Hancock’s Half Page

COMPLETE DEADLOCK

FAITH IN OUR INSTITUTIONS UNDER THREAT.

 

The United Kingdom used to have a reputation for being a bit dull but reliable and honourable in the way it conducted its affairs.

The Brexit process, which now sees the Cabinet falling apart, has wrecked all that. We are an international laughing stock as we caricature our closest trading partners as people who are trying to do us down, whilst seeking trade deals with the likes of Donald Trump.

We are indeed about to be vassal state of the EU. That’s because we decided to remove our representation from the Commission, Council of Ministers, European civil service and European Parliament,where we played a respected part in forming the laws by which we were governed.

The situation is now a total mess. It is the law that we leave the EU on March 29th. This is a fact that my friends calling for a People’s Vote brush over. The only way our departure can be stopped is to create a majority to overturn the Withdrawal Act in four months. It is difficult to see how this could be done.

Should it be done? Channel Four recently polled 20,000 and found 54% in favour of Remain. In other words, another close vote that would settle nothing. It would follow a highly divisive campaign where civil unrest can’t be ruled out. I feel I have been bullied out of recommending a second vote, but that is my view.

There is no majority for the deal “agreed” by the Cabinet on Wednesday night because Jeremy Corbyn seems to have hardened his opposition to any deal. A huge government offensive will now get underway to appeal to the likes of Wigan’s Lisa Nandy to support the deal in the national interest. Corbyn might call for opposition or abstention but a serial rebel himself, he cannot tell his MPs what to do.

The extreme Tory Brexiteers are frightened to death of carrying out their blood curdling threats in case it all unravels. They deserve the electorate’s punishment eventually for inflicting all this costly damage on the country and business.

Business! Who’d be a business person at the moment? Plagued by uncertainty, with the allegedly pro-business party in power. Imagine what the Tories would be saying if Labour was forcing companies to spend millions on stockpiling measures.

I recently heard the worried boss of an excellent Blackburn machine repairing business explaining that his firm depends on getting parts across Europe in a day. He is now contemplating having to set up in Europe. Is that what Lancashire Leavers really voted for?

DOWNTOWN MEANS BUSINESS IN CHESHIRE.

Finally, something positive for business. Downtown launched its latest network in Chester on Friday. The historic city, along with Warrington is part of the highly successful southern flank of the Northern Powerhouse. 25% of North West manufacturing comes from Cheshire and Warrington. The area is growing at three times the national average. The jobs are often from the hi tech and bio medicine spheres.

Warrington has capitalised on its excellent connectivity to promote a business focused local authority on the northern side, with Alderley Park in the east and Crewe’s potential links to HS2 in the south.

Downtown will look forward to bringing business together in the Cheshire and Warrington area, a true beacon of the Northern Powerhouse.

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SIX MORE YEARS OF TRUMP?

STILL A BIG CHALLENGE FOR THE DEMOCRATS

50 years ago, Richard Nixon was elected President of the United States. He went down in disgrace because of the Watergate scandal. Until Donald Trump burst on to the scene, Nixon was generally regarded as the President who’d most debased the office in modern times.

Nixon was flawed by his awkward manner and paranoia, seeing enemies around every corner. But his weaknesses seem small compared to Donald Trump. In his midterm campaign, Trump ignored the good news he had to tell on the economy in favour of a racist message to get out his base vote. So toxic did it become that even Fox News refused to run one of the Republican ads. In his demeanour, attacks on the media and institutions Trump increasingly reminds me of the pouting former leader of Italy, Benito Mussolini. Trump is not a fascist, but he threatens the fabric of America. Words have consequences, especially amongst the unstable.

May I also share another nagging thought with you. Whilst in no way questioning the desperation of the people on the Central American refugee “caravan”, the timing was so convenient for Trump. Could it be that these poor people have been manipulated by shadowy figures to begin their march at this time?

This vile campaign turned off voters in the American suburbs and lost him the House of Representatives. But Trump increased the Republican majority in the Senate by getting out his base vote in the more rural areas.

Bill Clinton and Barack Obama lost the House in their first terms and went on to be re-elected. This could well happen to Donald Trump. Democrat morale will be boosted by winning the House, but if they only use their majority to block the President’s measures, spend ages investigating his taxes and links with Russia or even, very foolishly, contemplate impeachment, voters will conclude they are only interested in beltway politics and not their concerns.

Added to that there is a huge debate going on within the Democratic Party about how to deal with Trump. Should they abandon their centre left posture and the acceptance of big corporate funding in favour of the socialist platform advocated by Bernie Sanders? And who is going to be the candidate? It is true that winning candidates for President can emerge from nowhere, but obvious Democratic contenders seem particularly thin on the ground at the moment. Could it be the ageing socialist Bernie Sanders, the reassuring former Vice President Joe Biden, or the narrowly defeated Texas Senate contender Beto O’Rourke?

One feels Michelle Obama or Oprah Winfrey would give Trump a run for his money, but they have ruled themselves out so far.

Many people who despise Trump’s crudeness nevertheless voted for him because of the economy. If that tanked the Democrats might have a chance. They have the big issue of health care which, polls show, mattered more to voters than immigration.

THE WAR THAT DIDN’T END IN 1918.

I love my history and my mind keeps going back to the momentous events exactly a hundred years ago. The collapse of the German, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires, the consequences of which we are still living with today.

We will rightly celebrate the guns falling silent on the Western Front after all that dreadful suffering. However, it wasn’t the end of the war for many. Conflicts involving Poles, White and Red Russians, Greeks and Turks went on until 1924. Indeed, conflicts arising from the Versailles peace settlement in places like the Balkans, Iraq and Syria are still not resolved.

