Sir Lynton Crosby: Now is the North’s opportunity
Political campaigner Sir Lynton Crosby’s consultancy C|T Local is opening in Manchester to serve the North of England. Place North West‘s Paul Unger met with Sir Lynton and his team to talk devolution, levelling up and forming coalitions.
Sir Lynton Crosby is probably best known for his election campaign work for David Cameron and Boris Johnson over the past two decades. When he is not assisting prospective prime ministers he also runs C|T Group, of which C|T Local is part, overseeing offices around the world providing property advice on communications, market intelligence and how to align planning goals with political campaigns.
For the Manchester venture, he has hired Anna Wrigglesworth, formerly of Lexington, who will work alongside Gavin Stollar, UK managing director. Acting as senior consultant to the business is Sean Anstee, former leader of Trafford Council. All four sat down with Paul Unger to debate the issues of the day in the North and outline the C|T Local offer.
On C|T Local’s decision to open in Manchester
Sir Lynton Crosby | One thing that the 2019 election reinforced in my mind, was that there’s a world beyond London. Often you see people who are trapped in Westminster thinking that everything that happens within the M25 is the world. And it’s not. For us as a business, that’s particularly the case in the property sector.
Gavin Stollar | There is a huge opportunity in terms of understanding and engaging with the local authorities, regional authorities, the Metro Mayor with conversations across a whole range of issues and spaces, as well on individual projects, which are either hitting roadblocks or aren’t necessarily as well served by the existing offer in the current marketplace.
Anna Wrigglesworth | The thing that attracted me most to C|T was a person comes in with a particular issue, and we all look at it collectively. We don’t work in silos. So, it might be local advice, it might be polling, it might be intelligence. We have a full suite of services available, and no one works in a silo. Obviously being based in the North was vital to me.
It is about being able to connect the dots. We continue to talk to one another up here, which is not going to get us anywhere. We need to be able to talk to Westminster and Westminster now also needs to be able to talk to us and so that’s why we’re here. We’re able to bridge those gaps with those relationships. And make sure that the things that we talk about needing up here – infrastructure, money, funds, investment jobs – happens.
On levelling up
SLC | I happen to know the PM a bit because I have helped him in the past, and he’s absolutely committed to the notion that wherever you live in the UK, you should have the same opportunities. Call it levelling up, you can call it whatever you want. But what does that mean in practical terms? It is the opportunity to have a decent standard of living, have a decent life, the chance of a decent job, and, if you’re a young person, actually stay in the community where you were raised. I have no doubt he’s absolutely committed to it. It might be a political slogan, but there is much more beyond the political slogan.
To go back to my point about 2019, it’s given a new potency to political needs, and the political importance of parts of the country. Ultimately, the government will need to demonstrate that it’s been able to deliver for people who invested their trust in them. If you’re a business or council, that has got something that can satisfy the objective of levelling up then now is the time. There’s a political recognition that perhaps there wasn’t always in the past. It’s more than just relying on the advocacy of your local MP, or local authority. There’s a broader acceptance that there’s a need to make change.
On metro mayors and the merits of regional devolution
Sean Anstee | It’s only four years ago these things were implemented. We are talking about generational change in governance. And we’ll start to see impacts of the decisions that were made four years ago in later years to come. I think we should stick with it, completely. I think there have been varying degrees of success in city regions across the North where mayors have been able to advocate for their areas to build up some powerful narratives to be very impactful in what they’re doing. Unless you accompany devolution with fiscal powers, then actually you are administering other decisions from elsewhere more locally.
Mayors can’t have it both ways – they can’t ask for funding powers and responsibility without accepting accountability. What you do tend to see is a fragmentation of politics, which is probably an unintended consequence of these sorts of government changes. Where, on the one hand, [mayors are] advocating for and taking credit for successes, but seeking to still absolve the responsibility for perhaps unsuccessful opportunities, and until that gets fixed, that will always create a wariness from central government to devolve more because that dial hasn’t turned in who the public holds to account.
AW | And another point for me on mayors is we need to talk about the audience and we’ve got to remember, who is Burnham speaking to now? Does he have future ambitions to be the next prime minister? Does he want to be leader of the Labour party and then therefore the prime minister and is this the pathway for him to do that? Is this the way he sees it? You know, you rile people up, you make people angry in order to support something.
On housing supply and Green Belt
GS | We are imminently going to be in the field with some really interesting polling, within a month, probably around the time of the Conservative party conference up here which should provide a very good briefing on some of the questions around housing and tying them also to the planning bill, which is proposed to go into the Queen’s speech.
We tend to prefer data points rather than our own opinion. All I would say is that after 20 years in the business no government is ever going to announce a massive Green Belt release. But if you look at well-run local authorities who have up-to-date local plans, the way in which Green Belt release happens is through a right and proper process. And those councils that do that don’t have issues.
AW | The thing that’s concerning me at the moment is HS2 and what’s going to happen. The Western leg is hopefully secured, going to be going through Parliament as a bill, but what happens to Leeds what happens to the rest of the Western leg? We go back to creating a united Northern voice. A few years back I worked with Manchester and Transport for Greater Manchester and the GMCA on a project and a campaign to ensure that HS2 definitely came to Manchester, that it came to Manchester Piccadilly, and it came a certain way that would be beneficial to the area. And fast forward a few years it looks promising for Manchester, but it doesn’t look promising anymore for Leeds or Liverpool. And my concern is that Manchester might take the approach of, ‘we’re okay, we will get ours. What will be will be in other areas of the North.’ But what message does that give to government? That we can pay off, and we can cherry-pick, and we can pit them against one another? And it goes back to that erosion of the united Northern voice to ensure that the whole of the North gets what is needed to ensure that we can adequately compete not only with London but globally.
On getting projects moving off ministers’ desks into reality
GS | There needs to be a united voice about the priorities that the North wants to see delivered and speaking loudly and clearly with industry and local authorities and the mayors. Because there’s always going to be a pecking order. And there’s always going to be a finite amount of economic spend that’s available for any part of the country. So, defining that and clarifying that and talking with one voice.
On whether a minister for the Northern Powerhouse is the answer
GS | No, no, no. We’re talking about the local authority alongside the mayor alongside the private sector, defining to the government, why they want it, where they want it, what they are prepared to do to deliver it and how that aligns with the government’s agenda.
SLC | And you have got to build a coalition so it’s not just one voice. But now’s the opportunity. Now is the opportunity.