Why devolution will be more important on May 8th

Downtow Manifesto

We are now less than a month away before the country goes to the polls for a General Election that is heading for a very predictable stalemate.

A hung parliament seems almost inevitable, with opinion poll after opinion poll showing the two major parties neck and neck for months now.

I have long believed that the eventual outcome will see us in virtually the same place we are at now, with the Conservatives as the largest party, and the Liberal Democrats doing better than expected. The surge of support for the SNP in Scotland has done for any slim chance Labour had of forming a majority administration. What happens once all the backroom deals and horse trading have taken place is anyone’s guess, but another period of multi-party co-operation is certain.

Also certain is that the north of England will firmly reject the Tories, as will Scotland and Wales, making the political divide across Britain greater than ever.

As democracies go, the UK is the most centralised of any comparable governance structure in Europe, but the Scottish devolution debate has led to a George Osborne led devolution strategy that, thus far, has only really hit his own backyard of Manchester.

An election result that puts David Cameron back in number 10, but that leaves his party without any significant representation either from the north at Westminster or in the Town Halls of Liverpool, Leeds, Newcastle or Sheffield will simply add to the weight of argument for an acceleration of decentralisation and genuine devolved powers to city regions, and potentially county regions such as Lancashire too.

The price for such a shift in governance structures should be elected leaders, or elected mayors (the title shouldn’t much matter), because, quite rightly, no government should concede the sort of powers that Manchester will benefit from without strengthening the democratic accountability of those who will take those powers. There is also an urgent need to slim down and streamline existing local government structures.

As we argue in Downtown’s ‘Manifesto’ we are currently trying to deliver a 21st Century economy with 19th Century structures, and this has to change.

The discussion and debate as to what that change should be will begin in earnest on 8th May. Downtown is looking forward to being part of that important conversation.

What is going on at Elland Road?

Elland Road

From Peter Ridsdale through to Ken Bates Leeds United Football Club have endured what can most kindly be described as a rollercoaster ride in recent times. But even by its own incredible standards, this week must go down as one of the most bizarre in the clubs history.

The manager was apparently sacked on Transfer Deadline day, with the club captain going onto the Sky Sports channel to tell viewers of his own personal distress at the news. The following day, with the help of a hat-trick from the skipper, Leeds comprehensively beat Yorkshire rivals Huddersfield by five goals to one. Post match it was announced that Manager Brian McDermott had been re-instated, or perhaps never really, officially, sacked in the first place.

To put the icing on this very messy cake, a winding up petition was issued by one of the clubs sponsors on Wednesday, claiming none payment of fees.

If you are a Leeds fan all of this must be humiliating and extremely concerning. But football supporters across the country should be equally horrified and equally concerned, because it could be your club next.

The number of people who have used the phrase ‘well, it’s only…’ when talking of the decline at the hands of incompetent owners of ‘smaller’ teams like Portsmouth and Wimbledon now need to wake up and smell the coffee.

Blackburn Rovers, West Ham and Coventry City are among a growing list of great clubs who have been grossly mismanaged as the wealth and excitement of the Premier League has disguised some of the more financially questionable activity in and around the game.

It is not only ‘small’ clubs’ who can fall victim to gross mismanagement. Bigger clubs can be hit just as hard, if not harder.  Ask Liverpool, who escaped the clutches of two Yankee cowboys by the skin of their teeth. And Leeds – they don’t come much bigger than Leeds.

In the halcyon days of the 60’s and 70’s under Don Revie they conquered all before them in England, and were a whisker away from becoming the champions of Europe too.

As recently as 1992 Leeds were League champions and they won the League Cup in 1996. They were Champions League semi finalists just over a decade ago.

The attendances at Elland Road average around 30,000 even in the Championship and they are genuinely a big club – but it hasn’t stopped them from becoming a laughing stock at the hands of a series of owners who are clearly not ‘fit and proper’ people to run a football club.

It is time that the ownership of our football clubs became an issue. It is time for the Football Association to actually do something worthwhile. And it is time for our politicians to intervene.

I get that football is a business now. But it is not beyond the wit of the powers that be to come up with a set of official rules and regulations that would prevent the further abuse of football ownership in this country. Maybe it is something Greg Dyke should tackle as part of his commission on English football?

Meanwhile poor old Leeds, once the scourge of English football, and hated by supporters up and down the land, await for the next instalment of what is turning out to be a never ending nightmare for a once mighty club. And the rest of us replace that hatred of Leeds with a far more insulting emotion –pity!