I first met George Osborne on Knutsford Heath 20 years ago when he had just been selected as the Tory candidate for Tatton. Who was this unknown who was tasked with restoring Tory fortunes in this constituency after the defeat of Neil Hamilton?

We found out after he won the seat back for the Conservatives in 2001 that we had a high flyer on our hands. He was David Cameron’s right-hand man in modernising the party and preparing it for Coalition government in 2010. For six years Osborne pursued the twin track of economic austerity and social liberalism until the project came crashing down in the folly of the EU Referendum in 2016.

We met up again this week and he seemed to harden up his revelation of “not being keen” on the referendum to one of opposition. I asked him about his forecasts that the country would need an emergency budget and would face economic gloom if we voted to leave. Despite the lack of a post Brexit crisis, he told me he still felt he was right. He claimed the devaluation of the pound was dramatic, but the public were not generally aware of it. He also pointed to the low growth of the British economy. The first three months of this year were the weakest for five years.

He feels the current government stance is opposed by the Lords, Commons and EU and it would be a mistake to tear up our trading relations with Europe.

This all begs some big questions. How vigorously did he put his opposition to the Prime Minister? He says he wasn’t in the business of undermining his friend. But if he had remotely threatened to resign, surely Cameron would not have made his reckless referendum promise in 2013. So is Osborne overstating his opposition with the benefit of hindsight? After all it remains one of the most stunning features of the current political scene that the two men who led us into the Brexit mess are now voyeurs on the side-lines.

Osborne is still chairman of the Northern Powerhouse (NP) Partnership and is encouraged by the development of Transport for the North. Apart from that there is a feeling that momentum has gone out of the project, although Lord Jim O’Neill is due to produce some fresh thoughts on it shortly. The Prime Minister is also expected to speak at a major NP event this summer. The former Chancellor admits all government energy is being taken up by Brexit. We know who to thank for that don’t we?


Putting those criticisms to one side George Osborne was Chancellor for six years and his views on one of the greatest challenges facing voters and politicians are interesting.

What is the answer to the growing crisis in funding our public services? Osborne agrees we all want better services but don’t want higher taxes. He says he is as annoyed as anyone else about tax evasion but any suggestion that solving that problem will provide the massive funds we need is delusional. VAT, Income Tax and National Insurance (NI) basically fund the state and it would take wacking increases in tax to make a difference, for instance,to the £130bn NHS budget. He feels soaking the rich won’t work either as countries that pursue that policy grind to a halt.

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If only Jeremy Corbyn hadn’t been elected leader of the Labour Party. If only people had voted to remain. If only Donald Trump hadn’t been chosen as President of the United States.

Amid the quite legitimate concerns about Corbyn’s sluggish reaction to anti-Semitism in the party, Cambridge Analytica’s role in the Brexit vote, and constant questions around Trump’s fitness for office; there is an underlying feeling that some are motivated by an inability to accept decisions of the people or party members.


I desperately want to stop Brexit by parliamentary means or by a vote on the final deal. However, I don’t think the cause is helped by trawling through the alleged financial chicanery by Vote Leave. Is there the slightest prospect of the 2016 Referendum being declared void? No, so let’s focus on the major task of changing public opinion.

It is a major task because top pollsters are reporting that a year before we leave, public opinion is where it was in 2016; divided down the middle. Furthermore, pollsters believe that won’t change because people are resistant to arguments that potentially could alter their minds.

When Remain focus groups are presented with expert findings that Britain will be fine in a global market, a substantial majority not only reject the findings but also express distrust of the expert. Experts fare no better when Leave focus groups are faced with gloomy forecasts for post Brexit Britain.

So, there is work to do, but trying to invalidate the 2016 Referendum isn’t a productive course of action.


Turning to Trump’s victory, it is deeply disturbing to realise that the huge viral growth of slogans like “crooked Hillary” was orchestrated by Cambridge Analytica. We have had wall to wall coverage of Stormy Daniels allegations of having sex with Trump. There is also the ongoing Mueller investigation into possible links between Russia and the Trump campaign.

None of it matters a damn to Trump supporters who look at the improving economy and give him their approval. Again, Trump opponents should stop trawling the last election, warn people not to be fooled by orchestrated social media next time and present some convincing arguments to vote Democrat this autumn in the midterm elections.


Finally, we come to all the flak that Jeremy Corbyn has been facing over anti-Semitism. The problem here is that Corbyn and those around him feel passionately about Palestine and rightly so. Palestine deserves to be a state and Israel should not be putting settlers into the illegally occupied territories. However, Israel has every right to exist within internationally recognised boundaries, respecting the civil rights of all its citizens.

Criticism of the Israeli government is completely legitimate but when that spills over into anti-Semitism, it is completely wrong. The problem is that some pro-Palestinian organisations that Corbyn, and his top aide Seamus Milne, support have anti Semites on their fringe.

Labour needs to act more quickly to identify and expel those who are anti Semites, campaign for a Palestine state and an Israel that once again has its own strong Labour Party.

Corbyn opponents in the Labour Party need to realise that they are now in a party that,in its internal structures, personnel and policies, is a socialist party. If they want to represent the huge disenfranchised middle ground, they need to forget the “sins” of the Lib Dems over tuition fees and questionable campaign tactics and link up with them to give the centre a voice.

