Should we move our government to Manchester?

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Big Ben has been silenced. At some point in the next 6 years, MPs and Lords must leave the Palace of Westminster too, with renovation needed in the face of ‘impending crisis’. A lot has been written about where parliament might go temporarily, with some even suggesting a few years out of London. But we need to be more ambitious than a mere temporary move of parliamentarians.

We should permanently move both parliament and ‘Whitehall’ to Manchester. Undoubtedly, political parties, think tanks, charities, much of the printed and broadcast press, quangos, embassies and lobbyists would eventually follow, as well as other corporate offices: with further knock-on effects through the spending power of these 10s or even 100s of thousands of jobs.

Politicians talk a lot about ‘rebalancing’ the UK but this is one way – perhaps the only way – in which the state can actually do it at the stroke of a pen. For those currently working in or around parliament and central government – including journalists (and myself) – it would be painfully disruptive. But for most voters in the South East an easing of population pressure should be welcome. As Jeremy Cliffe at The Economist writes:

Moving government out of London would free up housing, transport and office capacity that the current capital badly needs. … Meanwhile that city would of course remain Britain’s economic centre and gateway to the world; a Barcelona to Manchester’s Madrid; a Glasgow to Manchester’s Edinburgh; a New York to Manchester’s Washington. The city on the Thames is surely dynamic enough to absorb the change without breaking a sweat.

Greater Manchester, as the new capital of the United Kingdom, would gain extra momentum and skilled employment; ultimately helping to boost Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield and many other Northern cities too. Birmingham would benefit from its equidistance between the country’s Northern and Southern powerhouses. The alternative is perhaps continued concentration of growth, talent and infrastructure needs in London and the South East.

There is also the convincing argument that concentrating most of our policymakers and media in the South East inevitably distorts their decision-making and cultural perceptions (“They run one country, but effectively live in another.”) Were they to instead spend their time in the North of England, the transport and education problems there would be more visible – not least through their own travel and schooling needs.

Moving the capital near to the geographic centre of the UK might even help preserve the Union. With prices lower in the North of England, it could also reduce the cost of politics. And – to go full Lib Dem – perhaps a change of scenery for parliament would be an opportunity for a new voting system and other political reforms. The physical wiring of parliament is not the only part of our democracy in need of replacement.

Should the seat of national government be moved? And is it something the Lib Dems in particular should be calling for? Join the debate below.

* Adam Corlett is an economic analyst and Lib Dem member

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54 Comments

  • Jonathan Alexander 30th Aug '17 - 12:04pm

    I totally agree with this – and absolutely agree that Lib Dems should be the voice of such proposals. We should be radical democrats, championing meaningful devolution that opens up genuine power and agency over the direction of the country beyond London. Interesting to note Ruchir Sharma’s “Second City Rule” as a potential evidence point for the argument. My only question might be whether spreading Whitehall departments across northern cities might be feasible (rather than just Manchester) – particularly as a trigger/corollary of a meaningful HS3?

  • Simon McGrath 30th Aug '17 - 12:27pm

    Given that we are currently campaigning against new home building in Grater Manchester where would all of these people live ?https://cheadleandgatley.mycouncillor.org.uk/2017/03/25/greenbelt-building-plans-paused-as-labour-and-tories-back-down/

  • York would be much better – historic capital of the North of England, easy communications with Scotland, and the walled centre of the city a self-contained area within which Parliament would be the key employer.

  • Phil Beesley 30th Aug '17 - 1:06pm

    Has anyone asked “Manchester” what the people there think?

    Adam Corlett: “Undoubtedly, political parties, think tanks, charities, much of the printed and broadcast press, quangos, embassies and lobbyists would eventually follow, as well as other corporate offices: with further knock-on effects through the spending power of these 10s or even 100s of thousands of jobs.”

    But it is job relocation, rather than wealth creation. It is wealth reduction if existing infrastructure is recreated unnecessarily.

  • Goodness someone not called Norman Lamb actually proposing something that is distinctive and `shakes the tree`. I had a letter in the local Stockport Express about this some months ago suggesting these proposals.

    Perhaps an emergency motion at the Lib Dem conference would be good.

  • This is all very Anglo-centric – if you insist on a continuing UK.

