An idea by United Kingdom’s Prime Minister to move the capital from London to York made great headlines but received little consideration. However, it makes total sense both in historical context and future ambitions.
One of the more sound of Boris Johnson’s reputedly charming ramblings is that the United Kingdom should move its capital from London to York.
This would mean the relocation of both the House of Commons and House of Lords, as well as their administrative partners, the Civil Service.
In July, Johnson said he believed government should pick up sticks while its London home, the Palace of Westminster, is being restored at a cost of £4 billion ($5.25 billion).
This is a great idea, and it should be made permanent, I believe.
I cannot see any reason hoteliers would object. Demand will always remain high for London, but now demand might be increased in another city.
This is not a new idea, although it does seem to be employed more in developing countries than developed ones.
The capital of Tanzania moved from Dar es Salaam to Dodoma, the capital of Nigeria moved from Lagos to Abuja, and the capital of Côte d’Ivoire moved from Abidjan to Yamoussoukro, I think because its president at the time, Felix Houphouet-Boigny, wanted the capital to be in his birthplace.
Brazil is the one major economy that moved its capital, in the 1950s, when it created Brasilia.
London should follow.
It just makes sense to not have your government and administration in the largest business center, especially in a society in which more people move to such crowded places to stake their futures.
This would result in London having eventually a smaller population (Southeast England is so full), while it would also distribute influence and capital to parts of the country that historically have been second in the pecking order.
The “new” capital does not have to be in York. It could be places where manufacturing, energy and trades jobs have historically ebbed and flowed, places like Middlesbrough or Aberdeen.
Another idea would be to change the capital every 20 years between the four constituent countries of the U.K.
That would also help in the healing process post-Brexit and, fingers crossed, post-COVID-19.
What might stop that idea is that the devolution governments in those countries might feel they are being undermined, although I do not think what each would be responsible for would change. All would remain elected bodies.
What would stop the U.K. capital moving is that so many people in important political and civil-service positions probably enjoy their time and homes in London.
The two CEOs responsible for the palace’s restoration—Sarah Johnson (no relation to Boris Johnson) and David Goldstone—have rejected the idea, although I do not quite understand why they would have the final say.
Sarah Johnson runs the Sponsor Body, responsible for budgeting, while Goldstone runs the Delivery Authority, responsible for completion.
They could still pay for and complete it, it is just that the government would have left. The palace would remain as a key tourism site, as visitors will, I believe, always flock to London, which would remain the center of monarchy.
Whoever the monarch is would travel to York once a year—it is a little more than three hours by direct train—for the official, annual state opening of Parliament, and international visitors might discover some other regions of the country, rather than all being squeezed into Mayfair and Shoreditch.
York has history: It has a beautiful cathedral called The Minister, founded by the Romans in A.D. 71 as Eboracum; it is roughly bang in the middle of the U.K. land mass; it has a respected university and its football team, York, needs all the help it can get; and three years ago the city became the first in the U.K. to adopt the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in everyday practices.
And it has its own type of ham.
What more could any 21st century democracy ask for?
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