Do Britain’s city leaders have enough say in foreign policy?

Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike annouces the name of new political party 'Kibo no To (Party of Hope),' during a press conference in Tokyo last month. Image: Getty.

Speculation has rippled across the world over whether or not Yoriko Koike will contest the upcoming General Election against Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on 22 October.

Whether Koike’s newly-launched Party of Hope is the winning ticket for Japan’s next Prime Minister, the governor of Tokyo has enjoyed the international spotlight. Cities have always set the pace for the future of work, trade and commerce; but Yoriko Koike has ensured that foreign policy and diplomatic affairs are increasingly taking place on a city level now, too.

It is worth noting that the governor of Tokyo, mayor Bill de Blasio of New York, Anne Hildago of Paris and many other city leaders across the world have greater executive powers than city leaders in the UK, and command much more influence throughout the world – both commercially and in terms of international relations.

Foreign policy in the UK is a matter for central Government. Our new metro mayors need to engage much more directly with the UK’s strategic allies and trading partners – and to do this they need to have a greater say over shaping foreign policy.

Britain can’t afford to wait. Paralysis is gripping Whitehall and Westminster, with no majority Government in the House of Commons and the civil service machine sequestered to process the paperwork produced by Brexit.

Manchester and Birmingham are global cities. Foreign direct investment into the regions, in particular the North West, has grown at a higher rate than in London, according to EY analysis published earlier this year.

If our global cities are going to continue this trend against the headwinds of Brexit they need to have the right representation overseas, leading from the front in trade delegations.

India, for example, is proud of its investment in high-tech manufacturing in the West Midlands. And the region’s mayor Andy Street is a former managing director of John Lewis, where an Indian sourcing office comprises a large part of the business’ operations. His role will demand much more engagement with India from him.

Likewise, Manchester’s Chinatown is the third largest in Europe; does Andy Burnham wish to let the Chancellor set the pace of bilateral talks between the Northern Powerhouse and China on his behalf?

Now that we have metro mayors, it is time to use them to offer fairer support for representatives of different political parties on trade missions. The Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Department for International Trade should shed their institutional reticence and wariness of supporting initiatives of those representing other political persuasions.

Nothing changes until something changes. A post-Brexit Britain needs to be flexible and adaptive and question the way things are done.

A new, global Britain should take advantage of diaspora communities and their strength’s in facilitating UK-international relations. The influence that urban diaspora communities have overseas is going to be essential as public servants and government representatives chew over Brexit.

Like the West Midlands, London has a healthy representation from the South Asian diaspora. And with a South Asian mayor and deputy mayor, work is already being done to develop those ties with India and Pakistan.

Sometimes, only policies implemented at a local or regional level will enable the right kind of dialogue with international allies.

Take international student policy. There are over 400,000 international students in the UK, and we have Russell Group universities in every region in the UK. International students are a vital part of our trading terms with partners like India and one of the UK’s greatest forms of influence and soft power in the world.

By loosening restrictions on student mobility, the UK could attract double the number of Indian students we currently have, helping India to boost its skill base and bringing investment into some of the UK’s struggling regions. In 2010, when two-year post-study work visas were still available, numbers of Indian students in the UK were over 39,000; by 2014, they had fallen to 19,750.

Cities like Sheffield, where Oxford Economics found in 2013 that international students add about 14 per cent to the city’s annual income, would reap enormous economic rewards from encouraging international students to stay and work for businesses in the city after they graduate.

The same economic case was put forward by the last chancellor, George Osborne, to devolve business rates to councils and to strike devolution deals with city region jurisdictions. Why can’t it apply to post-study working visas too? 

Now is the time to reinvent the role of major cities in international politics – particularly in the UK, where urban economies and their international communities can compensate for Whitehall’s diminishing power.

Back in Tokyo, Yoriko Koike still has a mission to ensure the 2020 Olympic Games are a success, placing Tokyo at the heart of international ceremony. Tokyo’s challenge is to build on the city’s symbolic role on the global stage, harnessing its influence to tackle challenges such as the ageing demographics of the city and its need to bring in greater R&D investment.

