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David Miliband quits front-line but stays on in South Shields

Richard Moss | 17:00 UK time, Wednesday, 29 September 2010

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David Miliband

David Miliband - quitting the Shadow Cabinet but staying as MP for South Shields

How soon a political trajectory can change.

Seven days ago, most people were expecting this to be David Miliband's biggest week in politics.

Now it could well prove to be his last - at least in the front line.

As the hours have ticked by since Saturday, it's become increasingly obvious how difficult life would have been for him and his brother had he chosen to serve in the Shadow Cabinet.

I've never thought there were huge ideological differences between the Miliband brothers.

But there was enough for every nuance of their behaviour to be studied both now and in the future.

And when he asked Harriet Harman yesterday why she was clapping the Iraq War section of his brother's speech, we got a glimpse of the frustration and hurt he's feeling.

He says he just raised a wry eyebrow and it's been overblown.

But could David Miliband really have stomached taking orders from Brother Ed, and if not, would we have seen dangerous splits and disunity?

Better then to step away, even if it deprives Labour of one of their big hitters.

David Miliband asks Harriet Harman why she's clapping

David Miliband shows his frustration as he asks why Harriet Harman is clapping

He has looked empty-eyed to me over the last few days, despite his initial graciousness in defeat.

He is clearly angry that his brother has managed to exploit issues that he couldn't.

But his mind may also be full of what ifs.

What if I'd challenged Gordon Brown in 2008, what if I'd followed James Purnell out of the Cabinet? Would I now be Labour leader or even Prime Minister?

What if I'd trashed some of New Labour's past? Might I have looked hypocritical, but might I also have won?

So David Miliband then will become purely the MP for South Shields.

He says the support of people in his constituency has been a source of strength through the leadership campaign (though his local opponents question the amount of time he actually spends in Shields).

The question is how long will he stay as the town's MP now?

For the moment, I'm sure he and his wife Louise will relish a break, and some time to draw breath.

But it's impossible to imagine that someone with the intellect, skills and contacts of David Miliband will not find a new sinecure soon.

There are no obvious jobs out there, but he is someone with an international as well as domestic profile.

Some say he might yet come back to lead the Labour party.

It's possible, but it seems unlikely, and strained as his fraternal relationship may now be, I'm sure he doesn't wish to see his brother fail.

And would he and his family be willing to go through another leadership election after such a bruising experience?

His moment then may have gone.

I can't claim to know David Miliband well, but during the time I've spent in his company, he's struck me as genuine and human, and not the nerdy robot he's sometimes characterised as.

Keenly ambitious, certainly, prone perhaps even to occasional arrogance, but a paid-up member of the human race, who won over a local party that he was parachuted into in 2001.

Perhaps he didn't have the common touch and persuasive skills of Tony Blair, but then few are blessed with that.

He certainly would have been a capable and formidable leader of the Labour party.

And what of that party?

One tweet from the Conference in Manchester amused me this morning. One delegate was reported to have said: "We seem to have elected Danni (Minogue) not Kylie."

Harsh perhaps, but there will now be even more onus on Ed to prove the party did elect the right Miliband.

We've also learned that Newcastle East MP Nick Brown will be leaving the Shadow Cabinet.

The veteran of the Blair and Brown Cabinets is clearly not part of the "new generation" as he announced his decision to step down after a meeting with Ed Miliband earlier today.

In a letter to the new leader he said: "As you know I intended to stand for election as chief whip.

"During our meeting earlier today you indicated that you wished me not to do so. The Chief Whip must have the full confidence of the party leader. I fully respect your wishes and will no longer be standing for the position."

As one of Gordon Brown's most loyal lieutenants, Nick Brown was clearly too associated with the past for Ed Miliband.

Nick Brown is due to be on the Politics Show this Sunday. I'll be interested to hear his take on the week.

Ed Miliband, his speech and the Durham care worker

Richard Moss | 16:49 UK time, Tuesday, 28 September 2010

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Ed Miliband

Ed Miliband gets a standing ovation at the end of his first leader's speech, but will he be able to win back voters?

Ed Miliband's first speech as Labour leader was perhaps overlong and on the odd occasion hesitant.

But it also had plenty of meat, and some interesting insights into how the "new generation" running the Labour party will choose to take on the Coalition.

And crucially of course how he'll try to win back those who turned away - including the tens of thousands of northern voters who have deserted Labour since 1997.

There was a section at the start where I thought we were hearing Gordon Brown again as his successor reeled off a selection of New Labour acheievements.

That though was only to ease the way later on for a trashing of large chunks of the Blair-Brown era.

The Iraq war, post office closures, tuition fees, the failure to appreciate the the impact of mass immigration, and 90-day detentions were all described as mistakes.

Of course his critics will point out that he kept his opposition to many of those things while he was in government.

But the new leader was also keen to make it clear that this was no lurch to the left.

He wouldn't oppose every cut, he would stick with Alistair Darling's plan to halve the deficit in four years, and he would even welcome welfare reform.

But he would look to offer something different to David Cameron and the Coalition.

And for me that was the most interesting section of the speech, signs of how he plans to take on the Conservatives in particular.

He wanted to reclaim optimism for Labour, saying David Cameron had been the optimist once.

There was also a long section about the need for our society to value quality of life and not just economic efficiency - something which seemed to echo some of the Conservative leader's early speeches.

Expect to hear more about how David Cameron and the Conservatives are creating a gloomy world where only cuts matter.

