In her most recent article, Professor Francesca Gains contends that DevoManc is “an idea whose time has come” and that any opposition “underplays” the combined authority’s years of hard work.
With the greatest respect to Prof Gains, her arguments overlook the reality of Manchester’s situation. The facts are as follows:
In 2012, David Cameron stated that the issue of mayors was one that had to be decided by the people. Rightly or wrongly, Mancunians voted against a Mayor for the city council.
Sir Richard Leese, ironically, declared that the referendum result was a “very clear rejection” by the people of Greater Manchester and, irrespective of the outcome he was ready to keep representing the wishes of voters.
In fact, a recent survey found that in Leese’s own ward of Crumpsall, over 80% of his constituents hadn’t even heard of devo-manc, with 76% arguing that devolution to a North West regional assembly would be a much better option.
A precedent has been set and to ignore the people on this occasion makes a farce of our democracy. No ifs, no buts.
Secondly, and, most importantly, Prof Gains ignores the involvement of George Osborne. One thing is for certain: George Osborne’s plans are far from altruistic.
Prof Gains argues that Scotland’s referendum has forced the devolution genie “well and truly out of the bottle”. But given that 84.6% of Scots turned out to vote for independence, devo-manc is more like George Osborne brutally murdering the genie and then dressing up in his clothes.
Take the sham devolution of Manchester’s £6bn healthcare budget, for instance. Firstly, without tax-raising powers, this measure keeps Whitehall firmly in control. We know that this government is ideologically opposed to healthcare free at the point of delivery. So, what happens to the people of Greater Manchester when policymakers decide to enforce further austerity measures? As Richard Humphries of the King’s Fund stated: “the words ‘poisoned’ and ‘chalice’ perhaps spring to mind.”
Make no mistakes; offering control over the £6bn budget is a staging point for privatisation. As soon as Whitehall cuts funding (and it will), then blame will be placed solely on the shoulders of Manchester’s local politicians. In fact, Manchester has just announced £45 million worth of new cuts, signed off by devo-manc architect and Salford Mayor, Ian Stewart. When does it end?
This is corroborated by a Greater Manchester Consultant Surgeon, who, wishing to remain nameless, states that “health & social care funding is already drastically underfunded and due to be drastically reduced. By pushing responsibility onto local authorities, central government will get off the hook for massive cuts. Greater Manchester is in the middle of a huge and highly controversial “reconfiguration”, in which 4 to 5 hospitals are to lose their A&Es or other acute services. The new regional local government will have this mess dumped in their laps.”
In addition, Prof Gains asserts that elected mayors are the right option, their visibility meaning that “the public knows whom to hold to account”. These sentiments have been echoed many times, but when will people let go of this ridiculous idea? Does Boris Johnson ring any bells?
A modern Elagabalus (I’m sure he would approve of the reference), Johnson has proven to be catastrophic as London Mayor. Not only does he run the Western World’s most financially unequal city, he has also failed spectacularly on the vast majority of his manifesto promises. Indeed, Johnson’s notoriety has propelled him to become the most popular politician in the country, a walking sideshow of everything that is wrong with British politics and whose visibility is the sole reason as to a lack of public scrutiny concerning his position.
Prof Gains goes on to quote Bill de Blasio, who states that in New York, ‘every neighbourhood gets a fair shot’. Given that Manhattan, one of the wealthiest boroughs in the US and the home of Wall Street, borders the Bronx, one of the poorest, such statements are obviously false.
Gains then states that mayors are in prime position to engage in “lobbying” for their city. This, at least, is true. Johnson, for example, lobbies a lot for his city. The City, to be precise. Between 2008-2011, Johnson had 86 meetings with bankers and the financial services industry. In the same period, he held only 15 meetings with ordinary Londoners.
It is evident, therefore, that having an elected mayor is not some kind of panacea for the ills of modern cities and that Greater Manchester would be far better served by simply consulting the public on what they want. Time and time again, both local politicians and academics alike cheerlead for the erosion of our most basic democratic principles.
However, devo-manc is the tip of the iceberg and part of a much wider plan to undermine democratic accountability in the North. Take Barton Moss, for example, a fracking site where dangerously high levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) have been found. Yet these findings were ignored by mainstream media outlets, alongside the widespread accusations of police brutality surrounding demonstrations at the site. As a consequence, the Greater Manchester Association of Trade Councils (GMATUC) stated, “the citizens of Greater Manchester…have directly lost confidence in the police because of this episode”.
Similarly, solicitor, Simon Pook, remarked that Greater Manchester Police appeared “to have discarded the European Convention of Human Rights into the gutter, and replaced it with political policing, re-enforced with overt aggression.” Prof Gains, much like many prominent commentators, has failed to understand that devo-manc is the gateway to a dark and worrying future, one in which the rights and opinions of ordinary people are completely overlooked.