Tony Greaves writes…Home rule for the north

The North of England is the second English region after London and the south-east together, and has 15 million people—three times as many as Scotland and five times as many as Wales. It shares considerable cultural, economic and social cohesion and history, and many current problems. This is about the North as such because the North should stand together as a whole.

What we have is asymmetric devolution. Scotland, and to a lesser extent Wales have increasingly become functioning units of a federal system, except there is no federal system for them to be the units of. This is not a system that is sustainable in the long run. We still have a highly centralized state, not least in England, with a number of peripheral anomalies. If I call Wales and Scotland peripheral anomalies, I do so with admiration that they have been able to break free from the grip of London to the extent that they have. Then we have gimmicks such as EVEL (English Votes for English Laws in the House of Commons).

Some people believe the answer is a federal system with an English Parliament, but the result of that would in due course be the complete detachment of Scotland and Wales. And it would do nothing to change the concentration of economic and political power within England. We have had a series of feeble initiatives such as the attempt by John Prescott to set up a North-east Assembly with no powers, which was rightly rejected. Labor set up government regional offices in which civil servants from different departments sat in the same buildings and talked to their bosses in London rather than to each other. There was the coalition’s regional growth fund and its local enterprise partnerships—nobody really noticed them.

The North is being fragmented into city regions but it is not devolution: it is almost entirely the reorganisation of local government. It is the concentration of power within local government, with all power going to the big cities, but what is that except the power for those involved to carry begging bowls on the train to Whitehall and Westminster and, if they are lucky, to go home with their railway fares? As power is concentrated in big cities through city regions and mayors, the people who suffer in the North of England are those in the areas on the edges, and the places in between. Particularly towns, which have lost so much of their civic culture, power and society in recent years.

However, we are getting a greater recognition of the North of England as a region in its own right, not fragmented into three or four different patches, but as one major region. We have the Northern Powerhouse. It was a slogan invented by George Osborne when he was Chancellor, but it has resulted in meetings, conferences, projects and all sorts of things. It has resulted in the relabelling as Northern Powerhouse projects things that would have been happening anyway (and still have to be funded from London). But it might have some value through the recognition it has encouraged of the North as one region.

Transport for the North is far more important. Here is a devolved transport body which has real powers. It still has to take its begging bowl to London for cash and projects but, nevertheless, it is a body with powers. And it covers the North. Network Rail and NHS England both have a director for the North; we have the Northern Housing Consortium; the IPPR has set up IPPR North, a dedicated think tank for the North of England; the Northern Powerhouse Partnership has meetings (and, no doubt, lots of pleasant dinners); and we are told there is Northern Powerhouse Rail, whatever that turns out to be.

I believe the future lies in devolution to the North of England, with a body which, in an inevitably asymmetric system—can stand alongside Wales and Scotland. The proposal for a UK or even an English convention is worthwhile, but what is needed first is a convention of people in the North. It is time for those of us in the North of England to get together across the whole of the North, and work out the options for what we would like. This should be discussed by the people of the North; we would then come to the national level and say, “This is what we want”. That is what Scotland did; it is what the North of England has to do. It requires a considerable change of attitude, not just by central Government but by people throughout the North

This is an edited version of a speech I made in the House of Lords during a debate on a proposal for a Constitutional Convention for the United Kingdom, with special emphasis on England.

* Tony Greaves is a backbench Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords.

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  • In light of Brexit, and the ineptitude of both major parties as Liberals we should be pushing for major constitutional reform. That includes abolition of the current parliamentary system and replaced with a more federal government. A separate parliament for England and a senate and a Congress system for the whole of the UK. The congress to pass template legislation which can be adapted to each area of the UK. Foreign policy and defence only to be retained WITH all other powers devolved. To assist and stop disjointed trading and competition with in the separate parts of the UK, a tax system designed with a upper and lower level and each one can select the taxes rates that suite them. A common fisheries, agricultural system to be developed. Its that way that the avoidance of English or Scottish votes or Welsh votes that have haunted previous administrations

  • Richard Underhill 16th Dec '18 - 10:21am

    What about Northern Ireland and its relationships under the Belfast Agreement?
    Were they edited out? The history of Liverpool is integral to government and politics in the North, for instance there is a waterway to Manchester. Learn from the Swiss and dig tunnels through mountains (and north-south in Wales).

  • Dan, Under no circumstances do we need or want a parliament for England. It would still be based in London and still ignore the needs of the North (or the Southwest or anywhere other than London). Not only that but it would totally unbalance any federal structure we set up.
    Whilst my preference is for a Parliament for Yorkshire, I do not rule out such a body for the North, because that would be a great improvement on government in London.

  • I am a big supporter of further devolution, and devolution within England, rather than an English Parliament, which I agree would enhance the problems of centralisation towards the South-East.

