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Separate But Equal, Part 1

Instituting a new series to examine disturbing cases of deliberate self-segregation of “marginalised” communities carried out in the name of social justice

Forget “the only gay in the village” – Manchester City Council is putting forward plans for a majority-LGBT housing community for people aged over 50. In this socially engineered ghetto, eligibility to live would depend not on one’s ability to afford the rent but one’s ability to satisfy the diversity checklist of a local government busybody.

Once again, the best intentions of the social justice community result in the most extreme and counterproductive of solutions.

From the Guardian’s report:

Manchester city council has announced plans to create the UK’s first retirement community aimed at lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

According to the local authority, the city is home to the country’s largest number of LGBT people outside of London and is due to see a rapid growth in the number of LGBT residents over 65 in the next two decades. More than 7,000 over-50s living in Manchester identify as LGBT.

A recent report by the Manchester-based LGBT Foundation, commissioned by the council, revealed that older LGBT people experience higher levels of loneliness and isolation.

Many were fearful of discrimination in existing accommodation and there was a desire for affordable LGBT-specific housing where people could be open about their identity in later life.

The extra care scheme – a targeted development for older people – will house a minimum of 51% LGBT residents, but heterosexual people will also be welcome to apply to live in the accommodation.

The housing will have specially trained staff based on site and pets will be welcome. As well as the LGBT Foundation, the project is being supported by Stonewall Housing and the Homes and Communities Agency.

As one sceptical interviewee in the BBC report wisely asks:

The issue we are going to come up against along the way is that we’ve fought for equality. Do we need a separate space?

Quite.

Of course, the gimlet-eyed do-gooder at Manchester City Council responds, patronisingly:

It’s not necessarily about ghettoising particular communities. It’s offering people who want it that opportunity to spend their time with people who they know will understand them.

Ah well, that’s fine then. If people want to withdraw from wider society into strongholds (weakholds?) where fragility is pandered to rather than resilience developed, of course it is the sacred and noble duty of local government to assist them in their folly at every turn. Who are the guardians of the public purse to question the latest social justice orthodoxy?

Some may say that this is a local decision for local communities, and ask what standing a writer from London possibly has to weigh in on a decision made by Manchester City Council? And I would be amendable to that argument if it were actually the people of Manchester on the hook for this experiment in social divisiveness. But of course they are not.

In overcentralised Britain, the dominant single source of local authority funds – 40% in the case of Manchester – are disbursed by central government after having been raised through general national taxation. And besides the obvious social folly inherent in creating fragile, unresilient and homogenous minority communities in the name of social justice, the fact that all British taxpayers are funding this folly makes it directly my concern, and that of everyone else.

If a private developer wants to create an ethnically, gender or sexuality-based homogeneous environment for private tenants or homebuyers then that is a separate discussion fraught with its own parallel legal questions about discrimination and equality. But in the case of a public initiative and social housing, the government has absolutely no business discriminating along these lines, setting quotas or engaging in any other form of naked social engineering.

We should not be unsympathetic to some of the stories of older LGBT people featured in the BBC News report – being ostracised by friends and family of one’s own generation after coming out must be incredibly hard, particularly in older age. But it should be for institutions of civil society to step in to address these real social problems, and we must get out of the habit of immediately pivoting to local and national government for a solution to each and every problem – especially where the mitigation involves the use of general taxpayer funds.

Heavy-handed governmental interventions such as this only serve to crowd out independent solutions from civil society, and reinforce the expectation that government must play an active, watchful part in nearly every area of our lives. And no matter how well-intentioned individual schemes may be, British taxpayers should not be left on the hook for implementing a social justice revolution in Manchester or anywhere else.

 

Separate is NOT equal - Stonewall - segregation - LGBT

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Hatred Of The “Tory Scum” Will Not Save The Left From Creeping Irrelevance

Conservative Party Conference - Protests - CPC15

Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader of the Labour Party promised the return of genuine ideological difference and the end of stale consensus in British politics. But it will all come to nothing if the Left are first consumed by their anti-Tory hatred

The hate-filled mob currently besieging the Conservative Party conference in Manchester – though only a part of a larger, peaceful protest – may not be representative of the wider British Left. But they are the only ones being noticed by the country, and their chosen man is now Leader of the Opposition.

Like it or not, when people think about opposition to the current Conservative government they no longer think of people like Andy Burnham or Chuka Umunna – often glib and superficial, but at least committed to the democratic process, working within the framework of Britain’s institutions and respecting the will of the people. Now, they think of something quite different.

Ask someone what opposition to David Cameron’s Conservative government looks like now, and they will more than likely conjure images of the hate filled protesters in Manchester, driven mad by electoral defeat and pathological loathing of the Evil Tories, willing to say anything and do anything to make clear their opposition to a relatively mild-mannered centre-right administration. They will think of young anarchists in hoodies and middle-aged women wearing pig masks in broad daylight.

