Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Would Liverpool make a better capital of the North West?

The Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm (whose book The Age of Revolution provides a great introduction to the history of Manchester) once said  that 'the imagined community of millions seems more real as a team of eleven named people'. It's with this in mind that I've suggested Amos, Simpson, Baines, Jagielka, Kelly, Jones, Osman, Rodwell, Gerrard, Welbeck and Rooney as my starting eleven to represent the imagined community of around 6.5m that is the North West of England. If New Labour had had their way then we may have had a directly elected regional assembly along the lines of the ones in Scotland (pop. 5m), Wales (pop. 3m) and Northern Ireland (pop. 2m). Their mistake was to assume that the North East was the best place to put this idea to a referendum (with 700,000 voting against, 200,000 voting in favour).

The sticking point for any discussion of regionalism in the North West will always be around where to have the 'capital'. The diplomatic solution (to avoid any entanglement in the Manchester-Liverpool rivalry) would be to have it in Warrington or Preston - but then when it came to marketing the North West to the rest of the world, we would struggle to make the case for connecting the regional capital with regional identity. A better solution would be to opt for one of the two and make it very clear from the start why.

In order to make regionalism work, it has to be decentralised. It wouldn't make sense to put the capital in Manchester because Manchester doesn't need the extra investment (we have the top two football teams in England, the BBC's MediaCity development and Manchester Airport already). Manchester is the economic heart of the North West and its financial capital. One of the main obstacles towards gaining support for regional devolution would probably be trying to persuade people that it wouldn't just benefit Manchester at everyone else's expense. This is why Liverpool would be the smarter choice. Not only is it by far the grandest-looking city in the whole of the North (really only rivalled by London and Edinburgh in the rest of the UK) but it could also do with the extra investment. An iconic North West Parliament Building overlooking the Mersey would make sense in terms of selling the idea of the North West to the rest of the world. Just as Scotland has Edinburgh and Glasgow, the US has Washington DC and New York, with Liverpool and Manchester both on board, we would be able to make the idea of regional devolution work. Along with the football team, this would be a fitting way to mark the region's proud history of economic independence as the centre of the global cotton trade in the hundred years from the end of the Napoleonic Wars to the beginning of the First World War. In order to succeed where others have failed, it would require a radical effort on the part of politicians in Greater Manchester to push for devolution from London to Liverpool.

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