Johnson should be facing down the DUP not pandering to them

As readers of this blog site will recall, I quite often check in on what Jim Hancock says via his ‘Hancock’s Half Page’ blog site as I share his views sometimes but respect them even when I don’t. The piece below on the complete and utter shambles surrounding the Northern Ireland Protocol is Jim Hancock at his best:-

‘The Northern Ireland protocol is an international treaty. Tearing it up would further damage our international reputation, already harmed by Brexit. Johnson should be facing down the Democratic Unionists with a threat to change the Good Friday agreement to allow parties that are willing to form a government at Stormont to do so. Many businesses are reporting they are thriving as the province benefits from its unique status between the UK and the EU Single Market. The DUP voted for Brexit. They are responsible for the checks which, they say, distance themselves from Great Britain.’

I’m not at all sure what the end game will be but it seems to serve both the Tories and the failing DUP to keep the NIP on the boil as it’s more raw meat to feed to Brexiteers. But this is dangerous politics which puts peace in NI at great risk. The DUP may have nothing to lose now as they look to be in significant decline, with a united Ireland a real probability and just a matter of time.

Politicians who have nothing to lose will hit out and do pretty much anything and the bad consequences will always be someone else’s fault. For Johnson, who finds himself in his own self-made nothing to lose predicament, pandering to the DUP (or in reality continuing to manipulate them) risks everything.

Do we in ‘the north’ really want a northern leader?

As readers of this blog site will know I follow what Jim Hancock has to say on his ‘Hancock’s Half Page’ blog, indeed I often agree with him. However, I was a little taken aback by this quote from a very recent piece on Jim’s blog:-

‘Public support for devolution and elected mayors is rising, but not spectacularly according to recent polling. People want more say over housing, transport, and crime. But to energise that lukewarm enthusiasm, voters want to see results and a strong leader for the whole of the North’

I don’t think I have ever heard anyone, politician or public, say they wanted a northern leader in my earshot. The north (of England) is not one homogenous place with clear and common objectives etc. so why on earth would folk want a northern leader? And if you take this idea on board, surely there’d also be a southern leader too, although in reality that would be the government of the day as it always has been.

Jim’s comment was based on polling* and the political demise of a chap clearly looked upon (by some) as the quasi leader of the north, one Nick Forbes, who’s recently been deselected as a Labour candidate/councillor in Newcastle. I must admit I’d not personally looked upon Forbes as our leader and to be honest, I think reading about him in Jim’s blog article was the first time I’d heard of him! I have been involved in politics ‘in the north’ since 1980 so you’d have thought the name would have rung a bell with me.

I get it that folks want more devolution of powers, indeed I’ve spent my whole political life battling for such; well I’m a Liberal so I would of course. However, I’m very far from being convinced that folks want more elected mayors, never mind a northern leader.

* I’d be interested in the detail of the polling data and how the questions were phrased as in my experience folks have never really taken to the Tory Americanisation of our politics via elected mayors. Indeed, often where they have them the post and indeed the post holders become quite unpopular.


Not a word I’m guessing that many folk would associate with Boris Johnson yet it was uttered by an elector who’d supported/voted for his leadership of the Tories at the last General Election. The context of the remark was indeed remarkable, to me anyway, in that the person using the word was seemingly saying that they had expected decency from Johnson.

What struck me about this was why on earth would anyone expect decency from Johnson? And thereby hangs the cult of Johnson who often seems to be imagined as a person significantly different from the one we see on our TV screens day after day.

There’s nothing new about political cults of course as it’s only very recently that we lived through the cult of Corbyn. Thatcher had a cultish following too of course. And what about Churchill and even Lloyd-George?

Johnson’s cult following is clearly associated with Brexit, itself a fantasy never to deliver all the ‘wonderous’ things its proponents promised. That he wrote out two EU scenarios, one pro, one anti, and then decided which one he was going to run with says a lot about the man. Of course, he ran with the one which he calculated would take him into power. It worked too.

Now, I often turn to look at what Jim Hancock is thinking when I’m considering important UK issues. He rarely disappoints even though I don’t always share his conclusions. Here’s Jim on the present melt-down of Johnson’s Government over Partygate:-

Well, what do you think of Jim’s take on Johnson/Partygate? To me, he’s got a pretty good angle on it all. I was particularly interested in the Bury Tory MP defecting to Labour. Considering what he’s previously voted for the MP is clearly of the right and I could not see him being spoken of as a One Nation Tory in any sense when he was in that party. On that basis, Labour has gained a defector who may well sit, if slightly uncomfortably, with the present right of centre leaning Labour leadership but my guess is that many local Labour members in Bury will privately be horrified if he’s been promised a run at the Bury Sth seat in the next General Election for Labour.

