Hancock’s Half Page

ANSWER MY QUESTION, MR FARAGE.

MAY DEAL STILL MOST LIKELY.

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.

DEMOB HAPPY CHANCELLOR.

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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IT MAY NOT END THIS WEEK

WILL BREXITEERS CRACK?

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.

MOMENTUM IN NORTHERN TOWN HALLS.

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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EU DEAL ON MARCH 12th ?

MAY WAY OR THE HIGHWAY.

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.

SKILLS GAP.

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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RIGHT MOVE…..WRONG TIME.

 

DAMAGING FOR REMAIN CAUSE.

The need for a centre party has been obvious since Jeremy Corbyn became leader of the Labour Party and the European Research Group started running the Tory Party. This has been the situation for three years. So why did the Magnificent Seven (now eight) and the Three Amigos choose now to defect to the Independent Group?

It has made it more difficult to argue for a sensible deal with the EU and put a People’s Vote off the table. Those positions now have the whiff of treachery for continuing Labour and Tory MPs who are about to make decisions affecting our country for decades to come.

At this of all times, we didn’t need the distraction of these defections, but they have happened, and we must examine why and what is the future for the Independents and Lib Dems, but first Brexit.

YET ANOTHER MEANINGFUL VOTE.

Next Wednesday is being built up as a decisive moment in the Brexit process. If Mrs May hasn’t wrung some concession on the backstop from the EU, we are told MPs will try to wrestle control from the government. Let’s wait and see. The Prime Minister is adept at running down the clock and it could happen again. In any event it will take more than a vote in the Commons for MPs to dictate to the government. A leading constitutional expert has pointed out that only Ministers can change the law and spend money.

However, it may be that by next Wednesday a codicil will be agreed with the EU which can qualify the open-ended nature of the backstop. That may split the European Research Group and will certainly attract Labour MPs who’ve been offered government money for their constituencies.

MIGHTY CHANGE OR SDP ALL OVER AGAIN?

Wednesday saw me on the beach at Crosby filming a report for the BBC. We were looking back on the 1981 by election victory of Shirley Williams, the first by the Social Democratic Party who had begun the year in a similar way to the Independent Group. The SDP rapidly acquired Labour defectors. There must be something in the water in Liverpool and Stockport. The city provided three rebels 38 years ago whereas Luciana Berger is the only one for now. Ann Coffey has followed the same course in Stockport as her predecessor Tom McNally.

Roy Jenkins nearly won the Labour seat of Warrington in the summer, then came Williams triumph in the safe Tory constituency of Crosby in November.

If the Falklands War hadn’t massively boosted Mrs Thatcher’s popularity the following spring, who knows what might have happened to the SDP. In alliance with the Liberals they put up a good showing in the 1983 General Election but were punished by the first past the post system.

Relations between the SDP and Liberals were never easy and deteriorated after David Owen replaced Roy Jenkins as leader. The signs are not good this time around. The Independent Group have included the Lib Dems in their description of the parties that are “broken” and seem to think they should join the Independents. People like Chris Leslie and Chuka Umunna need to remember where Owen’s arrogance led him. His rump SDP eventually got less votes in a Bootle by election in 1990 than the Monster Raving Loony Party.

There is a gaping hole in the middle of British politics, and it needs fresh ideas from the Independents combined with the nationwide structure of the Lib Dems to make it effective. Otherwise we’ll have Tory governments into the thirties.

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