There are those - including former Tory Treasurer Lord Ashcroft - who think the lack of optimism cost David Cameron outright victory in the General Election.

Crucially, there was no attack on the Lib Dems or Nick Clegg though.

Ed Miliband clearly would like to leave the door open for disillusioned Lib Dems to join Labour both now, but also in a future coalition.

And then there was the role of one care worker from Durham, used by Ed Miliband as an example of why he wants a "living wage" of more than £7 an hour.

He told the Conference he'd met the care worker during the campaign.

He said: "She is doing one of the most important jobs in our society, and if it was my Mum or Dad, I would want anyone who cared for them to be paid a decent wage.

"But she was barely paid the minimum wage - and barely a few pence extra for higher skills.

"She told me that she thought a fair wage would be £7 an hour because after all she would get that for stacking shelves at the local supermarket."

He went on to descry a world where a banker earns in a day what a care worker earns in a year. Mind you, he didn't actually say how he'd prevent that!

David Miliband and Labour members

David Miliband greets young Labour members before his brother's speech, but is he about to say goodbye to front-line politics?

The speech also started with references to family and brother David.

He rubbished the idea that he was more left wing than his older brother by saying that when he'd stolen David's ball, his brother had responded by "nationalising his train set".

Now of course we await the next chapter in the Miliband soap opera, and potentially the writing out of a central character.

If the talk from the Labour Conference is right, David Miliband is about to turn down the chance of being in the Shadow Cabinet.

He will remain purely as the Labour MP for South Shields.

That may yet prove to be wrong, but it does seem increasingly likely that he at least won't be one of the "new generation".

The Miliband 'soap opera' drags on as David ponders future

Richard Moss | 14:54 UK time, Monday, 27 September 2010

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So we're no nearer knowing what David Miliband plans to do next.

He may have given a good speech to the Labour Party Conference in Manchester, but he also gave little away.

He was fulsome in praise for his brother, saying that he was now a special person to the party as well as to him.

On his own defeat, he urged people not to worry. "I'm fine," he insisted.

He then went on to call for unity.

He said: "I say today: no more cliques, no more factions, no more soap opera. One united Labour Party taking on one divided Government."

But of course the soap opera about what happens to the elder Miliband brother continues.

He had a 9 nine-minute private conversation with his younger brother after his speech, but then left the Conference hall without further comment.

It seems we may not get any hints until at least after Ed Miliband's first speech as party leader tomorrow.

Nominations close for the Shadow Cabinet on Wednesday, but even if he's on the list, it won't necessarily mean the current Shadow Foreign Secretary is staying on.

A definitive word on his future may not even emerge until the end of the Conference.

Shadow Chancellor is one potential destiny then (although one bookmaker had him fourth favourite for the job today).

But it is also genuinely possible that he might walk away from front-line politics.

He's told his local party Chairman Alan Donnelly that he won't be standing down as MP for South Shields. Beyond that we don't know.

So just what impact could his departure have on party unity?

Ed Miliband

New Labour leader Ed Miliband watches brother David speak, but who won more votes in the North East and Cumbria?

I've been number crunching the figures to see who MPs and members in the North East and Cumbria voted for.

And there's no question that the party in this part of the North did not get the leader they wanted.

Amongst the region's MPs, David Miliband got 15 first choice votes, his brother got six, Ed Balls five, and Andy Burnham one.

And the rank and file agreed with that verdict.

While David Miliband won the first preferences of 4,652 Labour members in the North East and Cumbria, Ed managed 2,483.

So although the new Labour leader was well clear of his other rivals, his brother was the clear first choice.

Indeed only three local parties in the patch put Miliband Jnr ahead of his brother - Easington, Penrith and the Border and Harrogate and Knaresborough.

What that doesn't tell you of course is how many members put Ed as their second choice, and how many union members in the region voted for him.

But it does suggest that the new leader will have to win over thousands of members in the region who didn't think he was the best candidate.

And then of course he'll have to start on the rest of the country. So it's crucial he starts well with tomorrow's speech.

In the meantime, it seems we'll have to wait till the Shadow Cabinet nomination deadline of 5pm tomorrow for more news on his brother.

What next for David Miliband after brother Ed's victory?

Richard Moss | 12:35 UK time, Sunday, 26 September 2010

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Brothers united - David Miliband congratulates Ed, but what will happen next?

It must have been a shattering defeat for the South Shields MP and his supporters in the constituency and the region.

To lose by such a small margin must be particularly galling.

From his campaign launch in South Shields to almost the last moment, he was seen as the certain winner, by bookmakers and observers alike.

So where did it all go wrong?

I'm not claiming to be a sage, but from the start I did think it wouldn't be as straightforward as some believed.

Firstly, you've got to look at the constituency he was trying to woo.

A substantial section of the Labour membership, and crucuially the affiliated unions, did not want a "Blairite" as the next leader.

They wanted a break from New Labour, and distance from what they would have seen as its biggest mistake - the Iraq War.

David Miliband did not offer any of those.

He won respect for his experience, and his formidable political skills, but it didn't prove enough.

His refusal to trash New Labour, and backtrack on the Iraq war may have been consistent and laudable but it may have cost him the election. He became the continuity candidate.

In contrast, his brother could paint himself as an insurgent and the agent of change.

Then there was the length of the contest.

I'm pretty sure that if the election had concluded in July, it would now have been David not Ed celebrating yesterday.

