Northern devolution should learn from Wales, not Scotland

Andy Burnham discusses trains with his counterpart in Liverpool, Steve Rotheram. Image: Getty.

Labour's Andy Burnham launched the manifesto for his campaign to become mayor of Greater Manchester this morning. Here, in a piece originally published on the Staggers, he discusses his policy priorities.

Following the recent by-elections, there have been screeds of analysis on where next for Labour in the North. Most if not all of the commentary has missed the big solution staring us in the face

The start of devolution proper in England in two months time presents an unmissable opportunity for Labour to get closer to those communities which feel left behind and to reinvigorate itself in its heartlands. But if that is to happen, we must first fully take on board the lessons from Labour's mixed handling of devolution in the past.

Compare what happened in Wales and Scotland. In the former, Carwyn Jones pioneered a distinctive, patriotic brand of 'red-shirt Labour' dressed in the national rugby colours. In the latter, following the death of Donald Dewar, no high-profile Labour figure arrived to pick up the devolution torch and a large hole was left for others to fill

In England, it is essential that we follow the Welsh example and enthusiastically embrace devolution from the start. People must put aside any lingering cynicism about George Osborne's pet project providing a convenient cover for Tory cuts. While there may be some truth in that, and while I will continue to demand a fair deal for a Greater Manchester, focusing on the negative would be to spurn an historic opportunity for the reinvention of the People's Party.

At the launch of my campaign, I pledged to help Manchester do what it likes doing best and that is to shake up the establishment and do things very differently. To this end, we set the goal of developing a manifesto for Greater Manchester written by its people. Over the last few months, a huge number of events have been held in all parts of Greater Manchester and a large number of policy ideas gathered.

When "Our Manifesto" is published this week, it will unapologetically give birth to a new, distinctive political identity: Northern Labour. It will do this by proposing new solutions on issues that the public here have told us matter greatly to them but which have been long neglected by Westminster.

For instance, it will signal a new drive to raise the status of technical education. When traditional industry left in the 80s and 90s, so did the quality trainee schemes that had provided a ladder for working-class young people. But, sadly, the English education system did not respond to this seismic change. Instead, for decades, national education policy obsessed on the university route and left young people wanting technical skills feeling distinctly second-class.

As Germany knows better than anywhere, you can't build a modern economy on this basis. So our goal will be to provide the same clarity for young people who want technical qualifications as those on the university route by establishing a UCAS-style system for apprenticeships across Greater Manchester.

"Our Manifesto" will confront another issue invisible to Westminster but the scourge of the North: absent private landlords.

Since the late 80s, large parts of many Northern towns have been owned by anonymous speculators. They have rarely, if ever, visited those communities and have no real regard for them.

The rise of the absent private landlord was a product of the collapse of property prices following the collapse of traditional industry and the introduction of Right-to-Buy. These people have been allowed to rake in the Housing Benefit cheques without having to reinvest any of the proceeds in the upkeep of their properties. As a result, they have dragged communities down and damaged the property prices of those around them


While the powers of the mayor are limited in this regard, that won't stop me taking action on this critical issue if I am elected. My intention is to launch a Greater Manchester-wide 'Good Landlords' registration scheme which will set out the basic standards Greater Manchester expects from decent landlords. Those who refuse to join will then be aggressively targeted, including the threat of compulsory purchase. They will be given a simple choice: respect our communities or get out of Greater Manchester.

There is a third disastrous policy that was actively inflicted on the North by Westminster that we will seek to correct: bus deregulation.

When this was introduced by Margaret Thatcher in the mid-1980s, there were claims that the free market would improve services and bring down prices. The reality is the complete opposite. In fact, bus deregulation stands of an exemplar of the failure of Tory ideology. And what makes it all the more galling is that it was an experiment from which London was exempted.

