The great divide

National politics no longer has anything to say to the north of England. The results are frightening

1 December 2012

9:00 AM

1 December 2012

9:00 AM

My career in politics nearly ended the day it began, when I was almost run over by a gang of Nazis in a Mini-Metro. Not a very butch car to be hit by, I know, and a rather pathetic substitute for a Panzer tank. But it was the early 1990s, and supporters of fascist government in Britain had seen their resources dwindle a bit over the decades.

I was 14, and attending my first political demonstration, an Anti-Nazi League protest against the BNP in Halifax. I became separated from the crowd. There were some hooligans from the other side screeching around in a car yelling abuse and doing handbrake turns and, as I ran down a street away from them, they drove the car up onto the pavement behind me. I thought I was about to be mown down, but at the last minute they swerved back on to the road and roared past. Several pasty-looking middle fingers were extended in my general direction.

It was an interesting introduction to the strange politics you can get in some small northern towns. You get weird politics when people don’t know where to turn — and I think that’s what’s going on up north at the moment.

David Cameron inherited lots of political baggage from the 1980s which makes it tough for the Tories to win a hearing in northern cities. The Liberal Democrats used to run in the north of England in opposition to complacent Labour councils. Now they are trying to avoid being minced for joining the coalition. And after the recession and the debt crisis Gordon Brown left behind, northerners don’t feel so enthusiastic about Labour either.

Hence, politically, some strange things are happening. First George Galloway gets elected in Bradford. Then John Prescott didn’t get elected in Humberside — even though it’s a traditional Labour heartland. This week we learned that Rotherham council thinks it’s OK to take children away from foster parents because they support Ukip, and the subsequent row has further poisoned an already nasty by-election. Labour is locked into a dirty tricks row with the far-left Respect party, after Asian areas were targeted with leaflets claiming Labour were ‘closet racists’. In the run-up to the vote lurid stories about grooming and ‘Asian sex gangs’ have stoked tensions between communities, creating the perfect opportunity for the rabble–rousers of the BNP and EDL.

Even within Labour, there are tensions. Many local party activists in Rotherham wanted to select a councillor called Mahroof Hussain as their candidate. But he was excluded from the shortlist drawn up by Labour’s national HQ, which says it wants a ‘clean break’ with the history of local politics in the area. Perhaps because, in the Bradford by-election, Labour had picked a popular local councillor — and George Galloway then used his links with the council to pummel him. This time, Labour doesn’t want to take any risks.

It isn’t just Rotherham where voters are feeling distinctly unenthusiastic about the main parties. The two seats with the two lowest turnouts at the last general election were Manchester Central and Leeds Central. In fact, of the ten English seats with the lowest turnout, nine are in the North.

There’s huge cynicism about politics everywhere in the country, but its potency in the North is something Nick Clegg, David Cameron and Ed Miliband are struggling to deal with.


For example, an almighty 83 per cent of northern voters think that ‘politicians don’t understand the real world at all’. Only 16 per cent of northern voters think that Britain’s future will be better than its past, while 60 per cent disagree. The concerns of Westminster politics can seem very distant. The majority of northern voters (but not southern voters) think that ‘so-called green policies are mostly a waste of money’.

The Labour government of 1997 was freighted with huge expectations everywhere — but nowhere was the subsequent disappointment greater than in the North. Labour’s support among working-class voters fell by a fifth when it was in government. Ed Miliband’s election as party leader has left the party with a major problem in what is supposed to be its heartland. A focus group run by Policy Exchange found some wondering if they still recognise the Labour party. ‘You spend your time at Oxford, then spend time being a research assistant for someone in parliament… It’s all out of a book, isn’t it?’ In his party conference speech this year Miliband was forced to major on the fact that he had been at a comprehensive — precisely because voters assume that he is another southern public school boy.

The North-South gap has, of course, been a factor of British public life for decades. In the 1920s and 1930s it was northern towns, reliant on staple industries like coal, shipbuilding and weaving, that bore the brunt of the recession. The South and Midlands enjoyed a ‘metroboom’ as ribbon development of suburbs sliced through the Home Counties, and new industries like cars and chemicals located down south. George Orwell described the growing gap, contrasting the ‘lunar landscape of slagheaps’ in the North, with the new factories in the south: ‘glittering white structures of concrete, glass, and steel’.

