The Prime Minister may be spluttering from a cold, what should make her splutter is Boris Johnson. How much longer must we endure the spectacle of fellow craven Cabinet Ministers making excuses for this excuse of a Foreign Secretary.

The buffoon is dragging the name of Britain through the gutter. The post of Foreign Secretary has been held with dignity by almost all holders of the office since the war. They only have to look around the grand building on Whitehall to realise that it was the base from which our wisdom was sought after centuries of foreign experience.

Johnson is in that worst tradition of upper class British toffs who think their mild racism is amusing. That it is funny to talk about clearing bodies away so that Sirte can become another glittering enclave of wealth amid Middle East poverty.

He should have been sacked over his Brexit interventions designed to destabilise the Prime Minister. He has now crossed a line which in any normal circumstance would have seen him sacked.

But at the end of this conference season we do not live in normal circumstances. My journey around the conference venues have taken me from The Lib Dems defiant in their policy of exit from Brexit under new leader Vince Cable, to Labour where their third successive defeat was celebrated like a victory and finally to Manchester. There the party that has, one way and another, won three elections was depressed and uncertain. Spooked by Jeremy Corbyn’s anti austerity rhetoric, they are now running before the Labour wind offering concessions on student fees and housing. The danger is they will get no credit for it whilst abandoning their reputation for economic rectitude. The last time that happened, in 1992, they were out of office for a long time.

The Tory conference began behind the most extensive security wall I had ever seen in Manchester. Thankfully there were no arrests and it was good to see, alongside the austerity protest, one opposed to Brexit. It is time Remainers found their voice.

But inside the cordon there was anger among the Tory grassroots over the election manifesto, the selection of candidates and the centralisation of the party. On the conference floor it looked as if  no ordinary representatives were called to speak, just a succession of Cabinet Ministers.

Labour on the other hand have reverted to allowing everyone a voice except MPs. The resulting chaos of card votes and remitted motions was a real throwback to the 1970s.

So where are we at the end of this conference season. I have always believed that Mrs May would be left in place because nobody else wants the inevitable criticism that will be hurled at the holder of the office when whatever Brexit deal is done.

After Manchester I am not so sure. The darkening weeks after conference is a dangerous time for Tory leaders from Mrs Thatcher in 1990 to Iain Duncan Smith in 2003.

If May goes surely the Tory Party won’t elect Johnson? Surely their love affair with the lovable tousled clown has turned to contempt for his incompetence as Foreign Secretary and impatience at his blatant careerism.




We would not be able to repeat the 2008 rescue of the banks because our debt and deficit is too high. That was the stark, and under reported, comment from Chancellor Phil Hammond in a recent TV interview.

It didn’t get much attention because Hammond went on to call for an end to Cabinet leaks against him. A bunch of extreme Brexiteers and people measuring up the curtains in No 10 are letting their teenage special advisers loose to brief the media against the Chancellor.

His crimes? Calling for a transitional phase as we leave the EU and opposing a wholesale relaxation of the government’s pay policy. The former suggestion outrages extreme Brexiteers who want to leave the EU as fast as possible and hang the consequences. The latter view frustrates those with an eye on succeeding Theresa May because they believe the best hope for the Tories remaining in power, and them becoming Prime Minister, rests with a Corbyn lite approach to austerity.

In relation to the EU exit bill, Mr Hammond also said that we are not a country that welches on our responsibilities. That is the honourable position we should all support. Unfortunately, Boris Johnson says the EU can “go whistle” for their money. The clown demeans the office of Foreign Secretary.

It might be useful to spell out exactly why the gung ho approach of Johnson is as ill-informed as usual. For those that believe we can exit the EU without a bill, these are some of the facts. We have made EU budget and foreign aid commitments until 2020. We have made loan promises to the Irish and Portuguese governments. We are on the hook for the pensions of EU staff and even for keeping European satellites orbiting. What needs to be determined is our actual share, whether spending can be reprofiled, what’s actually involved and the method of calculation. Only then will we get the bill, but get the bill we will.

If the Chancellor said public sector staff were overpaid, he was wrong but he is right to have a cautious attitude to a pay explosion. He is also right on his approach to Europe. So, he should be supported not undermined by his colleagues. He is a friend of business.


Some of the salaries of BBC stars revealed this week are excessive. This is particularly so in the case of people like John Humphrys who gets £600,000 for presenting Today and plenty more hosting conferences. He has admitted he wouldn’t work anywhere else which is just as well as there is no equivalent job in commercial radio really. I certainly can’t see LBC forking out that figure when they have Nick Ferrari. So, the argument that they have to pay him the market rate or lose him doesn’t apply. It is different for the likes of Gary Linaker.

I look forward to other broadcasting channels and companies subjecting themselves to equal transparency in respect of the gender pay gap which has been shown up at the BBC and no doubt applies elsewhere.

One thing I will say for the BBC, their coverage of this awkward subject for them was extensive and balanced.

