The year ends in rancour, with our political system debased and no solution to the Brexit torture.

It has been a black year indeed with Brexit paralysing the government and preventing action on major problems like elderly care, homelessness, food banks, skills and transport.

The Northern Powerhouse has stalled. Whatever good it is doing is being dwarfed by its failure to deliver on its central proposition….connectivity. Five years on from the founding analysis of NP that the great northern cities were close together but badly connected we have seen chaos on the trains and gridlock on the roads, particularly in Manchester. The NP promises another strategic planning document. We’ve had hundreds. We know what the problem is, underinvestment. The timetable crisis in the summer was followed by the December scandal where in the same week passengers were scrambling on overcrowded trains at Piccadilly whilst Crossrail in London was being lined up for a billion-pound bailout.

In a year when business has been treated disgracefully by the politicians with the Brexit uncertainty, we have had the full onset of the retail crisis. Bricks and mortar high street shops just cannot compete with the on-line offer.

Low unemployment and low inflation have been brighter features in the landscape but there remains a sense of uncertainty, not helped by a number of high-profile companies going to the wall. Carillion was one of the most spectacular with serious consequences for a number of construction projects in the North especially the major new hospital in Liverpool.

Another bright feature has been the growing awareness of the damage plastic waste is doing to the planet. Is there some hope that ordinary people have more sense that certain politicians about saving the planet?

Donald Trump’s continuing denial of the existence of climate change is just one of the many criticisms that can be made of this President. Although he lost the House of Representatives in the midterm elections and continues to be surrounded in a myriad of scandals, would you bet on him not getting re-elected in 2020. His supporters see all the media and congressional exposure as a huge plot to get their man. The US economy which is doing well at the moment, will hold the key to Trump’s future.

Finally, to UK politics in a week when we descended to examining the shape of Jeremy Corbyn’s lips in the Stupidgate scandal. Labour continue to trail the Tories in the opinion polls despite the Conservative meltdown. Their success in the local elections in taking Trafford was their only optimistic sign.

You might still have a bet on the Conservatives at least being the largest party at the next General Election, particularly now that we know they will have a new fresh leader. Meanwhile Theresa May has continued to show huge resilience.

For the centre ground it has been a year of further decline. The Lib Dems have continued to be irrelevant under the ageing Vince Cable. Meanwhile in France President Macron, the sole centrist victor in the world in the last few years, has stumbled badly.

So, we prepare to cross the threshold into 2019, in all likelihood the year when we leave/crash out of the EU. An even worse year beckons.






The government is censured. All warehouses in this country for frozen goods are full. Preparations are underway to turn Kent into a lorry park. People are worried they will not be able to gain access to life saving drugs. And for what? A course of action that under ALL circumstances, will leave this country worse off.

Against this background let’s have a look at the myriad of possibilities that will follow next Tuesday’s momentous Brexit vote.

Mrs May might win. If the extreme Brexiteers all take fright following Tory rebel Dominic Greave’s success in getting power to propose motions which could stop or soften Brexit, who knows who might join them just to get out of the EU? Her determination is widely admired in the country. Her opponents are deeply split on all the alternatives.

However, it remains likely she will lose. If it was a heavy 100 vote defeat, she might resign. It is highly unlikely a “coronation” would take place and a bitter leadership contest would take place between remainer and leaver candidates.

Mrs May might want to “take her case to the country”, the words of Jim Callaghan when defeated on a vote of confidence in 1979. She might be prevented by Tory MPs terrified by an election where party candidates would be split between Remain and Leave and where it might be difficult to keep the election on one issue. Labour would certainly want it to be about austerity. Meanwhile what would Labour’s stance be, still respecting the 2016 vote but riddled with vagueness on what else to do about Brexit?

If she loses, a vote of confidence can be expected on Wednesday which she would likely win. If she lost, she would have to resign as Conservative leader and a Tory election would take place as discussed above but the government would stay in place. Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell has floated the idea that Labour could be sent for to form a minority administration at this point.


If the defeat is less severe, say around 40/50, Mrs May is likely to go back to the EU to try and get some tweaks to the deal, particularly around the Irish backstop.

If she fails, or is defeated again, then a group of Tory ‘suits’ like Damien Green, Oliver Letwin, Michael Fallon and Dominic Greave, backed by Labour’s Hilary Benn, could put down motions to suggest several options, all of which have problems. They would also only be motions. Only the government can stop us leaving the EU on March 29th by changing the law.

They may suggest postponing the March 29th withdrawal for further talks. The problem is the European Parliamentary elections are coming up in the summer. If we are still in the EU do we elect MEPs? A new EU Commission has to be chosen. In other words, there will be a long delay.


The Norway option seems to be attracting support, but it allows free movement, the very thing Leavers were most exercised about. Added to which the Norwegians may not want us in the European Free Trade Association vetoing EU rules that they are quite happy with.

Canada, with or without pluses, would not solve the Irish border issue.


There is No Deal peddled by idiots like Boris Johnson or its ugly sister “managed No Deal” which might reduce the lorry queues a bit.

Finally, there is the People’s Vote. One can argue that people are much better informed, and the lies of the Leavers have been exposed. But it would be a very bitter campaign and what’s the question, Deal or No Deal or Deal, No Deal and Remain?

Suppose you got Remain 35%, Deal 34%, No Deal 31%? Is that a mandate to remain in the EU?

By the way, UKIP, which was the cause of all this, is now a neo fascist party with Nigel Farage out and Tommy Robinson in.

