The Uncuts: 2017 political awards (part IV)

Flash in the pan award – metro mayors

Eight months on from the election of the first swathe of ‘metro mayors’ in some of our larger conurbations, and, well…

Only Andy Burnham has anything close to a national profile, aided by the fact he has responsibility for the NHS and social care system across Greater Manchester and easily rose the occasion, responding to the ISIS suicide attack on Manchester Arena last May.

The Tories’ Andy Street – former John Lewis boss – is assiduously working away on a second tranche of devolution for the West Midlands, but his strong anti-Brexit stance will hardly endear him to his colleagues in Westminster.

The basic problem for the metro mayors is that the whole idea feels like it’s reached its peak.

They have two big problems.

First, they have a near-impossible task in showing they’ve achieved anything by the time they’re up for re-election in 2020. They have precious little in the way of retail powers. Producing a draft spatial strategy, or appointing a ‘fairness czar’ is hardly going to cut it with the voters.

The second problem is that Whitehall has moved on. Devolution was Osborne’s thing and there’s little sense Theresa May – more excited about her ‘Modern Industrial Strategy’ – is remotely interested in prolonging the experiment.

You can imagine a scenario in the Downing Street bunker when a solemn Burnham appears on the television, and the PM flings one of her garish shoes at the telly. ‘Why have we given Burnham a platform to slag us off every day?!’

‘Dunno boss,’ a flunky will say, ‘Osborne thought it was a good idea…’

And that will be all it needs. Local authority leaders on the Combined Authorities will get to keep the devo deals they’ve negotiated but they’ll no longer be contingent on having an elected mayor. The Prime Minister can leave Labour council leaders to wield the dagger quicker than you can say ‘Infamy! Infamy!’

Little local difficulty award – Ireland & Brexit

It all seemed so easy, the Irish border issue. Last January, during her Lancaster House speech setting out her initial approach to Brexit, the Prime Minister breezily passed over the issue entirely. Not one specific mention was made of how the border would be sorted, post-Brexit.

‘Nobody wants to return to the borders of the past, so we will make it a priority to deliver a practical solution as soon as we can.’ That was it. And this was the conclusion on a paragraph in the speech focusing on maintaining the passport-free Common Travel Area with the Irish Republic, which dates from the partition of Ireland.

It’s safe to say ministers underestimated how hard resolving the Irish border question would turn out to be. And they underestimated the Irish.

You simply cannot have two different customs regimes on an island without having a border. But you cannot have a hard border across the 310-mile demarcation between Northern and southern Ireland without damaging economic co-operation and free movement, as well as creating a massive political headache.

Oh, and giving dissident republicans something to shoot at.

Ministers seemed to realise all this late in the game, complicated by the charmless DUP holding them to ransom.

A youthful new Taoiseach in the shape of Leo Varadkar, speaking after his first meeting with Theresa May back in June, spoke of his ‘little thrill’ at visiting Downing Street, given he’s a big fan of the film ‘Love Actually’ with Hugh Grant’s sashaying premier.

All a bit sick-inducing, but Leo’s bonhomie turned out to be as fake as his tan. After that, things deteriorated as the Irish Government started to play hardball over the border. How could it not?

Someone had to point out Whitehall’s ineptitude in thinking it could busk the issue. The fact that Varadkar’s Fine Gael is the closest thing Ireland has to Cameroon Tory party should have made this task simpler.

Instead, as the Irish Times pointed out recently, by November relations between Theresa and Leo were in the deep freeze: ‘Socially awkward in different ways and both averse to small talk, Varadkar and May have no personal chemistry.’

The wash-up is that Theresa May has effectively promised that Northern Ireland will shadow the Irish Republic and that there won’t be a hard border. As a fudge, it will do for now, but Phase Two negotiations on future trade arrangements are bound to expose all the flaws.

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One Response to “The Uncuts: 2017 political awards (part IV)”

  1. John P Reid says:

    Intresting that , labour accepted count area Police commissioners, Thd Tories clearly brought it in as a way of blaming the cuts in police lead to the rise in burglaries, as the government cut the police so neighbourhood issues in urban areas . Saw crime go up, due to no community liaisons , among other things, and taking away resources from labour ideas like dealing with hate crime, or traffic offences and concentrating on crime on the buses, historical rape cases and ignoring knife and drug crime

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