I've long described myself in political shorthand as 'democrat and localist'. With Brexit for the past three years, I haven't found much of a chance to pursue the second of those core values - almost every day having been a battle to preserve the first. However, a serendipitous find in the Evening Standard has prompted this post. Under Osborne the paper has become a sort of lifestyle free adsheet with little bits of news squeezed in between the ads. Its editorials were given over to George's vindictive spleen against May for sacking him, but now she's gone (almost) our man with the look of a furtive Onanist is letting normal content slip past him. Such is a piece by Ben Rogers in the comment section - the first ES piece I think I've linked to since Osborne took over.
Rogers, head of a pro-London think tank, is pursuing an agenda for cities to gain greater local control. It is an area in which the RSA has long advocated multiple initiatives to take advantage of the strengths of cities. It is based on changes that in the developed world can be positive - the growth of world cities, city nation-states. London's population dwarfs that of Ireland, and is equal to the populations of Scotland and Wales combined. European cities, unlike the smog-laden sprawl of US cities, are compact and environmentally sustainable. For thirty years living in Zone 2 I never once owned a car - and consequently was able to spend much of those thirty years with a comfortable level of alcohol coursing through my veins. We build densely, and upwards; we have superlative public transport systems, we have 24/7 economies. For economic growth and vitality, for learning and development, for culture, for innovation, for leisure and pleasure, cities are ace.
I can almost hear your hackles erecting, readers, as you mentally enumerate the downsides of cities - that they avoid being part of our congruent national identity, that they display crime, extremes of wealth and poverty, poor environmental quality, are hotbeds of moral relativism, competing with the national culture and of course are breeding grounds for globalists and remainers. Yes, all these things are true. Yet cities are the engine of development, the powerhouses of renewal.
Boris showed how an effective Mayor could allow London to see its potential. Andy Burnham is no less committed to the North. Both were shackled by a constipated Treasury and power-hungry Whitehall; tax must be devolved as well as spend, city-specific laws and bye-laws should replace the centralisation and State power over law and public order, planning, health, transport, education and economic development - these should all be torn from Whitehall's grasp in an explosion of Localism.
Problems will tend to correct themselves. Cities attract militant and proud sexual deviants in hordes; they will overcome cabals of mediaeval bigots whose instinct is to persecute them. It's already happening. And without the veto of Whitehall, the instincts of city-dwellers of all races and classes is for a firm and determined approach to law enforcement; there are no greater fans of police and prisons than those at greatest risk of being burgled, robbed, stabbed or shot. The Lord Longfords of our age don't live in Peckham or Walthamstowe, and their ultra-liberal pleadings from their Cotswold vicarages can be drowned out.
We will leave the EU. This is the great gift - possibly the last great gift - that we can give our cities. Outside of the EU they will quickly learn to thrive and prosper, driving national growth and international trade and development. Powerful British city-states will dominate a sclerotic Eurozone on the verge of collapse, our buccaneer cities will be Drake to the clumsy Spaniards, Raleigh to the encumbered globalists, heavy and low in the water and ripe for the taking.
So let's hear it for cities, and for Localism!