A Greater Manchester Tory MP has been accused of “losing the plot” by a neighbouring Labour politician over his ‘Lexit’ campaign to separate the town of Leigh from the borough of Wigan. Wigan MP Lisa Nandy said the Government should be trying to tackle rising inflation rather than “trying to build walls between Wigan and Leigh” as part of the plan put forward by Leigh MP James Grundy.
Mr Grundy, who was elected in 2019, has sought the support Prime Minister Boris Johnson in his campaign. Leigh has been part of the Wigan borough since the local government reorganisation in 1974, but grumblings about the town losing its identity to its larger neighbour since then have never gone away.
Speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions last November, Boris Johnson promised to do ‘anything he can’ to help his Conservative colleague’s bid to ‘escape’ the control of Wigan following Mr Grundy’s question as to what could be done. The Leigh MP has been in discussion with Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove over ‘Lexit’ and has stated that the talks were positive – but an an early stage.
“There has been a long standing feeling that Wigan Council does not care about the Leigh end of the borough,” Mr Grundy said recently. But, speaking to The Northern Agenda podcast, Ms Nandy`, who is Labour’s Shadow Levelling Up Secretary, rejected the idea that Labour-run Wigan council wasn’t doing anything for Leigh.
She said: “There’s always been a healthy rivalry between us and I’m perfectly happy to engage in that as well. But there’s been investment into things like the Turnpike Gallery in Leigh, the arts and culture renaissance that the council is trying to kickstart, with a bit of help now from the Arts Council, has been very focused on Leigh as the main driver of that.”
Listen to the full interview with Lisa Nandy on the The Northern Agenda podcast
And she added: “I think it’s worth saying that there is a bit of a view in government that James has lost the plot with some of this. He raised it in the middle of a crisis for many families and businesses around the country. And I think people in Leigh, frankly, would prefer that the government actually started acting on high inflation than started trying to build walls between Wigan and Leigh.”
Ms Nandy told the podcast that “Leigh is not part of Wigan, Leigh is a place in its own right with a proud history and a proud identity and a contribution to make”. And she added: “And although there are lots of synergies and similarities between us, the assets and the potential in Leigh are distinct and unique. And over the years in policy, there’s been a debate about whether you can regenerate areas by taking what’s known as a space-blind approach.
“This is an approach that was very prevalent during the 1980s and 1990s, especially in the United States. The idea, when pushed by people like Ronald Reagan, that if you took a place-based approach, what you ended up doing was just helping wealthier people in poorer areas.
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“Actually, I think that’s now widely recognised that that is a nonsense, that taking a place-based approach does help you to realise the unique assets and potential in each place. And, what we’ve had in this country for a very long time now, is large parts of the country just written off for their ability to make a contribution to our future.
“That’s what I’m saying must change, no longer will we write off the contribution that people make, whether it’s in Leigh or in Wigan, or in any other part of this country, we should invest in the potential that is there. And the best way to do that is not just to get fair investment decisions, but to get power back into local hands so that people can drive those outcomes for themselves.”
Mr Grundy has previously said that when he speaks to constituents he gets a very anti-Wigan Council sentiment. And when the Local Democracy Reporting Service interviewed residents in the town centre recently, some described feeling that Leigh was neglected.
Mr Grundy has been approached for comment about Ms Nandy’s claims.