    The challenge is defining just how large each of these devolved regions should be, and where to draw those lines. It’s been easy enough with Scotland and Wales, but with the population of Yorkshire being greater than Scotland, it raises questions about what sort of size, and commonality, is desirable. It would require a great deal of local discussion and must be handled sensitively, but the biggest danger is just kicking the can down the road because no-one’s quite sure where those boundaries should lie.

  • Alisdair Gibbs-Barton 16th Dec '18 - 11:20am

    I understand the feeling behind the post – but where is “the North?” There are people who think that Peterborough is the North, .. I suppose if you are from Brighton it is. Wherever you draw the line it will be divisive. I live north of Hadrian’s wall, but still in England, and I get the feeling that anything south of Doncaster is south. Sometimes, Liverpool and Manchester ae so far away that they might as well be classified as “Down South”
    As I said, I understand the frustration, but your suggestion should include, and define all regions of England

  • Innocent Bystander 16th Dec '18 - 12:33pm

    More English devolution nonsense. Firstly the English will never accept the Balkanisation and destruction of England and secondly the author never mentions the key word – TAX.
    Devolutionists never do but it doesn’t matter as they always have been, and will continue to be, completely ignored. The break up of England gets less coverage in the national press than Kim Kardashian’s latest choice of lipstick.
    Will this require a new Barnett Formula wherein the South is taxed to subsidise the North?
    Do you think the taxpayers in the South will be delighted with that idea or will they give the North a familiar two word response?
    Enough, please, of this air headed superficiality. Confront the key problem of who gets taxed and who decides what on, in detail, or don’t bother promoting English devolution at all.

  • I had meant to include in my comment something about further devolution including an adapted Barnet type formula. There already exists fiscal transfer across the regions, so nothing particularly new for the taxpayers would be required, but it is haphazard and a formalised structure would help enormously to bring down inequalities.

    @Innocent Bystander, I’m not sure why you would see devolution within England as Balkanisation? Why not think along the German lines where it works very effectively. The country is united, and yet each region has its own identity and say in how things are done more locally. It’s not instigated the break-up of Germany, so why would it happen to England? If anything, it would aid in the cohesion of the UK, and reduce resentment across regions. I hope it goes without saying to this audience that we also need electoral reform if we want to improve relations between the regions.

  • John Marriott 16th Dec '18 - 1:19pm

    A Federal solution is a possible answer. Not ‘balkanisation’ as (far from) ‘Innocent Bystander’ envisages. It could go something like this: A Federal Parliament in Westminster, elected by PR from the Regions and Nations of the U K, with a second, Revising Chamber (Senate) made up of delegates from the Regions and Nations based on population size. Below that, Parliaments in NI, Wales and Scotland as well as North West and North West England, the West and East Midlands, East Anglia and Southwest and Southwest England., all elected by PR. Below that, Unitary Authorities through the U.K. and below them, elected Parish and Neighbourhood Councils. All but the Senate would have tax raising powers.

    If Mr ‘Bystander’ wants an example of how it might work, I would suggest that he looks at places like Canada and Germany. In any case, it’s all off the agenda at the moment as all we appear to be stressing about is bloody Brexit.

  • Peter Martin 16th Dec '18 - 1:38pm

    Devolution, at its worst, is simply handing out the responsibility but with the power. It’s happening in Wales now. There will be no point complaining to your MP, about the local NHS or education system, or the Westminster government which does have the power to do something. Instead we’ll be told that is a matter for the devolved assembly which has been given the responsibility but not the power.

  • I don’t see it. People citing Germany are ignoring the fact that it was mostly Prussia until 1871, was in constant conflict with its neighbours over disputed borders and caused two World Wars trying to extend its territories to the East.

  • Peter Chambers 16th Dec '18 - 2:29pm

    @Peter Martin

    Good point. Devolution has to include significant transfer of power and budget from central government to the regions. Possibly based on population plus some sort of offset for regeneration. How else would transport in the North be fixed? This is pretty fundamental, without regeneration how else will the demands of the left-behind be addressed? If you do not gave a policy for that, you are not a serious contender for votes. More directly, how else will you fix the potholes?

  • Peter Martin 16th Dec '18 - 2:34pm

    @ Fiona,

    “Why not think along the German lines where it works very effectively.”

    You can’t assume that what works (reasonably?) well in Germany will work in the UK. The macroeconomics are quite different. Germany is a net exporter with an inwards flow of money into all the regions with the exception of the former DDR. The Federal Govt has to remove that money using high levels of taxation to prevent inflation. The Germans still haven’t worked out how to apply fiscal equalisation to bring that region up to western standards.

