Hancock’s Half Page


I was first in the queue for a seat at the grilling of the BBC Director General over Jimmy Savile on Tuesday. God knows why George Entwhistle volunteered for the ordeal that befell him because, having set up two inquiries, he should have been lying low not exposing himself to MPs who wanted quick answers or an easy headline.


What we got was a very inexperienced DG caught in the headlights and choosing to hang out one of his senior programme editors to dry. If I was Peter Rippon, now “standing aside” from the editorship of Newsnight, I would take the transcript of the Culture Select Committee report to an employment tribunal if he loses his job permanently.


Entwhistle expressed his embarrassment and regret that Rippon’s blog on why he had spiked the Savile investigation was not accurate. He said Rippon’s reasons for not transmitting the report were not defensible. He (Entwhistle) would have transmitted it. He made it clear that he had suspended Rippon rather than the editor having volunteered to “stand aside”.


If your boss went on national media and treated you in the same way, how would you feel? The DG laid down his friend for his life big time.


The pain Rippon must be feeling at his treatment by Entwhistle must only be exceeded by his angst that he did not transmit the report on Savile’s vile behaviour. The fact that ITV scooped the BBC on their own story is a source of huge frustration throughout the corporation and explains the furious civil war that has now broken out.


Rippon is being accused of being sat on by people higher up the BBC chain of command or of lacking the courage to back his journalists. So let’s hold on a minute and reflect that we are all operating with the help of hindsight. A year ago Entwhistle, as Head of BBC Vision, had no qualms in making tribute programmes on Savile a centrepiece of his Christmas schedule. Although rumours and allegations about Savile had been around for years, Entwhistle must have felt them so insignificant that a tribute to Savile’s talent and charity work was entirely appropriate.


It reminds us that just a year ago Savile was a national treasure and the people of Leeds lined the streets as his coffin passed.


It was against this background that reporter Liz Mackean and producer Meirion Jones were preparing to bring Savile’s reputation crashing down. So, although Rippon allowed the production to get to an advanced stage, he must have looked at the state of opinion as it was then. Savile had just died amid public acclaim and the BBC was planning a Christmas celebration of the dead star. He was entitled to take a deep breath before giving the final go ahead.


Two more factors may have affected his decision. One was the huge responsibility that is put on individual programme editors in the BBC. They can talk to colleagues, but it is their call. It is a protection against pressure coming down from above, but it is an awesome individual responsibility in the end.


The other factor that might have weighed on his mind is the Trafigura affair. Peter Rippon was the editor of Newsnight in December 2009 when the BBC withdrew an allegation that the company’s dumping of hazardous waste in the Ivory Coast was directly responsible for deaths there. The report was the work of Meirion Jones and Liz Mackean. The pair rightly went on to win a major award for investigative reporting but reports suggest the BBC faced a bill of £3m if they had fought Trafigura in court.


The BBC is once again at the mercy of those who are always looking for reasons to bring it down. It has not handled this matter well and may well face further embarrassing revelations. But at the end of it all let’s remember that the person who bears ultimate responsibility for this is not George Entwhistle or Peter Rippon, but Jimmy Savile.


Congratulations to the European Union on winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Amid all the bile that is hurled at the EU, we should never forget that its founding purpose was to prevent general European war after two devastating conflicts that had ripped the continent apart.


However I sometimes feel that relying on that justification to support the EU is a bit desperate, the last refuge of a pro-European who has run out of other arguments. So let’s look at much more up to date evidence that the EU is doing a good job whilst most British politicians are engaged in a pathetic race to prove their Euroscepticism to a deluded British public.


Let’s take the Home Secretary’s announcement that she is considering pulling the UK out of European police and justice co-operation. The European arrest warrant is at the heart of this with Euro sceptics claiming that we are in danger of being lifted off the streets at the whim of some Belgian or Bulgarian policeman and left to languish in a foreign jail for years.


How the warrant works may need looking at but it, along with a whole range of other measures have been highly successful in breaking up paedophile rings, arresting terrorists, deporting dangerous criminals and catching fraudsters who thought they were safe from British justice as the sunned themselves on the Costa del Crime.


