Central government has not covered itself in glory when it comes to the response to the COVID crisis – but it is rapidly back-tracking on devolution too.
Most of the devolution deals we have had so far have been more an exercise in PR and window dressing than a true commitment to meaningful decentralisation. We have moved from the language of the Northern Powerhouse to levelling up – but when it comes to local lockdowns, we are all levelling down.
The extraordinary events of the past few days, which saw Boris Johnson go head to head with Manchester Metro Mayor Andy Burnham, has shown a government that supports devolution only when it suits them.
When it comes to localism, and the Prime Minister’s pledge to create bespoke local lockdowns – different in every area – how can the Government go on to argue that Manchester can’t get more money than Lancashire or Liverpool?
Mr Johnson may have misunderstood the meaning of ‘bespoke’ – not to mention the concept of levelling up.
The North South divide has become a chasm that the government is refusing to bridge for the sake of £5m, while it throws money at the NHS, empty Nightingale hospitals and track and trace systems with a track record of failure when local services could have done the job at a fraction of the cost.
I look forward to the inevitable National Audit Office conclusions that are yet to unfold.
Once the poster-child for devolution, Manchester is now being treated as the bad boy of politics – on the naughty step for daring to ask for a good deal for its residents.
But perhaps the biggest faux pas of the Government so far was revealed by Manchester City Council leader Sir Richard Leese, who revealed in the now-viral clip that the Government planned to pick off council leaders one by one. Divide and rule may not work in Manchester.
Meanwhile, in London, the Government has threatened to take over Transport for London unless the Mayor raises council tax.
This is not devolution. This is not even centralism. This is a Government punishing people over politics.