    There needs to be a net flow of money out of London and into the regions to equalise the UK economy. Otherwise we have too much inflation in London and the SE of England, as that part overheats and too much recession in the regions and other UK countries as those parts are barely lukewarm economically.

    Putting in extra borders and boundaries doesn’t help.

  • Peter Davies 16th Dec '18 - 2:36pm

    The Barnet formula only works if most of the country is not devolved. I’m not sure it would survive devolution for the North (ten million people in the existing devolved nations and fifteen million new ones would all see their funding increased). Devolution for London would be even more problematic. We need a more robust system of locally raised taxes with an explicit element of redistribution.

  • John Marriott 16th Dec '18 - 2:43pm

    You need to mug up on your German history. Whilst Prussia may have ended up as the most influential German State (after all the King of Prussia was acclaimed Emperor of Germany in the Hall of Mirrors, Versailles, at the end of the Franco Prussian War in 1971), there was a lot more to Imperial Germany than just one kingdom. In any case, what I was talking about was Germany today and how it is governed and not the Germany to which you refer. I just wish that people would stop reliving the World Wars and move on.

  • John Marriott 16th Dec '18 - 2:58pm

    Correction. For ‘1971’ read ‘1871’.
    @Peter Martin
    Talking of the GDR, anyone visiting the East shortly after reunification, as I did, would have seen at first hand the massive gulf that had to be bridged to bring this former state’s infrastructure up to western standards, something which has largely happened and been paid for mainly by the German taxpayer. Unfortunately, economic prosperity has not followed to the same extent. It’s therefore not surprising that AfD has made such inroads in the Länder there.

  • @ John Marriott. I bet the two armies were a bit knackered in 1971, John.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 16th Dec '18 - 3:43pm

    A sensible level of both style and substance in this article, welcome from the esteemed author.

    I disagree with the conclusions though I agree with the ideas behind it.

    Centralisation is wrong. But this homogenisation of neighbourhoods into big regional government is not my yearning.

    If the Yorkshire folk want a parliament that does not mean they can get one, as the structure of government does not traditionally allow for completely inconsistent versions of democracy in differing ways throughout the nation. Why not then a parliament for every region?

    Why is the North a region unique, what of the South, the Midlands?

    And why cannot England be a country?

    We need a denial of these things to be seen as a part of why this party is making little progress, as it is out of touch with much of this country and Europe, who are concerned about top down government and local views ignored.

    There is no movement based on the North, but rather, is local identity.

    And national too in England.

    I am an Englishman.

    I am that more than a Londoner who has been in Nottingham several years .

  • john Marriot.
    I was making waspish rhetorical comment, the point being the silliness of comparing solutions applicable to the fairly recent unification of the large land mass now known as Germany with the ridiculous obsession some liberals have with devolving power in bits of teeny tiny England. Why not devolve power street by street . Also I’m part Jewish, I don’t share the willingness to treat WWII as some sort of mutually embarrassing mistake that we should all “move on from”.

  • Glenn
    Germany was NOT mostly Prussia – Prussia may have represented a powerful entity within, but consider all the other statelets, many of which form the backbone of some of the modern day Lande.

    “Innocent” Bystander
    One of the key themes of the EU is Regional development policy. Prior to Thatcher Britain had an effective regional development policy. Our most deprived regions and nations have benefited from that. The British Government has quite often refused, or at least hobbled, the EU’s attempts to assist our poorer regions. It is at least arguable that the “left behind” wouldn’t have been so deprived had we maintained an effective policy of this type, and cooperated fully with the EU in its policy. Your comments on tax, and the redistributive underpinning of tax, points to at least sympathy with policy over the last 40 years, which I hope that the great majority of Lib Dems have very little time for. The idea that the windfalls that some areas get and others don’t should be hoarded by the lucky regions and not shared out seems anathema to me, and I hope to many others on this site.

  • John Marriott 16th Dec '18 - 5:43pm


    OK. If Germany annoys you, how about Canada, or even Australia for that matter? Both are, to all intents and purposes, Federal states. Having lived in the former in the early 1970s I know how it works. And it does work. Take tax, which seems to excite ‘Innocent Bystander’ among others. At the end of the financial year, each income tax payer used to be sent a tax statement showing how much Federal and Provincial tax they should have paid the previous year together with how much they actually paid. By taking A from B you usually found that you were entitled to a rebate, and very nice it was! Some accountants built up quite a cottage industry every Spring by renting spaces in Shopping Malls to give ‘advice’ to folks who had difficulty in working out their tax returns. A win/win situation?

    As for devolving power, I hardly think that a Region like the East Midlands, where I have lived for most of my life, stretching as it might do, depending on where you draw the boundaries, from the Pennines in the West, the Norfolk border in the East, the Humber in the North and possibly Peterborough in the South is a “teeny tiny” area. Perhaps ‘Glenn’ hasn’t got much time for local democracy. Well, having spent 30 years as a councillor, I have.

