Leaving London

Britain is one of the most overcentralized countries in the Western world. Our political and financial institutions are concentrated in London, perpetuating regional inequality and overburdening the capital’s underfunded public services.

London might be open but it’s also full: strangers share bedrooms; commuters collapse on crowded trains, gentrification ravages local communities, savings accounts stay empty and the Westminster bubble remains as tight and cosy as ever.

There seems to be no end in sight to London-centrism. Jobs flow to London without serious consideration being paid to whether or not they might be better off elsewhere. For example, in 2015 George Osborne decided to locate the newly-created National Cyber Security Agency in London despite the strong regional cluster of cyber-knowledge in Cheltenham (GCHQ), Bristol, Cardiff and Bath. In a digital workplace these jobs have no need to be in London. An office in the capital might look good on a business card and increase the number of expensive restaurants nearby, but that’s about it.

There is a simple solution. In line with Vince Cable’s industrial strategy and our commitment to decentralisation and federalism, the Liberal Democrats should call for the UK’s political capital to be moved to the North of England.

This would be a radical move for the UK but is common convention elsewhere. Some of the richest countries in the Western world spread political and economic power across more than one big city: New York and Washington DC; Amsterdam and The Hague; Auckland and Wellington; Sydney and Canberra; Pretoria, Cape Town and Johannesburg, Brasilia and Rio de Janeiro.

There is also already a successful precedent for moving public services out of the capital. The BBC moved from London to Salford without compromising the quality of its services. There are other government services spread around the country (DVLA, Passport Office etc.) which have contributed to the regeneration of post-industrial areas, providing well-paid jobs and spin-off investment for Britain’s regions. During the richest days of the industrial revolution Britain’s regions prospered; the London-centrism of the British economy is a post-war, post-Thatcher legacy.

Moving parliament to the North would break the cosy relationship between Westminster’s politicians and the powerful vested interests representing the financial institutions based in the City of London. The divide between political and commercial interests is almost non-existent; numerous Conservative politicians started their careers in finance. Is it any wonder that following the financial crisis of 2008 they decided to protect the banks and make the poor pay through a vicious austerity programme?

The Liberal Democrats have the best policies; the struggle is getting our ideas heard (and for people to understand what they mean). Moving parliament from London is a headline-grabbing policy that articulates our commitment to decentralisation, federalism and an industrial strategy. Britain’s archaic political system won’t fall apart of its own accord. We need to smash it apart by convincing people of the need for reform. The Liberal Democrats must take the lead and pour blood back into the thirsty regional veins of the British economy.

* David is the former Parliamentary Candidate for North Dorset. He helped write our party's response to the government's National Data Strategy and has recently moved back to his hometown, Cheltenham.

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17 Comments

  • John Marriott 21st Jan '19 - 9:30am

    Another political suicide note? No, Mr Chadwick. Campaign for a FEDERAL UNITED KINGDOM. Keep the Federal Parliament in London (and bite the bullet and refurbish the Houses of Parliament) while creating Regional Assemblies with REAL powers in England to match those in NI, Wales and Scotland. And, while you’re at it, streamline and reform Local Government and Finance in England.

  • You would only end up with MPs staying in hotels even more, having a bigger carbon footprint and claiming more expenses. Very few really successful people are willing to live outside of London and the South East. Just look at football as an example.

    Moving Parliament out of London is similar to the hard left’s fetish for rail nationalisation and the hard right’s fetish for grammar schools. Ideology gone mad.

  • Nonconformistradical 21st Jan '19 - 10:02am

    @Stimpson
    “Very few really successful people are willing to live outside of London and the South East. Just look at football as an example.”

    Is that why Liverpool and Man City top the premier league table, with 3 London clubs trailing in their wake?

  • Mark Goodrich 21st Jan '19 - 10:05am

    Great idea and these comments seem unduly negative. Personally, I think there is a case for Parliament and government being located near Birmingham which is nearer for most people but not too inconvenient for London. In my view, it is a long overdue change for the UK.

    @John Marriott – I agree with creating a more federal UK but that will only happen when people are prepared to vote for it and they certainly aren’t yet. It is also not inconsistent with this idea at all since we still need a central government.

    @Stimpson – It seems to me that the only thing which has “gone mad” is your geographical determinism. High earners are clustered in London and surrounds because that’s where the good jobs are. MPs will be quite prepared to go to Parliament elsewhere just as journalists were when the BBC was moved to Salford (incidentally, sparking a mini-housing boom in parts of Manchester). I couldn’t decide if your reference to football was actually a subtle way of saying your whole post was a wind-up. The two most successful clubs right now? Manchester City and Liverpool. Everybody knows that parts of Cheshire are filled with Prem footballers.