But the long contest eat away at that certainty.

So what next for David Miliband?

He will feel hurt.

I remember during the election that one of our camera operators mistakenly called him Ed.

I've never seen someone turn from affable to irritable quite so quickly.

It will be hard to defer to his younger brother.

So he must now decide whether he can serve in his brother's Shadow Cabinet.

To walk away could look like sour grapes, and deprive Labour of a man the Opposition fears.

But if he does serve, might he actually cause his brother problems?

It seems impossible to imagine having a Miliband as Leader and Shadow Chancellor. And in almost all jobs, it might be difficult for him to defer to his brother.

There will be endless speculation about how comfortable he is.

Shadow Home Secretary's a possibility if it appeals to him, or he could keep his foreign affairs brief

Having filmed with him at the Foreign Office, I know how much he loved that job, but in Opposition, you don't get the the trappings or influence.

It could also be seen as a career cul de sac. And that will be the real problem facing David Miliband as he considers his future.

If Ed Balls or Andy Burnham had won the leadership, it would be possible to imagine him still having a shot at the top job in the future.

It's almost inconceivable to imagine Labour choosing another Miliband as the next leader whether brother Ed succeeds or not.

His skills and contacts then (Hilary Clinton is an avowed fan) may lead him to a job outside UK politics, and away from South Shields.

He may of course now regret his decision not to take up the chance of being the EU's Foreign Rrepresentative.

And what of the party he wanted to lead?

They certainly have to unite behind Miliband jnr to take on the Coalition, but can they?

Below the apparent surface of unity in Manchester, I'm hearing murmurs of discontent.

One David Miliband-supporting MP has told my colleague Mark Denten that he fears Ed Miliband will be a disaster for the party.

Some of Milband Snr's supporters are also privately questioning the legitimacy of the election process, given that it was union votes that made the difference.

And then there's a danger of the "lurch to the left".

Personally, I Don't buy the "Red Ed" tag. There isn't that much difference philosophically between the Miliband brothers.

But he will be tagged as the creature of the unions, and he'll have to convince a public that doesn't know a lot about him that he can unite his party and become a Prime Minister-in-waiting.

One North East £33m budget cuts 'to cost 3,000 jobs'

Richard Moss | 13:48 UK time, Friday, 24 September 2010

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North East tourism advert

Funding for adverts like this one for the North East have been cut completely

I'm not sure the board room of regional development agency One North East was a fun place to be last night.

Over the last decade their meetings would have focused on which projects to support.

But last night's meeting was all about which ones they would have to cut.

The Government's told One North East to take £33m out of its budget, in advance of its abolition in 2012.

And today, a list of cuts as long as your arm have been announced.

Paul Callaghan, the Chairman of One North East, predicts it'll lead to the creation of 3,000 fewer jobs, and 700 fewer businesses.

The cuts range from grants to companies, to specific developments which will no longer be funded.

Some of the areas being cut are striking, considering the North East is a region which needs to be have a bigger and more enterprising private sector.

A planned £700k Enterprise Laboratory which aimed to help individuals start "high growth businesses" has been cut altogether.

Another £900k fund designed to provide support for entrepreneurs setting out in business is another victim.

A further £3m is cut from the £19m fund for business investment and research and development.

Almost £2m is taken away from Business Link, which supports and advises companies.

And the entrepreneurs of the future won't be getting as much support either.

One North East has cut a £680k fund to provide business placements, and apprenticeships for 14-to-19 year olds.

A further £435k is cut from a programme designed to retain talented people in the North East.

One North East sign

And then there are specific projects which are cut.

£450k is cut from the budget to retrain former Corus workers from Redcar (although One North East is now hoping they'll be taken on by the Thai company looking to buy the steelworks).

The plan to turn the former site of the Lafarge quarry in Weardale in County Durham into the Eastgate Renewable Energy Village has lost all £1m of its funding.

The project to develop the Stadium Village area of Sunderland have lost more than £1m - much of it cut from a plan to site shops, a hotel, a real snow ski slope and an ice rink there.

All £1m is also cut from plans to regenerate the High Street and Jackson Street areas of Gateshead town centre.

Another £850k is cut from the Newcastle Science City project.

A plan to develop the Linthorpe area of Middlesbrough loses £970k, and a £545k investment in Durham Tees Valley Airport is also cut.

We already knew that the Government had stopped the advertising campaign promoting the North East, but the scale of the cuts there also now become apparent.

£2m has been cut from the campaign to promote the region to tourists, £1.8m from the campaign to advertise it to businesses.

There's much more detail on the One North East site if you want it.

Catherine McKinnell

The cuts have already been condemned by Labour. The Newcastle North MP Catherine McKinnell has called it a "devastating blow" to the region's economy.

The Coalition though argues that these cuts are Labour's responsibility given the deficit they left behind.

They can also point out that Labour had planned to cut One North East's budget too, albeit not as sharply.

Both Lib Dems and Conservatives have also been keen to emphasise that the new £1bn Regional Growth Fund will be targeted at northern regions. And point out that despite 12 years of One North East, the North-South divide has not been bridged.

But with One North East and the other regional development agencies being run down, this could be just the first taste of what's to come.

One North East is becoming paralysed. Barred from spending large sums of money without government approval, and with little freedom to take long term decisions.

Their replacements - five Local Enterprise Partnerships and a proposed North East-wide economic partnership - have not been approved by government yet.

