Statue of Roman Emperor Constantine outside York Minster cathedral in York, UK

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Moving North

The Conservatives are floating the idea of moving their CCHQ party office, and the House of Lords to the North. Let’s be honest – Northerners will see through this kind of pandering.

Moving CCHQ or the Lords to Manchester or York or Liverpool or Newcastle or Birmingham or just half an inch north of the Watford gap won’t change much, At least, presumably it won’t, as no plan of mass staff replacement has been announced. Same people different place is unlikely to lead to a significant change in behaviour. other than forcing a lot of staff to waste money and time travelling and moving office – all of this will be at the taxpayer’s expense, at least in the Lord’s case. While yes the Lords and Commons both need to move temporarily from the Palace of Westminster during restoration works, the current plan of using the nearby Queen Elizabeth II conference centre seems more sensible than York, 200 miles away. Not-least to mention the considerable inefficiencies in Commons-Lords collaboration this would introduce.

In CCHQ’s case, if decentralisation and purging of mandarins is what’s wanted, why not build out additional peripheral offices and/or devolve power to the the constituency party associations already in place? Whether such a bold shake-up as moving cities is even needed is questionable, given CCHQ assumedly had a pivotal role in winning the massive majority in the December 2019 election.

Precedent suggests a move up north will ultimately be superficial – take a look back at the BBC’s much-touted move of a large part of their operations to Salford, circa 2011. The BBC, nearly ten years later, still has the weight of its presence in London, and incurs millions in expenses yearly shepherding staff between the two cities, BBC spends £1.3m on flights to and from Manchester
The Guardian, 5th Dec 2013
https://www.theguardian.com/media/2013/dec/05/bbc-spending-flights-trains-salford
and the result has been little effect on Salford’s economy. BBC’s move to Salford had negligible effect on local employment
Financial Times, 9th August 2017
https://www.ft.com/content/ab4521d4-7d12-11e7-ab01-a13271d1ee9c
This kind of move is not something you’d expect a private company to do for the sake of political goal-scoring – if it’s not ultimately going to benefit the bottom line, it’s not a good move.

We can learn a number of lessons from the BBC’s decision to relocate large parts of its operation from London to Salford […] The 2017 National Audit Office report found that a total of 894 members of the existing London staff had been paid relocation allowances worth a total of £16 million – with just 39 people from Salford having been recruited to work at the new Salford based HQ. What’s the point of re-locating if you’re still almost exclusively employing people from London and not the area you’re moving to?

The seat of government is Westminster – moving and mashing things about for the sake of it is pointless. Most people don’t want the Lords to move,Do you think the House of Lords should or should not move out of London and be based in York?
Yes 23%, No 32%, Don’t Know 41%.
YouGov Survey, 20th Jan 2020
https://yougov.co.uk/topics/politics/survey-results/daily/2020/01/20/f31dd/2
they instead want the Government to get on with the day job. What are we saying if we suggest the only way for the Tories to understand northern voters is that they have to go and transplant themselves in their midst?

Many would hasten to point out too that the North’s big cities sit in their own London-like bubbles. The problem of London-centricity doesn’t necessarily come from being based in London. Not ignoring the North is much more an issue of priorities and paying attention than it is of geography. Nor is London even the Tories’ home turf, as a notoriously red city.

Efforts would be better spent on implementing the manifesto and pledges made to the North and the Tories’ new vote lenders, than on rearranging the office and then getting on with it.

[The new CCHQ should be] somewhere reasonably close to a university with good maths/physics departments (we should get a data team up there), good train links, well placed in political terms.

So… central London?


See Also

Plans to move the Lords up North whiff of gimmickry
Editorial view
The Daily Telegraph, 19th Jan 2020

My heart leaps at the idea of the Lords moving to York. My head isn’t so sure
William Hague
The Daily Telegraph, 20th Jan 2020

We Yorkshire people instinctively like the idea that our county is recognised as the focus of the nation’s affairs, and do not take much persuading that we are the centre of human civilisation itself. But we are also intensely practical and don’t like being fobbed off with grand gestures. It is well known that we hate unnecessary expense. Adding their lordships into the bustle of York might be a good symbol of change, but the people of the North would probably prefer actions that are not symbolic and a truly good use of everyone’s time and money.

 

Lord Speaker Scathing of Government’s “Gesture Politics” Over Lords Re-Location
Lord Fowler, The Lord’s Speaker
Guido Fawkes, 20th July 2020

The Ivory Coast Option

Dear colleagues,

The debate on moving the House of Lords to York bumps along. According to one ‘Government insider’ quoted in The Times, those who don’t believe there will be a move are just “idiots” (these ‘Government insiders’ have such a wonderful way with words), but at least we have forced the debate into the open rather than ‘Government by leak’ in the Sunday papers. The Prime Minister has now set out his stall on the matter in a letter to R&R Sponsor Body and Delivery Authority (attached).

It is worth reflecting on this: there are 79 nations with bicameral legislatures (parliaments with two chambers, typically a lower house and a senate). In all but one of these the chambers are located in the same city, often adjoining. The one exception is the Cote d’Ivoire whose lower house, the National Assembly, is located in Abidjan, while its recently established upper house, the Senate, is located in Yamoussoukro, some 235 km away. No disrespect to the Ivory Coast, but it is not immediately clear why the UK should follow their lead. Numerous global examples point to the fact that bicameral parliaments operate in a more efficient and cost-effective fashion when the chambers are located near to one another.

Incidentally, it is worth emphasising that a decision of such constitutional significance is not one for the Government. The location of the House is a matter for the House and the views of Parliamentarians will not simply have to be “considered”. Parliament governs its own affairs and, in line with the doctrine of exclusive cognisance, it is the right of each House of Parliament to regulate its own proceedings and internal affairs without interference from any outside body, even if that outside body is the Government. In short, the decision rests with us.

Could I add one personal view? My concern is that in their obsessive concentration on gesture politics, the so-called `Government insiders’ obscure the more important question, namely whether functions of the Government, rather than Parliament, can be moved away from Westminster and Whitehall. That is certainly worth debating.

Kind regards,
Norman Fowler Lord Speaker