Grim up North (and West)?

The North-South divide is a strange concept. Most of us are probably aware that it exists, but none of us really knows where it is.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Some bright sparks in the South think that Watford Gap services are the geographical midpoint of England, while even the more sensible can’t do much better than suggesting some kind of east-to-west line around Birmingham. Since most people in the London media don’t tend to venture further north than the top of the Metropolitan Line, it’s not surprising the question isn’t taken more seriously.

However, it turns out that the North-South divide might not actually run from east-to-west at all. Researchers at Sheffield University decided to take a look at various factors like life expectancy, university education and house prices. Their conclusion was that the divide actually runs diagonally from the West Country up to Lincolnshire – so Gloucester is in the North, while Lincoln, 150 miles to the north-east, is in the South.

This may come as a surprise to many – not least the Plymouth Argyle football fans who, during an away game at Charlton Athletic in south London this week, were assailing the home fans with chants of: ‘You dirty Northern b*****ds’.

Arguing over the location might be an amusing diversion, but its consequences are no laughing matter. Those on the wrong side of the divide have lower salary expectations, less chance of sending their kids to a good university, and more chance of dying young. Although the government says the situation is improving, the Institute for Public Policy Research recently accused Labour of failing to close the gap at all since 1997 (despite its much-heralded regional development agencies).

Most people in London (and by extension most of the media) probably don’t really care either way – but for the government, improving regional performance is vital if the UK wants to continue its economic growth. There could also be nasty social and political consequences if it fails to narrow the gap.

One doomsday scenario can be found in a new report by Oliver Curry, a London School of Economics evolutionary theorist. Dr Curry thinks that in 10,000 years time the human race will have divided into two sub-species – a genetic upper class, who are better-looking, more intelligent and better-endowed, and an underclass of ugly, dim-witted goblin-like creatures.

We’d be slightly more inclined to believe these claims if he hadn’t aired them on men’s satellite TV channel Bravo – it’s very strong on football, fighting, porn, and police cameras, but its contribution to evolutionary theory has been relatively limited.

But could this one day be a consequence of the North-South divide? Judging from some of MT’s recent nights out, the genetic forebears of this underclass are by no means limited to one end of the country…

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