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The MPs have failed: local politicians must seek the sunlit uplands

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Hillwalking may be a minority pursuit but it seems the entire political leadership class, and indeed anyone with any interest in this country’s destiny, can suddenly appreciate the disappointment of the onset of inclement weather on a trip to the Lake District.

Britain had been promised “sunlit uplands” post-Brexit, the phrase first appearing in a speech by Andrea Leadsom during the Tory leadership campaign. However, incessant drizzle has set in. That scramble up the notorious Striding Edge ridge to the summit of Helvellyn you previously committed to now seems a little perilous.

In weather like this those sunny uplands clearly do not exist. Indeed, only a fool would consider donning the Gore-Tex to attempt to clamber over slippery rocks, with a precipitous drop of hundreds of feet on either side, to a destination which right now isn’t as appealing as previously billed.

However, there is currently deadlock in both the government’s cabinet and Parliament over what to do. There is no majority in favour of a gung-ho attempt to climb Striding Edge in the rain, no majority for staying down at the cottage, and no majority in favour of trying a less difficult route up Helvellyn.

The situation is both farcical and conducive to mutiny.

And yet all of our livelihoods and wellbeing depend on success.

All summer the governing Conservative party has been beset by rows about the best way forward over Brexit. Theresa May’s Chequers plan is not supported by enough of her MPs – and crucially not by the European Union. Then again, no one else in the party seems to have any workable plan that could conceivably win EU support for any other type of Brexit deal. A ‘no-deal’ scenario looks increasingly likely.

This should set up a shooting-fish-in-a-barrel opportunity to humiliate the government for any competent opposition. It is almost inconceivable that any party could not capitalise on the current administration’s chaotic division to make itself look statesmanlike in comparison.

However, we have Jeremy Corbyn, who has yet to demonstrate an ability to articulate a bold, workable vision for post-Brexit Britain. And his acolytes have managed to spend the summer tying themselves in knots by refusing to recognise the scale of anti-semitism within Labour, allowing the issue to dominate the party. A less credible alternative party of government is scarcely imaginable.

With the Liberal Democrats, or indeed anyone else, unable to make any political headway an immense vacuum exists.

Someone needs to fill it. Vision is required.

Step forward Andy Burnham (Lab), mayor of Greater Manchester CA. He pointedly chose Westminster Central Hall, just down the road from the Palace of Westminster, rather than his own region in order to get national prominence as he today set out his stall on Brexit.

He warned that a no-deal outcome would be a disaster for Greater Manchester and called on his city’s MPs to call on the EU to extend Article 50 beyond the current UK withdrawal deadline of next March in order to obtain something more beneficial to the city.

“This isn’t about frustrating Brexit. It is about getting Brexit right,” he said.

He also said the 2016 referendum result was “as much an instruction for Westminster to review its relationship with the rest of England as it was for it to review its relationship with Brussels”. He’s right: more devolution within England is required as a remedy for the discontent.

Mr Burnham’s intervention is welcome and timely. And it must be echoed by others in local government.

In the same way that Labour nationally should be capitalising on the government’s woeful predicament, local government should be making the most of central government’s abject failure to navigate Brexit.

The scale of the current vacuum in national political leadership cannot be understated: it needs to be filled.

Each and every local politician caring about the good of their area should enter this debate. Whether you’re an ardent Brexiteer or an uncompromising remainer you should be fighting for your area’s needs.

In truth local politicians and local government’s membership organisations are riven by the same divisions as seen in Westminster. However, in the same way that Mr Burnham insists he is not trying to stop Brexit, your views on Brexit itself should not prevent you from highlighting your area’s needs and interests. If your ideological prism prevents you from doing this, you shouldn’t really be a local politician at all.

It is a test of the strength and capability of local government to get its message across now.

Our national politicians have not seized on the devolutionary opportunities of Brexit. But dare it be said local government as a whole has not really seized on the opportunities both of Brexit and the current national political impasse. It can still do so.

And rather than be guided up Striding Edge by the current government (despite Ms May’s love of a walking holiday), LGC would defer to the local knowledge of Allerdale BC and Eden DC, the two districts straddled by Hevellyn. If our national politicians cannot find the sunny uplands, our local politicians must either guide them or use their local knowledge to warn that the path is too dangerous.

Nick Golding, editor


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