  • The federal UK argument is a solution to a problem few people even see as that big of an issue.
    IMO the main pro0blem with London is not that it’s too powerful, it is that it’s symbolic of the globalist hype and inability to look at the unpalatable. We’re constantly told how successful, awesome. open and great it is. And how people in the sticks have been left behind by its globalised brilliance. When actually the banking system it is based on collapsed into vapour over ten years ago, it has some of the greatest poverty. most unequal and crime ridden constituencies in the country. So not only is the City not spreading its illusionary wealth to the rest of the country. it can’t even spread it to other bits of London.

  • Problem with an individual leaving London is that because of the soaring demand for property and their prices it is very, very difficul;t to get back. I left in the 60’s and even when I got a job there for three years in the 80’s had to do a daily rail commute of almost 140 miles.

  • John Marriott 21st Jan '19 - 10:36am

    @Glenn
    The problem is that most people don’t think outside the box enough. Most of them just want to get on with their lives and, in a way, who can blame them? That’s why meaningful change is so hard to achieve on these islands. On the other hand, it might be me that is out of step. That’s possibly why I have identified as a ‘Liberal’ for most of my adult life.

  • David Becket 21st Jan '19 - 11:11am

    Far more important than where parliament should be is reforming the current mess.
    Just look at the House of Commons, members squashed together, some standing, shouting at each other and then trouping off to vote like cows being herded to the milking parlour. Look at the other parliaments we see on our screens, Scottish and EU. Members have their own seats, with microphones, and able to vote from their seat. None of the shouting and upheaval you see in Westminster, but then in a civilised environment unruly behaviour is less likely.
    What Brexit has shown us is that, apart from a totally inadequate Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition, our present system is not fit for purpose in 21st Century government.

  • Laurence Cox 21st Jan '19 - 11:25am

    @David Beckett

    You can blame Sir Winston Churchill for that. When the House of Commons was bombed in WW2, it was the Government that he led that decided to rebuild the Chamber as it was before, too small for its whole membership to sit in it at once. His quote “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us” indicates that he knew very well what he was doing.

  • Andrew Houseley 21st Jan '19 - 2:52pm

    What I really like about this policy is the (perhaps not so) oblique challenge it makes to the mercantile buccaneering capitalism that has driven the Brexit movement. The lack of separation between unbridled commerce and public obligation is a large part of the mess we are in today.

  • @Andrew Houseley – you make an interesting observation about the challenge posed by decentralisation to “mercantile buccaneering capitalism”. Perhaps this helps to explain the obvious antipathy of commentators like Mr Stimpson to such proposals. These ideas may be progressive and moderately redistributive – but hardly, in Stimpson’s words, “ideology gone mad”!

  • @Stimpson.
    There are 650 MPs in the UK. The 577 who don’t represent London constituencies already have to cope with travel/accommodation expenses. I’m sure the latter would be lower elsewhere.

    Theakes, it’s not about people leaving London to follow the jobs. It’s about creating local jobs for people who don’t live in London now and have no wish to. And, as you say, couldn’t afford to relocate/commute there if they did.

  • Andrew Houseley 21st Jan '19 - 9:31pm

    Personally it would make sense if Reading and/or Cheltenham were the UK’s Pretoria, Bristol or Leeds the UK’s Cape Town, leaving London to be the commercial hub. After all, the taxpayer should see a healthy profit were the FCO to become an Intercontinental and MI6 the Trump Tower of London.

  • I’m not I’d go quite as far as moving the entire Parliament out of London, but I agree with the sentiment. The UK is far too centralised and our politics is far too London-centric.

    Imho: The London Parliament should be kept but as a smaller “federal” Parliament, with much of it’s legislators and powers devolved to constituent countries/regions. And in this age of technology there isn’t a particularly good reason why much of the civil service has to be concentrated where it is, instead it could be spread out to other cities, both creating jobs outside of London and probably saving taxpayers money.

  • Don’t conflate the crying need for decentralised government with the logic for having Parliament close to head of state and the commercial centre.

    Like it or not the history of England has not been one of regions coming together so there isn’t a strong case for moving either House to York or Winchester or Bristol or Manchester.

    What we should do is move functions out of London, so any Civil servants (or quasi-ones like regulators) who don’t see Ministers on a daily basis can be in Luton or Lincoln or Dewsbury or Whitehaven or Mansfield or Wolverhampton. That would spread the wealth around, increase exposure to what (as a Northerner) I see as the real world, and ease the housing / water / transport pressure in London.

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