Hancock’s Half Page

HELLO THE LEFT!AMERSHAM SHOWS THE WAY.

WHAT WE HAVE, WE DON’T HOLD?

I am constantly told that my plea for a pact between progressive parties to defeat the Tories at the next election is unrealistic, tramples on tribal traditions, patronises the voters and won’t work.

I then retreat from the debate and contemplate decades of Conservative rule whilst Labour, the Greens, Lib Dems, and SNP divide the opposition vote.

Then last Thursday came the dramatic result in Chesham and Amersham. I had written off the Lib Dems for a generation and it yet might be the case that the by election is a one off. Their local candidate campaigned against HS2 and new planning laws when the party nationally is in favour of the new line and more housing. Shameless opportunists shout Lib Dem opponents forgetting that the late Tory MP for the patch did the same thing.

A bigger question for the Lib Dems than their election tactics is their track record in holding their gains. I’ve been looking at their successes back to 1979. There is a belief that the voters always return to the Conservatives (or occasionally Labour) after their brief flirtation with the Lib Dems. This isn’t quite true. The Libs and Lib Dems have had 20 by election successes since 1979. I am discounting Chris Davies victory in Littleborough in 1995 because the seat was abolished in 1997.Of the remaining 19, the Lib Dems held seven and lost a dozen at subsequent General Elections. So, there is some hope for Sarah Green, the new MP.

LESSONS FOR THE LEFT.

Next week it is quite possible that Labour will lose in Batley and Spen. The party will be plunged into another round of infighting and their prospects of winning in 2023/24 looking very unlikely.

You can be certain that when it is put to them that they have to look at (probably) informal deals to soft pedal in the south (outside London) for the Lib Dems and campaign hard in the North and university towns, we will be told of all the tales of Lib Dem perfidy.

The fact remains that Johnson can be squeezed. The Tories have no allies, apart from the DUP, and even that possibility is looking difficult at the moment. They have to win outright and might do so if the Red Wall seats stay firm.

But Amersham has shown the possibility that with a bit of intelligent planning the SNP remain strong in Scotland, Labour fights back a bit in the North and university towns and the Lib Dems do really well in the south of England where Johnson’s Brexit deal and style of government is not going down well.

Then we could have a centre left coalition, change the voting system, and be run by a government where the majority have a say.

BAD RESULT FOR THE MEDIA.

Nearly all political journalists completely missed the Amersham by election story. I found very little coverage in the papers, on radio and TV in the weeks running up to the poll.

On the Friday and over the weekend everyone piled in, but people want informed political coverage before they cast their vote not afterwards.

They expected a Tory win even though HS2 should have alerted them to a possible upset.

It was the Brexit surprise all over again. Do better.

THE SUMMER OF OUR DISCONTENT.

GROWING DIVISIONS

The latest upswing in the pandemic in the North West is hard to take. This week most people will have experienced their plans being disrupted once again when it was hoped that high summer would bring joy and relief.

I am involved in the Lymm Festival in Cheshire, the highlight of which is the Historic Transport Day. For years it was a wonderful example of a major event inspired by community volunteers attracting vintage cars, canal boats, fun rides, and traders from all over the region. Last year’s cancellation was hard enough but this year all the preparations had been made only for hopes to be dashed at the last minute.

People with weddings and wakes will have felt even more upset and those who have caught the new variant must be most in our thoughts.

But it gets worse, putting aside the serious health issues and the disruption of people’s social and holiday plans, this damned pandemic is now eating into the soul of the nation.

People are bitterly divided on the decision to continue the restrictions until late July. I don’t think the government had much choice having been slow in taking action over the Indian variant. But opponents are suspicious that caution is becoming contagious and are furious with people who pontificate from their comfortable homes while people with less space or a need to go to work, suffer.

Another divisive issue is vaccination. The government are right to get tough with care and health staff. They must know the medical facts about the safety of the jab. Some will lose their jobs if they persist, bitterness will result. Another sad effect of the pandemic.

Now we come to the world of work. The government are beginning to realise they are going to have to continue support for business while they maintain the restrictions. Landlords are never popular, but they are beginning to point out that they have bills to pay and claim some businesses are refusing to pay their rents when they are actually able to contribute. More division.

Finally, there are the zoom champions, people who think it is going to be a good idea to permanently discuss business behind a screen. There is even a suggestion that the government are going to give people a legal right to work from home.

What about the networking that sparks ideas? What about seeing if a decision really does command the wholehearted support of colleagues without grasping the unstated atmosphere in a room? What about the divisions that will arise when employees who are prepared to come into the office regularly, get the promotion denied to the stay-at-homers? What about the accountability of decision makers who find it easier to run things without dissenters around?

Despite the fine weather and success for England and Wales on the football pitch, this is truly the summer of our discontent.

A MATTER OF TRUST.

I HOPE THE SUN SHINES IN CORNWALL.

Will a Cornish pasty for President Biden in the sunshine of Carbis Bay this weekend, help our chances of a trade deal with the United States?

Probably not. Biden will be impressed with the Prime Minister’s commitment to world vaccination by the end of 2022, but will it be delivered? Can Britain be trusted?

Integrity has been in short supply under this Prime Minister in his personal life, implementation of the ministerial code, spending on the Downing Street flat and now the Northern Ireland Protocol.

