National Comment Comment

Lords moving north is a step south for democracy

Yorkshire doesn’t need a fancy new building; it needs a revolution in regional political power

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Image Credit: Rennett Stowe

If there is one golden rule about British politics as of late it’s that resolving the regional inequalities that exist between London/the southeast and the rest of the country will always be foremost an exercise in public relations, as opposed to a tangible political issue that needs resolving. Promises of building a ‘Northern Powerhouse’ and a ‘Midlands Engine’ have all been made, as was a ‘vow’ of extensive devolution if the Scottish people voted ‘No’ to independence.

The Conservative Party materialises these various pledges close to the election cycle as a means of harvesting votes and then it is back to the business of day-to-day governance. For Yorkshire, this means broken promises – take the scrapping of the rail electrification projects on the London-Sheffield Midlands Main Line and the Leeds-Manchester TransPennine route, along with the Leeds New Generation Transport scheme that would have brought trolley buses to Leeds. To add salt in the wounds, plans for Crossrail 2 in London, which is soon to already benefit from Crossrail, were advanced further days after.

Or, if it is not broken promises, then it’s a callous disregard for public services – Dewsbury in West Yorkshire was the second worst hit constituency in the country for 2017 school cuts, whilst what has been called a public health crisis in York relating to drink and drugs has emerged due to cuts to substance misuse services. Yorkshire councils have long tried to advance plans for a ‘One Yorkshire’ devolution plan, which would give them a Metro Mayor and a Combined Authority to provide a voice against a government that continuously lets down this region in the north. Yet this was rejected at the start of the last year by the government. And now, they wish to insult the people of Yorkshire by promising to move the House of Lords to York.

The argument for this is horrendously simplistic – people don’t like central government taking decisions that fails to better their lives on a consistent basis. Therefore, the central government has decided that part of the national legislature should be moved to another part of the country – to ‘reconnect’, whatever that may mean. Aside from the insulting nature of shifting a chamber where 44 percent of members are from London and the south east to the York Central development site without redistributing power away from Westminster, the practical issue of shifting part of legislative process outside the capital is a step backwards for democracy.

An interest group or lobby with huge economies of scale will be able to afford the cost of conducting political lobbying activities in London and York, but certainly not advocates for groups like the WASPI women.

Nor has consideration been given for the people of York – this, in essence, is an extremely ambitious development plan, one that could have an impact on cost of living issues such as rent throughout the city. We are, after all, talking about relocating the upper house of the British legislative system to a small city of about 150,000. In the several years it will take for this to get planning approval, for it to prove that it won’t be too costly in this grand exercise in ‘reconnection’, perhaps they may find that the people of York in fact do not want them in their city. Or, as seems to be customary of the central government, the project may be scrapped after all this furore.

Local politicians and anyone who wants power to be devolved to the north should consider this carefully and not be misled – what kind of victory is having a building that houses an unrepresentative legislative in the York Central development scheme over the headquarters of a One Yorkshire Combined Authority that can deliver on transport, health, education and housing in a way that the Conservative government has continuously failed to do? It is devolution, not having the House of Lords in London, that has made London under Sadiq Khan a world leader among cities in air quality and infrastructure.

Yorkshire needs a revolution in political power, not what is essentially an overhyped building development that hasn’t been properly evaluated and where more flaws the benefits can be so easily observed at this stage. Demand better, and don’t let central government patronise local communities with vacuous gesture politics.

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