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This week’s commemoration of thirty-year-old women getting the vote in 1918 was marred for me by the suggestion that the women who resorted to arson and criminal damage should be retrospectively pardoned.

This is like Britain apologising for various historic crimes like slavery and changing the names of buildings named after slave owners etc.

History is history and cannot be changed. We cannot make ourselves feel better about our imperial past by apologising now. What we can do is conduct ourselves properly now.

The violent behaviour of the suffragette women was condemned at the time and certainly would be condemned by politicians today. Just because the arson and damage occurred a hundred years ago, doesn’t justify it. Nor did it achieve its objective. Indeed, one could argue that the suspension of violence during the First World War made it easier for opponents to admit defeat to this highly just cause.


Can we trace the dramatic decline of the Liberal Party to their leader Herbert Asquith’s opposition to women getting the vote? The first election after women were allowed to vote saw a huge majority for the coalition led by the Liberal David Lloyd George. However, the three elections in the early 1920’s saw the great switch between Labour and the Liberals.

We should not overlook the fact that millions of working class men were also enfranchised which will have helped Labour.


This important anniversary had me thinking about some of the remarkable women MPs I have reported on over the years.

Way ahead at the top of my list is Barbara Castle, the Labour MP for Blackburn for thirty years after the Second World War. She showed how effective a woman MP could be. As Minister for Transport she introduced two of the most significant features affecting everyone who drives; seat belts and the breath test. She was subject to huge amounts of abuse from “one for the road” motorists or people arguing that wearing a belt was an infringement of their liberty. More abuse followed when as Secretary for Employment she tried to bring an end to wild cat strikes with her plan “In Place of Strife”. Then in the mid seventies when Labour returned to office she introduced a major improvement in pensions with the State Earnings Related Pensions Scheme.

From local government on the Labour side I would choose Louise Ellman. As leader of Lancashire Council in the 1980’s she saw a role for local government in the regeneration of areas. Lancashire Enterprises was a ground-breaking concept at the time with people claiming it wasn’t a council’s role. Now it is commonplace.

On the Conservative side I look to the Wirral. Lynda Chalker was the MP for Wallasey for many years and served in many ministerial departments. Of more recent vintage we have Esther McVey who was a Wirral MP but now sits in the Cabinet representing Tatton. I would also give a mention to Christine Hamilton who should have been an MP but did a brave job defending her husband Neil during the cash for questions drama.

As for the Lib Dems, Shirley Williams tops my list. Although only briefly MP for Crosby, she was one of the Prime Minister’s we should have had with her articulate support for the middle ground of politics.

So, let’s salute 100 years of women getting the vote without trendy gestures that muddle and confuse the issue.

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“Hung be the heavens with black, yield day to night. Comets importing change of times and states brandish your crystal tresses in the sky” Henry VI Part I.

It seems an appropriate quote for the week when most opposition MPs stood by whilst the government gained parliamentary authority for a hard Brexit from the EU. It was the week when Nicola Sturgeon followed the historic example of past Scottish kings who made trouble on the border when English minds were focused on the continent. It was the week when there was little progress in forming a Northern Ireland government but plenty of talk about uniting the North and South.

There is no doubt that we are in a period of great constitutional uncertainty, unleashed by last year’s EU referendum. That is not good for business in the North nor is the uncertainty caused by the about turn on National Insurance(NI) contributions. After the pasty tax debacle under George Osborne, will Chancellors never learn? A Budget is not a place to road test ideas, only to withdraw them. The near equalisation of NI was a fair proposal but it was also a breach of an election promise and against the Tory instinct to help the self-employed. It was always going to meet with massive opposition, particularly because Tory backbenchers feel they can throw their weight around because of the feeble opposition.


Perhaps Nicola Sturgeon acted on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s latest careless word stream in announcing her intention to try and trigger a second referendum on Scottish independence, although I doubt it.

It is a massive gamble by the normally able leader. Was she pushed into it by SNP zealots? More likely she sees Brexit uncertainty as the last hope for an independent Scotland. The economic case against it is growing as North Sea oil runs out and the Scottish deficit rises. Trading on the vote to Remain in Scotland and the huge uncertainty of the UK Brexit negotiations, Sturgeon wants the vote before the end of the talks.

She is likely to be disappointed. The Prime Minister is unlikely to follow the practice of the Spanish government who just refuse Catalonia an independence vote, but she will likely stall for time. It is most likely a second referendum will follow the UK’s exit from the EU if it is held at all. Much will depend on the level of justifiable anger among Scottish remainers.

The further problem for the SNP is that they tend to exaggerate the level of support they have for remaining in/re-joining the EU. The Commission has made it clear it will only deal with one state, the UK, during the talks. If Scotland were to become independent it might have to join the end of the applicant queue, join the Euro and face the opposition of Spain who don’t want to set a precedent for Catalonian independence.

That is one part of our unhappy state.


The fact that Sinn Fein have nearly got parity with Unionists in the Northern Ireland Assembly following the recent elections is another consequence of the Brexit vote. A united Ireland inside the EU is an increasingly attractive proposition for some waverers. That mood will only be strengthened if a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic is the result of the UK Brexit talks. Another part of our unhappy state.


Finally, we come to the UK where England plays the major part. Ministers make optimistic noises about how it is in everyone’s interest to allow economic reality to overcome politics in the talks. That wasn’t the case in the Referendum where people’s feelings about immigration and alienation overwhelmed the strong economic case for staying in.

Our European friends feel mightily offended. Expect an early and possibly decisive clash on the divorce bill.


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