Rabb or any of the other little men who have made May’s life a misery over the last three years.


I’ve chaired a couple of excellent Downtown events with business people and politicians in Lancashire recently. The determination to succeed and bright ideas were in evidence, but the issue of devolution loomed large.

It is a bit like Brexit. People know what they are against but can’t unite around one alternative. Everyone acknowledges that there needs to be a response in the Red Rose county to the combined authorities to the south, but what shape it will take is unclear.

We are shortly to see a cross border link up between Lancaster and Cumbria but at the same time plans to bring East Lancashire together don’t look bright. Pendle Liberal Democrats only agreed to support the new Labour administration if it pledged to oppose the project.

The impasse hasn’t prevented the Labour opposition on the county to begin their economic planning for the 2021 elections. Under the leadership of Cllr. Azhar Ali and Cllr. John Fillis, they favour a central board for the county bringing together business, the trade unions and experts in the fields of highways, housing, health, education and transport. This would be supported by a regional bank, one of the big ideas of Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell.

One of the key priorities for the councillors is to deal with the cul-de-sac that is the M65. The issue of trans Pennine links and taking the pressure off the M62 was one of the subjects at a major transport conference I recently attended in Manchester. I will report on it when Brexit doesn’t crowd out everything else.

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The Liberal Democrats are back as a credible force in British politics following last week’s local elections. Because of this it is vital that everybody who opposes Brexit or at least wants the people to have a final say, votes Lib Dem in the Euro elections. Support for the Greens or Change UK will confuse the issue and allow leavers to point to Farage’s vote (that could be 30%) as effectively a second national vote to Leave.

The Green Party deserves support in subsequent elections as concern about the environment rises, but on May 23, the future of the country is at stake and there needs to be huge support for the Lib Dems with their clear, principled and long-standing commitment to remain.

Change UK are a major disappointment. They are engaging in sectarian politics in the centre ground claiming the Lib Dems are still tainted with the austerity agenda. Well some of their Labour MPs voted for the Iraq War so two can play that irrelevant blame game. They have no infrastructure to fight elections compared to the Lib Dems and should not be supported in these Euro elections.

The Conservative and Labour parties should be rejected as their leaders are in favour of leaving the EU.


Shadow Cabinet member Barry Gardner let the cat out of the bag the other day when he told the Tories, Labour was trying to bail them out over Brexit. So, there we have it, hard left Jeremy Corbyn saving the Tories who are in their biggest crisis since the Corn Laws.

As I write the Lab/Con talks haven’t reached a conclusion but Corbyn is desperate to get back to the domestic agenda. I was in the Commons Gallery for PMQ’s on Wednesday where Corbyn didn’t ask a single question on Brexit preferring to concentrate on the health service. Don’t rule out the Labour leadership deciding to take the hit from their People’s Vote MPs and, insofar as they are able, letting May’s deal go through.


It was the worst result for the Tories since 1995 when even the old Macclesfield Council went into no overall control. The successor authority Cheshire East followed suit last Thursday along with Pendle and South Ribble. In fairness the Conservatives were coming off the high base achieved on the day David Cameron (remember him?) won his General Election and more importantly the Brexit shambles has been deeply damaging for the Tories.

Although the losses were less, it was a bad night for Labour, with the important exception of Trafford. Their 1995 local government performance was a springboard for Blair’s landslide two years later. Losing control of Wirral, Cheshire West and Chester and Burnley and losing ground in places like Bolton shows Labour is not on course to win the General Election, Jeremy Corbyn says he wants. Further afield Labour’s showing in the North East is truly dreadful.

Labour are paying the price for their ambiguity on a People’s Vote and on internal splits, particularly on Merseyside. The loss of Wirral is down to Momentum activity but in Liverpool it is perhaps more to do with personalities. The attempt by council deputy leader Ann O’Byrne to abolish the elected mayor post of Joe Anderson revives memories of the dark days of Liverpool politics.

The Lib Dems improved their position across the North West but only came close to taking a council, apart from South Lakeland, when they drew level with Labour in Stockport.

Independents had their best showing in decades. They benefitted from a growing disillusionment with conventional politics and a desire for more power at the grassroots level. I would only say that if all the small communities in a council area elected people demanding special treatment for their area, coherent government would be difficult. There is a view, however, that council politics should be less political, so perhaps it is a healthy trend.

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