After the war, extreme measures were adopted to force industry out of the south. Firms wanting to expand in areas of low unemployment required permission to do so. And in the early 1960s, a fifth of applications from firms wanting to expand in the south-east were refused. But the gap continued to widen. The shift from shipping to a road-based economy favoured towns on the new motorway network and hammered port towns. Steady southward migration over decades meant that the share of the population living in the North and Midlands shrank from the war onwards, from more than a third in 1945 to about a quarter now.

Meanwhile, 1970s northern towns saw huge changes. Glorious civic architecture was ripped down to make way for brutal new blocks. New migrants arrived — particularly into traditional textile areas — just as the industries they came to work in started to collapse. Decades of mismanagement and mistaken policies came home to roost in the 1980s. The miners’ strike added to the sense of division. The number of miners actually fell much faster in the years before the Thatcher government than during her time in office. The 1984 strike was sparked by a plan to shut 20 uneconomic pits; Harold Wilson’s first government had shut around 300.

But such details didn’t matter. The strike created an image of division — and regional kulturkampf — which was hammered home by Thatcher’s political opponents. In the 1987 election Gordon Brown pounded away relentlessly on the idea that the Tories were a cruel gang of southerners who didn’t care about the North. ‘Regional divisions are now more marked than ever before,’ he argued; the Tories had ‘attacked the North’ and ‘systematically destroyed’ its economy. It wasn’t subtle stuff. It was a powerful attempt to stamp Labour’s flag on the North. It worked.

Much good it did them. Only now, two years after Labour left office, has its record in the North become clear. Under New Labour, the economic divide was made wider than ever; my home county of Yorkshire went from being 10 per cent behind the UK average in 1997 to being 17 per cent behind. The economic output of financial services in London has now overtaken the entire north-east’s economy. Not London’s economy as a whole, but just one industry — concentrated in one square mile — has come to generate more wealth than a whole region of 2.6 million people.

The much-hullabalooed regional development agencies and a welter of other schemes failed to turn the tide. The plans ranged from the dull to the almost comically inept. Yorkshire’s agency sponsored a high-concept plan to turn Barnsley into a ‘Tuscan hill village’. Then came ‘Prezzagrad’, the plan to create a futuristic ‘super city’ running the length of the M62 — it ran into one small problem: the Pennines.

Meanwhile, London extended its educational advantage while the North was left behind. Figures out this week named the councils with the most failing schools. Fourteen of the worst 20 were northern councils. In Barnsley, only a fifth of kids go to secondary schools which the government considers acceptable.

If northern voters feel abandoned by all three parties now, there is a reason: to deal with a problem, you must first understand the problem. And over the decades there has been precious little sign of this from Westminster politicians or northern council leaders. Politicians have failed because they tried, unrealistically, to ignore the market forces driving today’s economy.

The education gap is the most urgent problem, because skills are the main determinant of an area’s long-term growth. Ministers and northern councils should move heaven and earth to lure in the most successful chains of academies — like ARK and Harris — to turn around their failing schools. They need money to expand, and councils would be much better spending their money helping turn schools around than building costly vanity projects (why do all northern councils want to build a tram?). Alternatively, the most disastrous councils could become educational enterprise zones, in which profit-seeking schools would be allowed to set up in areas where the state has failed.

The North can gain advantage where it offers something the South doesn’t. Take Preston. It was a surprising boom town, achieving the third-fastest rate of private sector job creation in England during the first ten years of Labour. Why? Failed plans for ‘Central Lancashire New Town’ left behind loads of land with planning permission agreed — making it the ideal place to locate a new business. When the South is being sniffy about building in its green and pleasant vales, the North should turn southern nimbyism to its advantage. Local pay bargaining may help too: salaries more in keeping with those paid locally can allow organisations like the NHS to hire more people. Letting people turn empty shops into housing could tidy up rundown town centres in the North. There are lots of opportunities if we work with, not against, market forces.

When I was growing up in the North, I looked around at the evidence of its former glories. The amazing town halls, public libraries and great houses. But there is something depressingly nostalgic about all that. It’s frustrating because the North has so much going for it now: the best music, the most beautiful countryside, great, characterful cities, and (unlike in London) the opportunity to live in a house bigger than a shoebox.

Westminster politicians have repeatedly promised to close the North-South gap, but failed because they ignored economic reality, and flushed our money away on stupid gimmicks. No wonder northern voters think politicians ignore them and don’t understand them. Unless we change direction, it’s going to become ever harder to refer honestly to ‘one nation’: because our country will steadily come apart.

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Show comments
  • Alex

    Its getting to the point now where we in the north feel that we have more in common with scotland than our own country

    • Robbie

      Steady on Alex – its not that bad!!

