By Declan Carey
DIVIDED Britain has enhanced its reputation this summer.
Ed Davey’s victory in the Lib Dem leadership race now means three of the country’s biggest parties are run from London constituencies, and polls show appetite for Scottish independence is growing everyday.
Westminster’s centralised grip on power is breaking up the United Kingdom – but there are other ways to run the country, and our European neighbours are leading the way.
In Belgium, deep-rooted linguistic differences evolved into a complex parliamentary system granting power to federal, regional and community governments.
Laws must be agreed on by each of the parliamentary bodies before passing, giving a strong voice to each region and ensuring proper representation.
In practice, one region can vote against a bill and block it from becoming law like when the Wallonia region objected to the EU’s free trade deal with Canada in 2016.
15 million people live in the North of England, a lot more than the 3.5 million in Wallonia, but they lack any real influence on a national level.
Think-tank IPPR North highlighted that ‘the UK is more regionally divided than any comparable advanced economy’ in the 2019 State of the North report – with stark differences between income, unemployment and health.
That doesn’t mean poverty and hardship don’t exist in the south. That would be simplistic and ignore findings which show 27 per cent of Londoners live in poverty, a lot of which is in-work poverty due to increasing amounts of precarious work.
But when the decision makers of the country disproportionally cling to one area of England, the message is clear: London comes first.
The 16 miles that separate Boris Johnson’s constituency of Uxbridge and South Ruislip and Keir Starmer’s Holborn and St Pancras is roughly a 45 minute drive – but a huge distance between the capital and marginalised voters who are too often left behind.
And despite efforts to address the problem with schemes such as the Northern Powerhouse project and devolution, Ed Davey’s success pours cold water over attempts to reduce long-standing inequalities across the country.
Devolution has provided a relief from Westminster for some parts of the UK such as Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland who have their own parliaments to support a more localised approach to governance.
But regions in the North continue to lose out in times of hardship and austerity.
Councils in the North East for example ‘will have faced a cut almost 1.7 times larger in proportional terms than those in the South West’ according to a report from Institute for Fiscal Studies.
That’s despite the North of England exporting ‘£59.6bn worth of goods overseas’ between March 2018 and 2019, making a major contribution to the UK economy as a whole.
Not since Harold Wilson, who twice served as Prime Minister, has the Labour Party had a leader from the North of England.
So little wonder swathes of Labour seats in the North returned Tory MPs to the House of Commons in the 2019 General Election – a clear rejection of the party that many feel no longer represents them.
But with the introduction of mayors in some northern cities, there remains hope.
Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, tackled a homelessness crisis which had been ignored for years with his A Bed Every Night project, helping thousands of people who were sleeping rough on the streets.
Likewise in Liverpool, Steve Rotheram’s Household’s into Work scheme has supported more than 800 households into training and work, reducing unemployment.
When powers are devolved, improvement can be made at a local level which changes lives and makes a real difference.
Britain doesn’t need to be tied to Westminster to get things done – our regions need to be free to make their own decisions.
As in Belgium, the way to make people feel valued and address division, is to give them real power and the chance to solve the challenges facing their communities their way.
It’s the only way to keep the United Kingdom together.
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