But to come back to my original theme about how voters perceive Johnson, a suppose you need to have bought into the cult to get why his supporters see him so very differently from those of us outside of it. But, decent? Really?!!!!!

What to do with Lancashire before we all lose the will to live!

I’d been wondering where the very, very long-running saga regarding the oft-talked about reorganisation of local government in the County of Lancashire had got to and then picked up on Jim Hancock’s latest blog article which I link below (look for Lancashire Devolution):-

I thought the argument about keeping all of the district councils plus a county council had been settled (or is that an imposed settlement) in that like many other areas of England the councils would all be unitary. But it seems that some folk still want to retain the old two-tier council arrangement, 3-tier if you included, as you should, the network of parish councils.

This is a matter I’ve covered before (see links below) and I still hold to the view that John Prescot’s plan to place half of West Lancs District/Borough into Sefton Met Borough and half into Wigan Met Borough had great merit. Yes, I know where you split West Lancs is problematic but surely solvable.

No, trying to keep the district councils and a county council with some convoluted system to make decisions is, in my view, a recipe for going around in circles at best and at worst it could be a disaster for local governance in Lancashire.

But where I do agree with what the Lancashire local authorities have put forward is their rejection of a Regional Mayor and I won’t bore you by yet again rehearsing my reasons for saying this. Suffice to say I’m no fan of Regional Mayors whatsoever.

Frankly, and this may sound rather illiberal, the circus has to stop and decisions have to be made otherwise we’ll be discussing this endless process of reorganising Lancashire along with the negative consequences of Brexit for the next 15 years!

Lord Peter Smith RIP

I’ve just picked up on the passing of Lord Peter Smith from the blogsite of Jim Hancock – This is what Jim had to say about him –

‘I was sad to hear of the passing of Lord Smith of Wigan. He was one of the most significant figures in local government in the North West in the last 40 years, although his profile was low. He led his local authority for 27 years and was leader of the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities (AGMA) for 21 years.

His quiet ability to bring together ten competing local councils and make them see the wider picture provided the foundation for the Combined Authority we see today. He was a moderate in Labour Party terms and avoided open personality clashes. I confess that sometimes I found him frustrating when looking for a colourful quote, but I respected his wisdom, diplomacy and dignity.

My condolences to his friends and family.’

I too liked Peter Smith whom I met on a number of occasions during my time as Leader of Sefton Council – Back in March 2012 I blogged about his impressive leadership of Greater Manchester and compared it with politically dysfunctional Merseyside:-

Greater Manchester – It’s going places that Merseyside finds hard to reach!

As Jim Hancock notes Peter was a moderate, not a description I would personally like to be known by, yet he was hugely successful. In many ways, his approach to regional issues was just about the opposite you’d expect from a senior Labour politician. I never saw him angry, ranting or tribal in his approach to anyone, indeed he was very diplomatic. We have indeed lost a decent man.

LEP’s won’t be missed if they fade away

Firstly, I bet that most folks have never heard much, if anything, about Local Enterprise Partnerships let alone know the purpose they are meant to serve.

I recall when they were being set up as an alternative arrangement to the out of favour Regional Development Agencies (by the Coalition Government) and thought at the time that I was at best sceptical about LEP’s.

That’s not to say the Regional Development Agencies were the right model for encouraging economic development but they were regional and therefore at about the right scale to promote economic activity in my book. The old NWDA (North West Development Agency) was reasonably successful despite it being too arms length from democratic control. And thereby hangs the big issue of how to promote economic activity, particularly in areas of deprivation, whilst keeping a firm grip on the need for such activity to be in the control of local democratically elected leaders.

Here’s Jim Hancock’s view on what may well be the demise of LEP’s:-

The muddle at the heart of this matter has been the relentless pursual of elected mayors on a sub-regional/City Region basis. Readers of this blog site will know I’m no fan of elected mayors as concentrating power in the hands of one person is simply not right to me.

But having set up, or should I say imposed, elected mayors for many parts of England and then channelled economic development money through them hasn’t the government simply undermined their network of LEP’s? Well, it seems to me that’s exactly whats happened.

Devolution for England has been an utter mess for years and goes back at least to the probably well-intentioned tinkering by Blair and Prescot. The problem being that devolution has never been properly defined as you will find in most European countries and has ended up being bits and bobs handed down from Westminster with no coherent strategy.

We remain a centralised democracy with our two major parties being authoritarian of nature, trusting no one but themselves. Until we really grasp the need for regional governance and properly defined devolution we will continue to do things badly.

Will we miss the LEP’s if they wither away? No, not really.

Note: The author was the leader of Sefton Borough Council 2004 – 2011