The issue with London which the rest of the UK, and indeed, London itself, has to grapple with, is the fact that it is both an enormous wealth creator and our gateway to the world’s negotiating tables. Home to just under six percent of the UK’s population, it nevertheless produces about twenty two percent of its GDP. London plays on the world stage in a way that Birmingham and Glasgow do not. I’m sure that nothing would delight the likes of David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson so much as for London to be substantially decoupled from the rest of the UK and to be turned into the modern equivalent of fifteenth century Venice, a wealthy city-state enthroned in a prosperous hinterland, freed from all obligation to either fund or speak for the rest of its countrymen. Indeed, there was an article in the Evening Standard last night by a business leader asking why London should not become a quasi-nation state, able to keep and spend a much higher percentage of the taxes which it raises, rather as New York does. However, I’m not convinced that would work for the rest of the UK.
What concerns me about a lot of the opinions in favour of the current rush to devolution is that they play in their current form into a political and social narrative around the evils of big government and central provision which started around the time Margaret Thatcher set out to break the power of the unions. What I’m seeing at the moment in so many forms is an idea of good, honest, decent people heroically arrayed against “the political establishment” in the interests of the greater good, whatever that is perceived to mean. There’s nothing wrong with that; we have always had strong voices opposing government policy, and so we should. What is new seems to be an idea that strong central government is itself a bad thing and needs dismantling.