Hancock’s Half Page

PEOPLE, NOT POLITICIANS, LEAD ON TAX

Demands for people and companies to pay their fair share of tax, and for company chief executives pay and bonuses to be capped is being led by the grass roots not their leaders.

It’s all very well for David Cameron to jump on the bandwagon and pick on comedian Jimmy Carr’s tax avoidance scheme, but the Prime Minister joins most politicians in failing to address this issue for years.

The Labour Party should have taken a lead while it was in office for 13 years but Tony Blair was so focussed on being “business friendly” that there was little pretence that the party was going to be true to its socialist grass roots and narrow the gap between rich and poor through the tax system. Indeed Lord Mandelson said he was “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich.”

It’s unlikely the public was relaxed, even during the economic good times. They certainly aren’t now as the recession bites hard.

It should now be clear to politicians that there are votes in fairness. There is nothing incompatible between fair taxes, bonuses and salaries and a competitive society. There’s a lot of nonsense talked about our top entrepreneurs being poised with their passports ready to flee Britain for some low tax foreign paradise.

There are a few who are prepared to endure boredom in boiling Qatar or humid Hong Kong. Good luck to them. We must have fairness in Britain and politicians of all parties with the guts to outsmart the clever accountants and their tax loopholes.

THE SECRET POLICE ELECTIONS

It seems as if the government is hell bent on ensuring a low turnout in the elections for Police and Crime Commissioners.

These are entirely new posts that the public have no experience of. Voting will take place in November when the weather is likely to be even worse than it is at the moment. Finally there will be no freepost for the parties to communicate with the public.

If you are tempted to run as an independent in say Merseyside, you will need £60,000 to contact every elector.

At the moment we only know the Labour candidates in the North West. I went along to their launch this week and encountered two familiar faces, Tony Lloyd and Jane Kennedy.

Tony was returned unopposed by the Greater Manchester Labour Party and will shortly stand down as MP for Central Manchester.

Jane Kennedy, a former MP, won a bruising contest with another ex Liverpool MP, Peter Kilfoyle, and the chair of the Merseyside Police Authority Cllr Bill Weightman. Bill opined that the Commissioner role should not be a bolt hole for former MPs.

That was a mild comment compared to Jane Kennedy’s criticism of Peter Kilfoyle for suggesting that being born in Liverpool was a key qualification for the job. She described that to me as the “little Liverpool campaign” and was glad Labour members had rejected it.

Mayor Joe was at the photo call having surprisingly intervened in the selection process to back Kennedy. He justified his decision with a rambling analogy related to choosing cakes. I wondered whether he’d have been present if Kilfoyle had won to which his response was “We’ll never know now.”

Anderson is clearly happy to continue mixing it in the political field. Earlier in the campaign he’d told the Leigh MP Andy Burnham not to interfere in a Merseyside election when the Shadow Health Secretary had given his support to Kilfoyle.

Labour made its choice in Lancashire in a more seemly manner. Lancashire County councillor Clive Grunshaw from Fleetwood is a member of the current Lancashire Police Authority. He may be up against Geoff Driver if the current Conservative leader of Lancashire County Council decides to go for the Tory nomination.

In Cheshire Labour has chosen Halton councillor John Stockton. He may face Baroness Helen Newlove for the Tories. Her husband was murdered by three youth in Warrington in 2007.

There are a number of issues to return to about these new posts as we run up to November including their effectiveness, their relationships with the Chief Constables and what it tells us about the attitude of the the Tories (the traditional party of law and order) and the police.

 

UNITED STATES OF EUROPE? SHOULD WE JOIN?

Only a banking union is going to save the Eurozone. That’s effectively an economic union which needs democratic political control. That means a United States of those countries in the Eurozone which leaves the continental countries outside the Eurozone as an uncomfortable rump plus the UK. London has the biggest banking and financial centre in Europe; therefore we should be part of the United States of Europe.

Whilst Eurosceptics (most of you) gag on this outrageous proposition, let me make my case. It won’t be easy in a country that has been heavily influenced for a long time by the anti-EU Murdoch press. Remember what former Prime Minister John Major told the Leveson Inquiry this week. How this jumped up Aussie press baron had threatened the Prime Minister of this country that if he didn’t change his policy on Europe, all his newspapers would aim to bring him down.