      • Alex

        I sincerely hope that it doesn’t get to the point where we would actually be better off under the control of Edinburgh than London

        • wethers_doldrum

          You want to call yourself an extended Edinburger?!

          • Jambo25

            You could o a lot worse. It’s better than being a ‘Cock-a-knee’

        • http://twitter.com/VisceralRage Slicer

          The South East and London subsidise the remainder of the UK to the tune of 31% with the North East, Wales and Northern Ireland receiving the largest subsidies of over 20%. These are the official findings from the CEBR( Centre for Economics and Business Research).

          • Jambo25

            That’ll be the CEBR, based where?. Not London by any chance?

    • Salmondnet

      If people in the north really feel that they are deluded. Some Scots claim kinship with the English north, but only on the principle of divide and rule (of England). One thing is for sure, Scotland, once independent, will have no enthusiasm for sharing its taxes with the North of England in the way that the south of England does. “Ooer oil” ain’t ever going to be Northumberland or Cumberland’s oil.

    • th43

      Speak for yourself, I don’t and I don’t know anyone who does

  • Neil Foster

    Neil believes local pay arrangements will help public sector organisation employ more people. Yes it will – thousands more consultants making up for the lack of internal skills to research, negotiate and set wages for 25,000 schools and 500 NHS Trusts and many more. Policy Exchange’s own report accepts there aren’t the sufficient internal skills and capacity to already do this. That is why many large multisite private sector organisations also use national pay bargaining with London weighting like the public sector – businesses such as McDonalds, Waterstones, M & S, Greggs, Halfords, BT etc.

    Meanwhile 60 senior academics warn that there is ‘no convincing evidence’ to support claims that region or local pay would boost the economic performance of local economies. Instead they warn such a policy could ‘aggravate geographical economic and social inequalities’. http://www.localgov.co.uk/index.cfm?method=news.detail&id=107511

    The New Economics Foundation have warned that the overall cost to the UK economy of rolling out regional and local pay could be up to £9.7bn per year cost over 100,000 jobs. http://www.neweconomics.org/publications/the-economic-impact-of-local-and-regional-pay-in-the-public-sector Paying people less in poor areas will only reduce spending power. Private sector firms in the North East are anxious about this, with a number of them warning:

    ‘This policy risks weakening consumer confidence and demand even further,
    undermining regional growth and making it harder for the UK economy to
    get back on its feet.’ http://www.journallive.co.uk/north-east-news/todays-news/2012/10/08/north-east-business-leaders-in-regional-pay-warning-61634-31987755/#ixzz2Dbbmtc00

    The regional and local pay advocates have been flogging their policy for a year now, but the public don’t buy it and political opposition has increased. 65% want regional and local pay plans dropped and
    only 19% want the government to go ahead according to the latest
    opinion poll. http://www.leftfootforward.org/2012/09/public-sector-workers-regional-pay-plans-poll/

    There are other inaccuracies in this article I could mention. Humberside is not exactly a Labour stronghold (the Conservatives won more votes than Labour across that force area at the last general election). Regional Development Agencies generated a substantial economic return on investment according to PWC evaluations. £4.50:1 in the North East and over £7:1 in the West Midlands. Instead there are apparently now Cabinet concerns with what has replaced them in the slow payment of regional growth funds and the lack of jobs created through LEPs and enterprise zones. Neil does not refer to this http://m.lgcplus.com/5052340.article but it is a live issue which Policy Exchange may want to explore in the future.

    Neil wrote that ‘David Cameron inherited lots of political baggage from the 1980s which makes it tough for the Tories to win a hearing in northern cities.’ It’s not just the Prime Minister who has such baggage. Many in the North remember only too clearly Policy Exchange’s report which argued for reduced regeneration spending in the North of England on the grounds that it was ‘beyond revival’. Instead it urged for mass migration to the South East. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/7556937.stm Is this still Policy Exchange’s view? Policy Exchange could do worse than issue an apology to the North for that report (which the Prime Minister described as ‘insane’ at the time), draw a line and shed some baggage of its own.

    Despite all of this, Neil is right to highlight the persistent challenge of how to maximise growth in all regions. There are two reports worth looking at that may have some answers. The first is launched today by IPPR North which follows a year long commission involving stakeholders from the North itself. http://www.ippr.org/publication/55/9949/northern-prosperity-is-national-prosperity-a-strategy-for-revitalising-the-uk-economy

    The second is from the OECD and is to be published on 15th December.
    http://www.oecdbookshop.org/oecd/display.asp?sf1=identifiers&st1=9789264174634 Early sight of the findings provides a set of lessons as to how to turn lagging regions into leading regions built entirely on evidence. Its conclusions will challenge some current conservative thinking in some key policy areas and one I hope Policy Exchange and others engage in.

