While the Lib Dems implode after their disastrous election results, let us look forward to the implications for next year. I have thought for some time that the Tories would be the largest party after the General Election. Labour’s under performance in the North last week has strengthened my view. Therefore there is a reasonable prospect that David Cameron will be in a position to try to renegotiate our treaty arrangements with the E.U.
Up to now I had thought that his demands would be unacceptably high even for our German and Swedish allies. This is because the Better Off Out wing of the Conservative Party is exerting increasing pressure on him. The result would be that Cameron would come back with a weak package of concessions that he would try, and fail, to sell in an in/out referendum in 2017.
However the scale of hostility to the E.U project across a large number of countries is such that the impetus for change has grown and Cameron may be able to get meaningful concessions. These could cover immigration controls, the working time directive, benefit tourism and the “ever closer union” clause of the Treaty of Rome. If all this happens, then the chances of the British people making the disastrous decision to come out of the E.U may be avoided. But don’t hold your breath. Hostility to the E.U is running high in this country.



In the North West it was sad that Lib Dem Chris Davies lost his seat and that the Green’s able candidate Peter Cranie just failed to secure a position. The region would have been better represented by a wider range of MEPs.
Of those who were elected, I have to say the UKIP team impress me. I don’t agree with their policies but Paul Nuttall from Liverpool, the party’s Deputy Leader has developed well as an articulate and friendly spokesman for his party. Then there are the new North West UKIP MEPs. Louise Boers, the former Brookside actress, has a very warm personality and gave her best on the BBC’s Question Time this week alongside Piers Morgan and hard tackling footballer Joey Barton. Finally Steven Woolfe, the party’s economics spokesman will have a hard task when UKIP’s right wing policies on cuts and the health service come under scrutiny.

Labour’s team in the North West are all new and untried. Teresa Griffin has been preparing for this moment for four elections and said all the right things in her victory speech in Manchester Town Hall on Sunday night. Afzal Khan is a very pleasant man, let’s see if he can make a practical difference for the region in Brussels.
The big question mark centres on Julie Ward who has not held elected office before and hails from Bishop Auckland in the North East. She was originally in fourth place on the Labour list and thus very unlikely to win a seat. But the late decision by Arlene McCarthy to withdraw pushed her up to third place. There are fears in Labour circles that she may defect to the Green Party
For the Tories the feisty Jackie Foster starts her third term representing the North West and Saj Karim just held on to his place.
Labour topped the poll in the North West but in Yorkshire and the Humber, it was UKIP. With the controversial Godfrey Bloom gone their brand new MEPs are Jane Collins, Amjad Bashir and Mike Hookem. The other MEPs are all experienced Brussels hands. Linda McAvan and Richard Corbett for Labour and Tim Kirkhope for the Conservatives.



Labour underperformed in key parts of the North, raising serious questions about their ability to win next year. Even the unambitious “35%” strategy to just get across the line is undermined with their 31% projected national vote share in these elections.
Failing to take Trafford into no overall control and to win in West Lancashire where the Mayor will keep the Conservatives in control, were major disappointments. Targets were also missed in Kirklees and Calderdale, although Bradford was won. In Leeds there were no Labour gains to strengthen the party’s majority.
UKIP found the North West hard going with a smattering of seats in Oldham, Hyndburn and Bolton but east of the Pennines the nine gains in Rotherham caught national headlines.
The Greens are now the official opposition in Liverpool, although their leader John Coyne tells me he may not occupy the Town Hall office reserved for him on cost grounds.
Let’s finally turn to the Lib Dems. There has been much reporting of their implosion in Manchester, Rochdale and Liverpool but in Stockport they will still run the council with ratepayers support and in South Lakeland they had no losses at all.
Next stop, the Newark by election on Thursday.




Bruce Katz is a brilliant American thinker on the future of metro cities. It was a privilege to hear him speak this month in Manchester Town Hall alongside Richard Leese, the architect of our own metro city in Greater Manchester.


Both men see the driver for the American and UK economies being in metro cities in the years to come. That certainly chimes with current government policy here where regional structures have been destroyed in favour of cities and local enterprise partnerships.


I have always thought the abolition of Yorkshire Forward and the North West Development Agency was a mistake and one of the reasons for that is that the policy of concentrating on boosting our cities leaves places like Keighley, Halifax, Burnley, and Skelmersdale out in the cold.


Urbanists will tell you that prosperity will eventually radiate out as the economy improves. I doubt it. The truth is more likely to align with the views of Brian Robson. He’s a distinguished professor and has written widely on urban policy. After hearing our American lecturer he told me bluntly that the cities were the future and people from the outlying Lancashire and Yorkshire towns would just have to travel into the metropolises of Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool to get work.


I don’t think Brian, who is a very civilised man is completely serious and our rural and semi rural towns will battle on with their efforts to attract specialised jobs and employers who see price advantages in setting up away from the conurbations. However it will be a battle. I was in Bolton recently and admire its magnificent Town Hall and theatre. But when you’ve said that, you’ve said it all. On this particular Saturday teatime the shops were shuttering up and it was impossible to find a decent restaurant. The danger of the current policy is that everything is gravitating to the big cities and out of town shopping malls, leaving our town centres devastated.


So as the future is the cities for the time being we had better to the analysis of Bruce Katz and Richard Leese. Americans are very alienated from their central government right now. Washington is almost paralysed as the Democrats and Tea Party Republicans fight themselves to a standstill. Katz quoted one senator who said “It comes to something when the biggest threat to the US government is the US Congress!”