Labour say this is the worst possible time to run-down and abolish the Regional Development Agency, given the public sector cuts the region's facing.

They say the organisation which can best deliver vital private sector growth now looks toothless.

The key test though could be the reaction of individual communities affected by today's cuts.

Will they understand the Government's reasoning, or will they be wondering why their town and city has to suffer?

North East Lib Dem defects to Labour as Conference closes

Richard Moss | 14:30 UK time, Wednesday, 22 September 2010

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Liberal Democrat flag

A Liberal Democrat flag flies above the Conference Centre in Liverpool

So I'm leaving Liverpool. Not on a Ferry Across the Mersey, but on the Transpennine Express (express only in the loosest sense of the word judging by the journey here).

The Lib Dems are leaving too, and generally they're a happy lot.

But back in the North East there is some trouble.

Away from Liverpool, and one North East Lib Dem has decided enough's enough.

Gateshead councillor Yvonne McNicol has announced her defection to Labour.

She'd represented Dunston Hill and Wickham East since 2004.

She says: "By acting as cover for the Tories as they savagely cut our public services, the Lib Dems have shown they are no longer concerned about the people of the North East."

The resignation won't shake the party to its foundations of course, but it's a sign that away from the largely trouble-free conference there are a small number of Lib Dems who do feel disillusioned.

And even here there are senior Lib Dems who want their party to be flexible.

Westmorland and Lonsdale MP Tim Farron for one.

Tim Farron

He's seen as being on the left of the party, and admits he cut his political teeth fighting Thatcherism.

Although thoroughly supportive of the Coalition and Nick Clegg, he has warned of the dangers to the party too.

I was keen in particular to see if he was as signed up as his leader to deep and immediate cuts in public spending.

He told me the answer is, yes, but up to a point.

He accepts the need to bring down the deficit quickly.

But with one qualification. He says that if the cuts beging to seriously damage the economy in Cumbria and the North, then there will need to be a rethink.

If unemployment rises significantly, or the economy slips back into recession, he says the cuts will have to happen slower.

I suppose the question is, will the Lib Dems have enough muscle to rein the Conservatives in, and if so, might it be too late by then to reverse the tide?

You can hear his views on the Politics Show this weekend, as well as those of Redcar MP Ian Swales.

In many ways, Tim Farron's comments mirror the approach of a sizeable number of Lib Dem delegates here.

They believe their Conference has proved that the party can still be in control of its own destiny, rather than becoming an offshoot of the Conservatives.

Policy motions critical of Coalition policy on free schools, Trident and cuts have encouraged them to feel that they can draw a line in the sand.

None of those motions will change government policy, but delegates have told me that they think it will give Nick Clegg ammunition if he needs to resist unwelcome Conservative policies.

The test of that tactic will come soon, when we start to get more details of the individual cuts, and see their impact.

In that regard, there was a really interesting fringe meeting last night organised by the Smith Institute about the North-South divide.

The speakers included Ed Cox, from the IPPR North thinktank, and John Tomaney from Newcastle University.

Both told delegates there that they believed government policy would worsen the North-South divide over the next 12 months.

They are certainly both left of centre, but insisted they were approaching the issue from a neutral perspective.

Ed Cox said cuts will hit the North worse than the South, and would be compounded by the scrapping of the Regional Development Agencies just at the time when organisations will be needed to generate new jobs.

Both were also critical of Conservative thinkers who believe it will only be possible for the private sector to grow in the North, once the public sector is cut back.

And there they have the agreement of many Lib Dems.

At the same meeting Newcastle's Lord John Shipley, said the North East's problem was not an oversized public sector, but an underdeveloped private sector.

That may be a crucial divide with at least some Conservatives.

John Redwood may not be part of the Government at the moment, but if you check out one of his blog entries today, you can see that many Conservatives do believe public sector cuts will actually help the economy.

So as the Lib Dem gathering winds up, I'm already looking forward with some anticipation to the Conservative Conference in Birmingham in 10 days' time.

Just how different will be their approach to the issues their Coalition partners have wrestled with this week? These are fascinating times.

Why you might fancy Miliband but steer clear of Stewart

Richard Moss | 16:31 UK time, Tuesday, 21 September 2010

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Liverpool

I know all of you out there take a keen interest in my well-being when I'm away at party conferences, and I realise I have been remiss by concentrating entirely on politics and failing to mention my welfare.

You'll be delighted to know my hotel is perfectly pleasant. There are small Italian biscuits, but it's too 21st Century for a Corby Trouser Press. (I'm informed other trouser presses are available)

It does though have a minimalistic shower; so minimalistic in fact that it doesn't tell you which way to turn for hot or cold. Dangerous in the early morning.

Liverpool actually seems to be a popular conference venue amongst the people I've spoken to.

This is the first autumn party gathering it's held. Labour are due to come here next year.

Less overwhelming than Manchester, but still big enough to cope with the influx of conference-goers.

The regeneration here is also very impressive, although I'm puzzled that they seem to be intent on slappnig great big modern edifices right in front of the iconic and rather splendid Liver Building.

This is certainly the busiest Lib Dem conference I've been to, and the number of exhibitors has increased substantially.

But there is a disappointing lack of the usual amusing tat on the exhibition stalls.

In previous years we have revelled in Conservative Christmas baubles, Alan Beith fridge magnets and David Cameron coasters.

