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Anti-devolution Tories heading for ‘defeat and marginalisation’ Telegraph columnist warns

06 Feb 2021 3 minutes Read
Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Picture by Chatham House (CC BY 2.0)

The Conservatives are heading for “defeat and marginalisation” if they become an anti-devolution party, a prominent Telegraph columnist has warned.

Eliot Wilson, a former Westminster clerk, said that Tories must admit that the UK is a “remarkably unbalanced polity” and shift the economic levers of power out of Whitehall and to the nations and regions.

In the article, he refers to Boris Johnson’s comments at a meeting of MPs that devolution was “a disaster” and Tony Blair’s “biggest mistake”.

“It matters hardly at all whether Boris Johnson was right,” Eliot Wilson writes. “The fact is that devolution has been part of the UK’s constitutional landscape for 20 years, and, for all but the crustiest of old-school Tories, it is here to stay. There is as little sense in regretting it as in a sea captain regretting the weather.

“If the Conservative Party continues to be a grudging participant in the devolved assemblies, and if it mentally writes off the London mayoralty as well, it will create a self-fulfilling prophecy of defeat and marginalisation. It will become the party of the English towns and shires, with only a distant cousin or two on the Celtic fringes. But it doesn’t have to be this way.”

‘Dynamic’

Instead of becoming a devo-sceptic party the Conservatives should “embrace the possibilities of devolution wholeheartedly, and must go further,” he writes.

“If they are clever, and joined-up, they will anchor a new love for local autonomy to their professed desire for ‘levelling-up’, and present themselves as the party of opportunity, competition and diversity, in all its forms,” Eliot Wilson said.

“The UK is a remarkably unbalanced polity. There is London, and there is everywhere else. This will never be reversed, but the balance can be shifted by the creation of powerful city and region bosses who have control over the economic levers of their domains, and by the acceptance of loss of direct control by Whitehall.

“Our great cities—Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Belfast—should be dynamic economic centres where wealth creation can be channelled into the most fertile areas: financial services in Edinburgh, the creative industries in Manchester, manufacturing in Birmingham.

“But if Johnson wants a legacy, imagine the one he could have: a UK in which power was devolved to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, with strong Conservative representation in the first two.”

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