A London borough just voted to leave the European Union

"This'll put us on the map". Image: Google.

The further you go from a city, the less a part of the place its fringes are likely to feel. Throw in a strong existing identity and mediocre transport links, and you can end up with residential suburbs that don't look or feel anything like the city proper.

So it is that London is generally an open-minded, multicultural sort of a place, but its eastern-most borough just voted to leave the European Union:

London (AFP) - A local council in London became the first in Britain to endorse leaving the European Union in a vote.

Havering Council in east London voted by 30 to 15 in favour of a motion tabled by a councillor from the eurosceptic UK Independence Party (UKIP), led by Nigel Farage.

Havering, for those who haven't had the pleasure, is the chevron-shaped borough clinging to the inside of the M25 where London turns into Essex. Its biggest town is Romford; it's also where the District line ends up if you stay on it for so long that you can no longer remember not being on there.

But despite having been part of London for 51 years now, the area still identifies with Essex at least as much as the city. It's also London's whitest borough (83 per cent white British at the time of the last census, compared to 45 per cent in the city as a whole).

Correlation is not causation, but in the 2014 election UKIP got 28 per cent of the vote and seven of the 54 seats on the local council. It came second only to the Tories in terms of votes (22 seats on 28 per cent), but was pushed into third place by the Hornchurch Residents Association who got 10 seats out of 10 per cent of the vote. It’s not a hotbed of radical thought, is the point here.

And now it’s seceding from the European Union.

"It is a fantastic result," said the UKIP councillor, Lawrence Webb. "We as local councillors have to make decisions on rules and regulations that come out of the EU. They have a direct impact on local services."

Actually, of course, it's doing no such thing. British local authorities are among the weakest in the world. They barely have the power to build their own transport links or raise their own taxes; they're not about to start their own foreign policy.

Nonetheless, the councillors in a borough of one of Britain's most Europe-friendly cities just registered their desire to leave the European Union by a factor of two to one.

If the UK as a whole votes to leave the European Union, it's widely believed that it could trigger a second independence referendum in a Scotland determined to stay in. If the UK votes to stay in, it's not inevitable that the London Borough of Havering could vote to secede, Passport to Pimlico style. But can say for sure that it wouldn’t? Can we be truly certain?

Yes, we can.

This was a silly vote.


Budget 2017: Philip Hammond just showed that rejecting metro mayors was a terrible, terrible error

Sorry, Leeds, nothing here for you: Philip Hammond and his big red box. Image: Getty.

There were some in England’s cities, one sensed, who breathed a sigh of relief when George Osborne left the Treasury. Not only was he the architect of austerity, a policy which had seen council budgets slashed as never before: he’d also refused to countenance any serious devolution to city regions that refused to have a mayor, an innovation that several remained dead-set against.

So his political demise after the Brexit referendum was seen, in some quarters, as A Good Thing for devolution. The new regime, it was hoped, would be amenable to a variety of governance structures more sensitive to particular local needs.

Well, that theory just went out of the window. In his Budget statement today, in between producing some of the worst growth forecasts that anyone can remember and failing to solve the housing crisis, chancellor Philip Hammond outlined some of the things he was planning for Britain’s cities.

And, intentionally or otherwise, he made it very clear that it was those areas which had accepted Osborne’s terms which were going to win out. 

The big new announcement was a £1.7bn “Transforming Cities Fund”, which will

“target projects which drive productivity by improving connectivity, reducing congestion and utilising new mobility services and technology”.

To translate this into English, this is cash for better public transport.

And half of this money will go straight to the six city regions which last May elected their first metro mayor elections. The money is being allocated on a per capita basis which, in descending order of generosity, means:

  • £250m to West Midlands
  • £243 to Greater Manchester
  • £134 to Liverpool City Region
  • £80m to West of England
  • £74m to Cambridgeshire &d Peterborough
  • £59m to Tees Valley

That’s £840m accounted for. The rest will be available to other cities – but the difference is, they’ll have to bid for it.

So the Tees Valley, which accepted Osborne’s terms, will automatically get a chunk of cash to improve their transport system. Leeds, which didn’t, still has to go begging.

One city which doesn’t have to go begging is Newcastle. Hammond promised to replace the 40 year old trains on the Tyne & Wear metro at a cost of £337m. In what may or may not be a coincidence, he also confirmed a new devolution deal with the “North of Tyne” region (Newcastle, North Tyne, Northumberland). This is a faintly ridiculous geography for such a deal, since it excludes Sunderland and, worse, Gateshead, which is, to most intents and purposes, simply the southern bit of Newcastle. But it’s a start, and will bring £600m more investment to the region. A new mayor will be elected in 2018.

Hammond’s speech contained other goodies for cites too, of course. Here’s a quick rundown:

  • £123m for the regeneration of the Redcar Steelworks site: that looks like a sop to Ben Houchen, the Tory who unexpectedly won the Tees Valley mayoral election last May;
  • A second devolution deal for the West Midlands: tat includes more money for skills and housing (though the sums are dwarfed by the aforementioned transport money);
  • A new local industrial strategy for Greater Manchester, as well as exploring “options for the future beyond the Fund, including land value capture”;
  • £300m for rail improvements tied into HS2, which “will enable faster services between Liverpool and Manchester, Sheffeld, Leeds and York, as well as to Leicester and other places in the East Midlands and London”.

Hammond also made a few promises to cities beyond England: opening negotiations for a Belfast City Deal, and pointing to progress on city deals in Dundee and Stirling.

A city that doesn’t get any big promises out of this budget is – atypically – London. Hammond promised to “continue to work with TfL on the funding and financing of Crossrail 2”, but that’s a long way from promising to pay for it. He did mention plans to pilot 100 per cent business rate retention in the capital next year, however – which, given the value of property in London, is potentially quite a big deal.

So at least that’s something. And London, as has often been noted, has done very well for itself in most budgets down the year.

Many of the other big regional cities haven’t. Yet Leeds, Sheffield, Nottingham and Derby were all notable for their absence, both from Hammond’s speech and from the Treasury documents accompanying it.

And not one of them has a devolution deal or a metro mayor.

(If you came here looking for my thoughts on the housing element of the budget speech, then you can find them over at the New Statesman. Short version: oh, god.)

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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