Is Devolution really “taking power from Westminster”?

I’ve just seen the West Yorkshire devolution deal described as “taking power from Westminster”. This raises a number of questions, a couple of which are (a) is it really taking power?; and (b) who in West Yorkshire has taken this power?

The West Yorkshire devolution deal has been haggled over for years, and is one of the last “devolution” deals to be agreed between Westminster and local politicians. It is an agreement. And I am 100% sure that it would not have been agreed at all if politicians in Whitehall hadn’t approved every last detail of it. Is this really taking power? I don’t think so. The UK is one of the most centralised states in the world. No subordinate body, beit a Parish Council or the West Yorkshire Combined Authority does anything without the sanction of the national government. And now this national government claims to be giving away power. The devolution deal sets out the terms in which that power is to be given away. It maps out very clear perameters within which the money it is supposedly handing over can be spent. So, in reality, the power stays where it has always been, in Westminster. And you can be pretty sure that if the local bodies deviate in any way from the agreement, then the money won’t be forthcoming.

And to answer my second question. The local body to which the power is supposedly being transferred is the West Yorkshire Combined Authority. Who? I hear you ask. Precisely. Next year we are to be privileged enough to get the opportunity to elect a Mayor to head up this body, and that might give it a raise in profile and focal point, but, up to now, most people in West Yorkshire will not have heard of the Combined Authority, let alone know who makes up its membership. So, even if we accept that power is indeed being transferred (which I don’t), do we know who the people are who exercise this power on our behalf?

The flagship project which these new powers and money are to be deployed on is a rapid transit scheme (tram network to you and me). It would be great to have such an initiative in place, it would solve a lot of problems. But, if the power was really being handed over to the people of West Yorkshire, would this be their priority? What about having enough money to put food on the table? What about social care? What about better and cheaper buses? There are probably very many issues which the public would want to be tackled before we got to putting trams on the region’s streets. But oh, the powers over those issues are not being devolved. So is this devolution worth having in any case?

What do you think?


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Why I Hate X-Factor (and lots of stuff like that)

It’s that time of year again, when Twitter becomes unusable, for me, on a Saturday evening, because it is full of people tweeting about X-Factor. And these are, largely, people I otherwise consider to be rationale human beings with some sense of judgement. They inexplicably appear to lose all that judgement when X-Factor is on.

Call me a cultural snob if you like, but I think I am the opposite. I’m going to write more fully about this elsewhere, but I feel compelled to set out at least the basics of what gets me so riled about this kind of reality television.

I believe everyone needs to find a way to explore their potential to find their place in the world. And, with a VERY few exceptions, X-Factor is not the environment to do this. Yes, we can all point to people who have made a personal success out of being catapulted to instant celebrity by reality TV shows. But, I would contend, the true success stories in this field are very isolated cases, and, very often, instant fame is a short-lived thing, with disastrous long-term consequences. And this is not to deal at all with the distasteful sight of people with serious delusions being exposed to public ridicule.

X-Factor and its ilk is one of the components of the modern “opium of the masses”. It is there to give people a false hope that anyone can find a short-cut to success, it sets up 99% of the people who enter for failure, and sends a message out to its audience that the way to go is to crash and burn.

There are a very few people who make a lot of money out of this kind of charade, and, in the main, they are not the people standing on the stage singing.

X-Factor makes me sad about human nature; sad about the deluded people who think they can find stardom; sad about the voyeurs who take pleasure in their delusions being exposed; and sad about those who make a living exploiting these delusions.

There, rant over. I don’t expect you to understand, but I’ve got it off my chest at least.

Why am I not excited by F.A. Cup Third Round Day?

Oh, it’s the magic of the cup, the most exciting day of the sporting calendar, the first weekend in January, has brought F.A. Cup Third Round Day again. But, why does it not excite me like the media thinks it should?

Now, I count myself as a football fan, although my allegiance to Notts County, the club I was first taken to see as a six year-old, makes some people doubt it, and severely causes me to wonder at times. To be honest, I am pretty much of an armchair fan these days, I moved away from Nottingham some 16 years ago, and now live around 80 miles away. There are so many other things to do in life these days, that a 160 mile round trip and two hours on a cold terrace do not figure that high on my list of priorities these days. I used to live walking distance from the ground, and attended nearly every home game. But that was easy. And another factor is that, during my lifetime, my team have played four seasons at the highest level of English football; I have seen them beat some of the top teams in the country (although my Arsenal supporting son still does not believe that Notts County have ever beaten his team – they have, I was there). Having watched them play at what is now Premiership level, I find it very hard to motivate myself to watch a bunch of hard working, but basically talent free, journeymen whacking the leather off the ball for 90 minutes, even though I spent years watching this sort of stuff before they got to the old First Division. The joys of modern technology (albeit via a 16kbps Windows Media stream) mean that I can listen to commentaries of all the games via the Internet, and that does for me most of the time. And I am one of those people who just could not bring myself to take any sort of interest in a club closer to where I live.

My point about the hype of the FA Cup Third Round is that I think it is just that, hype. It is all part of the promotional process that media outlets go through to create interest in events they broadcast. They would never get the viewing or listening figures they need if only the fans of the clubs involved tuned in, so they have to sell the game to neutrals. And it occurred to me this morning, when I was listening to one of the pieces of FA Cup Third Round hype on the radio, is that this is how I used to think about it as a small boy. Is it just me, or has anyone else gone through the development process I have? When I first discovered football, it was all exciting stuff, I devoured the footy magazines, followed the latest news on all the teams, read all the match reports in the Sunday newspaper, got one of those cardboard league tables with slot-in tags in the colours of the teams and re-arranged them into accurate positions after every game. It was football in general which was the exciting thing, and it took me some time, after first being taken to a Notts County game, to focus on “my” team above all others. But that did happen, gradually, over a number of years, until I found that I was only interested in Notts County, and everything else that happened in the game became more and more peripheral. And, then it moved from being peripheral to being annoying; particularly the media assumption that everybody is interested in the Premiership, and we would all be fans of the “big four” if only we could get tickets for the games. As I write this, I am listening to a BBC journalist saying that attendances at lower division clubs are increasing because fans are being priced out of the Premiership games. It could never be that the fans might WANT to support the lower league clubs, could it.

So, my contention is that many football journalists are little boys who never grew up. But, is that genuine, or is it an attitude they are required to develop as part of their jobs? Are they really as excited by football in general as they profess to be? Of course, those who work in the national media are required to have a wide focus, national outlets obviously could not concentrate on one or two clubs (although it sometimes feels like they do). I believe that you support a football club from an early age and then it is impossible to change it. Apart form a natural interest in the underdog, which finds me always wanting the least fancied team to win, when watching a neutral game, I am not interested in what any other football clubs are doing except my own.

And that brings me to the last point. Could it be that FA Cup Third Round day leaves me cold because my team is not in it? This year, for the second season running, they have been knocked out at the Second Round stage by a non-league team. I will be on the Internet, listening to them playing away at Aldershot, in what used to be known as the Fourth Division, I’ve lost track of what they call it now. So, if that has coloured my view on this, and the FA Cup Third Round is really still as exciting as they say it is, please ignore me, go ahead and enjoy it!