Vote no in the referendum that doesn’t exist.

Things I argue with @thomasforth about:

The problem here is that Tom thinks devolution to Yorkshire, or some subset of Yorkshire, will be all like this old post of mine where it turned out only London, Scotland, and Northern Ireland saw actual growth in real disposable income per household before 2008, and Wales at least did better than the UK average.

I worry about this tweet from intensely pro-devolution Yorkshire MEP Richard Corbett, which doesn’t say quite what he thinks it does. Belgium is the world champ of devo, what with six police forces within Brussels, both regional and linguistic governments including the Germans, and whatnot. Just look how that’s working for Hainault, next door to super-rich Bruxelles-Capitale.

I also worry about the fact that the spanking new Greater Manchester Combined Authority does all its business in FOIA-proof closed preparatory sessions and journalists following it are dependent on occasional and probably tactical document leaks.

I worry intensely about the content of the supposed “deal” with Birmingham, which is being put forward as a reason to get something signed, quick. Apparently we’ve got a Midlands Engine, to go with the Northern Powerhouse. Maybe we get a Geordie Drivetrain and a Cornish Satnav, plus a Home Counties Morocco Leather Seat Cover, and a London Just Getting The Fucking Bus, to boot. But look what’s in it.

joint responsibility with the government to co-design employment support for the hardest-to-help claimants

I think that means “the whole West Midlands Labour Party’s signature on a bunch of crazy ideas of Iain Duncan Smith’s, and don’t believe for a moment we won’t run a massive national TV ad campaign blaming you when it falls apart”.

I worry about the point made in here, and better in the Daily Mash:

So many devolvers think in terms of getting funding for big name-brand institutions that employ lots of middle-class people. This is apparently going to create growth, which is going to get rid of the need to pay out benefits to quite so many people. That’s handy, because the terms of the deal always seem to be that the new devolved authority gets to implement cuts to the core welfare state, and gets support in its property-developer inspired desire to evict social tenants in bulk and replace them with someone nicer.

The problem here is that George Osborne’s economic policy can be summed up as cut everything, as long as a landlord doesn’t get it, and chuck smallish but saleable amounts of money at what Vince Cable’s advisor memorably called “growthy stuff”. Graphene. You know. The bigger problem is that this didn’t work terribly well.

We’re now being offered the same policy, but with decentralised implementation. David Cameron thinks his local council can just sort of budge up a bit. He also, therefore, thinks the North can find all the £50bn investment gap by playing up and taking a good cold shower.

Government announcements about devolution always quote a big-dollar number as if this was some new or additional funding. This is a lie. The costs move, as does the budget, at whatever level George Osborne thinks fit. There is no more money. The responsibility moves, but no money. Birmingham will get to implement IDS’s latest assault on the disabled. It will not have a veto on his ideas. The responsibility moves, but no power. If this was on offer, it might be worth having, but is it? As David Walker points out, nothing offered provides any escape from Tory insanity, nor even one penny more money, nor any protection from more cuts.

Where in Osborne’s proffered agreement is there any commitment to recognising existing need in the conurbation in the revenue support arrangements – which the former communities secretary Eric Pickles adjusted to secure a greater flow of grant to the suburbs and the south?

And most importantly, although neither money moves nor power, the risk certainly does. As more and more of the core public services and the basic social guarantees get transferred out to cities, to the private sector, and to vaguely defined, secretive, crooked “super-councils” of the smarmy and discredited, so more of the associated financial risk is transferred from the great central national government to the town hall.

Nobody is willing to talk about this, but what happens come the next recession when tax revenues dive and benefits payments surge, like they should? If the risk is spread across the UK, we can take it. If it is concentrated on Leeds, we cannot and the payments will not be made. The point is exactly the same as it was with regard to Scotland. The Union is a risk-bearing union, or it is not a union. The Union is a risk-bearing union, unlike the Eurozone, because it is a social union. Ending the risk union between cities means, in the end, ending the social union, the risk union between individuals.

I say, vote no!

But you can’t vote no because there is no vote.

There is, at last, a debate, but to a very large extent it is a debate on childish things that are far too familiar to Northerners. Why should Sheffield get it but not me? Can’t Hull have a go on the new Christmas box? Why’s that Wakefield lad in charge of everything? Manchester told me to do it and everyone knows she’s cool. This pathetic and tiresome mithering goes on between a couple of dozen Alderman Foodbotham types, while the public when asked wants something completely different, specifically Greater Yorkshire from sea to shining sea.

This brings out an important part of the problem.

The Westfield Labour types don’t want Yorkshire as such because it would include all the Yorkshire Tories. It is that simple. The Tories don’t want it because their own party would suddenly be a voice for investment in the North. Everyone in politics sooner or later wishes they could somehow opt out of the hard work of persuasion, and instead arrange things so they could just win effortlessly, just like that. To live in democracy, though, means sooner or later being in the minority. To win, you must convince. Anything else is bullshit.

7 Comments on "Vote no in the referendum that doesn’t exist."

  1. “Everyone in politics sooner or later wishes they could somehow opt out of the hard work of persuasion, and instead arrange things so they could just win effortlessly, just like that” — yes, particularly in local government!


  2. Notwithstanding the general thrust, do we believe those figures aren’t an artifact of boundaries as usual? What are those regions anyway? London is NUTS-1, but West Wales is NUTS-2 and Durham and Tees Valley doesn’t appear to be a thing.


  3. Thoughts on some devo associated issues.

    1) From Twitter chat, it appears TF has faith that you can turn bad devo into good devo, so getting some devo while it is going is a good first step.

    I’m much less sure about that, because I see huge potential for financial implosion under bad devo. When I hear that DevoManc includes NHS elements, alarm bells start ringing really loud, because that’s an area I know a lot about and I know the finances are even more unstable than advertised. Key here is not even the cuts, but the volatility of demand. Easy to see how a bad flu winter puts entire DevoManc apparatus under the financial cosh.

    2) I think there are technocratic ways to slice the pie wherein in a “Leeds City Region” makes sense. And there is a short-term convenience factor in not building a governmental unit that has to balance urban/rural perspectives. However, I was reading this blog: and it got me thinking about identity. Part of why Leeds can’t compete with Manchester is that it lacks the outward marks of being a big place. The region’s intl airport is basically Manchester. Leeds United went down the pan.

    But part of it is that while Manchester/DevoManc is a great analogue for Barcelona/Catalunya (5/7 pop is in Barca), Yorkshire is much more like the Netherlands. We have a whole bunch of historical centres. And I think that is in the back of most people’s minds when they conjure up “sea to shining sea.”

    Mine own background isn’t Leeds, so perhaps that explains my sympathy for “sea to shining sea” – but I think it’s also a sense that if we’re strong, we’re strong together, Sheffield, Bradford, Hull, Leeds (and even dainty York) etc.

    Leeds might be a candidate to go it alone, but in reality it doesn’t have the population, if you compare with Manc…


    1. That last point is handled in the linked blog, which shows I’m wrong. But there’s something about the layout of Leeds which just doesn’t feel as connected up as other cities of a similar size…


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