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Be careful what you wish for when it comes to devolution

Everyone wants central government to have less power—except those who understand how government actually works

By Polly Toynbee   May 2021

Whitehall sometimes knows best © ANDREW WALTERS / Alamy Stock Photo

No politician dare praise centralisation when devolution sounds so deceptively democratic. In an era of multiple policy car crashes caused by Westminster—test and trace the most blatant—handing power to localities seems a simple solution. Why shouldn’t Manchester, Newcastle or Leeds take back control? 

But progressives always point to councils they like, forgetting the mass of authorities that tax and spend as little as they can. Those councils favour middle-class crowd-pleasers, avoiding all but compulsory spending on vulnerable minorities—children with special educational needs, travellers, women seeking refuge. Some cling to grammar schools, damaging the unselected. When John Prescott removed…

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