The Greek vote this weekend may accelerate the deepening crisis brought about by the contradiction of having a common currency without central banking control. Whether the Greeks elect a far left government that repudiates their bailout conditions or not, the President of the European Commission is already paving the way for a banking union to start next January.

It would mean common supervision of Eurozone banks giving the German Chancellor what she wants, joint accountability and joint control all in one.

Whilst euroscepticism is rampant in Britain, the response of European politicians to the deepening crisis is to see the solution in closer integration.

David Cameron and George Osborne won’t be taking my advice, although they will support the Eurozone drawing closer together. After all the Chancellor is convinced this Euro chaos rather than the Jubilee Bank Holiday or the wrong kind of rain is hampering our recovery. The UK will demand a strengthening of the single market involving all 27 member states to protect our large financial services sector.

But the Germans aren’t happy with the British government’s approach. They fear the danger of a 2 speed Europe if there is a tight Eurozone with Britain outside. But they aren’t going to get us in because most people in Britain think the Euro is a failure and we are well out of it. I doubt if that is a wise judgement in the longer term.

If we were part of a united Europe we would be able to add our economic and fiscal wisdom to a collection of countries that badly need it. We should be alongside Germany and France in spreading best practice from Eastern Europe to the Atlantic. That way we could ensure stability in our biggest market. As it is we are shouting advice from the sidelines and we could soon be down the tunnel and out of the stadium.

That’s because the pressure for a referendum on our continued membership of the European Union is wearing down all politicians. There are even suggestions that the Labour Party is dallying with this irresponsible nonsense.

Irresponsible nonsense to give the British people a say? I’m afraid so. There would be a big vote to get out and only then would we realise what we’ve lost. We’d be like Norway, obeying all the EU rules so that we could sell our goods but with no influence.

 

 

HANSON FOR MERSEYTRAVEL?

 

HANSON FOR MERSEYTRAVEL?

As forecast here last week, pressure is mounting on Merseytravel chairman Mark Dowd to go. His vigorous response to accusations of broken contract rule has merely galvanised opposition to him within his own Labour Party ranks.

Leading the way has been Liverpool Cabinet member Joe Hanson who it is now clear is the person behind a critical report on Cllr Dowd’s record. Hanson may be the man to challenge Cllr Dowd when the authority holds its annual general meeting later this month.

The fact that he is a Liverpool councillor, and traditionally such posts are held by politicians from councils in the rest of Merseyside, may now be less of a problem. Reports suggest that St Helens councillors on the transport authority have joined the call for Cllr Dowd to go. St Helens is traditionally the council most sensitive to Liverpool dominating the city region.

WARRINGTON NEW LEADERSHIP

Who is going to fill the gap left by the departure of Chief Executive Diana Terris? Sources suggest she found it difficult to work with the Labour administration which came into office last year. My information is that the authority will take its time to make a permanent appointment. In the meantime we can expect an announcement shortly of an experienced pair of hands to guide the authority through the transition.

CONSULTATION OR CHAOS?

Labour does want its pasty and eat it.
I mean the government changes its mind about the tax on this product and an MP called Chris Leslie is all over our screens saying the whole budget is in chaos.

He’s miffed because he won’t be able to beat the Chancellor over the head about the issue again or the tax on static caravans. The tax on church conversions is rumoured to be next.

Of course George Osborne made a mess of his budget, allowing everyone to focus on these irritating issues which are small in the great scheme of things. This has obscured his determination to keep getting the deficit down and the fact that millions of poorer people have been taken out of tax. The latter largely because of Lib Dem pressure.

So the government has changed its mind. All credit to them I say for listening. That’s what democracy is all about.

NICK ROBINSON AND BRIAN REDHEAD.

Spin, sleaze and splits. That’s the staple diet of political journalism. But should we replace some of that with substance?

That was the question that the BBC’s Political Editor Nick Robinson posed at a memorial lecture this week in honour of that great North West journalist Brian Redhead.

