Hancock’s Half Page

WIND IN ED’S SAILS?

WIND IN ED’S SAILS?

The image of the private sector has taken a mighty knock. Whether it’s the sight of police and troops rescuing Olympic security from G4S or the tattered reputation of our banks.

Will this have a lasting effect on our politics with Ed Miliband catching the wind of public opinion if it moves to the left?

Public sector bad, private sector good, has always been a simplistic mantra but recent events could mean a more sympathetic hearing for the role of the state. Ed is sending out subtle signals. He was the first Labour leader to speak at the Durham Miners Gala in 23 years.

It’s a good time to take the political temperature as parliament goes on holiday yet again.

I know the government has run out of things to do except reform the Lords (or not as the case may be) but MPs seem to be doing very little legislating at the moment.

Off in mid February, off at Easter, two weeks for the Jubilee and now barely a month later, they are off again. When a political commentator claimed the other day that these were dog days at Westminster with MPs yearning to get away on their holidays, I nearly drove off the road.

July used to be the month of soaring tempers and temperatures as the government sought to get bills on the statute book before a long break leading up to a short wash up session before the Queen’s Speech in November. MPs were often involved in all night sittings and were genuinely exhausted.

We can forget the soaring temperatures, but the rhythm of the parliamentary year has changed too. With the Queen’s Speech now in May, the pressure point for legislation is Easter.

It is true that a September session has been introduced because of public outrage at the July to October break. I also agree that MPs work hard in their constituencies, need to be off when their kids are on holiday and that there is little point in debating bills in the early hours of the morning.

However I think things have swung too far the other way making claims that there isn’t parliamentary time for this and that, risible.

On the subject of parliamentary time, how long does the Labour Party want to debate the Lords’ Bill in the House of Commons? The party’s brazen political manoeuvring reached new heights this week as the Opposition was asked how many extra days it wanted to discuss the measure. Luciana Berger, the normally eloquent Liverpool Wavertree MP, was reduced to mumbling about it being a matter for discussion behind the Speaker’s Chair.

Helped by Tory rebels, it is Labour quibbling over the number of days needed for debate that is likely to scupper a reform that the party has been committed to for a long time.

The row over the Lords forced another photo opportunity out of the Prime Minister and Nick Clegg designed to reassure the markets that Britain has a stable government. I’m sure that’s true. Indeed what struck me is that Cameron and Clegg are getting closer and closer.

While they are huddling together in the economic storm, they are in danger of becoming isolated from their grassroots. This is particularly the case with Cameron. He must be worried that the ranks of the Tory rebels on the Lords’ bill were swollen by large numbers of Conservatives who only entered parliament in 2010.

They were prepared to risk future promotion and incur Flashman’s temper because many of them have fallen out of love with Cameron. They blame him for not winning the election outright and even doubt if he is a real Tory.

As far as Nick Clegg is concerned, he is testing the patience of his dwindling army of grassroots activists. They fear calamity at the next election with the Lib Dems blamed for tuition fees and with no voting or Lords’ reform achieved.

It will be an interesting party conference seasons but first the Olympics. I’m looking forward to seeing all those soldiers….and the athletes.

MAYOR JOE’s TEAM

Mayor Joe addressed Liverpool councillors for nearly an hour on Wednesday night. It was the first opportunity to see how the elected mayor would interact with the 90 councillors whose power has been much reduced.

Influence is shifting to bodies like the Mayor of Liverpool’s Development Corporation. I can report that the following will be providing “strategic direction for the city’s economy.” Sir Michael Bibby, Bibby Line; Claire Dove Blackburne House; Liv Garfield Openreach; Robert Hough Local Enterprise Partnership; Sir Howard Newby Liverpool University; Julia Unwin, Rowntree Foundation; and entrepreneur David Wade Smith. Pat Richie (CEO of the Homes and Community Agency) will also be joining subject to confirmation by his board.