Those pressing for this grand assertion of British independence from the grip of Europe should ponder the successes of the warrant in arresting Hussein Osman one of the failed 21/7 London bombers or more recently the arrest of Jeremy Forrester the teacher wanted for alleged child abduction having run off with a 15 year old pupil.


We need to work wholeheartedly within the European Union and stop this ridiculous half in half out nonsense. Take the current discussions on bank regulation. Do we suppose that just because we are not in the Euro zone, our banks won’t be affected. They trade in Euros all the time. Our voice must be heard to make a difference.


Despite this Tory and Labour politicians grow increasingly frightened of UKIP. David Cameron and Ed Miliband both know withdrawal from the EU would be disastrous for Britain but fear that is what would happen if the public was offered an in/out referendum.


So examine the Prime Minister’s remarks on a referendum very carefully. What he is likely to offer is a referendum on what concessions he can get on social and employment law, probably after the General Election.


You can predict that he will get very little from the other 26 countries on the basis that we all have to abide by the same rules in a free market. The press will criticise the package, the voters will vote to reject Cameron’s package……and then what?


It is a disgraceful con and shame on Labour for flirting with the possibility of offering a similar referendum.


We are in the EU, let’s use our influence to reform it and away with this endless boring argument about leaving.




I went to the memorial service for Lord Alf Morris who died this summer. Born into Manchester poverty he was Wythenshawe’s MP for over thirty years. His crowning achievement was the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act which has transformed the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

Few politicians make a real difference, Alf was one.




The Tory conference hall in Birmingham was a place to go for a snooze (except when The Blonde Mop was speaking). But on the fringe there was plenty going on affecting every business in the North West.


Despite the BAE/EADS merger collapsing and the West Coast rail franchise descending into back biting and law suits, there was still a determination for the region to defy the recession with infrastructure projects.


There were lively fringe meetings put on by Atlantic Gateway, United Utilities and BAE, all stressing that they wanted to help the government grow its way out of the recession. Liverpool 2 Port Terminal had a prime location for its stand and there was news that HS2 is to be speeded up with plans for its route into the North West being published in the next few months.




The BAE/EADS merger drama was unfolding as the Tory conference was getting under way. The Prime Minister and the Defence Secretary Philip Hammond were in Birmingham rather than in their normal power centres in Whitehall. On Monday night BAE hosted a long arranged fringe meeting and had to listen to Tory MPs and MEPs claiming BAE were about to be crushed between French and German interests if the merger went ahead. The BAE representative told us the proposed merger was “an opportunity not a necessity”.


By Tuesday German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s representative had called David Cameron in his hotel suite in Birmingham to indicate her wholesale objection to the deal.


This left North West Tories from Lancashire and Cumbria at the conference worried about the future of BAE. There was widespread criticism of the company’s senior managers who had been on the back foot since a leak had forced them to reveal a half-cooked agreement. Once the plans had been revealed BAE should have gone on the offensive selling the merits of a defence-civilian plane business link up. Instead they spent weeks on the defensive as criticism of the merger mounted.


Now the workforce at Warton,Salmesbury and Barrow are worried about the future for BAE in a world where defence orders are shrinking. Unions have attacked what they claim is a lack of a defence strategy by the British government.




If defence jobs are under threat in the northern part of our region, perhaps we need to look south to the arc of development potential stretching from Manchester Airport along the banks of the Mersey to Liverpool.


Atlantic Gateway held a fringe meeting in Birmingham to get over the message that 250,000 new jobs could be created from £14 bn of investment in everything from the Northern rail hub, Daresbury Science Park, the new Mersey bridge and the Liverpool/Wirral Waters project. Added to this the area has three enterprise zones and the Liverpool 2 Port Terminal which aims to attract freight that currently comes through Southampton and Felixstowe with ultimate destinations in the North.


Dennis Bate of Bovis LendLease said the Atlantic Gateway was just the sort of big scale project that wealth funds were looking to invest in. He told representatives that the era of looking to government for big money was over.


The meeting was going well until the new leader of Cheshire East Council Michael Jones cast doubt on Manchester and Liverpool’s commitment to Atlantic Gateway. It is true that in the past Manchester Council’s Chief Executive Sir Howard Bernstein has been less than enthusiastic about the concept but everyone agreed that unity was essential in backing big scale investment to counter the over heated London economy. How else can we compete with the capital which has at its head a man who dominated the conference?