  • Tim13
    My point is that there is big difference between the large landmass we now call Germany that was only officially unified in 1871 and a teeny tiny England that was unified in 927 CE.

  • Graham Martin-Royle 16th Dec '18 - 5:56pm

    @Jenny Barnes: Wales also voted to leave the EU.

  • John Marriott 16th Dec '18 - 8:14pm

    I think you need to mug up your geography as well. The Germany of 1871, containing as it did parts of modern day France and a good bit of what is now Poland, was a good bit bigger than the Germany of 2018. However, when it comes to politics, I would have thought that population trumps geography most times. Given that the population of the U.K. appears to be increasing while the population of Germany is declining to the extent that, as early as the 1970s, the weekly German magazine, Der Spiegel, ran a headline “Sterben die Deutschen aus?” (Are the Germans dying out?), it might be that, if the present trend continues, our population might overtake theirs in a few decades. Time to move on?

  • One of the biggest lessons we can learn from the Scottish experience is that a parliament or assembly MUST be based on an irresistible demand from the people. If politicians try to create it without enthusiastic public support, it just won’t work. And, sadly, I don’t see the kind of restless public demand in the north of England that we had in Scotland in the years/decades leading up to 1997. I’d love to see a north of England parliament, but there must first be a campaign to create an agreed north of England identity, and then good leaders can maybe challenge that into an organised passionate campaign for devolution. But this will take years, and a lot of skilled political leadership (cross-party). I don’t mean to say its a bad idea. Far from it.
    The Scottish parliament happened because by 1997 Westminster politicians realised they had no choice. Blair was not a fan of devolution, but he knew he had to do it. That’s the position the North of England devolutionists have to put Westminster politicians in.

  • John Marriot
    You’ve said more or less the same thing twice.
    My point is that England is teeny tiny and dates back to 927EC,whilst Germany is huge and dates back to 1871. There is close to 1000 years and an entirely different history separating them. Before ticking me of you should look at dates, quirks of history, and Geography.

  • PS
    History and geographic area are more historically important than population size. Population’s ebb an flow. The population of England is increasing mainly because it has been promoted as a hip, happening mid way point between the US of A and Europe. It’s a kind of a reflected glory resulting from the dominance of English language pop mediums within an essentially American Cultural Empire. The world isn’t global. It’s American. It is a super hero movies, hip hop and a Starbucks on every street corner.

  • Malcolm Todd 17th Dec '18 - 12:55am


    Don’t be silly! England is nor “teeny tiny”. Since you seem obsessed about comparing England with Germany: modern Germany, which is divided into sixteen states, is about three times the size of England; West Germany, which was of course the whole of the Federal Republic when it was created and contained 11 states, was about twice the size of England. So why not divide England into five or six states?
    If that’s not good enough for you, what about Switerland, which is less than one-third the size of England and divided into 26 cantons with very significant autonomy.
    I know, you’re going to say that it’s not really about the size of England and other countries aren’t relevant. So, stop going on about “huge” Germany and “teeny tiny” England. It’s either relevant and doesn’t support your argument; or it’s irrelevant and therefore doesn’t support your argument.

  • Malcolm
    England really is teeny tiny. It just is. I’m not comparing it with anything beyond it being a small country.. If you split England up into regions, as you are with Germany, it gets even teenier and tinier. Plus England was unified in 927EC and Germany 1871. Almost 1000 years of difference in a much smaller landmass. I’m not wrong. Look it up.
    You lot are being silly by trying to compare solutions arrived at for the centralised German Empire, with the small country of England.

  • Malcolm Todd 17th Dec '18 - 1:19am

    Oh dear, Glenn. “Don’t confuse my brain with actualy figures and evidence. The world is the shape I conveniently think it is. It just is.” But it’s not, actually. And “I’m not comparing it with anything, it’s just a small country” is hilarious. How do you tell whether anything is “small” or “large” without comparing it with something else? I know that English exceptionalism is a common problem, but you really do take it to extremes. England is comparable with other places, and you’re perfectly happy to make such comparisons when it suits you. Have the grace to back down when you’ve made such a pig’s breakfast of an argument as you have here.