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The General Election result indicated a turning of a corner in the sentiment of the nation, the reaction to the dreadful Grenfell Tower fire, confirmed it.

The tide of anti-State, anti EU feeling is on the ebb. People are beginning to realise that a lot of “red tape” is there to protect people and keep them safe. I doubt if ministers will be calling for three regulations to be abolished for every new one in the future. That’s not to say business should not continue to identify silly or bureaucratic impediments to commercial transactions. But where regulations are in place to protect people, we should recognise their purpose and remember the poor victims of Grenfell Tower.

On Europe, a YouGov poll this month showed most people now think it was wrong for us to vote to leave the EU.

Tory and Labour politicians need to take this changing world into account. There are signs from the Queen’s Speech that the Conservatives will modify their austerity agenda and use some of the £23bn slack in the government coffers available to 2021 to fund schools and public sector pay rises.

It is going to be down to Labour to reflect the changing sentiments on Europe. Apart from that poll, there were two developments this week which show the stupidity of leaving the EU. On the very first day of the Brexit talks we had a taste of the EU’s strength. The idea that we could negotiate future trade in parallel with the divorce terms was blown out of the water. Then came the Queen’s Speech and the revelation that eight huge pieces of legislation are going to be needed over the next two years to implement this wholly negative exercise.

So, whilst we fail to deal with pressing issues like the future of social care, MPs will be up all night repatriating powers over nuclear waste or money laundering which having a glaring need to be done across the EU.


The low-key State Opening of Parliament seemed appropriate. The Queen didn’t ride to Westminster in her golden carriage and the crown rested on a table beside the monarch as she delivered the paired down proposals of the government. She looked as if she was being delayed in getting to Ascot and the whole occasion which usually anticipates a new government with interesting proposals was flat and dreary.

There is considerable anxiety that government momentum behind the Northern Powerhouse has drained away. We’ll get a better sense of that following an important transport conference in Manchester on Monday. But in the Queen’s Speech I only noticed a bill to extend HS2 from Birmingham to Crewe and a reference to the new industrial strategy.

Business needs to speak out about issues around skills, productivity and the Northern Powerhouse. I don’t know if bosses felt restrained by the election campaign. They shouldn’t have been because that is the very time to speak out. Anyway, the net result has been that business and the economy were topics that dare not speak their name.

Theresa May could stumble out of office at any time but I still think she’ll last two years. People who think Boris Johnson is the answer should listen to his car crash performance on “PM” on Radio 4 on Wednesday. His “wing it” approach to policy was effectively exposed. The nation should tire of this clown.





Debate has opened up on the future configuration of the Northern Powerhouse under Theresa May’s government. Should the project be less focused on our cities and cover a wider canvas? Will we play second fiddle to the Midlands Engine? What is the key to providing sustainable jobs in the middle of this century?

On the latter point, the Centre For Cities think tank have opened an interesting debate suggesting in the words of their Chief Executive “the calls of some politicians to recreate the North’s glory days by focusing on a resurgence in manufacturing will not be sufficient to transform the North’s economy.”

Does Alexandra Jones have a point? I felt a wave of pride this week when Sir David Attenborough was present at the keel laying ceremony for the first large ship to be built at Cammell Laird’s yard in Birkenhead for many years. It was a reminder of a past era when Birkenhead made ships, Manchester spun textiles and Sheffield forged steel and sold the products round the world. There is something special about making things. Flying sparks, liquid metal, the clatter of weaving machines will always beat the tap on the keyboard and the silent transfer of information from one computer screen to another. Much of this is sentimental tosh when considering what the North needs to do to make the Northern Powerhouse a reality.

Centre For Cities is right to focus our attention on what happened to London which used to be a major centre for manufacturing with its docks nearby. It transformed into a hi tech and service based economy with excellent communications and high skills. That is what we need to do, particularly the latter.

But there needs to be a balance. A major apprentice fair was held in Manchester this week where youngsters were being urged to get skilled up not just for hi tech and service industry jobs but ones involving construction and hydraulics. There will still be a place for manufacturing in the North if we can identify the opportunities in sectors like energy and aerospace.


A third runway at Heathrow has been under consideration since 1968. It is pathetic that the Prime Minister, who came in stressing the need for a new industrial strategy based on infrastructure spending, is delaying a final decision for another year.

It is pretty clear that Heathrow will get the nod over Gatwick. Why else would these elaborate plans be drawn up to allow Cabinet ministers like Boris Johnson to express their continued opposition and remain in the Cabinet?

The Davies Commission should have backed a regional expansion strategy, particularly with HS2 in mind, but with only Gatwick and Heathrow on the table, the North has to choose which to back.

Gatwick is simply on the wrong side of London for most of the country with Heathrow offering much better connection to the North.

But we need to get on with infrastructure spending on HS2, housing and Heathrow and if people find it too noisy and congested in West London then come North where the quality of life is infinitely better!

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