Partly driven by the demands of editors and also by the incessant demands of 24 hour news, political coverage does tend to concentrate on those three s-words. But Nick was asking how far this has contributed to the yawning chasm that has opened up between politicians and the people.

If the public is constantly told their politicians are on the make, if they think the reporter is being manipulated by spin doctors or is telling them about internal party squabbles that they don’t care about, then probably journalism has some responsibility for low turnout.

So Nick suggested we need to do something about the fourth s-word, substance. Perhaps we should have more coverage of how policy is made, why it is so difficult, what factors are taken into account.

The problem is who would watch it or read it? Nick feared it might be regarded as “eating your greens television.” In other words good for you but not necessarily very enjoyable after a hard day’s work.

I was privileged to host a question and answer session after Nick had spoken at the lecture in Salford Quays. Nick had first worked for me at Piccadilly Radio (now Key 103) in January 1983. He had a year to fill because he could not go to university following a terrible car crash which saw his great friend Will Redhead killed.

Nick paid tribute to Brian, who included presenting the Today programme and editing the Manchester Evening News, amongst his achievements and said he had inspired him to take up journalism.

Brian encouraged all young journalists. In the early eighties I always hoped he’d be on the mid morning train to Macclesfield after we had both finished working in London. If he was you’d be guaranteed a couple of hours of inspiring chat which was substantial but included a bit about spin, sleaze and splits too.

DOWD UNDER PRESSURE

DOWD UNDER PRESSURE

Mark Dowd, the man who makes the trains run on time across Merseyside, could be facing the end of his long stint as Chair of Merseytravel.

Transport sources suggest that the challenge may come from within Cllr Dowd’s own Labour party and even more controversially may come from the Liverpool Labour Group.

Any move by the city to take over the chair is likely to be viewed warily by outer boroughs that have jealously guarded key posts on the city region wide bodies that control waste, fire, police and travel.

Apart from Cllr Dowd (Sefton), the chair of the Police Authority Bill Weightman comes from Knowsley as does Cllr Tony Newman who chairs the Fire Authority. Meanwhile the Recycling and Waste Authority is headed up by the appropriately named Cllr Joe De Asha from St Helens. I hear Liverpool could be targeting his post as well. That won’t go down well with the St Helens Council leader Marie Rimmer whose relations with Mayor Joe are said to be poor.

Fears of these attempted Liverpool takeovers have been heightened by the election of Joe Anderson as mayor. He believes the post should cover the city region and may get government backing as he slowly tries to widen his influence.

Cllr Dowd may be vulnerable because a local newspaper has given extensive coverage to a report by the District Auditor questioning how millions of pounds had been spent by Merseytravel on consultants without the contracts being put out to tender.

Tory Wirral MP Esther McVey and Lib Dem peer Lord Mike Storey have now called for an investigation.

Mark Dowd, a man well used to the rough and tumble of Merseyside politics has hit back saying the District Auditor had found no substance in most of the claims and where there needed to be improvement, this was being done.

The problem for Cllr Dowd is that the District Auditor’s findings follow a highly critical report on the governance of Merseytravel under Mark Dowd by fellow Labour councillors. Perhaps this paves the way for a takeover bid at the annual meeting next month.

CHESHIRE ON THE MARCH

Manchester and Liverpool better watch out. Cheshire is tired of being depicted as the home of footballers wives and the famous cheese.

With poverty still a major problem in our big cities, it is often tempting to look at the lush acres to the south and think the county hasn’t any problems.

Liverpool, Manchester and to some extent Lancashire have been successful in drawing attention to their problems and getting investment.

Cheshire missed out on an enterprise zone although the ones in Liverpool, Daresbury and Manchester Airport are right on its borders.

Now the drive is on to get the whole of Cheshire as well as Warrington working together. At an impressive Westminster Day in the House of Commons a positive message was sent out drawing attention to the economic advantages of business locating in the county.

The Chancellor and Tatton MP George Osborne came along on his birthday. Pete Waterman (a member of the Cheshire and Warrington Local Enterprise Partnership) gave a rousing speech in support of HS2 and a room near Westminster Hall was set aside for admiring parliamentarians to sample Cheshire fare.