FOLLOWING LORRAINE

A source at Jaguar Land Rover tells me that Lorraine Rogers has a new job with them. The former Chief Executive of The Mersey Partnership apparently has two roles. One as a global brand director and another taking care of royal protocol.  Zara Phillips is a brand ambassador for the Halewood produced Range Rover Evoque.

Rogers resigned earlier this year as Chief Executive of the Mersey Partnership, paving the way for it to be absorbed into the new Liverpool Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).

I’m told a local newspaper is currently trying to get Lorraine to spill the beans on how hard it is for women to provide leadership in the macho world of Merseyside politics and business.

Tributes were paid to the work of The Mersey Partnership at the first meeting of the stakeholders in the Liverpool LEP this week.
The LEP is now in the hands of Robert Hough, a man vastly experienced in the politics of the North West.

He faces a big challenge in establishing the Liverpool LEP as the agency best placed to represent the interests of the city region stretching from Runcorn and Southport to Wirral and St Helens.

It’s not an easy task now that Liverpool has an elected mayor seeking to expand his influence. Also on the territory is Liverpool Vision, an agency that many see as the best vehicle to promote tourism across the city region rather than the LEP.

Not that the Liverpool LEP lacks people to exert its influence. Unlike the tiny organisations that run LEPs in Lancashire, Greater Manchester and Cheshire, the Merseyside operation has taken in most of the 55 staff from TMP.

It was therefore ironic that David Frost, the head of the national LEP Network, should choose this occasion to call for better resourcing of LEPs across the country.

When the government recklessly scrapped the North West’s regional structure, they pledged that the LEPs would be free of the costly bureaucracy that, they claimed, was a feature of the development agencies.
But two years on here was Mr Frost telling delegates that LEPs couldn’t drive economic success on a shoestring. Key staff were needed for marketing and research.

I’m sure he’s right that for LEPs in Lancashire, Greater Manchester and Cheshire to become really effective, you do need people on the ground. So business needs to put its hand in its pocket because the public sector is skint.

My quarrel is with the government who thought that such organisations needed neither funding nor people.

Robert Hough’s task as chairman is to get members who signed up for The Mersey Partnership to remain with the new organisation. He told them it would be worth it as the Liverpool LEP concentrates on key sectors like Low Carbon, the Super Port, advanced manufacturing and the visitor economy.

He forecast that new activities could be given
to our LEPs. Lord Heseltine was looking at giving them a role in venture capital funding.

Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson pledged cooperation with 80% of the LEP’s activities but was clear that issues like World Heritage Status were matters for the city alone.

The LEP has to recognise that the name Liverpool is the attack brand on a global basis. The city has to realise that many of the economic engines of the sub region lie outside the city’s boundaries. Unilever and Cammell Laird are on the Wirral; Pilkington’s is in St Helens.

As we say so often politicians and business leaders need to work together across the city region to realise its full potential.

LORDS OF THE NORTH

I’m not as bothered that the ancestors of some current peers are bastard sons of Charles the Second than that so many of them come from the South East of England.

It’s a fact that the vast majority of the 826 members of the House of Lords are either from that corner of the country or live there now.

This means that most members of the upper chamber who play a crucial role in our law making know little or nothing about our neck of the woods, so roll on regional peers.

The way in which a reshaped House of Lords will be elected has received little attention from the Westminster Village journalists. That’s not surprising as most of them are from the London area.

However the bill to be debated on Monday contains plans that could give a real voice to the North. 80% of the new house will be elected by proportional representation. These new democratic Lords will sit for one 15 year term and they will be elected from the regions of England. So the North West, North East and Yorkshire will be able to elect representatives who know about our patch and its people.

This proposal will also have the advantage of reasserting the concept of the North West of England. The Coalition has spent two years comprehensively wiping regions off the map. Now they are beginning to realise the usefulness of uniting Cumbria, Lancashire, Cheshire and the great cities of Liverpool and Manchester. Better together indeed.

