As Manchester enters their third month of harsher restrictions, Northern ministers are left asking why it is only now that new support has been proposed for businesses suffering due to the new lockdown rules.
Since the Brexit result in 2016, it has been unmistakable that the centralised, London-based system of government in the U.K is creating disillusionment with politics in the rest of the country. This sentiment has become even more palpable in the recent months since the start of the pandemic, as the government in Westminster have struggled to maintain positive relations with local councils and their leaders.
In the last few days, discussions in Manchester have once again highlighted the intensifying North/South divide and the failure of the government to rectify it. Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, said many of Rishi Sunak’s latest initiatives were exactly what he asked the government for when talks broke down. It is also worth noting that additional support was only offered when London moved into Tier Two last Saturday, rather than when household mixing was banned on 31st July in Manchester and other regions of the country. Anneliese Dodds, the Shadow Chancellor, suggested Sunak only paid attention to the issues created by the restrictions when it started to effect London and the Conservative-run West Midlands region, saying “The chancellor has only caught up and listened to the anxiety of workers and businesses when it looks like these restrictions will be affecting London and the West Midlands.”
This government failing to address the concerns of Northern England was worryingly encapsulated on a Microsoft Teams call last week. When council leaders sat down with the Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick on Monday, they realised that they literally could not be heard. One senior figure said that upon entering the call “nobody could unmute themselves” and it was only possible to address the meeting when “the government let you speak.” When ministers unexpectedly ended the call later, Stockport and Salford’s council chiefs had yet to say anything and so their concerns were not properly taken into account by the government. This less than subtle metaphor is another proof of the blatant disregard for areas that lie outside of the capital and how out of touch many Westminster officials are when it comes to this issue.
Throughout the pandemic, the other U.K nations have taken matters into their own hands when it comes to controlling the virus. Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has continually instigated harsher measures than those decided by Westminster. Both Wales and Northern Ireland have followed suit, with all three nations now entering a short ‘circuit-break’ lockdown for the next two weeks.
Although Scotland voted narrowly to remain in the United Kingdom in 2014, post-Brexit polls suggest that there is now a majority mandate for Scottish independence. With this information in mind, the government would do well to remember the importance of addressing the concerns of the nations equally and should take the pandemic as an opportunity to eliminate concerns of a North/South divide before it is too late.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons