Tristram Hunt: Labour must end equivocation on devolution

Former shadow education secretary set to deliver rallying call for Labour to rediscover its heritage of municipal socialism

Labour missed a golden opportunity during the last parliament to deliver on its core values through a devolution of power after its “centralist instincts” returned, the former frontbencher Tristram Hunt will claim.

In a rallying call for Labour to rediscover its heritage of municipal socialism, the historian will say that the party’s equivocation on devolution within England should end.

Hunt, whose 2014 book Ten Cities That Made an Empire focused on the importance of Liverpool, shares the view of the likes of the former cabinet minister Lord Adonis that Labour ceded important territory to the Tories on devolution.

Adonis, a strong advocate of devolution who leads the new national infrastructure commission, and Hunt believe that George Osborne stole a march on Labour by launching his “northern powerhouse” . The chancellor has devolved powers to Greater Manchester as part of a plan, inspired by the economist and Treasury minister Lord O’Neill, to build up city regions to create clusters of economic growth.

In a speech in Manchester, Hunt will say: “Despite Labour leading the way on devolution for much of the last parliament, when Osborne announced that first Manchester deal our centralist instincts returned and we allowed the Tories to capture the spirit of the moment.

“As a result, we missed a golden opportunity to show how we could deliver – in a time of tight public finances - the three fundamental promises of the Labour party: to reduce economic unfairness, strengthen our communities and revitalise our national democracy.

“The time for equivocation is over. We must go further and faster than the Tories on devolution, and embrace a new radical localism that puts power back in the hands of our communities and restores a sense of civic pride.

“Labour must draw on our proud heritage of municipal socialism to reinvent England’s towns and cities. And this means a new era of civic provision for our essential services.”

But the former shadow education secretary will be highly critical of what he calls the Tories’ “secretive, haphazard and controlling” approach to devolution. He will say the government needs to do more to deliver greater financial autonomy, by allowing city regions to raise local tourist taxes; to shape public services at a city level with the appointment of city schools commissioners; and for essential services, such as water, energy and broadband to be delivered at a civic level.


Nicholas Watt Chief political correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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