The May government is rattled by the growing perception that they are not serious about the Northern Powerhouse. So, it perhaps would have been easier for the Conservatives to be meeting in their other conference city, Birmingham. The city has been confirmed as the UK candidate for the 2022 Commonwealth Games following the election of a Tory West Midlands mayor. In Greater Manchester we elected Andy Burnham who has expressed his outrage at the decision to downgrade the electrification of the Leeds-Manchester rail line whilst giving the go ahead to Crossrail 2 in London.

We know the government is rattled because last week I was present at a meeting in Manchester where the Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, came out fighting over his government’s transport spending. He told a startled business audience that he was going to slay some myths and rattled off a whole series of road improvements from Cumbria to Cheshire before tackling rail. His argument seems to be that electrification could be an old hat solution and bi-modal trains with state of the art technology could be the answer.

The issue is sure to come up at a conference where the Tories are reeling on many fronts. Whereas I saw Jeremy Corbyn lauded at every turn in Brighton for losing the General Election, Theresa May comes to Manchester having “won” but with the worst Conservative campaign in living memory. The Tories are past masters at preventing unrest breaking out on the conference floor but there is sure to be some raking over of the General Election coals at the fringe meetings.

Europe will also be an issue to watch at the Manchester conference. The prospect of us effectively being in the European Union until 2021 has angered the hardline Brexiteers. There will be plenty of them in Manchester Central. The Tory activists who come to conference have always been very Eurosceptic.

Besides the Northern Powerhouse, the poor election campaign and Europe, the main challenge for the Tories this weekend will be to answer the growing opposition to austerity and cuts. Labour is shamelessly promising everything to everyone, even acknowledging that if they came to power there could well be a massive run on the pound. Nevertheless, they seem to have caught a tide of opinion against pay curbs, high rents and homelessness. The Tories’ austerity programme has been in place for over seven years now and people are fed up. There are some signs that ministers are recognising this but that can spell danger. Small concessions don’t necessarily assuage the anger. They can make matters worse as workers take industrial action to push for more and the uncertain tone from ministers gives the impression that the government is running out of ideas and is past its sell by date.

Jeremy Corbyn said in Brighton that he was a Prime Minister in waiting. It was a bold, some would say fanciful claim, but if the Cabinet infighting over Europe doesn’t stop, if the cracks are on display in Manchester, there can be no certainty over what might happen this winter.

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Next week business and council chiefs from across the North will meet to demand a fair transport deal for our region. The summit, backed by Downtown in Business, comes in the wake of a watering down of government pledges on connectivity for the Northern Powerhouse (NP) and the simultaneous approval of Crossrail 2 for London.

We’ll see what the response is from ministers. They’ll need to bear in mind that the Conservative conference is in Manchester this autumn and the issue could be an embarrassing one, if not resolved.

But there is another decision to be taken shortly which will indicate whether the NP is still a priority for the government or if the Midlands Engine is to be favoured in the future. The question before ministers is whether to back Birmingham or Liverpool as the UK’s nominee to host the 2022 Commonwealth Games.

The Liverpool bid has brought rivals together like never before. Everton’s proposed new ground at Bramley Moore Dock would host the athletics, Anfield would stage the rugby sevens. Manchester’s velodrome would be the venue for the cycling. Wayne Rooney, who has played in both cities, has just announced his support for the bid which it is hoped will accelerate a billion pounds of investment in the north docks area and 12,000 jobs.

Liverpool would be a great venue for the Games with other venues like St George’s Hall and the ACC Arena also being used. The North West has already staged one of the most successful Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002 and ministers should show confidence in our region again.

This is especially the case as bid chairman Brian Barwick and Mayor Joe Anderson have responded to a crisis following the withdrawal of Durban earlier this year. Liverpool originally intended to bid for 2026. Let’s hope doubts over the city’s ability to deliver to the shorter deadline won’t scupper the bid. Particular focus will be on the ability to deliver Everton’s new stadium. That saga has been dragging on for most of this century.

Birmingham already has a stadium which is the home of UK athletics and claims it is 95% ready to host the games although it does not have an Olympic size swimming pool.

Certainty about facilities being ready on time are important, but so are politics. Conservative Andy Street was recently elected as Mayor of the Birmingham City Region and will be expecting the backing of his government in this important decision.

But as the Liverpool Echo said recently “Birmingham? As the Capital of HS2 and so close to the gold-paved streets of London, they don’t need any further help.”


I wrote a couple of weeks ago that the Trump family could rule America till 2033. Now I wonder if Donald Trump will last the year. The laughable clown has now become sinister. There is a difference between fully armed Nazis and Anti-Nazi protesters reacting unwisely to provocation. Trump either doesn’t understand this or regards the far right as part of his blue-collar coalition.

He is alienating the business community although the turmoil doesn’t seem to be affecting the markets. If it does, the cry for Vice President Pence to steady the ship will grow, although such a transition would be fraught with danger particularly after the scenes in Charlottesville.

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It is very unfortunate that Angela Eagle has dropped out of the Labour leadership race. It is high time the party elected a woman leader. Every time is not quite the right time. Eagle defied intimidation in her Wallasey constituency to be first to challenge Jeremy Corbyn but as so often in politics the frontrunner rarely wins the crown. Ask Michael Heseltine or Boris Johnson. Also the North is losing its representation at the top of British politics with the sacking of Tatton’s George Osborne as Chancellor and now the prospect of a Welshman (Owen Smith) battling it out with an Islington socialist for the Labour leadership.

All that said Owen Smith now deserves support. He looks like someone who has what it takes to actually lead a parliamentary party. That is what this leadership election will be all about. In policy terms there doesn’t seem to be that much between Corbyn and Smith but hopefully the latter will realise that you have to work with your Shadow Cabinet and not surround yourself with a cabal. The complaints of those who resigned from the shadow team about calls unanswered, meetings not attended and a lack of coordination on Labour’s message are too numerous to ignore.

The other attraction of Smith is that he seems to favour consulting the British people on the terms of any Brexit deal. This is going to be the central issue in British politics running up to the next general Election. The Brexiteers still can’t tell us what Brexit would mean for business leave alone working people facing a possible self induced recession. It is vital that parliament votes on whether to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and whatever Brexit Secretary David Davis comes up with is put to the British people. We need a coherent alliance of Labour led by Owen Smith, the SNP, Lib Dems and peers to allow the British people a say in the consequences of the crude binary choice offered on June 23. We may be able to add some Tories to that grouping. Former Attorney General Dominic Grieve has expressed his concern about us being taken out of the EU without further consultation with the voters.

The main problem is that the Tory government may have completed our exit in 2019, before the next General Election. I think an earlier poll is unlikely because the Prime Minister has ruled out seeking an immediate mandate from the people and a later move to overturn the fixed term legislation would look opportunistic. Also holding a General Election in the middle of the tortuous Brexit talks would pile on the uncertainty for business.


Brexit is creating all sorts of problems around funding and personnel in our science based northern universities. So it is timely that Europe’s largest interdisciplinary science meeting, EuroScience Open Forum (ESOF) is coming to Manchester this weekend. 4500 leading researchers and policy makers will be discussing what business opportunities will be created by using innovative technology in smart cities.

The programme director of ESOF is one of the unsung heroes of public service in the North West. Vicky Rosin’s forty years in local government started in Liverpool. She moved to Manchester Council and until recently was Deputy Chief Executive to Sir Howard Bernstein. She had key roles in the Commonwealth Games and exciting refurbishment of the city’s Central Library. Now it is ESOF which will include 600 speakers from 50 countries.