he tragedy that England has the highest excess death rate in Europe (How England found itself at the wrong end of the Covid-19 league table, 17 May) is not all down to austerity and the indolence of current ministers. England has been failed by a political culture that still clings to the imperial idea that everything can be run from London. When things go wrong, the instinct of ministers and officials is to seek more central action. They hoard power and hand contracts to private companies while ignoring the expertise and capacity of local government.
The divergence with the devolved nations, tensions with city mayors in the north and in London, and the childish game of chicken between ministers and councils over their financial crises demonstrate that this British unionist approach can neither compel nor command cooperation. It is costing lives.
We will need a more resilient state in the future. But this must not mean more power, money and officials for ministers and Whitehall departments. The priority must be to empower and invest in England’s local and combined authorities, and to give England the ability to govern itself well.
Prof John Denham
Centre for English Identity and Politics, University of Southampton; secretary of state for communities and local government, 2009-10