HANG ON MANCHESTER!
It has been a significant week for the future governance of the North of England. Exactly ten years after the people of the North East rejected the weak elected assembly on offer at the time, we now have the two major parties vying with each other to devolve real power to parts of the North
The Chancellor has promised major powers to Greater Manchester. Meanwhile the Labour leader, Ed Miliband, has set out a more measured approach offering powers to the whole of the north of England and House of Lords reform to address our current under representation in the upper chamber.
My sources in Manchester tell me they have become exasperated by Ed Miliband’s approach of awaiting a constitutional convention. Although Manchester is a Labour authority it finds it easier to deal with the fast moving Tory George Osborne. However the Manchester leadership needs to recognise that city regions aren’t the whole north, that the Tories may not be in a position to deliver their promises come May and a convention with everyone having their say is the right approach.
It has always been a weakness of the city regionalists that they don’t see the need for democratic accountability. They have been dragged into accepting an elected conurbation mayor in 2017 if the Tories get back. Sir Richard Leese is the favourite to take this role but I don’t think that will happen. The Greater Manchester Police and Crime Commissioner Tony Lloyd (who’s post will be taken over by the mayor) is a possible contender or possibly Jim McMahon, the leader of Oldham.
ED’S FULL CONSTITUTIONAL SOLUTION.
Some weeks ago I suggested a considered approach to the many constitutional issues that have arisen in England since the Scottish referendum vote. Ed Miliband’s plan provides for this.
He is looking at the wider picture- not just the city regions. He wants an English regions cabinet committee so that our problems are put at the heart of government and not forgotten by Whitehall civil servants. He also wants to address reform of the House of Lords once and for all by bringing the regions into the process. There is a crying need for this. It should be called the House of the South East at the moment. 31% of peers have their main residence in London and 23% in the South East. Just 5% of peers list their main residence in the North West and 4% in the North East. Miliband wants to create an elected Senate with representatives drawn from the nations, regions and cities of the United Kingdom.
At a time when the alienation of the people from politics is reaching dangerous proportions, this might be a way of turning things round. There are many misgivings about Ed Miliband and his leadership qualities but on this subject he has adopted a comprehensive approach to constitutional reform.
TORIES’ PIECEMEAL APPROACH.
Greater Manchester has been well run in the last few years. Its Combined Authority has been an exemplar of how councils with different political colours or aspirations can work together. One can understand the Chancellor’s wish to reward such progress, but he needs to look at the wider picture. The other city regions like West Yorkshire and Liverpool are promised powers, although not necessarily the same powers and on a different time scale. Then there is the suburban and rural North not covered by this. In other words if the Tories get back we will have a hotchpotch. This is intentional. The one size fits all approach is openly criticised but the Osborne way could also be a recipe for confusion and debilitating rivalry.
So if the Tories win we will have disparate devolution to some city regions, English votes for English laws and no reform of the House of Lords.
Labour’s constitutional convention approach should be supported.