What the north can learn from Boris

The north needs metro mayors to avoid being marginalised by a more powerful Scotland and a more powe

Boris Johnson launched his bid for re-election with the announcement that he would launch an inquiry into London’s funding, arguing that not enough investment goes to London.  Listening to this from a standpoint in the north of England, you can’t help but be filled with a mix of admiration and horror.

Let’s start with the horror. It is extraordinarily difficult to justify the claim that London is the victim of under-investment when compared to other parts of the country. Treasury figures on the distribution of identifiable public spending show that Londoners already benefit from the highest public spending per head in Great Britain. With £10,256 per head spent in London in 2010/11, compared to an England average of £8,588.  Even Scotland received less per head, despite the constant refrain that the Scots are in receipt of a particularly generous grant from Westminster.

What is more, if we look in greater detail at spending on economic investment – on functions like transport, science and technology, enterprise and economic development – spending in London is twice the England average, with £1,059 per person is spent in London against an England average of £515. 

Spending in London is already very high, and if we continue disproportionately to invest in the capital, we will continue to see the same patterns of economic disparity replicated across Britain time and time again.  By contrast, greater investment to release the potential of places like Leeds, Manchester and Newcastle would be good not only for the north but for the whole of the country.  It would serve to boost British growth overall and contribute to a more diverse and sustainable economy, that does not place all its eggs in one basket.  A better balanced economy would be better all round.

And so to the admiration.  Johnson's bid for more funding – and his claim to receive a favourable hearing in the corridors of power – amply demonstrate the soft power and influence that the mayoralty holds.  No matter what you may think of them, both he and Ken Livingstone have extended the powers of the Mayor and succeeded in giving concerns and priorities of London an airing on a national stage.  The worry for our northern cities is that they’re increasingly squeezed between a more powerful Scotland on the one hand and a more powerful mayor of London on the other. 

This coming May, England’s major cities will vote on whether to establish elected mayors.  Yes votes could serve to help our cities to lever greater powers out of Whitehall and bring some soft power and influence to these cities.  But the Mayor of London has a remit for the whole of London, while the other city mayors will only speak for the individual cities they’re elected to lead.  This is a step in the right direction, but what we really need in the future are metro mayors covering whole city regions – mayors for Greater Manchester or Tyneside.  They would really have the clout to counterbalance the London mayor, and ensure an alternative voice is heard on the national stage.

Katie Schmuecker is Associate Director at IPPR North.  Follow her @IPPR_Schmuecker

The Angel of the North. Photograph: Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Metro mayors can help Labour return to government

Labour champions in the new city regions can help their party at the national level too.

2017 will mark the inaugural elections of directly-elected metro mayors across England. In all cases, these mayor and cabinet combined authorities are situated in Labour heartlands, and as such Labour should look confidently at winning the whole slate.

Beyond the good press winning again will generate, these offices provide an avenue for Labour to showcase good governance, and imperatively, provide vocal opposition to the constraints of local government by Tory cuts.

The introduction of the Mayor of London in 2000 has provided a blueprint for how the media can provide a platform for media-friendly leadership. It has also demonstrated the ease that the office allows for attribution of successes to that individual and party – or misappropriated in context of Boris Bikes and to a lesser extent the London Olympics.

While without the same extent of the powers of the sui generis mayor of the capital, the prospect of additional metro-mayors provide an opportunity for replicating these successes while providing experience for Labour big-hitters to develop themselves in government. This opportunity hasn’t gone unnoticed, and after Sadiq Khan’s victory in London has shown that the role can grow beyond the limitations – perceived or otherwise - of the Corbyn shadow cabinet while strengthening team Labour’s credibility by actually being in power.

Shadow Health Secretary and former leadership candidate Andy Burnham’s announcement last week for Greater Manchester was the first big hitter to make his intention known. The rising star of Luciana Berger, another member of Labour’s health team, is known to be considering a run in the Liverpool City Region. Could we also see them joined by the juggernaut of Liam Byrne in the West Midlands, or next-generation Catherine McKinnell in the North East?

If we can get a pantheon of champions elected across these city regions, to what extent can this have an influence on national elections? These new metro areas represent around 11.5 million people, rising to over 20 million if you include Sadiq’s Greater London. While no doubt that is an impressive audience that our Labour pantheon are able to demonstrate leadership to, there are limitations. 80 of the 94 existing Westminster seats who are covered under the jurisdiction of the new metro-mayors are already Labour seats. While imperative to solidify our current base for any potential further electoral decline, in order to maximise the impact that this team can have on Labour’s resurgence there needs to be visibility beyond residents.

The impact of business is one example where such influence can be extended. Andy Burnham for example has outlined his case to make Greater Manchester the creative capital of the UK. According to the ONS about 150,000 people commute into Greater Manchester, which is two constituency’s worth of people that can be directly influenced by the Mayor of Greater Manchester.

Despite these calculations and similar ones that can be made in other city-regions, the real opportunity with selecting the right Labour candidates is the media impact these champion mayors can make on the national debate. This projects the influence from the relatively-safe Labour regions across the country. This is particularly important to press the blame of any tightening of belts in local fiscal policy on the national Tory government’s cuts. We need individuals who have characteristics of cabinet-level experience, inspiring leadership, high profile campaigning experience and tough talking opposition credentials to support the national party leadership put the Tory’s on the narrative back foot.

That is not to say there are not fine local council leaders and technocrats who’s experience and governance experience at vital to Labour producing local successes. But the media don’t really care who number two is, and these individuals are best serving the national agenda for the party if they support A-listers who can shine a bright spotlight on our successes and Tory mismanagement.

If Jeremy Corbyn and the party are able to topple the Conservatives come next election, then all the better that we have a diverse team playing their part both on the front bench and in the pantheon of metro-mayors. If despite our best efforts Jeremy’s leadership falls short, then we will have experienced leaders in waiting who have been able to afford some distance from the front-bench, untainted and able to take the party’s plan B forward.