Manoj Ladwa is an entrepreneur and the editor of a new study of the UK and India’s partnership, “Winning Partnership: India-UK Relations Beyond Brexit”.


Barnet council has decided a name for its new mainline station. Exciting!

Artist's impression of the new Brent Cross. Image: Hammerson.

I’ve ranted before about the horror of naming stations after the lines that they’re served by (screw you, City Thameslink). So, keeping things in perspective as ever, I’ve been quietly dreading the opening of the proposed new station in north London which has been going by the name of Brent Cross Thameslink.

I’ve been cheered, then, by the news that station wouldn’t be called that at all, but will instead go by the much better name Brent Cross West. It’s hardly the cancellation of Brexit, I’ll grant, but in 2017 I’ll take my relief wherever I can find it.

Some background on this. When the Brent Cross shopping centre opened besides the A406 North Circular Road in 1976, it was only the third large shopping mall to arrive in Britain, and the first in London. (The Elephant & Castle one was earlier, but smaller.) Four decades later, though, it’s decidedly titchy compared to newer, shinier malls such as those thrown up by Westfield – so for some years now, its owners, Hammerson, have wanted to extend the place.

That, through the vagaries of the planning process, got folded into a much bigger regeneration scheme, known as Brent Cross Cricklewood (because, basically, it extends that far). A new bigger shopping centre will be connected, via a green bridge over the A406, to another site to the south. There you’ll find a whole new town centre, 200 more shops, four parks, 4m square feet of offices space and 7,500 homes.

This is all obviously tremendously exciting, if you’re into shops and homes and offices and not into depressing, car-based industrial wastelands, which is what the area largely consists of at the moment.

The Brent Cross site. Image: Google.

One element of the new development is the new station, which’ll sit between Hendon and Cricklewood on the Thameslink route. New stations are almost as exciting as new shops/homes/offices, so on balance I'm pro.

What I’ve not been pro is the name. For a long time, the proposed station has been colloquially referred to as Brent Cross Thameslink, which annoys me for two reasons:

1) Route names make rubbish modifiers because what if the route name changes? And:

2) It’s confusing, because it’s nearly a mile from Brent Cross tube station. West Hampstead Thameslink (euch), by contrast, is right next to West Hampstead tube.

Various other names have been proposed for the station. In one newsletter, it was Brent Cross Parkway; on Wikipedia, it’s currently Brent Cross South, apparently through confusion about the name of the new town centre development.

This week, though, Barnet council quietly confirmed it’d be Brent Cross West:

Whilst the marketing and branding of BXS needs to be developed further, all parties agree that the station name should build upon the Brent Cross identity already established. Given the station is located to the west of Brent Cross, it is considered that the station should be named Brent Cross West. Network Rail have confirmed that this name is acceptable for operational purposes. Consequently, the Committee is asked to approve that the new station be named Brent Cross West.

Where the new station will appear on the map, marked by a silly red arrow. Image: TfL.

That will introduce another irritating anomaly to the map, giving the impression that the existing Brent Cross station is somehow more central than the new one, when in fact they’re either side of the development. And so:

Consideration has also been given as to whether to pursue a name change for the tube station from “Brent Cross” to “Brent Cross East”.

Which would sort of make sense, wouldn’t it? But alas:

However owing to the very high cost of changing maps and signage London-wide this is not currently being pursued.

This is probably for the best. Only a handful of tube stations have been renamed since 1950: the last was Shepherd’s Bush Market, which was until 2008 was simply Shepherd's Bush, despite being quite a long way from the Shepherd's Bush station on the Central line. That, to me, suggests that one of the two Bethnal Green stations might be a more plausible candidate for an early rename.

At any rate: it seems unlikely that TfL will be renaming its Brent Cross station to encourage more people to use the new national rail one any time soon. But at least it won’t be Brent Cross Thameslink.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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