This is not the kinder, gentler politics promised by Jeremy Corbyn. To be fair, it is not all Corbyn’s fault – Labour’s new leader has gone to some pains to discourage violent and abusive behaviour among his followers. But many on the Left do shoulder a great deal of responsibility for what is now happening.

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Let’s Unleash Britain’s Great Cities

newcastle

London may be the centre of the universe, but that is no longer any reason for the British government to ignore the provinces and our other major cities.

Thus far, recognition of this important fact has come mostly from London envy and the desire to drag the capital city down a peg or two – not a very sensible policy as far as the national interest is concerned. But the debate is gradually coming to be seen in terms of helping the UK’s other cities to grow and to prosper. In essence, the debate is moving away from a Labour-style “let’s drag everyone down to the same mediocre parity” argument and towards a “let’s create opportunities for innovation and growth and see what happens” proposal. This is most welcome.

The economist Jim O’Neill, writing in The Telegraph, has half of a good idea when he proposes merging northern cities and devolving fiscal powers to them in order to spur economic growth:

After considerable discussion, and for primarily practical reasons, we settled on what we are describing as the 15 largest “metro regions”. This is not to downplay the importance of other cities, towns or villages, but to emphasise – as many experts have concluded – that it is the largest urban areas that usually generate the most economic activity. We need to concentrate our efforts there; evidence from other countries shows that the biggest urban areas matter most when it comes to unleashing a step-change in national economic activity.

In this context, I raised a delicate topic with the last of three panels: namely whether the Greater Manchester area is, in fact, big enough. If you look at a list of the world’s largest cities by population size, you have to go a long way down from London before any other UK city appears. Some argue that in the absence of another city with anything like the population and diversity of London then attempts to boost growth, however smart, won’t lead to much.

This is good stuff. Greater Manchester is certainly prime for devolution of fiscal powers under a unitary authority and an elected mayor, along the lines of London. Manchester is a large, globally recognised city. Granting it more power to alter local taxes, services and policies would be a great example of localism at work.

This blog has long advocated wholesale constitutional reform for the United Kingdom, in which England would gain its own Assembly to debate matters relating to England only, and powers of taxation and policymaking would be equalised between the assemblies of the four home nations under the UK Parliament.

Basing this new English assembly in one of the great northern cities would be a boon to the host city and would help to reduce the London-centricity of political and media focus in the UK without taking anything away from London, which remains the goose that lays the golden egg.

Unfortunately, after proposing the devolution of powers to major cities, O’Neill follows a somewhat different train of thought and his economist brain takes charge to the detriment of what was otherwise an intriguing proposal:

In the spirit of trying to keep an open mind, I quizzed the group further. What did they think of the notion of “ManPool”, where Liverpool and Manchester might bring together their populations and resources to create a “supercity” in the north? Many Telegraph readers might be familiar with the depth of history between Liverpool and Manchester, even if they are not followers of a team from either city. Football allegiances aside, the reaction I received made it pretty clear the prospect was highly unlikely from an administrative perspective.

Sometimes, things that make perfect sense when viewed on a chart or an Excel spreadsheet are self-evidently ludicrous when you consider the human beings that the numbers represent.

While devolution of greater powers to the UK’s major cities is to be welcomed, the power must be devolved to recognised levels. People know what Manchester is, and at a push they could get behind the idea of the Greater Manchester conurbation. The same can probably be said for Birmingham. But ‘Manpool’ or the West Midlands Conurbation are places that exist only in the minds of civil servants and economists.

This is where a politician’s mind is required in addition to that of an economist. Great cities need more than the perfect mix of investment, local skills and natural resources. There is an element of civic identity, the fact that being a Londoner or a Mancunian or a Brummie is a clearly identifiable term and means something, which must be considered as well as the cold hard calculations as to what makes an ‘optimal’ self-governing urban unit.

Unfortunately, this fact seems lost on O’Neill, who takes his consolidation proposal to even more objectionable extremes:

One could easily apply the same logic to other cities close to each other, such as Derby and Nottingham, or Newcastle and Sunderland.

Following this logic to its ultimate conclusion, we would be better off if we treated the entire United Kingdom as one giant conurbation, a single vast city-state. The UK could devolve power to itself, and under unified authority it would enjoy better coordination of projects and higher economic growth. This is clearly preposterous.

Nonetheless, Jim O’Neill has proposed half of a good idea. The UK’s major cities need to strengthen their individual identities and improve their economic vibrancy. Devolving more power to them could only be a good thing, if only the seemingly inbuilt British resistance to variety and fear of the dreaded ‘postcode lottery’ could be overcome.

But rather than wasting fruitless hours in committee trying to come up with a catchy, memorable name for the new NorIpsCamWich Urban Region, let’s just use those handy city names conveniently handed down to us by history and actually recognised by the people who live in them.

After all, there’s no point in creating extra work.