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Thursday, May 23, 2024
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HomeDemocracy in DecayLabour’s Metro Mayors and seven years of dismal failure

Labour’s Metro Mayors and seven years of dismal failure

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IN THEIR seven years as the inaugural Metro Mayors for Greater Manchester and Liverpool City Region, Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram have completely failed to grasp the point of devolution – to give local people more power over political decision-making for their region. The pair have now produced a politics of envy, grievance and victimhood book, Head North, which is the very opposite of a solution to the problems of the region. If anything, it is more about Andy Burnham’s ambition to ‘head south’ to Westminster at the first opportunity.

Devolution is not about being the leader of a super-sized council. Neither man has risen to the challenge of the mayoral role and now the cracks are appearing in their Metro Mayor publishing bromance. It appears they haven’t even been able to agree on a route for an improved Liverpool to Manchester rail link made possible by a £12billion windfall from the cancellation of the northern leg of the HS2 rail link, as I reported in the Express last week. 

What they are in agreement about are their national political preoccupations, as revealed in Head North’s endless finger-pointing at ministers, Westminster and the establishment. This of course deflects from the reality of their seven years of failed leadership, which in the case of Greater Manchester can be summarised thus:

·         the police being into and out of special measures;

·         a loss of public trust in local government through mis-spending on projects such as the botched clean air zone;

·         spiralling rental costs owing to a dire housing shortage;

·         soaring crime rates and a shattered public trust in Greater Manchester Police;

·         widespread economic stagnation;

·         most important of all, Burnham’s cowardly and culpable failure as Police and Crime Commissioner to tackle the issue of Muslim grooming gangs in the region.

What Greater Manchester desperately needs is not more state control but a plan and vision that restores trust in local government and the police, reduces crime and rebuilds the promise that devolution was supposed to bring of economic growth for all its areas and communities, along with fully accountable decision-making at a local level.

It is typical of Messrs Burnham and Rotheram that this is exactly what they ignore. Sections of their tome are devoted to their call for a ‘Hillsborough Law’: they cite a long list of the scandals and injustices that have occurred in the last 50-plus years up to the present day, many of which are national rather than regional issues: nuclear test veterans, Aberfan, Bloody Sunday, contaminated blood, Post Office, Windrush, Grenfell, to name but a few. Yet not one section of the book mentions the pressing issue most close to home – the Rochdale child sexual exploitation ‘grooming gangs’ which occurred in Burnham’s patch and which have continued and remained unresolved on his watch – a strange omission indeed.

The recently published review into police and social worker response to the large-scale sexual exploitation by gangs of mainly Asian men reports that many abusers remain free. A whistleblower has identified 96 men who are still deemed a potential risk to children. It is true that Burnham stated at the press conference for the publication of this report that it was ‘hard to read’ and ‘distressing’. But words are not enough. Let me be clear: if I am elected Mayor and Police and Crime Commissioner, I will do more than shed public tears. I will see that something is done to ensure that these men face justice and children are no longer at risk.

Compared with his reticence on the issue of grooming gangs when it comes to his ten-point plan for the future of Manchester and the rest of the UK, there’s no such diffidence. It is nothing short of a socialist nightmare. Burnham’s plan promises coercive measures, a greatly expanded state, eye-watering increases to taxation and a chilling erosion of personal liberties. Trusting him and Labour and his proposed radical overhaul of our political system at both national and local levels would be a grave mistake. It would threaten the very fabric of our society.

On how these changes might be implemented or how the plan would all work in practice, the book provides very little detail. Taken in isolation, each element might sound appealing or, in the case of reform of the voting system, may even have some merit. Together they add up to a new authoritarianism. The proposal to remove the party whip for example might sound idealistic, even altruistic. In reality it would see the government of the day held to ransom by special interest groups within their own party and opposition parties or activist groups influencing individual MPs, resulting in complete anarchy as each MP voted with his or her personal preference on every issue. An elected government would struggle to deliver even a modest agenda, regardless of how large their majority.

Then there is a demand for a written constitution alongside the terrifying socialist proposal for a ‘basic law’. This would stipulate that there must be equivalent living standards between the different areas of the UK, regardless of the differences in the local economy, history or demographics. This would see wealthier parts of Britain taxed at a significantly higher rate to redistribute wealth more evenly and achieve the basic law’s central requirements. This is ‘levelling-up’ on steroids with a legislative sledge hammer to achieve it.

We have already lived through two decades of unintended consequences of New Labour’s Equality Act and the Public Sector Equality Duty. Rather than delivering greater ‘equality’, these legislative interventions have sown division, created competing groups and sent councils such as Birmingham into huge debt. Some ‘protected characteristics’ clearly are more ‘equal’ than others, as evidenced by an abundance of appeal cases. What the legislative interference has succeeded in embedding is a new form of discrimination that arguably leaves working-class heterosexual white males as the chief losers. Just imagine what a basic law and written constitution, with its far-reaching consequences for every aspect of our daily lives, would mean when drafted by a Labour Party guided by Mr Burnham. 

It is the lack of accountability that is the hallmark of Andy Burnham’s period in office and the root cause of many of his failures. Nine out of ten Labour councils in Greater Manchester are Labour-run. With a Labour mayor and two-thirds of the city-region’s MPs also Labour, there is a notable absence of democratic tension – no dissent and little scrutiny – at meetings where critical decisions are taken that affect everyone in Greater Manchester. Take the introduction of the botched clean air zone and, more recently, the ‘Places for Everyone’ regional development plan which was mean to maximise the use of urban spaces and brownfield sites. This was in the ‘planning’ stage for over ten years without delivering a single new home. Substantial opposition from local people, activist groups and opposition parties within the Combined Authority has had no impact. Now a legal challenge is expected, which if successful, will delay any development again. Such incompetence is hardly an advert for mayoral devolution if power over political decision making for their region remains party controlled.

With the main parties (Labour and Conservative) now so closely aligned on almost every key policy area, where is the dynamism, innovation and courage to come from to drive the change that this country and the North so clearly needs? Burnham and Rotherham have parted the curtain to show us what life under a future Labour administration would look like – it is not pretty. The Conservatives are doomed and particularly so in the North. Reform is the only viable independent alternative. 

My plan for Greater Manchester is simple: safer streets, a growing economy, better connectivity, more accountability and less waste of local taxpayers’ money along with definite home building commitment.  As the Mayor, I will work hard to ensure that all Greater Manchester areas and communities get the attention they deserve.

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Dan Barker
Dan Barker
Dan Barker is the Reform UK candidate for Mayor of Greater Manchester

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