    Manchester could work for a separate English Parliament (although Huddersfield has a certain moral superiority to the up themselves Mancunians). As for Leeds, as Dad used to say, ‘they would take the pennies of a dead man’s eyes’.

    Geographically, Edinburgh is more central for the UK as a whole – look at an accurate map instead of that grotesque foreshortened BBC weather map) – but Glasgow (like Huddersfield Down South) is a bit less up itself. Perhaps Billy Connolly would then consent to come home to be Mr. Speaker instead of that pompous little Bercow.

  • Duncan Stott 30th Aug '17 - 1:48pm

    Definitely agree with moving Parliament. I don’t care if it’s Manchester or York or a new purpose-built city, just so long as it’s not London.

    Maybe we should have an Olympics-style bidding competition to see who wants it and who has the best idea of how they would facilitate it?

  • Eddie Sammon 30th Aug '17 - 2:18pm

    It’s a long-term possibility but it can’t be done quickly or it would cause untold destruction onto London and lots of businesses would go bankrupt. Government itself would arguably suffer for a bit too because some civil servants would refuse to move, as when the BBC shifted some operations to Manchester.

    I certainly like the idea as long as sufficient planning and notice was allowed. Realistically it would take about five years planning (at least) and another 10 years notice would be required otherwise it could rip the heart out of London and create too much instability. It would take longer than to arrange an Olympics because of the job losses.

  • It’s amazing that people don’t take the Lib Dems seriously.

  • Yeovil Yokel 30th Aug '17 - 2:44pm

    Ian MacFayden – Edinburgh might be a reasonable choice unless Scotland votes for independence, in which case you’d have a bit of a problem. I suppose you could then have a UK enclave within the nation of Scotland, connected via a protected corridor to Berwick-upon-Tweed, rather like the former West Berlin – Edinburgh Airlift anybody?

    I prefer Leeds (Manchester is already too big and powerful); and as Speaker instead of Billy Connolly or that “pompous little Bercow” (“Order, the Honourable Mr. Raw will withdraw that remark”) I propose Alan Bennett.

  • Yeovil Yokel 30th Aug '17 - 2:52pm

    Apologies, Adam Corbett – despite my levity the idea of moving Parliament northwards is a perfectly sensible one, but I cannot see the generally reactionary and tradition-obsessed British countenancing it.

  • paul barker 30th Aug '17 - 3:16pm

    This is a good idea but it doesnt go far enough, we should be breaking up the centres of power & scattering them about like confetti. London & Edinburgh have too much Power as it is so wherever the various Parliaments & bits of Whitehall go it should be somewhere else. The UK is tiny & if we had a network of Bullet Trains like Japan we could all get around quickly enough. In fact if MPs had to regularly travel from say, Liverpool to Aberystwyth we would see lots of innovative new transport links springing up.
    I dont see any big problems for London – right now The “Plan” is for a growth to 10 Million & a lot of experts doubt that enough new infrastructure can be put in fast enough.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 30th Aug '17 - 3:51pm

    I relocated from London to Nottingham. Suggest that poorer people or others searching for a better quality of life should leave the horribly expensive capital and the talk is of some such nonsense as social cleansing!

    The capitial is the capital for central government as for culture or it is nothing but the city of London ,with a large shopping, and tourist area surrounded by many rather tedious suburbs no better or worse than the ones in every city.

    An English parliament should be in another city , my choice is Nottingham because it is central in the country, but this party nor any of the three, unlike me, does not favour that as a way forward politically.

    Therefore the article is advocating the reduction of London to a tourist and shopping attraction , although it would still be the cultural capital.

    On that, it is the rest of the country that could do with more , many more opportunities for real talent in the arts, way to much rubbish in the installation field, not enough theatre and film opportunities north of a certain area we hold a mayoralty in !

  • Bill le Breton 30th Aug '17 - 4:33pm

    Liverpool is the better option. Lots of appropriate land between the Pier Head and the Atlantic still undeveloped.

  • David Allen 30th Aug '17 - 4:36pm

    Edinburgh is not on. The SNP would rightly see it as an underhand means of stifling Scottish nationalism. Others would see it as a way for the Scots to do down the English. We can’t promote an idea that would be bound to cause a lot of conflict.

