One of the country’s top political columnists has called for Manchester to be made the capital of the UK.
Writing in The Economist, Bagehot says much of what is wrong with Britain today stems from the fact that it is unusually centralised. The country is hopelessly divided with too much power concentrated within a 60 mile radius of London. Moving the capital out of London would help rebalance the country’s politics and economy.
The Houses of Parliament are in urgent need of repair but the costs are ridiculously high – estimated at around £5bn, more than the cost of building the giant new Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport.
Take the dire state of the Palace of Westminster, and the paucity of good ways of managing and funding the necessary repairs, as an opportunity to rebalance Britain by making a city other than London the capital. That city should be Manchester.
But why Manchester rather than, say, Birmingham?
Its position as Britain’s de-facto second city is well-established (a YouGov poll in 2015 asking people which city other than London should be the capital gave it a huge lead). The BBC already has its second home there, in the MediaCity in Salford. Its infrastructure is better than that of Birmingham, it has more space to grow, its airport already has twice the traffic and twice the number of international connections. Birmingham suffers from being close enough to London to tempt people to commute from there (some already do). More than Birmingham or Leeds, Manchester has close physical and cultural links to all three other parts of the United Kingdom: Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. At a time when the union is under strain that is valuable.
Bagehot says Manchester Central is the obvious location and has more than enough room to accommodate the two houses of Parliament. The nearby warehouse complexes could be turned into offices for MPs. And Manchester is full of old mills whose excellent connections to the centre make them perfect venues for government departments.
London would remain the economic centre of the UK but Manchester would become its capital – the Madrid to London’s Barcelona, the Edinburgh to London’s Glasgow, the Washington to London’s New York.
Who knows? Perhaps moving Britain’s cockpit from the pompous, forbidding, Oxbridge-college air of Westminster to these airy Victorian temples of manufacturing and entrepreneurial ingenuity would improve politics: making it more optimistic, accessible and ambitious. Meanwhile the creaking Houses of Parliament could be turned into a museum or cultural venue, maybe with philanthropic funding. Downing Street might be retained for ceremonial purposes.
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