  • Montgomery gave Harry Ingrams the job of creating a democratic system in post-war West Germany. In his view, they had to create a new political system, in a foreign country, that would prevent another Hitler coming to power. This, he believed, could best be achieved by a policy of decentralisation, starting the process of political renewal at local level, giving people responsibility for their own communities.
    Following the agreed principle of decentralisation, considerable power was devolved to the regions, the German Länder, Schleswig-Holstein, Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia and the city of Hamburg. Only those functions of government which could not be performed regionally, such as central economic planning or managing the transport infrastructure, were retained at zonal level under Military Government control, pending agreement between the Allies on the future governmental structure for Germany as a whole.
    At first, Ingrams tried to introduce a British model of democracy in Germany. He attempted to impose British practices, such as the ‘first past the post’ method of voting in elections, and the appointment of unpaid and non-executive chairmen of local city councils, to replace the German Bürgermeister or elected city mayors. These attempts were generally unsuccessful. Leading German members of the newly formed democratic political parties argued that there had been a strong tradition of local democracy in Germany before the Nazi seizure of power, and it was wrong to impose an ‘alien’ British system. They were supported by German exiles in London, and by John Hynd, the Minister for Germany, who had close links with some of the exiles.
    When discussing future political structures, both sides agreed on many key principles – that individuals should be safeguarded against excessive demands from an authoritarian government, and that the electoral system should be designed to promote stable government with an effective but loyal opposition, and discourage extreme political parties. In many cases, the outcome was a compromise, containing elements of both the British and pre-Nazi German systems. The electoral system eventually adopted in Germany and still used today, for example, is an elaborate compromise between proportional representation – choosing multiple candidates from a party list – and the British ‘first past the post’ electoral system.

  • Malcolm
    I was being deliberately obtuse at that point. Obviously, I’m comparing it with Germany. England is also smaller than Florida. It covers about half of the land mass of the UK, 54%. Also I do not think English exceptionalism is any more “a thing” than French, Italian, Spanish or anywhere else’s view of its cultural faults and virtues. I do not think England is superior or any such thing. I mainly don’t think being European is so geographically and culturally exceptional that we owe it to the world to form some sort of Pan-European super-identity. As I’ve said many times I would happily haul Britain off the world stage, take a back seat in the UN, would vote for Scottish independence if I was Scottish and so on. I generally rather than specifically believe in the concept of independent nation states. I think the break up of all the European empires was a good thing and don’t see it as any kind of cultural decline.

  • Nonconformistradical 17th Dec '18 - 7:53am

    “England was unified in 927EC”

    Oh please!!!

    It doesn’t feel very unified to me. What about the Cornish independence movement?

    If England was genuinely unified there would not be the glaring disparities we see between different parts of England – e.g. with London hogging resources and opportunities and exporting its social housing problems to places like Hastings etc.

    England is unified in name only.

  • Nonconformistliberal
    Well it was unified in 927EC. Devolving it would only exasperate the disparity . And it’s not like all of London is equally wealthy. It actually contains some of the most deprived areas in the country. The Grenfell Tower scandal springs to mind. London is not the Utopian cosmopolitan paradise it’s sometimes made out to be. I love the place, but seriously stop trying to oversell it.

  • Why does the North require devolution?
    How many Pacer trains do you see around London?
    A straightforward example of decisions being made a long way from those affected.

  • John Marriott 17th Dec '18 - 9:13am

    What’s all this ‘EC’ stuff? What’s wrong with good old AD and BC, or have I missed something?

    There’s one thing, ‘Glenn’, there are clearly certain aspects of life where size DOES matter! Lord Greaves has certainly started something here.

  • @innocentbystander
    The IPPR figures for 2016 showed that London received £1940 per head expenditure on transport while Yorkshire and the Humber received £190 per head. Next year’s additional injection into just Crossrail in London is more than half what Yorkshire and Humber got in 2016/7 for EVERYTHING.
    And you think the South subsidises the North.
    Yes there needs to be a new Barnet formula and the North needs to get its fair share. If devolution is the only way to do it then so be it.

  • Daniel Walker 17th Dec '18 - 9:23am

    @John Marriott “What’s all this ‘EC’ stuff? What’s wrong with good old AD and BC, or have I missed something?”

    Typo for CE, meaning Common Era. I expect.

  • nvelope2003 17th Dec '18 - 9:42am

    Empires and great power status were achieved by states which had relatively small land areas. Venice, Portugal, The Dutch Republic and of course Great Britain spring to mind. Land area only matters where wealth depends on agriculture which is apparently what Hitler believed (Lebensraum or living space) The Germans have concentrated on their industries and it appears that rural Germany is losing its population despite efforts to get immigrants to live there.

    Britain might look small on a map but its status depends on the skills and character of its people. One of the problems with devolution and local government is attracting suitable people to work in it when even Westminster seems to be unable to do so.

  • John
    As I said I’m part Jewish, I’m atheist and I don’t do the essentially Catholic BC/AD thing. A conscious choice, rather than an affectation.

  • Peter Martin 17th Dec '18 - 10:10am

    @ JoeB,

    “Home rule has to mean just that – it must include tax-raising powers.”