    Manchester or York, each 4 hours drive away from London, would risk creating a bi-polar nation. It would become costly and inefficient to live in the financial hub and try to travel to regular one-day meetings in the governmental hub, or vice versa. Airport expansion would be needed to accommodate an environmentally destructive upsurge in internal business flights.

    Compromise would be better. A location such as Peterborough / Leicester / Grantham (perhaps a new town) would be within two hours of London. It would avoid favouring powerful lobbies from either North or South. It would diminish the excessive strength of the London magnet without taking too big a risk with our London-centred economy. After Brexit, we sure won’t have much enthusiasm for any more economic own-throat-cutting!

  • Richard Underhill 30th Aug '17 - 4:46pm

    The Economist suggested Elizabetha, but look at a map of the railways into London
    https://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/magazine/northtoelizabetha

  • Graham Martin-Royle 30th Aug '17 - 5:00pm

    The Hague is the capital of The Netherlands And Amsterdam is the largest city. Not being the capital doesn’t appear to have done Amsterdam any harm so I don’t envisage any problems for London. Maybe we could go further with this and try copying the South African model where the parliament, judiciary are in separate cities. We are too London centred.

  • Ian Patterson 30th Aug '17 - 5:42pm

    Silly season still going strong.

  • It has to be Birmingham. Manchester is touted mainly because it’s hip, the BBC moved there and because the bucket hat Stone Roses generation are now of an age. Brum on the other hand is in middle of the country, scores very low on the hipness charts and is away from the media spotlight, thus is less of a continuation of the bubble mentality.

  • Alastair Ross 30th Aug '17 - 6:50pm

    Australia had the right idea. They created the Australia Capital Territory and built Canberra as the seat of government. ACT lies between New South Wales and Victoria. Apparently one consideration was a long standing feud between Sydney and Melbourne each of which vied to be called the Capital.

    If we emulated that model it might emphasise the importance of a federal structure and lead to the establishment of an English parliament on par with Scotland Wales and Northern Ireland. The question of where to site a UK Capital Territory would be interesting. Personally I can see a lot of merit in somewhere such as the Cheshire/Clwyd border where there is good access to all forms of travel (motorway and rail network, plus Manchester airport) and also some genuinely rural hinterland where legislators might get a bit more contact with the realities of life outside of major cities.

  • Eddie Sammon 30th Aug '17 - 7:25pm

    This quickly reminds me of why Australia still has the Queen, because they couldn’t agree on the alternative!

    I’m from Merseyside but I’d support Manchester, it’s got a very central location in the UK once you consider Northern Ireland too and it’s a big city with good infrastructure.

  • Morgan-Ross Inwood 30th Aug '17 - 7:49pm

    Why not create a Federal Capital Territory like Washington DC and Canberra in the Australian Capital Territory and move all institutions to this in a Federal UK?

  • Martin Land 30th Aug '17 - 8:05pm

    Post Brexit? Capital, Washington DC. We should get two Senators and 70 representatives.

  • Sorry, Martin, but Scotland quite rightly will certainly require two Senators to match the two English ones.

    The Welsh and the Northern Irish must speak for themselves.

  • Birmingham would be closer to the center of population. Not that it will happen.

  • At a time of austerity, the last thing MPs need to be seen to be doing is spending vast sums of money on a new parliament building. Fortunately there is a simple solution!
    There is already a purpose-built parliament building that is more than large enough and mostly unused… in Strasbourg!

    Locating the UK legislature outside the UK entirely would have a great many advantages. It would send a signal that no part of the UK was favoured over any other. It would be no more remote from most of the UK than it already seems at present. It would bring the UK government closer to the heart of europe… literally. It would broaden the horizons of our legislators. They could suddenly see the benefits of freedom of movement. No longer would MPs spend disproportionately vast amounts of tax-payer’s money on infrastructure, amongst other things, for the city they were working in at the expense of anywhere else, resulting in the neglected areas like the north-east and east-midlands of England getting a better deal. What’s not to like? You all know it makes sense?! 😉

  • Should we – yes
    Will we – no

  • Richard Underhill 31st Aug '17 - 9:03am

    The French will oppose having the European Parliament in one place, unless that place is Strasbourg, which they would support.

