If Boris Johnson is thinking of moving the House of Lords to the North – partly to get it out of his hair, and partly to suck up to the region of England most decimated by Thatcherism – York is the least suitable city to plonk it in. (See https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7904209/House-Lords-moved-York-Boris-Johnson.html.) In reality York is a bit of the South that just happens to be in the North geographically: a pretty, chocolate-box lid tourist town, with lots of splendid mediaeval architecture, to remind their Lordships of their feudal roots, an archbishop to partner the one living in Lambeth, no industry left, and a gleaming newish out-of-town university that doesn’t strike me (and I worked there temporarily some years ago) as reflecting ‘northern-ness’ in any essential way. York is a lovely town, but it’s no longer ‘the North’.
Five years ago I penned a piece that suggested that Parliament, as a whole, might relocate to another place temporarily, while the Palace of Westminster is being refurbished, in order to bring MPs closer to those of their electors the ‘Westminster bubble’ has rather lost contact with. (See https://bernardjporter.com/2015/01/09/peripatetic-parliaments/.) My favourite choice then was Manchester; and that would be my ideal venue for the Upper House today. It has a fine Victorian Gothic city hall which was built a bit later than Westminster, but in my view is architecturally superior; and which surely could house their lordships comfortably. It also has two leading football teams. (You can’t get much more Northern than that.) Beyond this, however, Manchester and its environs have a strong claim to be the capital of a vital English ‘identity’ quite distinct from, but just as important as, the one that London, and Westminster in particular, represent: its industrial, nonconformist, creative, democratic and radical (in so many different ways) spirit. Boris might not feel comfortable there; but putting half of Parliament in Manchester could help to bring the North and South together in the way he claims to want.
And I write as an (adopted) Yorkist.
(PS. Also printed in Guardian Letters, 23 Jan.)