Six will be elected today—but there is no guarantee this will stem regional inequalityby James Sutton / May 4, 2017 / Leave a comment
Voters across the UK are heading to the polls today. No, they aren’t casting their votes in the snap general election which has stifled all other political debate since it was announced. Nor are they taking part in—heaven forbid—a second EU referendum. Instead, they are choosing their representatives in local government.
Barring any more of Nigel Farage’s “political earthquakes,” these elections are typically routine affairs—an opportunity to punish or reward the government of the day, or perhaps to tackle local issues on the smallest scale. This time around, though, there will be an extra question on the ballot paper for many voters in England: who would they like to have as their regional mayor? Greater Manchester, Liverpool, the Tees Valley, Cambridge and Peterborough, the West Midlands and the West of England will all be electing “metro mayors” for the first time, as part of the government’s ongoing push for regional devolution.
That may sound like a lot of new mayors to introduce all at once, but it’s actually far smaller in scale than the government originally intended. For example, the devolution deal for Cambridge and Peterborough is the remnant of a much bigger plan for a combined authority representing the whole of East Anglia; a plan which was ultimately blocked by two of the constituent councils. Potential deals for Cumbria, Hampshire and a number of other regions are also on the rocks. Indeed, the Institute for Public Policy Research reports that progress on these devolution deals has “stalled” in many parts of England. Where deals have gone ahead, compromises abound.
Despite these problems with the roll-out, there seems to be a general consensus among both the Westminster parties and the public that regional devolution is much needed, apparently inspired by the relative success of the London mayoralty. The Institute of Economic Affair reports that the UK has long lagged behind other developed countries in this regard, with the most centralised model of government of any G7 nation. Furthermore, voters in the regions—particularly those further removed from London—have long felt that the government does not listen to them, and that their views are not sufficiently represented by their MPs. High-handed projects such as HS2 have been particularly effective in galvanising regional resentment towards Westminster.
To tackle this…