The City of London Corporation’s political chief Catherine McGuinness has called on London’s 73 MPs to join “Team London” amid concerns about growing anti-London sentiment in the “levelling-up” debate.
Speaking at the Centre for London think tank’s annual conference, McGuinness (pictured) said a positive of the pandemic has been City Hall and the boroughs working with business, health and education institutions and voluntary organisations on responding to Covid and plotting the city’s recovery, including through Sadiq Khan’s London Recovery Board.
But parliamentary representatives need to join the discussion, she said: “It would help to see our London MPs working with us in making the case for London.”
McGuinness was supported by the Centre’s chief executive Nick Bowes, who said the capital’s MPs have not worked together as effectively as other regional groupings of parliamentarians. “I hope they can wake from their slumber a bit and step up,” he said.
Cross-party as well as cross-regional working is vital, speakers said, with Professor Tony Travers from the London School of Economics warning that London’s “Labour stronghold” status could make it easier for “levelling up” to become an anti-London policy.
“London versus the rest” is a “phoney war” designed to be divisive, said Sarah Longlands, chief executive of the Centre for Local Economic Strategies. The problem was that the UK is an “outlier” in its low levels of investment in the “building blocks of the economy” across the country.
The short-term funding on offer from the government “doesn’t even scratch the surface,” said Burnley Council leader Afrasiab Anwar. So-called “red wall” resentment is not against Londoners or London as a place, but more about the “disconnect” between the capital as centre of power and the rest of the country, he added.
London’s “economic” boundary goes much wider than the “political” boundary of Greater London said Bowes, and includes “very many pockets of deprivation equivalent to what you see in the rest of the country”.
Bowes warned, though, that “We can’t win the argument by throwing statistics at the rest of the country. People don’t believe the data. If you say Rotherham and Lewisham are as poor as each other, people don’t believe that. It’s about feelings, emotions. We need to find a way to make those emotional connections.”
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