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Time for politicians to connect with people

The eventual resignation from the Government of Maria Miller from her job as Culture Secretary was inevitable.

That she took six days to do the right thing, and that David Cameron tolerated her intransigence, was a grave error of judgment on his part as well as hers.

But, in the great scheme of things, Ms Miller's career is neither here nor there. However, her behaviour and the whole furore around her expenses should not be brushed under the carpet. The episode should serve as another wake-up call for politicians, present and future.

Ms Miller has brought politics and Parliament into disrepute and that is to be deplored since politics impact on every aspect of everyday life. Now that we can all participate more easily in the public and political debate, MPs, MSPs and MEPs cannot hide behind a cloak. They need to prove their relevance, to be seen to listen and respond to the electorate's priorities. They need to convince that they have our best interests at heart, not their own.

Ed Miliband yesterday predictably chose to try to harangue Mr Cameron over the Miller debacle at Prime Minister's Question. Perhaps it was expecting too much for Mr Miliband to resist such an open goal but it was a lost opportunity. How much more edifying it would have been had the leader of the Opposition challenged Mr Cameron on Labour's plans to devolve power throughout England in an attempt to rebalance the UK economy. This would have given Mr Miliband an opportunity to showcase radical plans for empowering, strengthening and reviving England's cities.

Policies in Scotland and England have diverged but the views of the electorates in both countries move in parallel on most issues, even on tuition fees, tax and spend and immigration. And, certainly, on faith in the parliamentary system. Scotland and England leave most of their differences on the sports field.

The electorate in Brixton, two miles from the Palaces of Westminster, feels as remote from the legislature as residents in Lochaber, 400 miles away, or the burghers of Berwick sitting on the Scotland-England Border. This might explain why only two-thirds of the population turned out to vote in the General Election, and only 50% turned out for the Scottish Parliamentary elections. It is not physical proximity to the seats of power that counts but credibility, effectiveness and relevance that matter.

Particularly promising about Mr Miliband's proposals is the pledge to empower "city-region" government in England in an attempt to rebalance the economy from London. He promises to redirect £4 billion from Whitehall to fund new transport, housing, work programmes and training, all needed to support a buoyant economy.

Throughout history cities have been the country's main economic drivers. In England, cities such as Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham and Bristol became the hubs of employment and material wealth. In Scotland, it was Glasgow as workers flocked from the Highlands and Islands and across the sea from Ireland. Successive governments rightly invest in the more fragile areas to arrest population decline but cities will continue to offer more opportunities and diversity. So investment in cities is crucial, whether in Inverness or Birmingham.

Cities will thrive when there are jobs and facilities to sustain and support the population. The people who can best serve these cities and communities are those who live and work in them. The days of edicts from on high, whether at Holyrood or Westminster, should be over.

Mr Miliband has recognised that many city workers live and work in different local authority areas so the new city-regions would not erect new barriers but would transcend them, to encourage co-operation within them, to work in the best interests of the people who depend on them.

Borders and boundaries are constricting. The possibility of a border between Scotland and England is neither visionary nor empowering. Whether in Lochaber, Brixton or the Scottish Borders, people will re-engage with the political system when it works in their interests. Politicians in Westminster and Holyrood must be more responsive. After all, the electorate knows best.

Contextual targeting label: 
Local government

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