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For me Christmas was the turning point for those of us hoping to stop Brexit. When the European Commission pretended sufficient progress had been made to move on to the next stage, I concluded they wanted shot of the UK provided the deal didn’t encourage others to depart as well.

This week’s transition deal marks another significant milestone on the road to departure. The Prime Minister has made big concessions to the EU, but the crucial point is that, however much Jacob Rees Mogg and his extreme Brexit friends may bluster, they will do nothing to derail the process provided they ultimately get their hard Brexit.

Business has also broadly welcomed the transition period as it gives them more time to prepare for the bureaucracy filled world that will follow our departure.


So, have all the fears about job losses and plant closures gone away? Well I was in the Commons this week for a debate about the future of the Vauxhall car plant at Ellesmere Port. Vauxhall are now owned by the giant PSA Group and Brexit has brought great anxiety to the excellent workforce who have made it one of the most successful plants in the PSA Group. Nevertheless, Brexit has brought fears that if the management are looking to reduce capacity, the plant outside the EU would be an obvious candidate.

Management have denied any such plans but the local MP, Justin Madders, remains sufficiently concerned that he initiated a special debate supported by many Labour MPs in the surrounding area of the plant. He fears the corrosive effect of Brexit uncertainty despite this week’s transitional deal. He wanted everything possible done to cut costs and not give the French owners a Brexit excuse to close the plant. Things like energy costs, business rate relief and the location of part suppliers on spare land around the factory.

Birkenhead MP Frank Field called for a sectoral deal, although a period of silence would be better from this arch Leaver.

The ministerial response from Business Minister Richard Harrington was woeful. He’s massively overpromoted. He came over as an out of touch Tory toff with no answers to the specific points raised.


Contrast that ministerial reply with another one I witnessed after the Oldham MP Jim McMahon had called a debate to express his support for Greater Manchester’s Metrolink line to link up the outer boroughs. It has been called the Circle Line project, although McMahan’s initial proposals look to link up areas like Ashton and Bury with Oldham Mumps as a hub.

On this occasion the replying minister was Jesse Norman who appeared sympathetic and engaged. He listed the considerable investment the government have made in transport in greater Manchester whilst not being specific about the prospects for the Circle Line.


In the debate praise was heaped on Cllr Andrew Fender who is stepping down this May after 41 years’ service to the Greater Manchester Transport Authority. I have had the pleasure of reporting on him and latterly working with him and I wish him a happy retirement.

While we are on personal matters, I was sad to hear of the passing of Brenda Dean. She led the print union SOGAT during the time when first Eddie Shah in Warrington and then Rupert Murdoch in Wapping brought in new newspaper production methods in the teeth of opposition.

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Former EU Commissioner Lord Peter Mandelson believes the impracticality of operating an EU border between the UK and Ireland will eventually lead to a united country. The forecast that economic reality will detach unionists from their loyalty to the UK is a bold one but was one of many interesting predictions and reflections on Brexit at a meeting at Manchester Metropolitan University this week.

We gathered as the disaster of Brexit continued to manifest itself. Rotterdam is set to be the new headquarters of the chemical giant Unilever if they move their head offices from Britain. Meanwhile the same port is recruiting hundreds of customs officers as the port manager reckons we will crash out of the EU.

Mandelson was speaking alongside a classic British mandarin, Sir Andrew Cahn, who had had three stints with European institutions in Brussels. Even as a strong remainer, I found his presentation hard to take. His analysis that we were making a disastrous mistake was right, but the tone would not have gone down well in the Leave areas of Rochdale and Oldham.

Before coming to the two men’s forecast of what the future might hold, there were some fascinating reflections on the past. Britain could have led European integration after the war, but Mandelson revealed the moment when we turned our back on the project. In 1950 his grandfather, Herbert Morrison, was standing in for the Prime Minister Clement Attlee. He was called out of a dinner to be asked if we wanted to join the European Coal and Steel Community (the precursor to the Common Market). He told his civil servant that he could see the advantages “but the Durham Miners will never stand for it.”

Suppose Morrison had resolved to positively sell the idea with enthusiasm and vision? But he was starting a gutless tradition that was followed by most political leaders in Britain of a half hearted or Eurosceptic approach to the EU. This even included Tony Blair, Mandelson’s explanation for this was that during the New Labour years, Europe was tenth in a list of people’s priorities.

Cahn said that Britain was never comfortable with the coalition mentality that prevails in Europe. Most governments are coalitions with compromise the way things are done in their own countries and in the EU.

Cahn forecast that we will be asking for a pick and mix approach in the final deal separating out issues like fishing, aviation and financial services. This is unlikely to commend itself to our negotiating partners. But Cahn also felt loose talk by Brexiteers about walking away with no deal would lead to a run on the markets and the probable fall of the government.

Cahn forecast that France would take a tough stance on our terms and the Germans would be less helpful than we thought. He felt we would end up with a deal that would leave us impoverished and embittered, with a period of great political instability.

It would be left to a new generation to pick up the mess and make Britain a member of an outer circle of states around a very united core of EU states.

It is a depressing forecast and one that could still be prevented if public opinion changes. There is a new Remain red bus going around London with a slogan asking if it is worth two billion a week to leave the EU. Get it up North!