But the best the Conference can offer this year is a Nick Clegg jigsaw. I wasn't tempted to part with my £4.

Our friends at Sky News have though produced a new set of political Top Trumps which always cause amusement.

For those of you who didn't misspend your youth on this game, you compare the qualities of the politicians on each card, with the highest rating "trumping" the other.

Of the northern MPs, David Miliband looks a good card to hold.

He has a good majority, a potential rating of nine out of ten (although this coming weekend could make that a little out of date), and best of all he has a fanciability rating of 95 out of 100 (only Zac Goldsmith beats him).

William Hague trumps him on majority, and on years in parliament, but can only score 45 for fanciability.

Rory Stewart

Are there storms ahead for Rory Stewart?

Also in there as one of the few backbenchers is Rory Stewart. He scores well on majority and has a potential rating of seven. Fanciability is reasonable at 61, but he'd let you down badly on one rating.

The Penrith and the Border MP has a Storm Warning of 45 out of 50. That suggests the panel of journalists who made the assessments think his career could end in tears.

Unfair? Perhaps, but to be honest. He should be pleased. Only 30 politicians were selected for inclusion and it shows that even after just four months in the Commons he's made an impact.


Nick Clegg tackles Northern Question in Conference speech

Richard Moss | 10:04 UK time, Tuesday, 21 September 2010

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Nick Clegg

Double vision - Nick Clegg addresses delegates at the Liberal Democrat conference

He didn't duck it - Nick Clegg faced up to the Northern Question head on yesterday.

He knows that some of the membership are nervous about the impact of cuts on the region.

And he acknowledged in his speech that there were difficult times ahead.

But he promised that the cuts would not lead to a rerun of the 1980s for the North.

That's a crucial factor for many northern Lib Dems, who often began their political lives fighting Thatcherism.

The Deputy Prime Minister went on to outline what the Coalition had already done - the £1bn regional growth fund targeted at northern regions and the National Insurance incentives.

And he reiterated the Coalition's aim to rebalance the economy and end the dependance on the City of London.

All familiar territory, but he also promised new powers for councils to raise extra money.

Under what's known as Tax Increment Financing or Tif, councils will be able to borrow money against future tax receipts. It's something that European local authorities have used for years.

Nick Clegg namechecked Newcastle's Science City development as one possible beneficiary of that change.

He'd obviously been talking to the council's former leader, Lord Shipley.

He believes that Tif can help the council fund the development of the derelict brewery site in the centre of Newcastle as a Science Park much more quickly than if they had to wait for a private investor.

But the Conference speech wasn't the end of Nick Clegg's northern charm offensive.

He found time last night to go to the Northern delegates' reception, and deliver anotherrallying call.

This one was a full-on attack on Labour for letting down the North.

So did he win delegates over?

Judging by the people I spoke to last night, they were more than receptive to his message.

And many are completely persuaded that the cuts programme was right.

In fact they were almost overflowing with fervour for their leader and the Coalition. I even found some who expressed their liking and respect for Conservatives.

Indeed, at times you could almost have been talking to Tories, such was the commitment to tackling the deficit.

Of course, that's probably easier now when cuts are largely an academic possibility.

When the specifics emerge, life might feel a little tougher.

But so far this party is behind its leader, even if they are not behind every Coalition policy.

I'm off to interview Westmorland and Lonsdale MP Tim Farron in a few minutes. I'll be interested to know his take on the Conference so far.


Lib Dems get used to the first conference in coalition

Richard Moss | 17:01 UK time, Monday, 20 September 2010

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Liberal Democrat logo

I wouldn't have ever said Liberal Democrat conferences were sleepy in the past (I have to be careful as I'm surrounded by thousands of them).

But they were probably a little gentler in pace than the Labour and Conservative gatherings.

What a difference being in power makes.

This conference is buzzing.

There's more media, more lobbyists, more delegates and more security.

The police boat in the Mersey all feels a little James Bond - sandals and beards it ain't.

The question is, has this Conference now lost its innocence, and its bite? Is it in danger of becoming as stage managed as its rivals' gatherings?

Not if this morning is anything to go by.

The party members still proved they can't be managed. The leadership suffered a heavy defeat over the Coalition's free schools policy.

It doesn't change the policy, but it seems to have made the members feel a bit better about themselves - more distinctly Lib Dem.

Mind you, it probably doesn't do the leadership much damage either in the end.

They give members their moment of rebellion, but coalition government continues unaltered.

And overall the mood here in Liverpool is positive.

There's no sign of outright rebellion and anger.

There's a desire for reassurance, a need to feel that the party still exists as a separate entity, but no disintegration.

The feeling in the media is that next year could be tougher, especially if the party loses council seats and the referendum on electoral reform.

It's the party's task this week to set in motion plans that can avoid both those eventualities, and keep us mischief-seeking reporters at bay for another year.

One area they might well look at is the impact of any cuts on the region.

A fringe meeting organised by the Association of North East Councils at lunchtime focused on how the region can work together to achieve the private sector growth it needs.

The consensus was that it will need a regional economic partnership on top of the five smaller Local Enterprise Partnerships planned for the North East.

David Faulkner, the leader of Newcastle City Council, believes Business Secretary Vince Cable is convinced of that, but he thinks others in government need persuading.

I'm guessing that's the Conservative side of the coalition.

Delivering in that sort of area will be vital if the party is to convince its local activists that it can make more of a difference in power than out of it.

