NEXT CITY DEALS ?
Following Greater Manchester’s devolution deal, the race by other northern combined authorities is on with a vengeance. In Leeds last week the Deputy Prime Minister announced that packages for Leeds and Sheffield would be agreed before the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement. Lord Heseltine is trying to bang heads together in Liverpool which is displaying its usual propensity for internal bickering. Meanwhile talks are under way amongst Lancashire’s myriad number of councils to try and get the first powerhouse deal outside the major cities.
I have attended a number of devolution conferences in the last week and watched nearly all of the BBC’s regional debates across England. My worst fears have been confirmed. Apart from the city regionalists, people from smaller towns and rural areas are hopelessly divided on what devolution they want. There is no clarity on how to solve the issue of English votes for English laws. There was virtually no debate on how an elected Lords could represent the North and not just the South East.
So it looks as if the Tories get back we will have piecemeal devolution to a number of city regions with little for the rest of the North which will be left with its confusing patchwork of district, met and county councils and ad hoc bodies created to deal with major infrastructure issues. Labour’s promise of a comprehensive constitutional convention seems worth voting for.
A couple of final thoughts on the position of Leeds and Liverpool. The Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg told us in Leeds that we should not presume that Leeds (and Sheffield) would have to have elected mayors. This seems strange when the government, in the shape of George Osborne, insisted on it in Greater Manchester as a democratic requirement. Will Leeds and Sheffield get less powers in return for no elected mayor? Is Clegg doing his own thing in Yorkshire? This is what happens with a piecemeal approach. Different strokes for different folks ends in chaos.
In Liverpool Jo Anderson continues with his schizophrenic performance. He has used leadership and imagination to save the city’s libraries but on the issue of devolution he is not handling things well. He needs to work with Phil Davies, the leader of the Combined Authority, not continue to make snide comments about part time politicians meeting every four weeks. Also his ambition to be the elected metro mayor takes no account of the democratic processes of the Labour Party. If an elected mayor was on offer, Phil Davies or Jane Kennedy (the current Merseyside Police Commissioner) might at least want to offer an alternative to Joe’s coronation. The important thing here is that all the infighting is putting off the government from granting the Liverpool City Region its powers. It is also fuelling the prejudices of those who claim that nothing really changes in Liverpool. It is manifestly not true but people need to stop shooting themselves in the foot.
UKIP FOX SHOT
The much derided European Court of Justice has come to David Cameron’s rescue. So we can stop benefit tourism after all. It is a much exaggerated problem anyway. Most foreign workers want to come here make our sandwiches, pick our potatoes and pay their taxes.
The interesting question is whether it will slow UKIP’s momentum in next week’s Rochester by election. At the moment it looks as if the reckless Reckless will win. The Tory candidate is very poor. If UKIP do win, the Tories need to steady their nerve and pro European Conservatives need to have the guts to speak up for the EU and not just leave it to Ken Clarke.