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By Jim Hancock

By Jim Hancock

Tiny green shoots for the government?

In his blog Jim thinks the pressure has eased on the Prime Minister for now. He has been taking the political temperature in Leeds and Westminster.

A week ago, Rishi Sunak’s opponents were sharpening their knives after, what they saw as his mishandling of the Anderson and Hester affairs. It may still be that after the local elections, they have another go. I think it is unlikely because of the unacceptability of a third unelected Prime Minister and the difficulty of uniting around one person, instead of a divisive leadership contest that would dominate the summer.

Meanwhile there are straws in the wind that suggest that, by the autumn, the Tories may go down to defeat, but they won’t be the hopelessly divided rabble that they looked like just a week ago.

Rishi Sunak faced his rebels head on at a private meeting of the parliamentary party this week. He was armed with the news that inflation is down to 3.4%. Pressure will be growing on the Bank of England to cut interest rates in the run up to polling day. Planes are likely to be taking off for Rwanda. Although it is a ruinously expensive gimmick, it shows that the government are engaged in trying to do something about a growing problem. Labour’s solution of more Home Office officials and a better deal with the French doesn’t convince me.

I have been around the country in the last few weeks taking the temperature of where we are as we approach those local elections.

At Westminster I attended a lunch with Angela Rayner. The Deputy Leader of the Labour Party is growing in confidence. The public schoolboys in the Lobby seemed mesmerised by her speech delivered in her rich Northern accent. She took on questions about her housing arrangements in Ashton, rather than dodge them. Whether they convinced people is another matter, but the word is she wants to be leader one day.

I also heard her speak at the Convention of the North in Leeds, but her speech was too political for an audience of council officers and business people. She spoke in general terms of Labour’s plans for a Take Back Control Devolution Bill, Great British Energy, and the Green Prosperity Plan (minus £28bn). On badly needed council tax reform, she completely ruled it out. No promise to look at it. Out completely. There is a poverty of ambition in parts of Labour’s plans for the future.

In contrast Communities Secretary Michael Gove played a good innings on a sticky wicket. Five months ago, a government committed to levelling up, cancelled HS2. He announced new devolution deals for Liverpool City Region, West and South Yorkshire and smaller settlements for Hull and Lancashire. £90m for homes in Blackpool, support for the British Library North in Leeds. Unlike Rayner, he has the power to announce these concrete measures. He claimed the Treasury, historically a drag anchor on devolution, now “got it”. We shall see.

Rising star, West Yorkshire mayor Tracy Brabin, said the government’s devolution agenda still lacked coherence, particularly on rail investment and promised a Manifesto for the North for the General Election.

Nevertheless Steve Rotheram (Liverpool City Region) pushing a Mersey Tidal Barrier and Andy Burnham (Greater Manchester) with his publicly owned bus fleet had to acknowledge the benefits of devolution.

So, Gove bubbling with ideas in Leeds, Sunak fighting back at Westminster while Labour hopes the public are past listening to the Conservatives.

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