Want to reinvigorate the union? Get parliament and central government out of London

by Ranjit Singh Sidhu

The news that the Palace of Westminster must undergo a works programme that could last up to 40 years, and cost more than £7bn, has taken a much greater, deeper significance than that of a simple renovation project of a crumbling structure.

Never has the palace of Westminster so physically  embodied the state of the union of the United Kingdom. We have a choice; either to patch up the old institution as best as we can, or can we be brave enough, bold enough to see it as a chance to re-imagine a new structure.

Let us make no mistake, we need bold changes to deal with the state of the union, which has become the issue of our time in the UK.  With the rise of the SNP, Scotland, naturally, is the poster child of our failing UK, however there is a greater malaise in the union felt by all not in the South East of England. The disconnect from Westminster politics of the Mancunian, Liverpudlian or Devonian is just as great as that of a Aberdonian or Glaswegian.

Coupled with this is the continual economic distress the regions of the United Kingdom have suffered over the last 35 years with the steady flow of jobs and wealth to the south east.

This is in no small part due to us still living in a United Kingdom whose central trappings are those of a conquering empire with all its legitimacy and pillars of governments, be it the head of state, executive, legislature or judiciary having all their seats of power in London. Something which may have been practical for running an empire in the 18th and 19th century, but in the modern 21st century has been one of the key drivers of systemic inequality across the UK.

So let’s fix this imbalance by getting power out of London and siting the House of Commons, the House of Lords and central government departments in different parts of the UK.

By regionalising Parliament and central government in this way we would provide a shift in what is defined as devolution. Instead of regions begging for pieces of power thrown to them from the top table in London, to that anachronistic table being broken up. That would be a real devolution symbolic of a confident union.

The practical argument of departments being located centrally are archaic, but also patronising to the rest of the UK.

The economic benefits of moving of these institutions and departments to the regions are well understood but there is the also question of why should all the elite jobs of government be placed in a small area of London?

Why should not the top civil servants of department of health be centred in Liverpool and the top civil servants of the department of transport not be in Leeds?

We have already seen what the moving of the BBC to Salford has done to that area, imagine what the distribution of the central departments of Government across the UK would do.

What the BBC move shows is that moving away from the sky high prices of London real estate and already groaning transport infrastructure, is a practical option.

Let us also imagine what a House of Lords based in Glasgow and a Houses of Commons in the North East would do to the body politic of the nation, the rejuvenation caused by the freedom from the Westminster bubble would be seismic.

For all who believe in political and social justice it would be the geographical democratisation of power: It would be the natural reverse journey that started 150 years ago when the labour movements were formed to carrying the voice of the everyday person to privileged power in Westminster, with Westminster itself to be broken up and returned to live amongst all parts of the nation.

In the United Kingdom, as the unique name of our land so illustrates , is an old and abiding union, so isn’t it time we placed trust in it and reimagine the union so that we are not only better together, but mutually bound together, through our devolved institutions of government across our United Kingdom of equals.

Brave, bold and a break from the past – what we need to reinvigorate our dying union.

Ranjit Sidhu is Director and Founder of SiD, Statistics into Decisions (www.sidspace.info) and blogs on tumblr here http://rssidhu.tumblr.com

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12 Responses to “Want to reinvigorate the union? Get parliament and central government out of London”

  1. swatantra says:

    Excellent idea. If the BBC can decamp to Salford lock stock and barrel then I’m sure that Central Govt can do the same!. Move the whole lot to the Birmingham NEC area, build new Commons Chamber on the European model, and accommodation for the army of civil servants to run the place. Whitehall can keep in touch through video conferencing and Skype. Do it, not think about it. And get the Old Parliament complex renovated and remodelled, and turn it into a Museum or Conference Centre, as well as New Chambers.
    The Lords should move into the old LCC County Hall, which should be brought back for the public and should never have been privatised.

  2. paul barker says:

    Couldnt agree more, have you thought of offering this article to ConservativeHome & LibdemVoice ? This idea needs to be cross-party.

  3. David Walker says:

    I would agree with this and in terms of the maintaining the union, Liverpool is where the whole Westminster bubble should be relocated to. It is the English city that is the least toxic to many Scots, particularly working-class Scots living in major urban areas.