According to Katz, into this void come the cities driving growth, education and infrastructure with central government left with social security, defence and regulatory functions. His model is North East Ohio, an area embracing Cleveland, Akron, Youngstown and Caton. He believes the critical mass of urban areas is essential to turning round communities where traditional industries have gone.


Richard Leese’s equivalent is the Combined Authority (CA) of Greater Manchester, a model soon to be followed on Merseyside and in West Yorkshire. He claimed the CA had given the area scale to embark on projects like Airport City and the Ethiad Campus in east Manchester. All that was needed, claimed Sir Richard, was for the government to allow real devolution.


The power of Katz and Leese arguments can’t be denied but the rest of the North has to be looked after too.




Its that time in the parliamentary cycle when MPs have to make up their minds about whether they want to vacate their seats ahead of the General Election.


Shaun Woodward’s decision to quit as MP for St Helens South and Whiston brings back memories of the controversial way he was “parachuted” into the seat by the New Labour machine in 2001 after defecting from the Tories. A mischievous thought enters my head that we could see St Helens council leader Barry Grunewald going for the selection against Marie Rimmer who lost the leadership to him earlier this year.


Jack Straw, at the age of 67, has decided to stand down so Blackburn will be getting a new MP for only the third time since 1945. The seat would appropriately be represented by a member of the Asian community.


So would Manchester Gorton, but I am told that 83 year old Sir Gerald Kaufman has indicated to wants to stand again. He would be nearly ninety at the end of the next parliament. Perhaps he wants to be Father of the House. The problem is that Michael Meacher (Oldham West) also entered the Commons in 1970.


Tory vacancies will be few and far between in the North West this time, but Lorraine Fulbrook is standing down in South Ribble and in Ribble Valley there is the tricky issue of Nigel Evans. Currently sitting as an Independent pending his trial on sex charges, Evans tells me he is confident of being found not guilty and then standing as Conservative candidate at the next election.







Each party conference was marked by a headline catching bribe for the voters. Nick Clegg’s was child care. George Osborne made an unfunded promise to freeze fuel duty and most tempting of all Ed Miliband went to war with the gas and electricity companies.


But we shouldn’t be distracted by these give-aways. We need to remember what the Chancellor said about the economy. The battle to turn it round was “not even close to being over.” So the downward pressure on public sector spending would continue. Within a day the Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson was warning that within two years the city would only be able to run mandatory services. Other councils across the North privately fear the same thing.


I have attended a dozen fringe meetings in Glasgow, Brighton and Manchester over the last three weeks. The one that made the deepest impression on me was one addressed by Paul Johnson of the Institute for Fiscal Studies. Here are some of the startling observations he made. It will be 2030 before we get debt levels back to where they were in 2008. By next year we will only be half way to budget balance. Total spending is not falling. In the past we have been used to two years of cuts, soon we will have had eight.


People at the fringe meeting called for party conferences to conduct fundamental debates about public sector pay, tax levels and the funding of health and schools and not to be occasions for a Dutch auction of promises about relatively small amounts of money. Some hope.


With the exception of the Lib Dems, party conferences are a showcase for Ministers and Shadow Ministers and an opportunity for lobbyists and journalists to get out of London for a few weeks. It was particularly noticeable in Manchester how the Tory grass root members have been marginalised. That may explain their enthusiasm for the meeting in Manchester Town Hall addressed by Nigel Farage, the UKIP leader.


So where has the conference season left us? Ed Miliband is strengthened by his promise to freeze gas and electricity prices. People understand the concept and it chimes with his campaign on squeezed living standards.


Nick Clegg has got his party used to its role in government. No more jokes about sandals and beards. The party now favours fracking, nuclear power and austerity. Vince Cable is a somewhat diminished figure.


Blue water has opened up for the Conservatives. Choosing the conference slogan “For Hard working People” Cameron staked out his position and with Ed Miliband moving to the left, we might have an old fashioned election battle.



Tory councillors from Lancashire and West Cheshire at the conference were distracted by noises off. GEOFF DRIVER, leader of the Conservatives at County Hall  narrowly avoided a no confidence vote by his own group just after conference. Meanwhile MIKE JONES leadership  of West Cheshire and Chester Council is hanging in the balance. Councillors of all parties last night rejected plans for a major student village development on the outskirts of Chester. Although councillors made their decision on planning grounds the issue has deeply divided the ruling Conservative group. More on both these issues on my blog next week.


UKIP are expected to get at least two MEPs in the North West and Yorkshire and the Humber next May, so top slot on the party list is more important than ever. Merseyside based MEP JACKIE FOSTER has topped the poll among Conservative North West members, with SAJ KARIM MEP in second place. The Tories will have a real battle on with UKIP to get a third MEP but that would be Penrith farmer Kevin Beattie.


Tories in Hazel Grove are talking up their chances because, as forecast here recently, ANDREW STUNELL confirmed he would be standing down as Lib Dem MP. Will the new candidate, local woman Lisa Smart, be able to prevent the seat returning to the Tories after two decades?


And finally the Mayor of Oldham JOHN HUDSON (Tory Saddleworth South) says he’s not dismayed to lose high flying Chief Executive CHARLIE PARKER to Westminster Council. Parker is credited with turning the council around. Hudson believes they will get some good applicants on the back of that.