For the last 30 years, the public of Greater Manchester have been badly served by the bus companies and suffered a bus service run in the private rather than public interest. Busy, lucrative routes like Oxford Road see buses of varying standards nose to tail. Other more isolated estates receive no service at all. There is no Oyster scheme because no common standards can be imposed on the operators. Single journeys can cost £3 or more : double the £1.50 cost in London.

The Bus Services Bill, and the power to re-regulate our bus services, was demanded by the council leaders of Greater Manchester as an essential component of any devolution deal. The fact that it is being brought forward by the government represents a real win for the Labour Party and should be celebrated as such. If elected, I will use the new powers it provides to bring down the cost of travel and improve the quality and coverage of services provided.

When people debate Labour's challenge in the North, there is a tendency to over-complicate it. From my point of view, it's not complicated at all. By giving the public better ­answers on bread-and-butter issues like bus services, housing and education, we can win people back.

But new policies are their own are not enough. We have also got to show a willingness to do politics very differently. At present, devolution feels like a top-down, imposed project. Instead, we have got to open it up to a much wider range of voices and allow people to own it and shape it.

One issue that matters greatly to many in Greater Manchester is the rising number of rough sleepers on our streets caused by the government's harsh austerity drive and the cumulative effect of cuts to a range of crucial services. People here have never been ones to walk on by on the other side. They want to do something to help. Devolution will truly fly if it can open up decision-making to a wider group people in decisions and allow them to make a direct difference.

To this end, I am establishing a Homelessness Action Network with the goal of ending rough sleeping in Greater Manchester by 2020 under the leadership of Ivan Lewis MP and Councillor Beth Knowles. Any individual or organisation who wants to contribute to that campaign will be invited to join. It will be supported by a voluntary fund which will I start with a donation from my mayoral salary. Already, typical of people in Greater Manchester, there have been numerous offers to match it.

The power of an initiative like this is that it can show how Greater Manchester can solve problems for ourselves and do politics differently. Rather than the cynicism that the public feel when politicians throw around public money at their own pet priorities, or simply shouting at the government about them, we will show a different and better way of supporting people and helping them off our cold and wet streets.

In this way, Northern Labour will be a powerful, practical force that allows our people to put their values into practice. My hope is that, in time, it will build Greater Manchester into a beacon of social justice, inspiring others with a better way than the Tory way. And that is how, from the rubble of today's political earthquakes, the Labour movement will rise again.

Andy Burnham is the Labour candidate for Manchester mayor.

 
 
 
 

Which pairs of capital cities are the closest together?

Vienna, which is quite close to Bratislava, but not quite close enough. Image: Thomas Ledl

It doesn't take long to get from Paris to Brussels. An hour and a half on a comfortable Thalys train will get you there. 

Which raises an intriguing question, if you like that sort of thing: wich capital cities of neighbouring countries are the closest together? And which are the furthest away? 

There are some that one might think would be quite close, which are actually much further part. 

Buenos Aires, Argentina's capital, sits on one side of the estuary of the Río de la Plata, while Montevideo, Uruguay's capital lies on the other side. 

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

But at 207km apart, they're not really that close at all. 

Similarly, Singapore – capital of, er, Singapore – always sticks in the mind as 'that bit on the end of the Malaysian sticky-out bit'. But it's actually pretty far away from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia's capital. A whole 319km away, in fact:

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

Thinking of 'countries that cause problems by being close together', you inevitably think of South Korea and North Korea. 

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

And while Pyongyang in the North and Seoul in the South are pretty close together, 181km just isn't going to cut it. 

Time to do some Seoul-searching to find the real answer here.

(Sorry.)

(Okay, not that sorry.)

Another place where countries being close together tends to cause problems is the Middle East. Damascus, the capital of Syria, really isn't that far from Beirut, in Lebanon. Just 76km:

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

Seeing as Lebanon is currently host to millions of refugees fleeing the horrors of Syria's never-ending civil war and the atrocities of Daesh, or Isis, this is presumably something that authorities in Beirut have given a certain amount of thought to.