When the time comes we will need to make sure that independent people have a real shot at getting elected. The main political parties will choose their candidates on a list and depending on the votes they get, their peers will be elected in the same way as we choose our members of the European Parliament.

It is a system that locks out the public in favour of party cabals so we will have our work cut out to get independent voices to beat them, but that’s not for now.

What is immediately required is support for the government in getting the Lords reformed. It currently looks as if the Coalition Government is faced with a Coalition of political opportunists and peers with self interested reasons for seeing no reform at all.

All parties are split. The Lib Dems are most in favour but watch some of their representatives in the Lords who may not be too keen to lose their seats. A large number of Tory backbenchers are against for various reasons. There is a group following in the tradition of their predecessors 100 years ago who were prepared to draw the monarchy into politics as they fought against Lords reform. Others are spoiling for a fight with the Lib Dems who are most committed to the measure.

Then there is Labour who are in a mood of dangerous opportunism. They have been in favour of full Lords reform since Kier Hardy (their founder) was a lad. However they can’t resist embarrassing the government by calling for endless debating time on the bill. If they vote with rebel Tories on the motion which decides how long Lords Reform is going to be debated, it could effectively kill the measure.

If that happened the North West would be denied a real chance for a voice in this country’s second chamber.

 

IT’S A LONG GENERAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN

COALITION SPLITTING

I thought the process of the Tories and Lib Dems going their separate ways ahead of the 2015 General Election would start about a year out. Now it looks as if the Coalition Government is going to grind to a halt much sooner as the Tories and Lib Dems bid for votes.

David Cameron has risked this happening with the launch of his idea to scrap housing benefit for under 25s. He made no secret of this being a true Tory policy free from the coalition agreement that so irritates his right wing backbenchers. Its effect is to begin a process that can only weaken the forward movement of the government.

Apart from the fact that most of the key legislation was rammed into the first two years of the parliament, Tory and Lib Dem MPs will now be focused on shaping up for the next election rather than making the concept of coalition government work.

It is true that Cameron has been true to his word to introduce a bill for Lords reform this week. But few Tories have any commitment to it, most are indifferent or are actively plotting to defeat it. They don’t want the measure and they don’t want to put any feathers in the cap of the Lib Dems. So the next election is underway.

TIDE TURNING ON THE OLD?

By and large the old vote and youngsters don’t. Therefore politicians meddle with elderly people’s allowances with the greatest care. Tuition fees of £9000 a year fine but free TV licences and winter fuel allowances for the grey brigade….untouchable, until now.

Although the government is committed to the concessions in this parliament, there are indications that after 2015 the better off elderly are going to start feeing the pain of the younger generation.

And so we should! I was born under the National Health Service in 1948. I did not do national service or fight in a war. University education was free. There were plenty of jobs afterwards and, for some, good pensions to retire on.

Compare that to the stressed generation of youngsters now. Big debts, no jobs and the prospect of paying for our profligate public spending throughout their lives.

The Chancellor made the first move when he chopped the age related tax relief I was expecting next year, but this could only be the start of a seismic move by politicians to be more even handed between the generations.

It will be fascinating to see how the electorate reacts. Will young people start to vote in large numbers to influence politicians or will the 1940s baby boomers mobilise to insist that the good times must continue to roll for them?

NATION OR PREMIER LEAGUE?

There won’t be a long inquest into our latest failure to land the European Nations Cup. (I prefer the old titles, League Cup, European Cup, and Division 1).

We have made our choice. We are happy to pay Sky high subscriptions to watch the world’s best footballers in the First Division (ok, Premier League).

Even more foreign stars will be attracted to our shores with the latest extraordinary hike in television rights. Even fewer talented English players will get a chance to perform at the highest club level, so there will be even fewer able to pass and hold the ball in international tournaments.

The new FA youth centre will help a bit, but as my late father said to me as we watched England winning in 1966, “It could be a long time before you see this happen again.”