  • Laurence Cox 31st Aug '17 - 9:12am

    As Glenn and ad say, it has to be Birmingham. Those advocating Manchester or even Leeds have no idea how difficult it is to get to these from the South-West or South Wales. Birmingham is accessible from everywhere with motorways (M1, M5, M6) all nearby, with good train services which will only get better when HS2 is built, and an accessible airport. Somewhere close to the existing NEC would be an ideal site and far easier to protect than Parliament Square. MPs are going to have to move out of Westminster anyway; why not take advantage of this to build a new Parliament there and convert the Palace of Westminster into a heritage site (or a posh hotel for Americans).

  • Glenn Andrews 31st Aug '17 - 9:28am

    Why not embrace the post-brexity spirit…. a giant marquee (a red, white and blue one) at Runnymede?

  • David wilkinson 31st Aug '17 - 9:36am

    The best comment so far,’ It’s amazing that people don’t take the Lib Dems seriously.’

  • As for the comment about the cost the old one could recoup the money post_refurbishment by attracting visitors. When London gets infrastructure spending at the drop of a hat its odd people go on about expenditure.

  • Robin Grayson 31st Aug '17 - 11:10am

    As a Mancunian geologist, I see some issues. The tunnel route of HS2 to the city centre is now fixed using new BGS geological maps that are 30 years out of date and plain wrong. Stand by for delays and cost overruns of 200% or more due to ‘unexpected ground conditions’. Indeed records of half the boreholes under the city centre are ‘missing’ and half of the records remain ‘confidential’. Plans for a Manchester Underground never materialised due to cost and presence of the vast Guardian Bunker (GUTE) under the city centre. Air pollution is on terrible, and annual NO2 levels at Manchester Metropolitan University have exceeded UK and EU legal limits for 86 consecutive months and the Labour Council sit on data from city-wide NO2 diffusion tubes showing NO2 levels have risen. Urban densification relentlessly extends the ‘urban canyons’ which trap, delay and densify particulate pollution. Meanwhile a a staggering 330 million pounds is to be spent by the Labour Council on so-called urgent repairs to Manchester Town Hall, of no use whatsoever to the plight of thousands of homeless people but will work wonders in pumping up the pomp of Municipal Labour.
    Putting the Parliament in the Town Hall makes excellent financial sense.

  • I strongly support relocating federal UK government out of London. London is too over congested and has an important world financial centre, just as Frankfurt, which also is not the capital nor seat of government of Germany.
    It is clear that the Palace of Westminster is unsuitable to conduct modern day politics to a country of nearly 70 million people.
    As a citizen of Wales, I won’t be so inward looking to say relocate to Cardiff (although much better than London). But, consider Birmingham International. airport, rail station and motorway near on hand. otherwise yes, we could live with Manchester or Leeds.

  • Given that Government is more than just the House of Commons and the House of Lords – (MP’s offices, the Government Departments and all security aspects) – the obvious course to avoid inefficiency and unnecessary cost would be to follow the precedent of WW11 when the Palace of Westminster was bombed.

    For four years both Houses met in Church House Westminster.

    See : Church House Westminster | Conference Centre London | Corporate …
    https://www.churchhouseconf.co.uk/

    Everything else is expensive fantasy.

  • @AI – You missed the other benefits of using Strasbourg/Brussels: not only do we (the UK taxpayers) get to directly benefit from something we’ve paid for through our EEC/EU membership dues, our government gets to benefit as it will be able to cultivate all those contacts and relations that we desperately need to firstly negotiate Brexit and secondly our new post-Brexit relationship. 🙂

    Whats not to like? Unfortunately, government see’s itself different to business and so will have all sorts of emotional problems over relocating its HQ from London to Strasbourg, even though it is an entirely rational option and has historical precedence when the UK hosted the government in waiting of various countries whilst those countries were occupied by hostile powers.

  • The article makes a valid point on whether to turn a temporary solution into a permanent solution for housing our elected government. But are we not missing a wonderful once in a lifetime opportunity to re-home our unelected, Ermine-ed elderly from their red benches on an even more permanent basis?

    I’m not for a moment suggesting that we go ‘full Eskimo’ and leave our Lords out on the ice, but once we get them out and into alternate sheltered accommodation, is there any value is moving the unelected portion of government back, after refurbishment?

  • Tony Dawson 31st Aug '17 - 1:28pm

    Although I am a great fan of Manchester, I can see better arguments for Leicester and Sheffield to take on this role.