Most of the time, finding nearby capitals is a game of searching out which bits of the world have lots of small countries, and then rooting around. So you'd think Central America would be ripe for close-together capital fun. 

And yet the best option is Guatemala and El Salvador – where the imaginatively named Guatemala City is a whole 179km away from the also imaginatively named San Salvador.  

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

Another obvious place with lots of small-ish countries is Europe – the site of the pair of capitals that drove me to write this nonsense in the first place. 

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

And in fairness, Vienna and Bratislava do make a pretty good showing of it. Austria's capital sits on the Danube; drift downstream, and you swiftly get to Slovakia's capital. As the crow flies, it's 56km – though as the man swims, it's a little longer. 

There are more surprising entries – particularly if you're willing to bend the rules a little bit. Bahrain and Qatar aren't really adjacent in the traditional sense, as they have no land border, but let's just go with it. 

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

Manama, Bahrain's capital, is 140km away from Doha, the centre of the world's thriving local connecting-flight-industry which moonlights as Qatar's capital. 

Sticking with the maritime theme, Port of Spain in Trinidad and Tobago is 152km from St George's, Grenada. 

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

Good, but not good enough. 

Castries, the capital of the Carribbean country of St Lucia, is 102km north of Kingstown, the capital of St Vincent and the Grenadines. 

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

Better, but still not good enough. 

Basseterre, the capital of St Kitts and Nevis, inches ahead at 100km away from St John's, the capital of Antigua and Barbuda.

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

But, enough teasing: it's time to get down to the big beasts.

If you ask Google Maps to tell you the distance between the capital of Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it comes up with a rather suspect 20km. 

 

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

A short distance, but considering the only thing separating the two is the River Congo, something's up: Google places the centre of Brazzaville a little north of where it should be, and the centre of Kinshasa many many miles south of where it should be, in some sort of suburb.


So, in true CityMetric style, we turn to train stations. 

Though such transport hubs may not always perfectly mark the centre of a city – just ask London Oxford Airport or London Paddington – in this case it seems about right. 

Kinshasa's main train station is helpfully called 'Gare Centrale', and is almost slap-bang in the middle of the area Google marks as 'Centre Ville'. On the other side of the river, 'Gare de Brazzaville' is in the middle of lots of densely-packed buildings, and is right next to a Basilica, which is always a good sign. 

 

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

And when marking that distance, you get a more realistic 4.8km. If you want to be really keen, the ferry between them travels 3.99km, and the closest point I could find between actual buildings was 1.74km, though admittedly that's in a more suburban area. 

Pretty close, though. 

But! I can hear the inevitable cries clamouring for an end to this. So, time to give the people what they want. 

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

If you ask Google Maps to tell you how far away the Holy See, capital of the Vatican, is from Rome, capital of Rome, it says 3.5km. 

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

If you set the centre of Rome to be the Palatine Hill, the ancient marking point for roads leading out of Rome, that narrows to 2.6km.

 

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

Fiddle a bit and put the centre of the Vatican as, well, the middle bit of the roughly-circular Vatican, that opens up a smidge to 2.75km.

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

Mark the centre of point of the Vatican as the approximate location of St Peter's Tomb within St Peter's Basilica, which is after all the main reason the Vatican is a thing and not just a quirky suburb of Rome, and 2.67km is your answer. 

Though obviously in practice Rome and the Vatican are as far away as one single step over the railings at the entrance of St Peter's Square, which fairly blatantly makes them the closest capital cities in the world. 

But that would have been a very boring thing to come out and say at the start. 

Oh, and if you hadn't worked it out already, the longest distance between a capital city and the capital of a country it shares a land border with is 6,395km. 

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

I know it's tough for you, Vladimir and Kim. Long-distance relationships are a real struggle sometimes.

I can't make a pun work on either Moscow or Pyongyang here, but readers' submissions more than welcome. 

Jack May is a regular contributor to CityMetric and tweets as @JackO_May.

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook.