National politicians need bolder policies for UK cities

by Dave Hill

Andrew Carter from Centre for Cities was at the Tory party conference. He writes:

Beyond specific policies, the Conservatives offered little indication of having a big vision for the future of urban Britain, or for how it would build on the city devolution agenda championed by the government in recent years.

Andrew went to Labour’s conference too. That didn’t encourage him either:

Beyond the rhetoric about going further than the Conservatives in handing down powers from the top, there was nothing at this year’s conference to suggest that the party has an ambitious plan or well-developed polices on how it would do that. Indeed, at the Centre for Cities fringe event on the future of urban leadership, Steve Rotheram [Mayor of Liverpool city region] admitted that the party’s policy on devolution is unclear, while Andy Burnham [Mayor of Greater Manchester] described it as “half-hearted”.

These conclusions, from the chief executive of an important national think tank, are in keeping with mine about the two big parties’ general election manifestos as they addressed London.

While Labour made some attractive promises to the capital, such as putting Transport for London in charge of suburban rail services and funding lots of new council homes, a general commitment to “devolving power to local communities” was not crystalised into a solid, wide-ranging programme for giving London, or other big UK cities, far greater autonomy than they presently enjoy. The Conservatives, meanwhile, seemed more interested in courting anti-urban, pro-Brexit sentiment than building on their own “metro mayor” initiatives.

Andrew Carter maintains that Labour is “missing a trick” by “failing to get squarely behind” its big city mayors and that the Conservative are failing to seize the opportunity that national power provides to “make unprecedented inroads into Labour’s electoral dominance of urban Britain”.

Perhaps Jeremy Corbyn’s party will eventually come up with genuinely progressive big city vision. Perhaps struggling London Tories‘ plans to form “a new election fighting unit” in the capital will encourage some bolder thinking from their party’s tarnished top brass. For the moment, though, there is a void, with both parties pandering to anti-London sentiment when addressing “the north-south divide”.

This is neither an imaginative nor or a rigorous approach to helping the UK’s big cities to help Brexit Britain by enabling them to better help themselves. They need to be freed to grow, and to grow well, in parallel and in concert rather than in sometimes resentful competition. The nation’s cities are its future. When will our leading national politicians start to show how to make that future brighter?

Photograph by Max Curwen-Bingley.

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