Steve Rotheram: devolution can tackle historic injustices of North-South divide
Steve Rotheram is the Labour candidate for Liverpool City Region Mayor
“So what? What difference will it make?” Goes the oft-repeated response to the issue of devolution.
And I have to say I understand the sentiments. The particular difficulty for me is that I’m hoping to be the person responsible for how devolution is implemented in the Liverpool City Region after May 2017!
Farage and Trump have been able to plug into a rich vein of anti-politics and anti-establishment cynicism, whilst both paradoxically being the embodiment of privilege and the antithesis of the very thing they purport to represent: ordinary people.
Photographed by the doors to a gold plated lift and without even a rudimentary appreciation of irony, former commodity broker Farage and billionaire property mogul Trump promote themselves as the insurgents wrestling power away from a powerful and centralising elite.
The thing is, on this one single issue of the centralising elite, whether in Whitehall or Washington – I actually agree with them. The problem is, however, there is no way on God’s earth that they are the solution.
The antidote to the scepticism currently dominating much political discourse in our democracy is for people to grab the opportunity that devolution presents for decisions to be made locally. Let’s address inter-regional inequalities by empowering people at a local level.
Labour believes in the power of communities so should be by nature a decentralising Party. But the North/South divide isn’t a recent concept. It’s just that it has got much worse under the Tories.
Nonetheless it is Labour who introduced Devo in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London. We also developed the initial plans for devolved powers to the regions, albeit these floundered because of a failure to convince people of the benefits. Indeed, the North East voted to reject the offer of a regional tier of government by 77.9%, since when our Party has allowed the Tories to seize the devolution initiative following the 2014 Scottish referendum.
Just like the pretence to be the Party of the workers and (pass me the sick bag) advocates of social justice, the Tories have tried to steal Labour’s clothing – and we have been slow to react.
First of all the Coalition started to use Labour language around localism. Then George Osborne spoke about regionalism and supra-regionalism with initiatives like the Northern Powerhouse.
The problem was that whilst the former Chancellor and his acolytes used Labour rhetoric, their insincerity on the shape devolution would take wasn’t challenged. Looking at what has been omitted from the Liverpool City Region Devo Deal, and even what it says in it, for me the inner turmoil created by devolution for the people who have spent much of the last 30 years emasculating local government is there for all to see.
Nevertheless, the trajectory of decentralisation is certainly on the up, with all parties repositioning themselves as the true champions of localism.
Despite the flawed version of devolution offered by the current government, for me, the opportunity to work collectively at a sub-regional level to reduce economic disparities between the North and South is one not to be missed.
But so what? What difference will it make?
Well – the chance to achieve a properly integrated transport system with a regulated bus service; local solutions to the housing crisis; sustainable and affordable energy; timely rather than cumbersome decision making on local infrastructure; and bringing together our public services to achieve improved outcomes rather than hitting divergent nationally set targets – are some of the possibilities I foresee.
But the current devolution process is a journey, not a destination.
What I can guarantee is that I will give 100% to capitalise on the potential of devolution for our area, and tackle the historic injustices of the North-South divide.