  • Alfred Motspur 31st Aug '17 - 2:02pm

    Do you propose moving the Queen to Manchester as well, or are we going to have to pay for the Prime Minister’s weekly train ticket between Manchester and London?

    Moving the seat of Parliament would throw up all sorts of practical complications like this. I don’t doubt that it can produce some economic benefit for the North (even if, as noted above, it only moves jobs outside of London rather than creates them) – but you can produce an even larger economic benefit for the North with the same amount of money. I fear this could be an issue of symbolic vanity politics which expends effort and political capital that could be far better invested elsewhere.

  • Alfred Motspur 31st Aug '17 - 2:13pm

    Taking the government out of London could also alienate Londoners. Especially post-Brexit, it is not uncommon to hear an “us vs them” mentality on London doorsteps: Britain dragged London into a Conservative majority government twice against its will, and it is now dragging London out of the EU kicking and screaming too.

    There is certainly a non-negligible support for further devolution. According to the polls, even outright independence for London (11%) would get more votes in the Capital than the Liberal Democrats (9%). Were there to be a substantive debate on the issue, the case for independence for London would undoubtedly be stronger than independence for Scotland – or indeed any other part of the United Kingdom.

    This is on top of all of the bickering that would happen on deciding the exact location to move it to: Scotland would protest if it were moved to Manchester, and the North would protest if it were moved to Scotland, etc..

    I struggle, therefore, to see an anti-secessionist argument for moving the seat of government.

  • “Taking the government out of London could also alienate Londoners. ”

    Oh calamity. Poor souls.

  • Geoffrey Payne 31st Aug '17 - 4:12pm

    I would like to suggest somewhere like Barnsley or Middlesborough. Somewhere in desperate straits to remind the politicians of the work they need to do.

  • Eddie Sammon 31st Aug '17 - 4:35pm

    Considering silly season has descended onto this page, why not Skegness? The elites can spend more time talking to brexit Britain and brexit Britain can spend more time talking to liberals.

    We could rotate the capital, even go on a global Britain world tour taking parliament to Gibraltar, The Falkland Islands and whatever other bits of land we still have in the world, just to see what happens. Better be careful though, Jeremy Corbyn might decide to nationalise the British West Indies.

  • Peter Martin 31st Aug '17 - 9:53pm

    The “centre of gravity” of Britain is, according to the Ordance survey, situated in Lancashire. If we add in Northern Ireland, which we should, then it’s a point in Morecambe Bay.

    So, on this basis, there’s no argument. The new capital has to be the nearest city which is Lancaster! I should perhaps declare an interest and say this is where I live. Local property prices could do with a boost!

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Centre_points_of_the_United_Kingdom

  • I think this would be a great idea. I’m not bothered whether it’s Manchester, Leeds or where-ever but I think it’s important it is moved out of London.
    I never used to think this kind of thing mattered but increasingly it seems to me that a lot of decision-making and media coverage is dictated by what is immediately in front of the decision-makers. Hence you get things like Crossrail 2 being approved and rail electrification dialled back. And it all contributes to London sucking in talent and resources. Londoners should welcome such a move as it would surely ease some of the overcrowding and housing pressure too…
    I also think that this would give the Lib Dems something to differentiate themselves. Show that being anti-Brexit isn’t just being pro-Status Quo…

  • Graham Martin-Royle. Sorry to be such a pedant, but Amsterdam is the capital of the Netherlands. The Hague is the seat of Govt though. Maybe something we could try?

  • In Germany, the capital is Berlin, but the richest ones are Hamburg, Bremen, Munich…

  • Peter Martin 2nd Sep '17 - 1:40pm

    @Thomas,

    Had it not been partitioned at the end of WW2 with even the western sector existing as a political enclave within the borders of the DDR, maybe Berlin would now be in a comparable position to London and Paris?

  • If we move the UK federal government up north (e.g. Sheffield or Glasgow), then Westminster could become the seat of the long-overdue English parliament. Not only would this avoid the temptation to turn the Houses of Parliament into a theme park, but would also bestow the same level of self-determination on the English that is currently enjoyed (to varying degrees) by the rest of the union, whilst finally resolving the absurd anomaly of a parliament that simultaneously claims to be for the whole union and for England alone.

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