Plants are displayed in front of the Manchester Town Hall. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Miliband's New Deal for England will unleash local energy and vision

We cannot rely on so much of our prosperity coming from London - and it is centralisation that is holding places back.

Ed Miliband’s announcement today represents nothing less than a New Deal for England. It is the biggest devolution to cities, and county regions, in a hundred years; a radical decentralisation of control with decisions to be taken not by Whitehall but through strong local leadership.

A Labour government will pass down new powers to invest in infrastructure, such as transport and housing and more control over skills funding, with businesses having a direct say in the funding of apprenticeships. We will give city and county authorities new powers to lead on delivering the Work Programme, so that they can use their local knowledge to decide which providers will do best in getting people into a job. And we will ensure that local communities benefit directly from the proceeds of growth in their area.

In return, councils will have to work together in a local economic area, through a Combined Authority or an Economic Prosperity Board, to receive these powers. Coterminous Local Enterprise Partnerships will need to be integrated into this new governance structure to provide independent strategic advice. By bringing them together, strong political and business leadership will be able to draw up an agreed plan for the economic development of their area.

What is the significance of this?

First, it shows that Labour is serious about devolution. We will trust councils and businesses to do what they think best for their future.

Secondly, it recognises that we need a better balance of economic development across the country, and that the best way to do this is to unleash local energy and vision. As a nation we cannot rely on so much of our prosperity coming from London. Of course we need the capital to prosper, but we also need all our towns and cities to do the same to generate growth in every region.

And thirdly, it draws on the lessons of the past.

After all, it was strong local leadership that brought prosperity to so many of our great towns, cities and communities. Look back at how those communities grew and succeeded, how local industries thrived and created jobs, how disease was tackled and poverty fought, and how the slums that scarred our land were cleared. It was civic pride, collective endeavour, economic vision and social conscience that brought gas, electricity and clean water to people’s homes and built the houses, schools, hospitals, libraries, and the parks that changed people’s lives. Our forebears did not wait for a missive from Mr Gladstone or Mr Disraeli telling them what they should be doing. They looked around them, saw what was required and then got on with it.

And that’s why we should take inspiration from this history and push power down because it is centralisation that is holding places back. Devolving power and decision-making will allow local economic vision to emerge, helping businesses to become more productive, profitable and competitive. Ultimately, we cannot hope to tackle the root causes of the cost of living crisis unless we earn our way out of it.

David Cameron simply doesn’t get this. The Heseltine Review proposed a major devolution of power, but the government ignored it. It falls to Labour to show that we have listened and heard what local councils and businesses have said to us: "Give us the tools, and we will do the job". And that is exactly what we will do.

Hilary Benn is shadow foreign secretary, and Labour MP for Leeds Central.

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Rarely has it mattered so little if Manchester United won; rarely has it been so special they did

Team's Europa League victory offers chance for sorely needed celebration of a city's spirit.

Carlo Ancelotti, the Bayern Munich manager, memorably once said that football is “the most important of the least important things”, but he was only partly right. While it is absolutely the case that a bunch of people chasing around a field is insignificant, a bunch of people chasing around a field is not really what football is about.

At a football match can you set aside the strictures that govern real life and freely scream, shout and cuddle strangers. Football tracks life with such unfailing omnipresence, garnishing the mundane with regular doses of drama and suspense; football is amazing, and even when it isn’t there’s always the possibility that it’s about to be.

Football bestows primal paroxysms of intense, transcendent ecstasy, shared both with people who mean everything and people who mean nothing. Football carves out time for people it's important to see and delivers people it becomes important to see. Football is a structure with folklore, mythology, language and symbols; being part of football is being part of something big, special, and eternal. Football is the best thing in the world when things go well, and still the best thing in the world when they don’t. There is nothing remotely like it. Nothing.

Football is about community and identity, friends and family; football is about expression and abandon, laughter and song; football is about love and pride. Football is about all the beauty in the world.

And the world is a beautiful place, even though it doesn’t always seem that way – now especially. But in the horror of terror we’ve seen amazing kindness, uplifting unity and awesome dignity which is the absolute point of everything.

In Stockholm last night, 50,000 or so people gathered for a football match, trying to find a way of celebrating all of these things. Around town before the game the atmosphere was not as boisterous as usual, but in the ground the old conviction gradually returned. The PA played Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds, an Ajax staple with lyrics not entirely appropriate: there is plenty about which to worry, and for some every little thing is never going to be alright.

But somehow the sentiment felt right and the Mancunian contingent joined in with gusto, following it up with “We’ll never die,” – a song of defiance born from the ashes of the Munich air disaster and generally aired at the end of games, often when defeat is imminent. Last night it was needed from the outset, though this time its final line – “we’ll keep the red flag flying high, coz Man United will never die" – was not about a football team but a city, a spirit, and a way of life. 

Over the course of the night, every burst of song and even the minute's silence chorused with that theme: “Manchester, Manchester, Manchester”; “Manchester la la la”; “Oh Manchester is wonderful”. Sparse and simple words, layered and complex meanings.

The match itself was a curious affair. Rarely has it mattered so little whether or not United won; rarely has it been so special that they did. Manchester United do not represent or appeal to everyone in Manchester but they epitomise a similar brilliance to Manchester, brilliance which they take to the world. Brilliance like youthfulness, toughness, swagger and zest; brilliance which has been to the fore these last three days, despite it all.

Last night they drew upon their most prosaic aspects, outfighting and outrunning a willing but callow opponent to win the only trophy to have eluded them. They did not make things better, but they did bring happiness and positivity at a time when happiness and positivity needed to be brought; football is not “the most important of the least important things,” it is the least important of the most important things.

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