In its latest report, the influential right-wing think tank Policy Exchange argues that regeneration efforts in northern cities like Liverpool and Bradford have failed, leaving them ‘beyond revival’ – and it wants the government to encourage their poor downtrodden inhabitants to migrate to those modern-day Xanadus London, Oxford and Cambridge.
It’s not the first report to criticise the Government’s efforts to bridge inequalities between the regions (The Taxpayers’ Alliance recently put the boot in too) but it goes further: it argues that there’s ‘no realistic prospect’ of bridging this gap, so there’s no point even trying. Instead, it wants the government to free up more land for affordable housing in London, and to concentrate on developing bigger cities in the South-East – with Oxford and Cambridge the two leading candidates.
The theory behind this is that our national geography is still mired in the 19th century; port cities like Liverpool and Sunderland came to prominence ‘in an era when exporting manufactured goods by sea was a vital source of prosperity’. The think tank suggests that its time to re-draw the boundaries of Britain’s economic geography to reflect our current strengths, rather than trying to boost regional equality artificially.
However, the inhabitants of said cities aren’t best pleased by the idea, as you’d imagine. Liverpool MP Peter Kilfoyle described the report as ‘utter nonsense’ on Radio 4 today, arguing that there’s billions of pounds of investment currently flowing into the city (which is currently the ‘European Capital of Culture’, lest we forgot – not the obvious mark of a moribund city). He also pointed out, not unreasonably, that the South-East is bursting at the seams as it is.
You might be inclined to write this off as the barmy ravings of a Thatcherite policy wonk who’s never been north of the Watford Gap, were it not for the fact that the Policy Exchange actually carries a lot of influence within the camp of Tory leader David Cameron. Hence why Dave has been hastily distancing himself from the report this morning - after all, when you’ve spent the last decade in opposition, arguing for the effective abandonment of large urban areas in the North is not a big vote-winner (not that the Tories have much chance of winning Liverpool anyway, after the problems of the Thatcher years). [Update: Dave has since called it 'insane' and 'complete rubbish']
And whatever the theory behind it, we just can’t imagine hordes of Northerners opting to up sticks and migrate to the South-East. They’d have no decent football team to watch, for one thing. (you'd never guess the author of this was a Northerner - Ed)
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Move the Scousers on, says Tory think tank
Editor's blog: The price isn't right
A question of convenience for London's businesses
A new recipe for team-building success?