Posts Tagged ‘devolution’

Election 1997 20th anniversary: Then and now

01/05/2017, 07:55:36 PM

In a series of pieces, Uncut writers look back at election day 1997. Jonathan Todd looks at then and now with an eye to the Mayoral votes coming this Thursday

“I don’t know what I was hoping for.”

I don’t know for how many people the words of Nick Cave’s beautiful We Came Along This Road apply to Labour’s 1997 victory.

My family have never been political. I cannot comprehend childhoods snatched under tables in committee rooms. I spent my first 16 years kicking a ball against a wall.

As a sixth-former in Barrow-in-Furness, the hopes that I had for Labour in 1997 did not reside in family inheritance. They did, though, grow out of family circumstance.

While Ken Clarke delivered macroeconomic improvement in advance of May 1997, unemployment was a spectre that ever more encroached on my ball kicking.

In the north of my youth, people were made redundant in middle age and never worked again, youngsters left school to go on the dole. This created a pervasive sense of thwarted hopes.

In the same way that 1945 was about saying “no more” to the economic depravities of the 1930s, my Labour hopes in 1997 grew out of unnecessary economic injustice.

While I was specific about the unemployment that I wanted to leave behind, I was vague about how Labour might fulfil these hopes. I enjoyed A-Level Economics – and was much more Keynes than Friedman – but neo-endogenous growth theory did not much illuminate, at least as I recall my youthful mind, the intensions of Blair and Brown.

1997 is as far removed from today as the second year of Wilson’s premiership was from 1945. By the mid-60s, while Attlee’s achievements, such as the NHS and the welfare state, were immense, they’d long been banked by the public. As much taken for granted as the minimum wage now is.

In 1945, 1964 and 1997, Labour was a breath of fresh air, defined as a vanguard of national renewal, not by what it had done decades previously. Blair will be as irrelevant to the next Labour government as Attlee was to 1964. Or Wilson was to 1997.

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Welcome to the United Kingdom of England and Wales

21/12/2016, 03:57:18 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Brexit may mean Brexit, but it also means something else: the United Kingdom, as we have known it, is finished.

The result of our vote to leave the European Union will precipitate a reshaping the United Kingdom from first principles, as our Celtic fringe is shorn off and overseas commitments become more burdensome.

Although a recent poll showed support for Scottish independence dipping a fraction below the 45 per cent level secured in the 2014 referendum, it will prove to be a false dawn for those hoping the fires of nationalism are dying down.

Brexit now makes a second referendum inevitable. More than that, it makes it entirely justifiable. A point Nicola Sturgeon was keen to exploit yesterday with her demands that Scotland be allowed to stay in the single market.

She has a point. Why should 62 per cent of Scots who voted to remain in the EU have their country’s prospects curtailed, as they see it, because of English votes; in a reversal of the famous West Lothian Question (why should Scots MPs vote on English laws?)

The SNP should be in tatters after losing the 2014 vote, but instead now dominates Scottish public life, utterly. So much so that Sturgeon announced back in October that she is teeing up a second referendum bill and amassing for a war chest for the next tilt at independence.

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Corbyn, Cooper and Burnham are being outflanked by Osborne on devolution

09/09/2015, 09:20:18 AM

by Nick Small

As the next Labour leader takes office, a number of big northern English city regions will sign-off devolution deals with central government.  These deals will see new powers and funding devolved from Whitehall to elected city region on transport, skills, business support, funding, inward investment, welfare to work and potentially policing, fire services and health.

The deals won’t be perfect and, yes, some cuts will undoubtedly be devolved.  But it will be the biggest transfer of power away from the centre since the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly were set up in 1998 with up to £60bn of funding being devolved from Whitehall.   And it will start a process that could fundamentally change our great northern cities’ dependency on London for good.

Devolution and austerity are in some ways two sides of the same coin.  For cities like Liverpool there are only two ways out of austerity.

The first thing we can do is to break down silos between different parts of government and move to place based funding and delivery of public services.  This lets us do more with less.

The second is to boost our local economy to strengthen our tax base in a progressive way.

This is what we’ve been doing in Liverpool over the last five years.  A devolution deal would allow us to build on that work and to keep more tax receipts raised locally to spend locally.  It’s not an option to go back to the 1980s and the grotesque chaos of illegal budgets.  Let’s not forget that those tactics failed then, they hit working people the hardest and did untold reputational damage to cities like Liverpool that lasted many, many years.

But the man most likely to be the next Labour leader doesn’t seem to get it, calling city devolution “a cruel deception” and “southern hot air.”  To be fair, neither Andy Burnham nor Yvette Cooper, based on past action, are instinctive decentralisers.