That is apparently what David Cameron called Boris Johnson just before the latter he descended like a whirlwind on the conference.


Just as I wasn’t carried away by the media euphoria that surrounded Ed Miliband last week, nor was I impressed with the Prime Ministerial credentials of Boris. I rarely queue to get into meetings these days, but I did for Boris because he is interesting and entertaining. But is he really equipped for the hard grind of decision making that the office of Prime Minister requires? David Cameron’s speech had few jokes but he’s taking the tough decisions.


The truth is Boris beat a tired Ken Livingstone in the Mayoral election. He was a great cheerleader for the Olympics but, as he himself acknowledged, the success was down to excellent teams in the Olympic organising bodies.

A BBC poll of conference delegates yielded quite a close result when they were asked who their next leader should be. 60% said Boris 40% backed anyone else. The latter is quite a high figure and suggests that the Conservative Party is not wholly caught up in the Boris mania.





What a start to the Tory conference! A £40 million bill for the taxpayer over the bungled West Coast rail franchise process.


The government’s reputation was badly damaged by the budget u turns on things like the pasty tax. Now having asserted that the rail franchise process had been properly carried out, we find out that serious mistakes were made. Civil servants screwed up but the government’s assurances puts ministers in the frame too.


When administrations get a reputation for incompetence, it is very difficult to win back the trust of the voters. Tories won’t need reminding about the events of twenty years ago when Chancellor Norman Lamont had to exit the Exchange Rate Mechanism.


What makes the West Coast rail shambles so damaging is that news of it was announced by the government around midnight on the day that Labour leader Ed Miliband had made his acclaimed keynote speech at the Labour conference in Manchester. It included a devastating attack on what he called an incompetent, hopeless shower of a government. Then, hey presto, along comes the rail franchise train crash.


It was already going to be a difficult conference for the Conservatives. The Tory Right are almost in open revolt against David Cameron. He failed to deliver full victory in 2010 and right wing backbenchers are suspicious that the Prime Minister is using his Lib Dem Coalition partners as an excuse for not delivering proper Conservative policies.


Cameron and his Chancellor George Osborne need to calm representatives in Birmingham who only see continued economic recession and probable election defeat as they look towards 2013. The county council elections next year are important for the Tories. The shires are their territory, but for how long? An ex North West Tory MP told me this week that he was certain Labour will take Lancashire next May.




The Labour conference in Manchester went off smoothly but that didn’t mean that all was sweetness and light among the comrades.


Blackburn MP Jack Straw’s memoires have not gone down well with the rank and file. Many I spoke to questioned what was the point of Jack rubbishing the reputation of the long dead John Smith. He lead the party briefly in the early 1990’s before his sudden sad death. What did we gain by learning from Jack Straw that he liked a drink?


Straw reveals how he was encouraged to challenge Gordon Brown when it became clear that the party was heading for defeat under his leadership. However he lacked the courage to do it and joins a number of other Labour figures who also allowed the unopposed coronation of Brown in 2007 when Tony Blair retired.


Straw has been a brilliant MP for Blackburn. He is very proud of his constituency and the word in Manchester was that he intends to fight again in 2015. If that happens a question arises over the future of his son Will Straw. An up and coming figure in the party, it has been suggested to me that Will might contest the neighbouring Tory held seat of Rossendale and Darwen. It would be interesting if he won because relations between the communities of Blackburn and Darwen are, to put it politely, “interesting”.


Whilst we are on the subject of Labour candidates in Lancashire, how about Alistair Campbell for Burnley?

From remarks he made in Manchester he clearly fancies becoming an MP. His passion for Burnley football club is well known and the Lib Dem MP Gordon Birtwhistle is bound to be vulnerable in 2015.


My final thoughts on Labour’s conference in Manchester must focus on Ed Miliband. It was a good speech but I still think there is a certain awkwardness in his presentation style.


After two years though he has developed the confidence to make the final break with Tony Blair’s New Labour. He said it was too silent about those with responsibilities at the top and too timid about the accountability of those with power.


He’s right about that but New Labour did deliver three election victories.


Follow me at www.jimhancock.co.uk