    • HJ777

      Those are hardly neutral sources that you quote. They are largely the sort of organisations that have a political stance and will only commission ‘research’ to confirm their view.

      Is there any independent research that you can point to?

    • Mike

      Neil, look at the salaries above £25,000, the fact that government organisations rarely go bust, the pensions, flexible working hours, shorter working hours, the responsibility and the fact it is very difficult to sack anyone for underperformance and then compare with private companies. One cannot have a crane operator on construction site deciding to start at 9:30 am when the rest of the team are starting at 7 am.

      If a country wants a manufacturing capability to match Germany , then it better have the same attitude to obtaining the education and technical skills . Degree sin media studies from ex-polys do result in cars such as Mercedes being built.

    • hotairmail

      Excellent post. Thankyou.

    • Jambo25

      First rate post. Those who call out for lower wages in the North appear never to have come across the concept of aggregate demand and fail to explain what would happen to local economies if you suddenly remove a lot of spending power. Hint. See what Osborne has managed with the UK economy over the past two and a half years. How do we regenerate the North. Well, we could start working out a long term industrial policy as other states (Those stupid Germans again.) have done. What we could do, short term, is improve basic standards of literacy and numeracy for all our school pupils You don’t need ‘Charter’ schools, “Free’ schools, ‘City Academies’ or how’s your father. You simply need competent schools and it’s about time the cowards at Westminster (and Holyrood) provided them. You also need proper vocational training. Look at the German system. It works. Finally, start a major programme of infrastructure upgrading and new building.

  • Matthew Whitehouse

    Talk of a One Nation Country is utterly ridiculous. The North think and do nothing like the South think and do. Maybe some in the North think they can get back to where they were… In the Midlands we accepted change needed to be drastic and we did it. The amount of engineering / Manufacturing firms that are doing business all over the world in Aerospace, Pharmaceuticals, Motorsport, Defence isn’t by chance. We dont make much in the Midlands anymore, but we do get the high profile, high profit margin, niche work, and there’s plenty of it. The “Bread n Butter” general engineering work is in Poland and India where they are cheaper and have a good level of expertise. It’s hard to say it but, in my opinion, the South are more adaptive and entrepenurial. The South + Midlands are not affected by Nostalgia.

    • SansLong

      get over yourself, the Midlands just gets a few more crumbs from the table, there’s plenty of Midland towns that are no different from those in Yorkshire, your cities are mostly dumps

    • wethers_doldrum

      But it can change, don’t take that from them, give them something to believe in.

    • TomTom

      Yes West Midlands is thriving no doubt when you smoke weed. Longbridge looks to be turning out lots of motor cars now that John Tower has worked his magic. So tell us why the firm that invented the motor car is still making them or why Solingen still makes knives and why Loehne is the centre of the Fitted Kitchen industry and why Germany still makes top flight shoes at Seibel, Lowa, Rieker, Meindl and Britain cannot. Defence is protected which is the ONLY reason you in the Midlands are not completely turned into running brothels for Chinese visitors

    • Jambo25

      How silly of those Germans to maintain high employment engineering when they ought to have learned from Brum and Leicester. Remind me again. How many German based car companies do those clever Brummies control now?

  • Fitzmark2

    If that were to happen I hope it wouldn’t include the Scottish diet!!! In some areas of Glasgow people have a lowere life expectancy than people in the Third World. Deep fried Mars Bars anyone?

    • wethers_doldrum

      That comment is as daft as the assumption that BNP rallies will all have “NAZI” Mini drivers, it’s a caricature.

      • TomTom

        If you are on a Socialist Workers Party rally with the ANL you have to believe your opposition is Nazi or you look a real jerk……just as anyone opposed to Cameron is a Conservative

    • Fochabers

      The life expectancy in some parts of Glasgow is lower than most of the EU average and diet and lifestyle is part of the problem but you overlook the way Glasgow city is cut up. Rich parts are shunted into surrounding council areas, so it is like London being represented as only Tower Hamlets – it is more an anomoly than fact.

    • Jambo25

      The areas with low lie expectancies in the Glasgow area tend to be areas with severe social problems and consequent high drug and drink dependency rates. It’s those that cause the low life expectancies, not the near mythical deep fried Mars Bar.