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SW1 Labour is too busy pretending to be in the West Wing to value Labour’s local government leaders

30/08/2015, 12:45:36 PM

by Theo Blackwell

It takes the polemicist Simon Jenkins to hit the nail on the head: our most talented leaders are outside of Westminster in local government – and ‘SW1 Labour’s’ love of centralism and conformity continues to freeze them out.  Labour has outstanding leaders. It’s a shame that they are all in the regions | Simon Jenkins. Not using too much hyperbole, he writes of the pre-election devo-Manc discussions:

“A significant moment in the downfall of Ed Miliband came in spring of last year after George Osborne’s “northern powerhouse” speech. Manchester’s boss, Richard Leese, was in the middle of negotiating with Osborne on his city’s devolution plan. It involved a major restructuring of public administration, possibly across all of local government. Miliband’s office wanted Leese to rubbish Osborne’s speech. The reply was reputedly unquotable in a family newspaper. Who did these snivelling Westminster teenagers think they were addressing?”

Without a doubt this was a political moment which revealed the lack of depth and hubris of team Ed – none of whom had local government experience and often gave the impression to council leaders that their interventions were just rude interruptions to their far more important ‘West Wing’ world of policy announcements.  Local government was seen a something to be managed rather than an opportunity to be harnessed as part of our story around credibility, innovation and growth.

Be in no doubt, in Labour local government circles this sorry episode continues to be regarded as a most monstrous tactical error by the previous leadership, as territory ceded to the Conservatives will be hard to regain.  (Indeed, Andy Burnham has had to work hard with local government figures to distance himself from the ‘Swiss Cheese NHS’ description of locally combined budgets he used in the run up to the election).

But today our governing experience is almost exclusively in local government and Wales, and not in the Parliamentary Labour party.  This will be same for the next 5 years.

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Can everyone please put their spades down?

07/07/2015, 06:06:26 PM

Denis Healy’s droll advice to stop digging when you find yourself in a hole seems lost on the current Labour frontbench. Just when it appeared that the party had officially reached Peak Disaster in May’s general election, it seems there is always more that can be done to frighten away potential voters.

Let’s take just four interventions from last week.

On Wednesday, at Prime Minister’s Questions, acting leader Harriet Harman casually committed the Labour benches to supporting a third runway for Heathrow, the central recommendation of Sir Howard Davies’ long-anticipated Airports Commission.

This is slightly surprising because there is no such commitment in the recent Labour manifesto. Indeed, there has been no discussion in the party about the change in policy. If there had been, it might have been pointed out that without ameliorative measures, a third runway will lock-in, rather than reduce, regional economic imbalances between Greater London and the North and Midlands. But, hey, it was a good line for PMQs.

Next up was Gloria de Piero, the party’s shadow equalities minister. She announced that companies employing more than 250 people (note: not the public sector) will be subject to a new regulation compelling them to undergo an “annual equal pay check” and publish information on the pay gap between their male and female employees in order, it seems, to be publicly shamed for any disparity.

Labour’s charmless offensive with business continues unabated. If there is evidence that employers pay women less for working at the same level as men, in the same organisation, on the same hours, then it’s a simple matter of enforcing the 1970 Equal Pay Act, which has outlawed such practices for the past 45 years.

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

22/06/2015, 11:02:06 AM

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.

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Pickles’ sacking shows Cameron is trying to make peace with local councils

11/05/2015, 06:33:58 PM

The cruel jibe has it that Eric Pickles’ sacking in the reshuffle frees up two seats around the Cabinet table.

Still, it appears to have come as a shock to the former communities secretary, as he was confidently predicting a return to government and was “waiting by my phone” for the call.

Local government watchers see signs here of David Cameron trying to mend fences by replacing the abrasive Pickles with the more emollient cities minister, Greg Clark, who is widely liked across the political divide.

It seems to be a version of the same tactic tried last year when the Prime Minister unceremoniously dumped Michael Gove from education, replacing him with the balm-anointing Nicky Morgan. Consolidators following revolutionaries, as it were.

Neither is it lost on Cameron that the surge of Conservative councillors from last week has seen the party take political control of the Local Government Association.

He can do without Pickles being gratuitously rude to his party’s elected grassroots, especially as he was boasting that there was still an “awful lot of money to be still saved” from council budgets.

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Osborne’s new austerity will force local government beyond breaking point

09/12/2014, 08:02:33 PM

by Kieran Quinn

December the 12th is one of my favourite days of the year: I attend the pensioner Christmas party in my ward. It’s an opportunity to mark the contribution that many of our senior citizens have made to Tameside in Greater Manchester. It also gives people the chance to celebrate and socialise with other Tameside pensioners.

With further austerity measures being levelled on local government over the next few years, I fear for the future of events like these, and services that residents have taken for granted.

£142 million will have been taken from our budget by 2017, we are currently consulting on the £38 million of cuts imposed upon our borough over the next two years, and we are now at a tipping point. Put simply, with half of our budget taken away we simply cannot fund the same level of services, and our workforce has halved so far. We are beyond the approach of doing more for less, despite a hardworking, innovative and dedicated workforce.

As the 980 residents that have taken part in our budget consultation will know, nearly two thirds of our budget is spent on safeguarding the very young and the very old. These services are statutory, laid down in law by parliament. With no additional resources put into these services our ability to provide for our most vulnerable citizens will come into question.

