Why devolution south of the border won't set pulses racing
05 November 2014 -
Farming power out to the regions is the latest trend to flow from the Scottish Referendum. But is it more about political strategising than inspiring the public?
Devolution is in the air. Hot on the heels of the Scottish Independence Referendum, Labour and the Conservatives are falling over each other to offer powers to the nations and regions. The difference being, that while large numbers in Scotland were asking for change, the proposals coming forward south of the border were either rejected in the past – or are so new that people haven’t got round to rejecting them yet.
The Conservative offer is – as Insights reported earlier this week – a Mayor for Greater Manchester, with a range of powers over policy and funding. Although the people of the city of Manchester (as distinct from the wider region) decided against a Mayor in the referendum of 2012, George Osborne’s determination that local powers should be subject to local accountability means the post is back on the table. The 10 local authorities that make up Greater Manchester could be contending with a Boris of the north by 2017.
Labour’s offer is a reformed House of Lords to represent the nations and regions of England. The details are a little sketchy. But, subject to a constitutional convention to be staged shortly after the election, a second chamber that is less London-centric than the Lords and fully elected would hold Parliament to account on behalf of Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the major cities of the UK. Labour is at pains to stress that there will be no duplication of the constituency link established for MPs, but with talk of members having to prove their residency and being linked to particular parts of the country, it seems inevitable that more than one representative would be vying for the affections of each local electorate under these plans.
While the case for City Mayors has been made in the past, it has never been put well enough to win over public opinion. Indeed, they were generally rejected in the referendums of 2012. Others have made the case for Lords Reform, and the Liberal Democrats are furious with Labour for ducking the issue earlier this Parliament. Recent history, which includes moves for Regional Assemblies, a vote on proportional representation and elections for police commissioners suggests that constitutional change and electoral reform are rarely vote winners.
But this political manoeuvring isn’t about sating the public desire for more time in the polling booth. It’s an effort by George Osborne to champion growth and address Conservative weakness in the north, and by Ed Miliband to provide some sort of answer to William Hague’s investigation into the West Lothian question. As such, both policies are perfectly sensible from a managerial perspective, and strong backstops from which to address accusations that the parties have no answers to these questions. But, as strong symbols of political intent to inspire a political following? Not so much. Those who notice the change will likely see it as moving the deckchairs.
Jon Bennett is managing director of corporate communications consultancy Linstock Communications
Image of mayoral cloak courtesy of Chris Harvey / Shutterstock.
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