(Editor: If you wish to read Part 1 first, it’s here.)
There are many serious practical objections to devolving power to English city regions, but the naked disregard for the wishes of the voters makes the practical objections irrelevant if democracy is to mean anything. Nor is the fact that eventually there will be an elected mayor of any relevance because the voters have already rejected the idea. Even if there was to be an election for the mayor now instead of an interim mayor, it would still be wrong because the voters of Manchester have already said no to an elected mayor.
This affair smacks of the worst practices of the EU whereby a referendum which produces a result that the Euro-elites do not want is rapidly overturned by a second referendum on the same subject after the Euro-elites have engaged in a huge propaganda onslaught, bribing the offending country by promising more EU money if the result is the one the elites want and threatening the offending country with dire consequences if the second vote produces the same result as the first referendum. In fact, this piece of chicanery is even worse than that practised by the EU because here the electorate do not even get another vote before the elite’s wishes are carried out.
But there is an even more fundamental objection to the planned transfer of powers than the lack of democracy. Let us suppose that the proposal for an elected mayor for Manchester had been accepted in the 2012 referendum, would that have made its creation legitimate? Is it democratic to have a referendum in part of a country on a policy which has serious implications for the rest of the country if the rest of the country cannot vote in the referendum? Patently it is not.
The effect of the proposed devolution to Manchester would be to set public provision in the Manchester city region at odds with at the least much of Lancashire, parts of Cheshire and Derbyshire plus the West Riding of Yorkshire. For example, Manchester could make a mess of their NHS administration with their medical provision reduced in consequence and patients from Manchester seeking better NHS treatment elsewhere. This would take money from the Manchester NHS and place pressure on NHS services outside of Manchester as they catered for people from Manchester. Alternatively, Greater Manchester might be able to improve their health services and begin to draw in patients from outside the city region, reducing the public money other NHS authorities receive and driving down the quality and scope of their services.
A single city region having the powers that Manchester are going to have will be disruptive to the area close to it, but If other city regions follow suit – and it is clear that the new Tory government intends this to happen – the Balkanisation of England will proceed apace, with city region being set against city region and the city regions being pitted against the remnants of England outside the city regions.
Nor is it clear that the first candidate city regions would be evenly spread around the country. The cities which like Manchester rejected an elected mayor in 2012 were Birmingham, Newcastle, Nottingham, Sheffield, Wakefield, Coventry, Leeds and Bradford. Having been chosen to vote for an elected mayor It is reasonable to presume that these would be the cities which would be at the front of the queue for city region status. They are all either in the North or Central Midlands of England. Even in those areas there would be massive gaps, for example, all four Yorkshire cities (Sheffield, Wakefield, Leeds and Bradford) are in the West Riding. The most southerly one (Birmingham) is 170 odd miles from the South Coast.
There may of course be other city region candidates, but it is difficult to see how such a policy could be rolled out across the country simply because there are substantial areas of England without very large cities or towns. In fact, south of Birmingham there are precious few large towns and cities (London being a law to itself) which could form a city region in the manner of that proposed for Manchester. The only Englsh cities south of Birmingham which have a population of more than 250,000 are Bristol and Plymouth. Hence, it is inevitable that England would be reduced to a patchwork of competing authorities with different policies on vitally important issues such as healthcare and housing.
The idea of giving powers to city regions stems from the imbalance in the devolution settlement which leaves England, alone of the four home countries, out in the cold without a national political voice. It is a cynical and shabby political fix for a problem which will not go away but may be submerged for the length of a Parliament through a pretence of increasing local democracy in England. Anyone who doubts this should ask themselves this question, if devolving power to the local level is so desirable why do Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland show no appetite for it? The answer is that their politicians recognise that to do so would weaken both the political clout of their countries and deprive their electors of a focus of national pride and loyalty.
There is also an EU dimension to this. The EU welcome anything which weakens national unity, and there is no better way of doing that than the time honoured practice of divide and rule. That is precisely what Balkanising England through creating regional centres of political power will do. The EU will seek to use city regions (or any other local authority with serious powers) to emasculate the Westminster government by attempting to deal directly with the city regions rather than Westminster and using the fact of the increased local powers to justify bypassing Westminster.
Once political structures such as the city regions are established it will become very difficult to get rid of them because the national political class is weakened by the removal of powers from central government and the new local political power bases develop their own powerful political classes. If the Tories or any other government – both Labour and the LibDems have bought into the localism agenda – succeed in establishing city regions or any other form of devolution in England it will be the devil’s own job to reverse the process of Balkanising England. That is why it is vitally important to either stop the establishment of serious powers being given to local authorities or to put a barrier in the shape of an English Parliament between Brussels and the English devolved localities.