    With Liverpool, you could go a great deal further though. The private-sector is tiny, throughout Merseyside (even though there are a few pockets of affluence). Why not designate the area for special corporation tax concessions? This could be done on a sliding scale, with concessions gradually decreasing the further away you get from the city centre.

    If a company relocated to central-Liverpool, or was a start-up there, a 50% reduction in corporation tax could be awarded to the business so long as it met a strict set of rules.

    For example, the company would need to have all of it’s staff working in the city and would be forced to do all of its banking within the UK. No company using any kind of offshore tax facility would be given the tax break. The reduction in corporation tax would need to decrease as you got further away from the city, to avoid decimating the areas that fell just outside the zone.

    It would obviously require a great deal more thought and detail for a scheme like this to work and for loopholes to be avoided. If done properly though, it would transform the city in 5 years. George Osborne talks about Northern powerhouses, but this is the sort of thing both Labour and the Tories should be looking to come up with if they want to make a real difference. If it was successful in Liverpool, the scheme could be rolled out to places like Newcastle, Darlington, Doncaster, Stoke, Grimsby and other places that are being left behind.

    How else are the fortunes of a city like Liverpool ever going to change? Labour’s only answer is to just stuff the city with public sector administrative centres, which are always going to bite the bullet when the Tories get back in. Liverpool needs a thriving private sector and one that goes beyond football clubs and trendy places to get drunk.

    Make a big offer that businesses will find too tempting to ignore, then review the situation after 5 years. Right now, Labour’s attitude to Liverpool could be summed up with ‘well, our vote their may as well be weighed, instead of counted, so lets just leave things as they are’.

  4. Taylor says:

    I’ve often thought moving the Treasury to Leeds would be a fine idea. Make every penny run for its life!

  5. David says:

    Spot on. I have thought this for years and so have many others and the time is now right. Why should we spend all this money on infrastructure that is no longer fit for purpose just because it suits a few vested interests to do so.
    If some respected group was to set up an on-line petition it would easily gather enough signatures to get it debated in parliament,

  6. Henrik says:

    Nice idea, conceptually, but reflect for a moment on just how difficult the BBC found it to move staff up to Salford – and how much it’s still costing them to subsidise weekly commuters, not to mention replacing staff who didn’t want to move.

  7. Tafia says:

    If you want to play silly buggers and make ridiculous claims that Parliament represents the union, then it should be located in the centre – somewhere near Coventry.

    Build a 21st century Parliament, in an arena as opposed to the ridiculous and pathetic adversarial benches we have now, build an accommodation complex nearby with serviced apartments and dining facilities etc to end the grotesque and revolting claims gravy train, and at the same time make Constituency staff civil servants so that continuity is retained and the corrupt and disgusting practice of employing family members and fuckwit party hangers-on and other irrelevant garbage etc ceases.

    This is a golden opportunity. There is one chance and one chance only to get this right and win the respect of the people – and I already now that the filth in Westminster from both main parties will fuck it up.

  8. G Northerner says:

    Strange how Hull never gets a mention from anybody! Chip on shoulder clearly showing!!
    There was a large pensions operation in Newcastle and Washington, which is now largely gone. Strangely, when government jobs are lost in the North, an equal number seem to be created in London….so I’m told.
    The “Northern powerhouse” is a stunt to install a Tory sympathetic mayor above Labour councils, thereby short circuiting local democracy. Another of George/Gideon’s cunning plans.Always thought the man would look well in a black uniform and jack boots!
    Agree with many of the points above…but the BBC is clearly still largely London based. Watch the “One Show”?

  9. Robert says:

    Move the House of Lords to Ireland….. and not NI either.

  10. Tafia says:

    The “Northern powerhouse” is a stunt to install a Tory sympathetic mayor above Labour councils

    Being as the Mayor will be voted in and the electorate across Greater Manchester as a whole is predominantly Labour, then if it ends up with a Tory mayor it will be because the Labour vote couldn’t be arsed with turning out.

  11. Colin McLeod says:

    I’ve never read an article that spouts as much crap as this. You are all bloody deluded

  12. Tafia says:

    David Walker – they already have Enterprise Zones where they get favourable rates, tax concessions, massive start-up grants etc etc.

    part of Liverpool’s problem is the same problem that affects most of the entire west side of the country – the EU is on the eastside. So business wants to set up close to the North Sea and channel ports.

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