My Liberal Democrat Conference agenda

Richard Moss | 15:30 UK time, Sunday, 19 September 2010

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Tim Farron MP

Westmorland and Lonsdale MPTim Farron has raised concerns about the Lib Dem voice being "buried" in the Coalition

Just a quick note before I head off to the Liberal Democrat Conference in Liverpool.

It'll be an intriguing one - the first for many decades where the party's not been talking about their work in Opposition but their role in government.

One senior Lib Dem - Norman Baker - has already accused the media of approaching the Conference with a set agenda.

According to Mr Baker, journalists have already decided that the party is in open rebellion with a plummeting membership and morale.

In reality, he says the reverse is true.

I can reassure him that I'm certainly not arriving with an agenda.

I already know from my contacts with local Lib Dems - such as Redcar's MP Ian Swales - that membership has increased in parts of the region.

Equally I have also heard of some members walking away in disillusionment.

It isn't though party in open rebellion. You can see that from the limited number of high profile defections there have been so far.

But that's not to say that some members aren't concerned and worried about the implications of being in coalition with the Conservatives.

The Westmorland and Lonsdale MP Tim Farron has been saying interesting things as part of his bid to become party president.

Mr Farron has not taken a government post, and is seen as a sceptical voice in the party.

And although his comments are generally supportive, they do recognise some of the problems the Lib Dems face as they gather in Liverpool.

On the Liberal Democrat Voice website, he writes: "It's not easy being in Government. As part of the Coalition, our distinctive message has often got buried, what we stand for has got blurred and our ability to campaign is blunted.

"I'm not having that."

He goes on to offer his wholehearted support for Nick Clegg, and makes it clear that the Lib Dems are getting a lot out of being in government.

But he also warns: "I don't want to give away careless words on a public website, but we all know what a huge risk (as well as an opportunity) it is for us to be in the coalition. I've been a Liberal since I was 16, I'm not prepared to let it get dashed to pieces now."

And that I think reflects the view of a substantial number of members, who don't want to walk away, but are concerned about how the party maintains its independence.

The good thing for the Lib Dems is that their Conference has a history of defying the leadership.

And there are some critical motions due to be heard on cuts and free schools that may provide a means of members letting off steam.

But the party also to come up with new policies and maintain its campaigning strength in local communities.

That's much harder when the party is signed up to widespread public spending cuts, but somehow the Lib Dems have to find a way.

The really worrying decline has been in their poll ratings, and the party cannot afford to see that translate into an erosion of their local government base.

A poll in the Independent on Sunday suggests that more than half of those who voted for the party in May feel Nick Clegg has betrayed his principles by joining with the Conservatives.

If that continues to be the case, then next year's local elections might be tough.

If the Lib Dems begin to lose control of places like Newcastle, then you might see discomfort turn into rebellion amongst party members.

Many of them - particularly in the North - grew up with the Conservatives as their sworn enemies. That isn't going to change overnight, if ever.

But Nick Clegg has said today that he's "proud" of being in government, even though he knows he might face a rough ride from activists.

So although I'm not leaving for Liverpool with a set journalistic agenda, I will be interested to see how the party responds to both the opportunities and challenges of being in government.

Strikes likely as unions talk of Coalition 'class war'

Richard Moss | 11:25 UK time, Friday, 17 September 2010

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There was lots of militant talk and stridant speeches at this week's TUC conference.

The RMT in particular seem to be on a collision course with the Government.

I remember their Cumbrian official Craig Johnston from my time covering local politics in Carlisle.

As a Labour councillor he was never afraid of confrontation, and as scathing about Conservatives as you could possibly be.

And time doesn't seem to have mellowed him as you can see from his interview with my colleague Mark Denten.

In an interview with the Politics Show this week, he accuses the Government of waging a "class war" against the union's members.

It's all redolent of previous confrontations between Tory governments and the unions.

I'm sure the more militant members of the TUC hope any strikes can have the same destructive impact that the industrial action of 1973 had on Ted Heath's government.

But of course the last confrontation - the 1984 Miner's Strike - didn't end so well with the unions.

Of course the RMT are at the extreme end of union opinion.

Brendan Barber

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber

But the TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber also talked about co-ordinated strike action against government cuts, even if he didn't back a campaign of civil disobedience.

He talked about union action changing the direction of government, pushing for higher taxes on the rich as an alternative to public spending cuts.

There is though a dilemma here for both the unions and the Labour party.

Many in the unions would love to bring down the Government, and believe they are being subjected to an ideological attack by the Coalition.

Many question the Coalition's mandate to enact the kind of cuts that are in the offing.

And of course they believe they'll be acting in the interests of members whose jobs are under threat.

But there is a danger they could themselve look anti-democratic by deliberately trying to undermine a Government that at least on the 2010 General Election figures does have the support of a majority of voters.

Hence the nervousness amongst the Labour leadership contenders on this week's BBC Question Time hustings.

Diane Abbott was unequivocal in her support for union action.

But for the other four all tried to tread the fine line between offering support to the union members who are, after all, voting in the leadership contest, and committing themselves to support a wave of strikes.

We've also seen David Miliband refusing to say whether he'll join a trades union rally against the Government cuts.

Instead many of the leadership contenders talk about the need for negotiation between government and unions.

But with both sides seemingly miles apart in their views, is there much room for compromise?

I'm not sure we're facing a 1970s-style Winter of Discontent. The union laws and 21st Century union values may mitigate against that, but unrest in the public sector now seems almost inevitable.