    Tax raising powers are a necessary condition for genuine ‘home rule’ but they aren’t a sufficient condition.

    The Italian government has the power to raise taxes, but at the same time this isn’t a sufficient condition for true ‘independence’ if the EU commission is calling the shots on just what level of spending is allowed. They, instead, have ‘home rule’. Whatever that means.

    Terms like ‘home rule’ can be misleading and even meaningless. Italy is either an independent country or it isn’t. The EU is saying it isn’t.

    The devolved Scottish government is in a similar position with regards to its spending plans. It runs a deficit much larger than Italy’s at around 9% of GDP. True, the UK government seems happy enough with that. For now. Any so called ‘regional government’ will be in the same position. They could vote for more spending on the NHS, or whatever, but if the UK govt pulled the plug, and said no, they would have to toe the line.

    It is better not to create these kinds of artificial divisions by adding unnecessary tiers of government and creating additional borders and boundaries within what should be one democratically accountable government area.

  • Peter Martin 17th Dec '18 - 11:52am

    @ JoeB,

    “When most taxes are collected regionally, the need for regional distribution goes away.”

    No it doesn’t. Taxes collected by the euro using countries can be described in this way. At the same time there is grossly insufficient regional distribution of taxes. This is why it doesn’t work very well. The Germans have more euros than they can spend without creating inflation. Many other other countries have far less than they need to ensure the correct functioning of their economies.

    “There are more people living in relative poverty in London then the entire population of Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and Newcastle combined exacerbated by unaffordable rents and housing costs.”

    I haven’t checked the veracity of this statement but it’s very likely that if everyone tries to crowd into one corner of the country that there will be problems of the kind you describe. These problems can be easily seen in Kensington, for example, and they don’t exist because of a shortage of money in the local economy. Whereas problems of poverty and unemployment in the more regional areas definitely do.

    So regional equalisation is necessary but and it isn’t going to solve all problems. No single economic policy can do that. Not even a Land Value Tax!

    That’s why we have to have the right politics too.

  • @Glenn – As I said I’m part Jewish, I’m atheist and I don’t do the essentially Catholic BC/AD thing.
    Calendars and Clocks, we forget just how arbitrary our chosen systems are; however, without the modern atomic clock based Gregorian calendar and Greenwich time, much of the modern world would not work so smoothly.

    You are however correct, we forget that ‘England’ only really became a united kingdom when the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms were united by Æthelstan in 927 CE/AD.

    I also agree that pandering to the modern independence movements only exasperate the disparity we see both in the (united) England and in the United Kingdom. I’m sure there is a lesson about the UK in Europe and the EU here…

  • Peter Martin 17th Dec '18 - 1:28pm

    @ Roland,

    Yes we do depend on Atomic clocks, for example – accurate GPS navigation, but these would work just as well without the Gregorian calendar or GMT. We can define whatever calendar we like.

    The question of independence is really quite simple and it is connected with the currency used by any particular country. Iceland is a small country of 300k people which works reasonably well. They have their own króna which is entirely under their own control.

    So Icelanders are truly independent in a way that Italy, Greece, France, and all the rest of the euro using countries are not.

    If Scottish people want their own independence, ( and there are pros and cons) they have to have their own currency. They aren’t going to get it by hanging on to the pound or, even worse, subjecting themselves to the euro. This should be the SNP policy. If Iceland can do it so can the Scots.

    The ability to issue a currency and levy taxes in that currency gives a Nation State enormous advantages to any other form of government. It is important is under strong democratic control. This is where the EU goes wrong big time!

  • @Peter Martin

    Of course part of the problem with GPS is that it is a different time due to relativity on a satellite than it is here on Earth and has to be corrected for. I heard recently that when the developing the first GPS, the American military refused to believe the scientists on this and as consequence their GPS was soon out by several hundred metres.

    It is rumoured, as they don’t trust experts, that the ERG is going to adopt the same approach, gradually taking Britain back to the 19th Century. But I couldn’t possibly comment!

  • Reorganising local and/or regional devolved government is a time consuming complicated business, and often involves heavy transitional costs. I remembering campaigning for a Yorkshire parliament back in the sixties… well before the 1974 reorganisation.

    I’m now of the view that an immediate restoration of all the local government cuts post 2010 ought to be the priority….. with an emphasis on social care, new additional public sector housing, relieving poverty and homelessness….. ought to be given a higher priority than anything else using the existing local government system.

    Anything else is shifting the deckchairs round on the Titanic. I well remember chatting with the late Douglas Houghton MP about devolution back in 1969. His comment ‘money makes the mare to go’ has stayed with me.