While any funding ring-fenced for the NHS is welcome(a one-off figure of £2 billion , not year on year) a more holistic approach to public sector funding is needed. If you cut our budget by £142 million, high spend areas such as Adult Services are not immune from this and the pressure on NHS resources goes up. It is both morally and economically sensible to integrate these budgets, the emphasis must be on early help in the home and community.

Enough really is enough. If the Chancellor genuinely believed “we are all in these challenging financial times together”, he would have responded to the cross party call for a fair approach to local government finances and deliver an even bolder approach to devolution.

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The rise of UKIP is a symptom of Westminster’s failure. Now is the time for our great cities to halt the country’s political decline

24/10/2014, 04:30:27 PM

by Ben Garratt

Immigration has become an electoral and symbolic issue, not because Brits are less tolerant of foreigners, but because immigration highlights the growing gulf in experience between Westminster politicians and communities across the country. Trying to out-UKIP UKIP is therefore not the answer.

YouGov’s poll for the Sunday Times earlier this month found that, when people are asked which political leader they trust most on immigration, 26% said “none of them” and a further 13% said “don’t know”. Nigel Farage was considered twice as trust worthy as Labour, but even he could only equal “none of them.” But this challenge does not end at immigration. 40% of respondents said they don’t trust any of the party leaders, on anything at all. As Peter Kellner wrote in June, voters are simply unwilling to believe what the political classes tell us.

How can we understand and halt this decline? When a parent tells you what to do, it might be frustrating but often there will be a niggling feeling that they know what they are talking about. When a successful boss tells you to do something seemingly inexplicable, you instinctively know they have a point. Why? Because of shared experience. They have been there. But, it seems that when a government minister speaks, there is little trust. Why? Because of a lack of shared experience.

From the EU to skills, the environment, immigration and the economy, what national politicians are saying seems less and less grounded in anything socially or economically tangible to our everyday lives, and it is not in Ed Miliband’s or David Cameron’s gift to fix this. This isn’t a failure of speech writers, charisma or the traditional skills of the Westminster class, but a result of the collapse of social, cultural and economic structures which used to connect us to each other and connect our politicians to us. It is a lack of shared experience.

This gap is growing, which is a major problem for our democracy and for getting anything done. Only by reconnecting communities and political leadership can we tackle challenge and, to do this, we need our city regions and communities to take the lead. In a world where traditional class definitions mean less and less, our cities and regions – built on businesses, communities, politicians and more – are the closest spaces of decision-making to our everyday lives. By working together in our regions, we can therefore build on our shared experiences, shifting the debate on immigration, and numerous other intangible long-term issues, away from homogenous headline numbers, and towards credible solutions built on aspiration and investment.

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What we need to hear from Ed

23/09/2014, 11:13:15 AM

by Kevin Meagher

Given the tumultuous events in Scotland, Ed Miliband can be forgiven if he’s already ripped-up several drafts of his leader’s speech as he still works out how to respond. But putting that to one side, what is today about? What do we need to hear from Ed and what should he be looking to get out of his annual address to his party?

Ed needs to galvanise the Labour tribe. After all, that is technically why we are all here this week. Yet there’s a flat feeling to this conference. While many express cautious optimism that Labour will win next May, the next conversation comes with predictions of electoral doom, as Lib Dem floaters return home and Cameron rallies. Ed needs to convey, if not vision, then optimism about next year and transmit a sense of confidence that his troops can buy into.

He needs to transcend the party and speak to the electorate at large. This is now the real purpose of a leader’s conference speech. For one day a year, the spotlight falls on the Labour leader, who is given an opportunity to try and set the political agenda, and, even more importantly, show us what kind of person he is. Dog breeders would call it temperament. And while you can train yourself to recite a speech without notes, (a skill that’s frankly lost on a television audience) being likeable and spontaneous is a tad more difficult. But that’s what most non-committed voters will be looking for. This conference, the last before the general election, is, essentially, a job interview for becoming prime minister. So no pressure then.

Show Labour gets the need for further devolution. Calling for a constitutional convention – hitherto Labour’s response to the Scottish devolution result and demands for similar moves for England – is all very well, but it lacks urgency. Ed needs to use his speech to set out the principles that will inform his approach in coming months. Positioning Labour against the ridiculous idea of an English parliament is a start, but Ed needs to go further today and set out the conceptual framework for how power is devolved in England. If he doesn’t, he risks letting Cameron frame the agenda in his conference speech. So is it regions, city regions, strengthened local government or something else?

Do something to address the issue around leadership and economic credibility. Although the party maintains a steady opinion poll lead, the deficits the party continues to run on leadership and economic credibility makes many nervous that the headline poll lead will hold water the closer we get to next May. Let’s be clear: this is a legacy that anyone leading the Labour party would face, but it is, ultimately, Ed Miliband’s problem to fix. And, to put it bluntly, nowhere near enough has been done over the last four years. No-one in their heart of hearts will truly believe the party is set to win next year until these gaps narrow. (more…)

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