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Levelling up is not just about economics

June 6, 2021 10:23 PM
By Bryan Lewis

The current balance of powers within the UK revolves around Westminster with its centralising culture exacerbated by the First Past the Post voting system. Governments get unfettered power with a minority of the vote and there is little incentive to form consensus and collaborate with others. The May 2021 elections brought into sharp relief not only the role of the devolved governments, but also those of metro mayors and local leaders as important players in UK territorial politics.

Despite devolution, centralisation and disinclination to share power continue to act as a barrier to meaningful and long-term collaboration. Rather than improving over the years as devolution became embedded, the central state's approach has been to try to strengthen its influence in the devolved areas.

Successive governments' approach to devolution has been to 'devolve and forget' - without setting out a clear, long-term and comprehensive constitutional vision.

Reform of the culture of the British state and the need to adapt to the new constitutional landscape are urgent as both the Brexit and pandemic experiences have highlighted.

Moving to a proportional voting system would tackle Westminster's over-centralisation. An elected second chamber would strengthen the UK's governance and could help in recognising that the UK is no longer a pre-devolution unitary state. In addition, a new style second chamber could serve as a forum in which issues of the four nations politics could be raised and discussed.

Powers should be dispersed more widely across and within the constituent parts of the UK, especially within England, and brought as close as possible to people and communities allowing for local policy-making and citizen involvement through deliberative democratic processes.

The Johnson Government talks of economic levelling up but is blind to democratic inequality. It's high time they recognised this as the real electoral problem but instead we get plans for compulsory voter ID to deal with very rare voting fraud.