We'll be talking to Newcastle North Labour MP Catherine McKinnell, Conservative MEP Martin Callanan and Unison official Claire Williams about just that on the Politics Show this Sunday at the later time of 2.25pm.

Battle of Milibands heats up after leadership poll shock

Richard Moss | 16:57 UK time, Tuesday, 14 September 2010

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Labour leadership contenders

The Labour leadership contenders at the hustings in Newcastle

After months of meandering rather aimlessly to its conclusion, the Labour leadership contest seems to have caught light at last.

But the reason for the sudden surge in interest isn't good news for South Shields MP David Miliband.

That's because it was the Sunday Times poll which suggested brother Ed could be heading for a narrow victory.

For some it would have come as a surprise. There were many who thought David was a shoo-in.

But personally, I never believed it would be a simple coronation.

I suspected it would be close, even if the only two contenders were likely to be the Miliband brothers.

And I always suspected David Miliband could be weighed down by New Labour baggage, and vulnerable to an attack by someone who could appeal to the party's traditional supporters.

And the length of the contest also hasn't necessarily helped Miliband Snr.

A quick battle would have made it hard for any other candidate to build momentum.

But "Brother Ed" does seem to have gradually built support and carved out a clear narrative - David represents New Labour and the past, he represents a future that will move on but also return Labour to its roots.

And there's no question that David Miliband is feeling the heat.

I received an e-mail from his campaign today asking supporters to join a phone bank and contact 20 members in the next 24 hours.

The former Foreign Secretary has talked about the poll being a "wake-up call" and refocusing the campaign during an interview with the Politics Show on Sunday. An indication that he knows it could be very close.

And Ed Miliband actually believes he's further ahead than the poll suggests.

He claims his support amongst MPs was underestimated by the Sunday Times and that he will win far more parliamentary votes than expected.

David and Ed Miliband

Given an electoral system that relies very much on who voters put as their second preference, it is hard to call though.

Some Labour members I have spoken to in the past have felt some conflict between their head and heart.

Ed's appeal to their Labour values won their hearts. For some I suspect he offers a chance for them to feel good about being part of the party again, after years of being worn down by the responsibilities of government.

But their heads said David may still be the most likely to get them back into power; the man David Cameron fears the most.

I suspect it'll be down now to which one of the Milibands can widen their appeal to those still left to vote. Can David convince members that he can make them fall in love with being part of the Labour party he leads, or can Ed convince waverers that he can win power as well as the leadership contest?

How will we cope with cuts - the debates to come

Richard Moss | 12:32 UK time, Sunday, 12 September 2010

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Richard Moss appearing five times

Due to either some graphics magic or a horrific cloning experiment Richard Moss scares viewers by appearing five times.

First programme back and there was already a flavour of the debates to come over the next few months.

The c-word - cuts in case you're wondering - is bound to dominate.

As will the debate about just how much pain the region has to take, and how much help will be on offer.

The research carried out by Experian for the BBC this week demonstrates how vulnerable the North East in particular is to cuts in spending.

There's no question then that the Autumn spending review will have tough consequences for the region.

And the Government openly says there is a need to rebalance the economy, with people moving from public sector employment to the private sector.

The question is then, will the help on offer to the region be enough to achieve that.

We learned a little more this week about the Local Enterprise Partnerships that could replace regional development agencies, as the engines of economic growth.

The Government thinks they'll be nimbler and more streamlined, but they also seem likely to have fewer guaranteed resources and powers.

They will though have access to a regional growth fund of £1bn, and the share of that secured by the region could be crucial.

There are also National Insurance incentives in place to encourage new businessess to set up.

But can any of this happen quickly enough to allow the private sector to absorb everyone that's leaving the public sector?

That may govern just how painful any transition might be.

There are some interesting times ahead then.

If you caught the first Politics Show of the autumn, I hope you enjoyed the new titles and music - I felt I should dance to the beat of the new music but thankfully restrained myself.

Five of me were in vision at one point as well to illustrate the new Local Economic Partnerships, a horrific sight I know.

Check out the programme on the iPlayer if you do want to see more of the "Moss Quintuplets".

Middlesbrough 'most vulnerable' in England to spending cuts

Richard Moss | 06:00 UK time, Thursday, 9 September 2010

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Middlesbrough's Transporter Bridge

The Transporter Bridge in Middlesbrough

Middlesbrough has had its detractors over the years.

Kirsty and Phil from Channel 4's Location, Location, Location once named it as the worst place to live in Britain.

So perhaps people in the town might not be too surprised to find they've ended up at the bottom of another list.

Research commissioned by the BBC suggests Middlesbrough has the least resilient economy in England.

In other words, it could suffer the most from any economic shocks - including the big public sector cuts in the offing.

The research was carried out by Experian for a series of programmes examining the potential impact of the Government's imminent Comprehensive Spending Review.

The study looked at the strength of the business base (start-ups, insolvencies and the like), the skills and earnings of the local workforce, the levels of deprivation and other factors such as crime rates and house prices.

It then ranked all the local authorities across England and put Middlesbrough 324th and bottom.

The reasons for its vulnerability are multifold. It's got the third-highest number of people living on benefit in England, 15,000 people living there have no qualifications, and more than four out of ten 10 work in the public sector.

Not good news then. It would suggest the town will always find it harder than anywhere else to bounce back from misfortune.

