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.
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Why it's far too early to declare Ukip dead

The party could yet thrive if Brexit disappoints those who voted Leave.

"Nothing except a battle lost can be half as melancholy as a battle won," wrote the Duke of Wellington after Waterloo. Ukip can testify to this. Since achieving its founding aim - a British vote to leave the EU - the party has descended into a rolling crisis.

Theresa May's vow to pursue Brexit, and to achieve control of immigration, robbed Ukip of its political distinctiveness. But the party's greatest enemy has been itself. Its leader Paul Nuttall did not merely lose the Stoke by-election (despite the city recording the highest Leave vote), he self-destructed in the process. Contrary to his assertions, Nuttall did not achieve a PhD, was never a professional footballer and did not lose "close personal friends" at Hillsborough. Ukip's deputy Peter Whittle pleaded last weekend that voters needed more time to get to know Nuttall. No, the problem was that they got to know him all too well. A mere three months after becoming leader, Nuttall has endured a level of mockery from which far stronger men would struggle to recover (and he may soon be relieved of the task).

Since then, Ukip's millionaire sugar daddy Arron Banks has threatened to leave the party unless he is made chairman and Nigel Farage is awarded a new role (seemingly that of de facto leader). For good measure, Farage (a man who has failed seven times to enter parliament) has demanded that Ukip's only MP Douglas Carswell is expelled for the crime of failing to aid his knighthood bid. Not wanting to be outdone, Banks has vowed to stand against Carswell at the next election if the dissenter is not purged. Any suggestion that the party's bloodlust was sated by the flooring of Steve Woolfe and Diane James's 18-day leadership has been entirely dispelled.

For all this, it is too early to pronounce Ukip's death (as many have). Despite May's ascension and its myriad woes, it has maintained an average poll rating of 12 per cent this year. This is far from its 2014 zenith, when it polled as high as 25 per cent, but also far from irrelevancy. Incapable of winning Labour seats itself, Ukip could yet gift them to the Conservatives by attracting anti-Tory, anti-Corbyn voters (in marginals, the margins matter).

Though Theresa May appears invulnerable, Brexit could provide fertile political territory for Ukip. Those who voted Leave in the hope of a radical reduction in immigration will likely be dismayed if only a moderate fall results. Cabinet ministers who boasted during the referendum of their desire to reduce immigration have already been forced to concede that newcomers will be required to fill vacancies for years to come. Ukip will be the natural vehicle for those aggrieved by Brexit "betrayal". Some Leave voters are already dismayed by the slowness of the process (questioning why withdrawal wasn't triggered immediately) and will revolt at the "transitional period" and budget contributions now regarded as inevitable.

The declarations of Ukip's death by both conservatives and liberals have all the hallmarks of wishful thinking. Even if the party collapses in its present form, something comparable to it would emerge. Indeed, the complacency of its opponents could provide the very conditions it needs to thrive.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.