  • Peter Hirst 17th Dec '18 - 3:18pm

    I agree devolution using Wales and Scotland as our blueprints is the way forward. Whether it is the northern power house or the north west region should be put to the popular vote. Whichever it is, the powers should also be decided by the electorate. Let’s improve on our present devolution.

  • Peter Martin 17th Dec '18 - 4:01pm

    @ Michael1,

    You are quite right about the relativity ‘problem’. It’s not really a problem though. The raw data from the satellite just needs to be adjusted for Relativistic effects as Physicists correctly predicted and everything works fine.

    As a Physicist myself I might just point out that time travel to the 19th century is not considered possible. At least that is the consensus of opinion 🙂

    Physicists do have the advantage over Economists in that there is nearly always a consensus. We don’t form separate schools of thought according to political opinion. The one that is correct, IMO, on the economics of the EU considers that it is a seriously flawed project due to the introduction of the euro and the UK is better off out of it!

  • @Peter Martin

    “As a Physicist myself I might just point out that time travel to the 19th century is not considered possible. At least that is the consensus of opinion ”

    I don’t think anyone has let Rees-Mogg know 🙂 !

    BTW for an interesting article that time travel from a Physics professor might be possible see

    First get your object with infinite density – otherwise known as a Rees-Mogg!


    “Physicists do have the advantage over Economists in that there is nearly always a consensus.”

    Well – I am not sure there is a consensus on interpretations of quantum mechanics.

    AIUI we know that physics as described at the moment is wrong as it doesn’t at the moment integrate gravity and quantum physics. And the most popular theory requires some 11 dimensions despite us only experiencing 4 (space and time) – and no-one has yet found the extra 7 dimensions.

    Of course physics has the advantage of multiple controlled repeated and repeatable experiments – not available to economists.

    Oh well – so much for experts. Lets go back to the 19th Century – everything was so much simpler then – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

  • David Evans 17th Dec '18 - 5:21pm

    Actually Peter Martin, scientists are as liable to form separate schools of thought according to political opinion as any other, it’s just that it is scientific political opinion, not economic political opinion. Usually manifests itself in the hounding of a holder of new or different “heretical” views. You only need to look at how they treated Eric Laithwaite to realise how an intellectual lynch mob works.

  • nvelope2003 17th Dec '18 - 5:39pm

    David Evans: Sounds very much like Liberal Democrat Voice

  • Peter Martin 17th Dec '18 - 6:14pm

    @ Michael1 @ David Evans

    I didn’t say there was always unanimity. There has always been some disagreements -like there was in the well known Steady State/Big Bang controversy. There is an agreement on Quantum Mechanics insofar as everyone accepts that what works well mathematically leads to some pretty disturbing philosophical implications. There’s a feeling that something must be wrong somewhere but no-one can quite pin down what it is. And there’s always a few Mavericks like Eric Laithwaite who had some odd ideas about insects as well as some good ones about electrical motors. Physicists know their subject is a Work in Progress and they don’t have all the answers.

    But generally speaking we don’t have the competing ‘schools of thought’ in any scientific discipline as we see in Economics. There’s the Keynesians, the neo Keynesians, Chicago school, the neoclassicals etc etc

    And no, we can’t always do controlled experiments in the sciences, as the Climate change deniers never tire of pointing out!

  • @Peter Martin

    This is a slightly off topic sub-thread and apologies for starting it with a light-hearted comment but does raise some important issues around “experts” and economics. I would both agree with yourself, myself and @David Evans

    Clearly physics theories make predictions that have proved to be extremely accurate. And we all rely on those theories every day. Clearly if I have an “ideological” belief in the Earth being flat that is difficult to reconcile with the observable data. Or indeed that time is a universal constant. And indeed more than that things flow from the mathematics of the theories etc. which is further confirmation.

    But I think it fair to say that there are ideologies and “political” with small p beliefs within physics. Clear the view physicists take on the interpretation of quantum mechanics stems partly from their “ideological” belief in how the universe “must” operate. And there are many unresolved questions in physics which ultimately people will have to take a view on. And there is I would suggest quite a lot of internal politics and factions etc. in all sciences. And in all sciences quite a lot of “competing schools of thought” at the forefront of the discipline.

    I would suggest also there is quite a lot of accepted theory among all economists on how economies operate. And you remind us, @Peter Martin, from time to time of the equations and relationships that “must” operate – although again what they mean is open for debate. Obviously economics is Political with a big P as it involves the allocation of resources which is intensely political. And unfortunately one can’t do thousands of experiments on whether a country is better inside or outside the EU, with the euro or with the pound. However that said I would go along with the majority consensus as I would with physicists, doctors and climate scientists. AND try and investigate what they are saying for myself. AND try and challenge my confirmation bias.

