John Harris

Journalist & Author

A massive devolutionary moment for Manchester and perhaps the whole of Britain | John Harris

This week the north-west felt the first tremors of change to our woefully centralised system of government

On 3 May 2012 Manchester was among 10 English cities to stage a referendum on whether or not to do what the government wanted, and place its affairs in the hands of an elected mayor. By 53% to 47%, it was one of nine places that decided against. The turnout was only 25%, and neither side of the debate had done much campaigning, but there it was: Richard Leese, the leader of Manchester city council, said the vote represented a very clear rejection of the idea, and that was that.

Only it wasnt. On Monday George Osborne and the 10 councils that make up the Greater Manchester combined authority announced a trailblazing agreement to devolve new powers to that part of England. And at the heart of the plan is a so-called metro mayor, who will arrive without a prior referendum, have powers covering the police, planning, transport and housing, and be directly elected from 2017 onwards. In the meantime, just to underline the fact that democracy has its limits, an interim mayor will be appointed.

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