The Ukip candidate for Wythenshawe and Sale East has come up with a rather interesting idea: he wants to move the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to Manchester, bringing 700 jobs to the city.
I imagine that a lot of Ukip supporters would be quite happy to see the department metaphorically sent to Zurich for an appointment with Dignitas, but it’s a valid point.
Why shouldn’t we send more civil servants out of London, where the cost of office space and decent housing is much lower, compared to the capital with its chronic shortage of affordable homes. Lots of countries have separate political and financial centres; Italy has Rome/Milan, the Netherlands The Hague/Amsterdam, and the US Washington/New York. In Germany the political and business elite are spread around Berlin, Hamburg, Munich and Frankfurt, and Germany works pretty well.
Lord Adonis once suggested moving the House of Lords to the north, and if an English parliament becomes a reality, maybe the British House of Commons could go elsewhere. Personally I’d like to see regional parliaments across England anyway, and a much smaller political class in London, which makes me something of a freak on the Right; so long as we got rid of the boring current regional names and instead called them Wessex, Mercia, Middle Anglia, East Anglia, Bernicia, Deira, Cumbria etc. And before you ask – yes I am a crank.
The only question is where we would move the seat of government to? Birmingham, for geographical reasons, being close-ish to London, Oxford and Cambridge and the north, would be the obvious choice but, well, it’s not exactly Rome is it? Liverpool has lots of nice architecture and greater international recognition – more foreigners have heard of it than any other British city outside of London – but has seen better days, while the historical capital of the north, York, is too small. Manchester and Leeds would also be candidates, the former is recognised by more people as the country’s second city than Birmingham. We could even choose it on the basis of preferred accent; I believe Bury and Newcastle have the most popular in the UK.
The downside is that political elites concentrated outside of big cities can be even more inward-looking, since it would effectively mean the Westminster village being isolated elsewhere.
On the other hand it would reduce the overwhelming influence of London, which has been diverging from the rest of the country in many ways, its power too great; Neil O’Brien, now one of George Osborne’s advisors, called this ‘Londonitis’, and it can’t be a very healthy development.
The differences between London and the rest of the country now seem to be much larger than those between traditional Labour and Tory heartlands, and this worldview gulf is growing to such an extent that London independence, which has been jokingly bandied around in the past, seems slightly less ridiculous an idea with every passing year.
That is, ultimately, what the Ukip revolt is all about and what unites former voters of both major parties – a protest against the Great Wen.
More Spectator for less. Stay informed leading up to the EU referendum and in the aftermath. Subscribe and receive 15 issues delivered for just £15, with full web and app access. Join us.