  • Suzanne Fletcher 17th Dec '18 - 9:59pm

    yes, strongly agree with thrust of this, and we need a people’s convention for N of England to push for devolution. need to define North, which I assume is NE, NW and Yorkshire.
    disagree that Local Enterprise Partnerships have not been noticed. It has here in Tees Valley, and doing a lot of good things. Not democratic, but noticed and doing. rest of NE falling out about where boundaries would be.
    In the campaign for a NE Regional Assembly we did set up a convention though, did work to get people on side. from surveys in Focus ( great support) , town centre Saturdays ( great support), BUT the big problems started when what are now / was UKIP lot started campaigning and were backed by ignorant media. They just undermined everything and it was like being swept out on a strong tide.
    that great white elephant was a splendid PR stunt by the opposition.
    I was part of the NE Regional Assembly (appointed by councils so not properly democratic of course, and that is what devolution would have replaced). people complained afterwards that it was still there and was undemocratic when the referendum was lost.
    1. media must be fully on board
    2. don’t do by referendum

  • @Peter Martin
    Yes we do depend on Atomic clocks, for example – accurate GPS navigation, but these would work just as well without the Gregorian calendar or GMT. We can define whatever calendar we like.

    Precisely, however, without an (internationally) agreed and understood calendar (including year 1) and time system (with it’s geographic reference point) those atomic clocks become much less useful. Given how our calendar and time system has been built up over thousands of years it has naturally accreted bits from several civilisations and religions, not just the Roman church.

  • Peter Martin,

    surely Physics and economics are just different ways of interpreting the world around us.
    In Physics, Schrödinger’s cat illustrates what he saw as the problem of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics applied to everyday objects. The scenario presents a cat that may be simultaneously both alive and dead – a state known as a quantum superposition, as a result of being linked to a random subatomic event that may or may not occur.
    In economics and finance, a dead cat bounce is a small, brief recovery from a recession following the bursting of a bubble or in the price of a declining stock, based around the idea that “even a dead cat will bounce if it falls from a great height.
    In the first quantum case the cat is simultaneously dead and alive and in the second case although definitely dead can seemingly spring back to life for short period of time before falling dead again.

  • @petermartin

    “The devolved Scottish government is in a similar position with regards to its spending plans. It runs a deficit much larger than Italy’s at around 9% of GDP. True, the UK government seems happy enough with that.”

    Actually, it doesn’t: that figure is for entire Government spending in Scotland – UK and Scottish Government combined. The UK Government is responsible for just under half of Government expenditure in Scotland and for about half of the taxation raised.

    It’s amusing to watch Lib Dems debating “home rule” in England when the devolution settlement in Scotland is under attack and Brexit has revealed the complete lie at the heart of UK devolution policy!

  • When Sturgeon debated with Cameron (back in GE debates) one pundit suggested part of the reason she did so well was that Cameron didn’t know enough about the SNP’s record in Scotland to counter-punch. We now have a situation where it’s abundantly clear that many Westminster Tories don’t know enough about NI in order to manage Brexit, and the only time Wales gets mentioned at Westminster is when May wants to criticise Labour’s NHS record or when they announce (yet again) that investment into Wales isn’t going to happen.

    Too many in the UK already mistake the UK for England (see the “that’s devolved twitter site for numerous more examples) and your aim to make it even more anglo-centric? Why not have an email representation UK parliament and then devolved national parliament’s below this? The English government could sit in the Midlands/north and spread out power, investment better than current model, and could use need to revamp Westminster as a starting place for new system.

  • Peter Martin 19th Dec '18 - 2:59pm

    @ Hireton,

    It doesn’t matter how you dice it up. The Scottish deficit is 8%. The 9% figure was from memory and a previuos year.

  • Declan Stones 19th Dec '18 - 11:20pm

    I think Lord Greaves is spot on, but as someone from the South West, we need our own Assembly and Federalised powers. People too often tie the South West with the same brush as the South East and London which is not true, areas like Poole, Plymouth and parts of Southern Cornwall have the same problems as parts of the North. Admittedly there are nicer parts of the south-west on par with the South East/London (Exeter, Bristol ect.), but it is clear we need a solution in the region as well.

  • Ah, devolution and federalism again. This party has consistently failed to tackle this, and did so spectacularly yet with the shambolic Paper 130 at Autumn Conference which dedicated fewer than 400 words to the subject of English regional devolution. And several speakers defending the paper wholly misrepresented my attempted amendment to it. I still don’t know whether this was down to lack of comprehension skills or willful intransigence because FPC want to keep kicking the can down the road.

    Yes, England is the elephant in the room and until we have a rational and comprehensive plan for regional devolution and a system that works in its own right but is also design to facilitate a proper federal arrangement for the UK, we’re on a hiding to nowhere.

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