President Biden will no doubt be aware of the remarks of former Prime Minister Theresa May’s top aide Lord Barwell. He was at her side as the then Prime Minister tried to square the circle of a hard Brexit with the land border with the EU in Northern Ireland.

It was, and remains, because of the insistence of hard line Brexiteers that we should not be aligned with the EU on food standards that the current crisis has blown up. May’s solution was a backstop. It was hated but it was honest, and she paid for it with her Premiership.

Johnson’s approach was to bluff his way through, sign up to anything to “Get Brexit Done”, promise there would be no border checks and win the election. Barwell is clear that both May and Johnson knew what the consequences would be, and the EU is entitled to expect that a treaty will be honoured even if the people of Ulster have to go without their bangers.

There is no reason, except political dogma, why we should not align our food standards with the EU.

Meanwhile President Biden and many others look forward to the marching season in Ulster with anxiety.

ALL CHANGE.

Twenty years ago, Tony Blair had just won his second General Election. The Tory leader William Hague handed over to the hapless Iain Duncan-Smith and people spoke of Conservatism as a spent force.

Two decades on the political scene has radically changed, the Tories have won three elections in a row and already are looking at a fourth.

Battlefield preparations began this week with proposals for a major shake-up of parliamentary constituencies. Two previous attempts to line up seats with where people are now living have failed because they contained plans to cut the number of MPs by fifty.

80% of North West constituencies are affected. We will lose two seats altogether to reflect the fact that people are moving south and that has meant some MPs will be seeking a new home. Among the constituencies to go are South Lakeland which is bad news for our remaining Lib Dem Tim Farron plus Preston North and Wyre which is awkward for Defence Secretary Ben Wallace. Rossendale and Darwen becomes Pennine Moors and Chester is split up as boundary chiefs try to deal with the perennial problem of the nearby area of Wirral.

The peninsula cannot justify 4 MPs and the idea of a cross Mersey seat was shot down in flames when it was proposed before. So, Chester and Wirral South (Alison McGovern) are split up.

The changes will help the Tories as the south gets more seats at the North’s expense, for instance the new Lancaster constituency, shorn of Fleetwood, would have voted Conservative. Bad news for Labour’s Cat Smith. However, with the Tories having a bigger stake in the region these days, the damage to Labour will be mitigated.

After all that it might not happen. You can have your say. Changes could be made and with a final report not due till June 2023, another election may have been held.

WORKING FROM HOME.

SHIRKING OR WORKING?

A shirkers charter or a pragmatic answer to post pandemic working? That’s the question being asked by bosses as June 21st approaches and a substantial return to work is possible.

Views are mixed on what is going to happen. Some believe our inner cities with their vast office space and retail and catering support outlets are finished. The inconvenience of commuting, the cost of business accommodation and the ease of a zoom call will mean a total revolution in the way we work. At the moment it is the smaller towns of the North that are bouncing back faster. Localised spending data indicates a score of 120 for a town like Birkenhead while Manchester and Birmingham have readings of between 53 and 73.

 Others think the need for accountability and networking, the sparking of ideas in watercooler moments cannot be replicated on a stilted remote call. When theatres, nightclubs and restaurants are fully reopened, they say, the people will return.

The outcome will probably be in the middle, but we shouldn’t forget that there is a North South divide here as in so many things. A recent survey found 46% of people in London worked from home at some stage during the pandemic compared with just 14% in Middlesbrough.  In other words, it is much easier for people in clerical jobs in comfortable houses to work from home. It is not possible in manufacturing or people facing employment.

The government’s decision on a return to near normal is on a knife edge.

UNITE THE UNION?……HARDLY.

Nominations close next week for the most powerful post in the trade union movement. Liverpool born Len McCluskey has been General Secretary for a decade and more. He has conducted a left-wing critique of the Labour Party. He let up during the Corbyn era believing that the Labour leader’s policies were just what his members needed.

Since the arrival of Keir Starmer, the criticism has returned, with Red Len threatening to cut some of the union’s £1.3m support for Labour. So, this is an important election for the Labour Party and for business leaders worried that high employment and shortage of workers in key industries might herald a new era of shopfloor militancy.

Starmer will be hoping that a “moderate” candidate gets elected, although that term must be put in context when you are considering the politics of Unite.

The best bet for Labour would seem to be Steve Turner. An Assistant General Secretary, he is from the pragmatic left saying he will negotiate with anyone to get a good deal for his members. More importantly, he is not threatening to cut Unite money for the Labour Party.

Nor is the union’s senior organiser Sharon Graham who has little appetite for McCluskey’s high political profile. Jobs, pay, and conditions are her priority.

Then there’s Howard Beckett who seems to be outflanking Red Len from the left. He is prepared to contemplate cutting funds to Labour if it swings to the right and wants to increase the union’s strike fund in contemplation of a wave of strikes. He has been suspended from Labour membership having called for the deportation of the Home Secretary Priti Patel in a row over immigration policy.

Finally, we come to Gerard Coyne. A former regional organiser in the West Midlands, he ran McCluskey close in 2017 in a bitter contest which ended with a judge ruling that he had included misleading information in his election material.

Let’s hope for a higher turnout of Unite members than in the past to give a truly representative result.