Greater Manchester: a response

Yes, the aim of devo-Manc is to deliver a London-style super-city, and no, that's not a good thing.

Michael Dawson
6 November 2014

Salford, Greater Manchester/Wikimedia

In a previous article for openDemocracy, I attacked George Osborne’s flagrant disregard for the people of Manchester. Ian Roberts, Lib Dem councillor and cheerleader for the political establishment disagreed. Here’s my response.

According to Iain Roberts’ latest piece, the new Mayor for Manchester “doesn’t overturn the will of the people”. Rather, it is a “new solution, designed in Greater Manchester, for Greater Manchester”. What excellent rhetoric It’s a shame he’s wrong.

Ian’s points and my responses are as follows:

Ian describes the ‘Devo-Manc’ proposals as “an unprecedented devolution from Westminster to local government”.

Case and point. If this is what “unprecedented” looks like then I think it’s time for politicians like Ian to have a stern word with themselves in front of a mirror. This is simply not good enough. Scotland, with a population of only five million people, has its own Parliament. The North, with a population of fifteen million people, doesn’t have anywhere near that kind of political clout. In fact, the North of England, as a unified region, has the 8th largest economy in the EU. But yes, let’s all be thankful for still being completely and utterly in the back pocket of Westminster. Ian’s logic is toxic and a great indicator of the raw deal that Northern England receives and will continue to receive until the North stands up, ousts the current political class and gets devo-max rule with tax-raising powers.

Ian was really proud to “put (his) signature to the agreement, deputising for Stockport Leader Sue Derbyshire”

Now it’s getting quite silly. Of course one of the people who signed this undemocratic farce will back it. What else would you expect? That doesn’t even warrant a proper comment.

Hopefully we can go even further in the future, but this is more than any government has offered in decades”

“Please, George, can we have some more?” If nothing exemplifies the utter Dickensian subservience of our political leaders, then I don't know what else does.

Yes, instead of protesting against the savagery of government-imposed austerity on Manchester, let’s all feel thankful that behind closed doors, leaders of the region’s councils are gleefully rubbing shoulders with the Chancellor. Let’s be happy that, as per usual, a politician from the South East (yes, he's parachuted into a seat in the North, but that doesn't count) calls the shots and can dictate to Northerners how we run our affairs.

Michael claims that this proposal, which includes an elected mayor for Greater Manchester, overturns the democratic will of the people who voted against a mayor for Manchester City Council two years ago. That's just wrong”

This is what the political class is great at doing: ignoring the truth. My point is that Osborne’s proposals are undemocratic. In the above statement, Ian actually proves that for me, but I’ll say it once more. In 2012, the people of Manchester voted against a directly elected Mayor for the City of Manchester. This week, the Treasury triumphantly declares that “Manchester” will get a “directly elected Mayor”. However, this time, the Mayor will be for the Greater Manchester Region, as opposed to just the City. What’s wrong with this picture?

In 2012, David Cameron stated that Mayors are “a big move for us and it’s absolutely going to be up to the people of those cities to make that decision”. So, why not have another referendum? If a standard has already been established, then why not simply put it to the people? What are they scared of? The answer: Osborne knows that he could be knocked back and, with it, his dreams of a ‘Northern Powerhouse’ would be left in tatters.

This brings me to my final point. Ian states that it isn’t a “London-fits-all model" and, to Ian’s credit, perhaps I wasn’t clear enough when I made my original statement. So, let me explain. In his ‘Northern Powerhouse’ speech, Osborne lauds London as the “home of international finance” and goes on to state:

Today, in a services based economy, what investors are looking for is not a river to dam, but access to a deep pool of human capital. There is a powerful correlation between the size of a city and the productivity of its inhabitants. The top 600 cities in the world contain just 20% of global population but create 60% of global GDP”.

Osborne goes on to ask: “how can we have more of such cities? How can we create the Northern Powerhouse? Yes, George, why can’t we have more of such economies in the North? Why can’t we, as Northerners, be as ‘productive’ as Londoners or the inhabitants of these other large cities? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be that productive?

The answer to that question is: no, it wouldn’t be wonderful at all. So, here’s a quick economics lesson for Ian. London is the most financially unequal city in the Western World. The richest 10% in London are, on average, roughly 300 hundred times richer than the poorest 10%. London is not a successful city, it is a desperately sad example of what a city shouldn’t look like. But it’s not just London that needs mentioning. Go to Tokyo, New York, Beijing, Shanghai. Go to any one of Osborne’s ‘service-sector’ cities and you will see the same story told over and over again.

The super-rich are getting richer. In comparison, the poor, the middle classes and ordinary businessmen are getting squeezed at the expense of faceless corporations. What we are witnessing is false democracy and the predatory imposition of a system that makes the overwhelming majority of people poorer. I will be damned if I allow this to happen to the North.

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