Lest we forget indeed.

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BURNHAM FUELS LABOUR BUDGET ROW.

 

TOPSY TURVY.

 

The budget has plunged Labour into a topsy turvy row over the Chancellor’s income tax cuts.

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham is generally seen as a Labour moderate. He says he is at a loss to understand why Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, a self-confessed Marxist, is supporting income tax cuts for the rich. McDonnell argues that, whilst the rich gain most, the move will help low income people too. The tax-free personal allowance is being raised to £12,500.

There is no doubt that Philip Hammond has presented Labour with a challenging budget where a commitment to balance the books by 2025 has been abandoned to fund increased spending, principally on the NHS. Unexpectedly high tax revenues have allowed Hammond to shake off his image as “spreadsheet Phil” in favour of the largest fiscal loosening since 2010.

He has clearly been driven to this move by the Prime Minister’s declaration that austerity was over. Privately he probably wanted to keep a bigger war chest than the £15bn he has set aside for a no deal Brexit and heed the warning of his predecessor George Osborne. On Tuesday the former Chancellor warned that trying to outspend Jeremy Corbyn would not help the Conservatives.

So, we carry on spending £50bn a year servicing the National Debt that currently stands at £1.8 trillion.

The decision to relax spending restrictions has meant the government has been able to tackle some of the many problems that years of austerity have created. A hefty amount of cash has been thrown at Universal Credit. UC could be the undoing of the Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey. The Tatton MP has made herself unpopular with the Chancellor with her demands for cash and Hammond notably praised her predecessor Iain Duncan Smith, not her, during his budget speech.

There was cash to ease the High Street crisis with business rate cuts for properties with rateable values under £51,000. Small businesses saw a cut in the apprenticeship levy.

The maze of organisations supporting regeneration continues to grow. Business led development corporations are on their way to join university enterprise zones, Local Enterprise Partnerships and Business Improvement Districts. Oh! for the regional development agencies. Simples!

There was more money for Northern Powerhouse Rail, £10m for a skills project in Manchester and cash for medicine research at Alderley Park.

Hammond was clearly irritated that many of his measures had been leaked in advance and there is speculation this could be his last Budget. I think that would be a shame as he is a steady hand on the tiller. His sin has been to warn about the damaging consequences of Brexit.

CHANNEL 4 DECISION GOOD FOR NORTH.

I welcome the decision of Channel 4 to relocate its headquarters to Leeds. Investment must be made across the North if the Powerhouse is to be fair to all. The eastern side of the Pennines needs a media jobs boost. Just a word of caution though, let’s see if the decision-making moves to Leeds or stays at Horseferry Road in London where the majority of Channel 4 jobs will still be based.

ECONOMY BOOST FOR TRUMP.

I expect the awful Donald Trump to hold the Senate and perhaps even cling on to the House of Representatives in next week’s midterm elections. The economy is booming and for many voters that will matter more than the many failings of this obnoxious man. The Democrats are relying on a big turnout of angered women but lack the vision and leadership to give confidence that they are on course to win the presidency in two years’ time.

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AN “AUSTERITY OVER” BUDGET?

 

PM BATTLES ON

As I have forecast for months, Theresa May has seen off the noose wielding Brexiteers with their empty threats. They are given too much credibility by political journalists who should know better. I remain of the view that the Prime Minister will present an EU deal to parliament which will get through with the support of some Labour MPs and the opposition of far less Tory Brexiteers than some commentators suggest.

THANKS A LOT THERESA.

So, let’s concentrate on Monday’s budget which is overshadowed by Mrs May’s claim that austerity is over. That’s probably not the view of the Chancellor who is correctly wary about the economic damage we are about to inflict on ourselves over Brexit. He is also aware that the roll out of Universal Credit is not giving a lot of people the impression that “austerity is over”. £7bn of George Osborne’s working-age benefit cuts are still to come. Will Philip Hammond do anything about that or the other government department cuts that are still due to kick in for the next three years?

The NHS is to get £20bn by 2024 but what about the police crisis? Criminals are getting the message that the diminished police force is being overwhelmed by criminality. You will get a crime number but what are the chances of the offender being caught these days?

The Chancellor has been cut some slack by a better than expected cut in the deficit and strong tax receipts. Nevertheless, Mr Hammond has hinted that taxes will need to go up to ease the pressure on public services. But I didn’t realise that after eight years of Tory, or Tory dominated governments, tax levels are close to a post war high.

As an alternative he could let the deficit drift up again. However, is already 80% of national income and would be badly placed to deal with a post Brexit recession.

HIGH STREET CRISIS.

One thing Hammond must tackle is the crisis in our high streets. Crippling business rates combined with on-line shopping are seeing shops closing in city centres and suburban retail strands.

Foreign tech firms like Amazon should be properly taxed on their actual retail turnover in the UK. That revenue will help a cut in business rates. There also needs to be a reform of the whole system so that business rates are reviewed annually and linking them to local economic success by removing the revenue cap.

SLEIGHT OF HAND OVER EURO FUNDS?

One of the many disadvantages of leaving the EU will be the loss of European Structural and Investment Funds. Instead of going straight from Brussels to the places in need, they will come from a UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF). That will be administered from Whitehall where the priorities of the regions are not well understood.

The Chancellor should use the Budget to tell us how much money there is going to be in the UKSPF and the criteria for its distribution to the North in particular.

We really do need to watch Whitehall on this. Otherwise the temptation might be for the Treasury to swallow these well directed funds into the black hole of general spending.

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