• Toby Irwin

The Lords and HS2: Continuing Decentralisation

The Conservatives achieved victory in December with an astonishing landslide. This has provided the Prime Minister with a near universal mandate to pursue any direction he chooses, given that many of his new MPs owe their success to him, and the older MPs are acutely aware of his previous 'party purges' for unloyal members. Brexit seems a certainty now, yet perhaps the Prime Minister can seize upon the trends that Brexit provides to further unite the United Kingdom. Notably, devolution.

Devolution is, of course, the wrong word and it is used in want of a better. While there is a case to be made for a continued transfer of powers to Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales (and a case against it!) that is not the centre of this article. Rather, Brexit stands in large part on a claim to 'lower' power away from Brussels down to London. In this 'vertical' fashion, power moves down the ladder of scales to be closer to the localities and communities. This is a fundamental for conservative traditional thought and classical liberalism, tenets that the conservatives supposedly should still champion.

Indeed, while Brexit was arguably won for other considerations, such as the economy and immigration, the concept of filtering power down towards local communities is an appealing concept for a broad wing of the conservative voter base. However, a divide can be identified. Conservatives have a strong belief in authority, recognised hierarchy and, importantly, institutions. Classical liberals, those who support the devolution of power from Brussels, and London for that matter, are more concerned with the diffusion of authority, hierarchy and its institutions. Here presents the opportunity for the Prime Minister.

Appeasement of those longing for a de-centralisation of power can be seen already with two initiatives. The first was announced yesterday, with the possible move of the House of Lords to York. This has, unsurprisingly, caused a split in opinion. The more traditional conservative voter sees this as a false move, an unwise degradation of tradition. The more liberal minded conservative voter sees this as a smart move to finally address 'London-centrism'. Indeed, the physical moving of the institution should not be seen as a degradation of the tradition itself, and thus should be a remedy for both branches of the party. There is, of course, those new migrant voters from Labour and the Brexit Party that have lent their votes to the Conservatives, who seem more concerned with economics than tradition. For these voters, the second initiative seems more appealing.

The Conservatives are reviewing the feasibility of the HS2 rail-link project. I think this is wise. The current argument maintains that the link between London and the North will provide the latter with the economic boom it needs. I disagree, it again centres of a London-centric attitude where the North can only develop if it is connected to London. Rather, it might be wise for the Prime Minister to, following the review in coming months, to either scrap the project or cut it short in the midlands. The remaining funds could be better put to use uniting the North of England, West to East rather than North to South. Further, HS2 plans emerged when the UK was still in the EU, now it seems there be an opportunity for those funds to rejuvenate new industries. For instance, to expand ports such as Hull.

Between these two plans, moving the Lords and rethinking HS2, the Conservatives can appeal to their new and old voters and ride the popular beliefs borne from Brexit. The Lords would maintain their importance and presence, though the transfer away from London is a symbolic act showing that the Conservatives are aware that power should not just be taken back from Brussels, but also dispersed domestically. HS2 stands on the economic pillar, and Boris might have the opportunity to 'reward' his new-found voters with funds alleviated from the costly HS2.

Cover Photo from Flickr: Labelled for Reuse

At the time of writing, Toby Irwin is a third year student at the University of St Andrews. He is studying International Relations. Areas that interest him the most are UK foreign policy and the defence/aerospace industry.