Well, it looks like it’s official then – it really is ‘grim up North’, and what’s more, it seems we poor unfortunates have about as much chance as a snowball in hell of it ever getting any better.
A right-wing think tank (the Policy Exchange) has come up with an absolute belter of an idea – and it runs something like this:
The ‘tankers’ argue that regeneration efforts in northern cities like Durham, Sunderland and Newcastle have failed, leaving them ‘beyond revival’ – and they want the government to encourage their poor downtrodden inhabitants (i.e. you and me) to migrate to the golden lowlands ‘down South’.
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 this one goes further: it argues that there’s ‘no realistic prospect’ of bridging this gap, so there’s no point even trying. Instead, the Policy Exchange 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.
This humble scribe doesn’t get down South very often, but it seems to me that it’s already bursting at the seams – where will they fit us all?? And I bet the good burghers of Cambridge will just love the idea of invading hordes of Northerners setting up camp at the end of their gardens. Can you imagine the jolly japes and the witty badinage that will ensue between hosts and in-comers? (It would make a great Channel 4 documentary though, wouldn’t it?)
The ‘tankers’ theory is that our national geography is still mired in the 19th century. Port cities like Newcastle and Sunderland came to prominence ‘in an era when exporting manufactured goods by sea was a vital source of prosperity’. The ‘tankers’suggest 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. It seems to escape their notice, mind, that in the 21st century our port cities are vital for energy imports (Teesside) and exports (Nissan cars anyone?)
You might be inclined to write off this lunacy as the barmy ravings of Thatcherite policy wonks that have 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 (‘call me Dave’) Cameron.
(Mind you, Dave has been desperately distancing himself from the report today - 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 going to be a big vote-winner now, is it?)
It’s not often I find myself applauding the Rt Hon Nick Brown MP, but today I would like to doff my cap to him (and being a Northerner, I do naturally have a cap and of course I know how to ‘doff’).
Our Minister for the North East didn’t hold back when he said (and I quote): “These stupid people do not know what they are talking about. If these half-wits really are advising David Cameron, then God help us if we ever get another Conservative government.”
Mr Brown, I salute you! (Now where’s that light switch….)