But you won't be surprised to know that's not the view of Middlesbrough Mayor Ray Mallon.

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The former "Robocop" rejects the survey as purely academic.

In an interview with Teesside ex-pat and TV presenter Kirsten O'Brien, he says the only way you can really judge the town's resilience is to meet the people and see the improvements that are being made.

And he has a point.

Compared to a decade ago, the town is a different place.

Anish Kapoor's artwork Temenos

The new Anish Kapoor artwork "Temenos" is playing a central part in the regeneration of Middlesbrough's Middlehaven area

It has a well-respected modern art gallery, a bustling shopping centre and after years of false starts the riverside area of Middlehaven is now being regenerated. The huge new Anish Kapoor artwork Temenos is now the centrepiece.

On top of that Teesside University is officially ranked as the best in the country.

And with that has come a growing confidence amongst townspeople.

But, even the bullish Ray Mallon, admits there is still some way to go to get locals off benefits and into work, and convince the outside world that Middlesbrough has changed.

He wants tax breaks to attract manufacturers in and hopes a new Local Enterprise Partnership of business and councils in Teesside can help the whole area.

And there are some encouraging signs. One in 10 of the businesses in the town are in new high-tech growth industries.

But of course Middlesbrough doesn't stand alone. It needs a thriving regional economy too.

And the Experian survey has some worrying news on that score.

Many parts of the North East also rank low on its resilience table.

Redcar and Cleveland came 319th, Hartlepool 316th, South Tyneside 313th, and Sunderland 308th.

Even the region's most regenerated areas - Newcastle and Gateshead - only make it to 259th and 280th respectively.

The whole region then could be vulnerable in the months and years ahead.

Is this a counsel for despair?

It's certainly worrying, but what it really represents is a test for decision-makers both in the region and in Westminster.

The Government says it wants to "rebalance" the economy. It wants areas like the North East to become less dependent on public sector jobs by encouraging the private sector to grow.

If that happens then the region will actually be significantly less vulnerable in the future.

But that's a big if, and it's hard to believe there won't be a some pain in Middlesbrough and beyond before it happens.

You can watch a special debate about the impact of cuts on our region in Spending Review: The Look North Debate at 10.35 on BBC1 this evening.

Divide and rule? Why One North East could become five

Richard Moss | 14:57 UK time, Tuesday, 7 September 2010

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Hadrian's Wall

Hadrian's Wall might not be the only thing dividing the North East soon

The Government said the North East could keep some form of regional economic development organisation if it wanted to.

The region's politicians said the North East would want to do just that.

How then have we arrived at a situation where the regional development agency One North East could be replaced by no less than five different new organisations?

That was the plan submitted to the Government by councils and business leaders from the region this week.

It's all part of plans to replace One North East with what are called Local Enterprise Partnerships.

These would be a combination of councils and businesses looking after the economic interests of the areas they represent.

Initially, there seemed to be some enthusiasm for just one North East-wide partnership.

But then the councils in the Tees Valley area decided to bid for their own, and from there the fracturing has continued.

That's resulted in five bids.

Apart from Tees Valley the others bidding for partnerships are Northumberland-North Tyneside, Newcastle-Gateshead, Sunderland-South Tyneside and County Durham.

The Government believes these smaller local organisations will be more effective than the region-wide development agencies.

But some are not convinced.

First, there's the question of what powers and budget these partnerships will have.

That's very unclear at the moment, indeed there may be no budget other than what the partnerships bid for from the new £1bn regional growth fund.

In terms of powers, the Government says they will tackle planning, housing, local transport priorities and enterprise, but is vague on how.

The big powers that the regional development agencies have will be heading south to civil servants in London.

That means control over inward investment, European funding and business support leaving the regions.

And then there's real concern about the divisiveness of the region splitting into five different organisations potentially competing against each other for jobs and investment.

Businessman and former Newcastle United owner Sir John Hall, has already talked about the problems that could cause with areas competing against each other.

I've also been speaking to other businesses who share his concerns.

Simon Pearson, who runs a digital agency advising businesses in the North East, believes five bids is far too many, as they the partnerships may prove too weak to compete against the likes of Greater Manchester and Leeds.

He would have preferred to see three at most.

So is this the end for the idea of a united region?

Well, perhaps not, because another bid has been tabled this week too.

The Association of North East Councils and the Northern Business Forum also want another regional organisation to be formed alongside the five local partnerships.

They want to persuade the government to hand over the powers it had planned to hold nationally - inward investment etc - to this new regional partnership.

They're also keen for it to inherit One North East's assets, including its considerable property portfolio.

The problem is, will the Government wear that?

Eric Pickles

Ministers say they won't raise objections if a region wants to stick together in some way, but Communities Secretary Eric Pickles is an avowed opponent of anything that smacks of regionalism.

But in actual fact, we are all in the dark here.

The Government's consultation is rather vague. It talks about redrawing the regional boundaries, but warns against the partnership bids being for too small an area.

And many of the groups bidding for Local Enterprise Partnerships admit they're unclear about what they'll do and what money they'll have to spend if they're successful.

Cumbria is bidding for its own Partnership, but the county's Chamber of Commerce says they are uncertain about what exactly they'll be empowered to do.

Some in business would have preferred to see the Regional Development Agencies retained, but slimmed down and refocused.

That though is not an option on the table.

It seems regions will be divided, but whether for good or ill, it remains to be seen.

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