Dave Hill: Tracy Brabin is forgiven (but mustn’t let it happen again)

Dave Hill: Tracy Brabin is forgiven (but mustn’t let it happen again)

I don’t know Tracy Brabin, Mayor of the West Yorkshire combined authority, but I do believe I like her. She seems practical, capable, nice and, best of all, in May 2021 she welcomed Sadiq Khan to a factory on her patch where buses used in London are made. A joint message from the two Mayors was that their regions are not rivals but connected economic allies. What a welcome change from the tiresome and destructive “north-south divide” trench war drumbeat, not least because it recognised reality.

Because of the above, I have forgiven Mayor Brabin for taking to Ex-Twitter the other day to indulge in a Northern Grievance moment. Her delinquency was inspired by the Department for Transport allocating a one-off £235 million to London for road repairs. “I know the north isn’t a priority for this govt but seriously…???” she snarked.

In fairness, her Burnham-ish barb might have been partly inspired by the comedy of the DfT’s comms, which, for some unfathomable reason, has been billing this allocation to the capital as part of “A Network North Project”. Such is the surreal spin being put on public money supposedly “rerouted” thanks to October’s cancellation of any more of HS2, whose link to Leeds had already been axed. Brabin’s entirely reasonable response to that decision, made in late 2021, was to lament ten years of planning and land-safeguarding going to waste. Camden knows exactly how she feels.

Even so, it was a shame she succumbed to temptation. Passing and slight her jibe might have been, but it did its little bit to perpetuate the myth that rich, pampered London receives preferential treatment at the expense of everywhere else – a myth the current government has missed few opportunities to feed in its desire to keep ex-“red wall” parliamentary seats in the North and Midlands blue.

A case can certainly be made that the Johnson-Truss-Sunak all-chaos administration could and should have done more in recent years to strengthen the economies of cities in the North and other parts of England. But any suggestion, implied or otherwise, that since 2019 it has put London first is daft.

Along with repeatedly eroding the capital’s devolution settlement, such as by ripping lumps out of Mayor Khan’s London Plan and running Transport for London (badly) by remote control, it has repeatedly slighted and excluded the capital, by word, deed or both. Meanwhile, Greater Manchester and the West Midlands have been awarded new “trailblazer” deals.

As for the £235 million purported potholes windfall, when viewed in financial and historical context it is revealed as peanuts. Hapless though it is, Mark Harper’s department must know that the motor vehicle owners of London contribute more than double that amount to its bank account every year, yet see almost none of it spent on their own city’s roads.

Even in its own terms it is a raw deal for the capital’s motorists, bus-users and cyclists. The figure represents a tiny portion of an £8.3 billion fund – just three percent of the whole national pot for a city containing 16 per cent of England’s population and in which many non-Londoners drive, too. Yet despite that the government website crows that this thin slice of the pie represents “the first time in eight years” London has been given cash for local roads.

Well, we wouldn’t want anyone in, say, Stoke-on-Trent who voted Tory in 2019 imagining the party hasn’t been mean and nasty to the capital, which, after all, only generates about one third of all taxes raised in the entire UK and keeps the public services of Stoke afloat.

All that said, Tracy Brabin is forgiven (yes, reader, here in Deepest Hackney, I sense her relief…). Her track record shows that she knows better: she knows that London’s economy is West Yorkshire’s friend; she must know, too, that London’s competitor cities aren’t Leeds or Bradford or Wakefield, but New York, Paris and Shanghai; and she surely also knows that, as her friend Mayor Khan has observed, you can’t “level up” Britain by levelling down London.

Mayor Brabin seems like a very good thing. Like all of us, she is entitled to the odd lapse. Let’s hope no more of that variety occur.

Support OnLondon.co.uk and its writers for just £5 a month of £50 a year and get things for your money too. Details HERE. Threads: DaveHillOnLondon. X/Twitter: On London and Dave Hill. Photo from Mayor Brabin’s X/Twitter feed.

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1 Comment

  1. Brabin’s slip on Twitter aside, Dave Hill highlights her practicality and positive collaboration with Sadiq Khan. Acknowledges London’s challenges, but stresses its global economic significance. Overall, sees her as a positive force.

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