  • NeilMc1

    Perhaps a genuine Libertarian party, (UKIP), that listens to the people and acts accordingly, could re-unite the country. If the voters in the north were honest with themselves they know that Labour have let them down and have created a poorly educated rump who will vote red to keep their benefits and state crutch. But if they were to finally throw off the shackle of socialism and vote with their greater interest, UKIP could one day be the largest party nationally.
    That would be great for the country and one in the eye for the anti-democratic, arrogant politicians in Westminster.

    • Jez

      UKIP aren’t Libertarian, if they were they’d welcome free movement and immigration. They’re reactionary and populist

      • NeilMc1

        Free movement is anarchy not Libertarianism.

        • wethers_doldrum

          Free movement is the Schengen agreement and UKIP are against that so keep your hair on.

          • NeilMc1

            Exactly. The Schengen agreement is a restrictive agreement, that controls a shrinking group of has been countries. We need to be out of that and free to trade with the whole world with a brighter future. If you think that 7 billion people should have the right to enter the most crowded country in Europe and take the benefits of our country, you must be a socialist.

          • trevor21

            Perhaps you haven’t noticed but Britain is a has been country. Living in Britain today is like living inside a rotting carcass.

          • NeilMc1

            But that doesn’t stop half the third world trying to come here to live off us though.

          • William Blakes Ghost

            The Schengen Agreement only allows for free movement of Labour within Europe and Europe alone. Its continental protectionism instead of national protectionism mothing more.

            There is no suich thing as free movement of abour in this world only degrees of protectionism

          • TomTom

            Schengen is dead

      • wethers_doldrum

        Libertarian means this sure, but the only immigrants they’d let in would be skilled ones and why can’t they move freely?

        There would be less of them and the ones there were you wouldn’t begrudge because they’d be smart.

      • Hogspace

        I suggest you look up the meaning of Reactionary.
        UKIP are Revolutionary.
        I would not however call them Libertarian (like myself) but I think they support small government and restricted central control.
        I don’t know what their stance is on dismantling parts of the Welfare State disaster.
        Immigration into the UK is not the problem or issue. Providing immigrants with free schooling, medicare and welfare benefits is the core problem. Much of this through accepting asylum seekers, is a problem, they have no place here.
        Skilled workers who come here, can support and insure themselves and their families, purchase housing, pay for private schooling, they should be welcome. Them alone. And as many as we can attract.

        • NeilMc1

          But that doesn’t protect us from eventual societal and cultural extinction which is happening apace right now. Have you been to London recently.

          • Hogspace

            But the London situation has been created by welfare benefits and fake asylum seekers.
            London isn’t England anyway, it’s a meeting place for the world. No bad thing.

      • TomTom

        Noone welcomes Free Movement and Immigration but some countries need to decant their high birth rates onto other countries. It usually ends up in War and will again

    • mikewaller

      Whilst I do not buy the UKIP tosh at all, the middle bit of the above is spot on. Indeed, there was far more sense in the following paragraph from the article that immediately followed the O’Brien piece than was contained in the whole of his effort. By James Forsyth, it had this to say about a formative experience of Liz Truss, one of the Education ministers:

      “Her views on this issue date back to a year she spent in Canada when see was twelve. “The whole culture was people wanting to do well and succeed. People wanted to be the top of the class, going home and working on your homework was a good thing. While the school I was at in Leeds was the opposite””

      Obviously there are millions of talent folk in the North who have applied themselves and are very successful. Unfortunately, there are not enough of them and billions in cash transfers from South to North have failed radically to improve matters; nor will they ever do so. Corny as it may sound, the North alone can bring about the essential cultural change that will enable it to save itself.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Simon-Fay/1127268875 Simon Fay

    I take it that the writer’s concern for the three stooges to box clever and so keep us scum up North continuing to use Westminster as our major point of reference in the charade of “the nation” is to stop us opting out from the beltway’s imperatives (helped by its local garrisons).

  • Anthony Makara

    A party that seriously aspires to power must have the broadest possible One-Nation appeal and must, as its stated aim, want to govern for the whole nation and not be picking winners and losers. The current government has created enemies when it didn’t need to, in so doing it has lost support, particularly in the North. The PR has been awful. The government went head-on into benefit-baiting rather than accentuating the positive and talking about how it wanted to help people gain a better standard of living through work. The unnecessary attacks on the young over rent rebates was another turn-off and another example of how to alienate support from a vital group. Those votes may now be lost for years. While policy can’t always be presented with pink ribbons it can nonetheless be presented in a way that is less clumsy and far less provocative.

    • http://twitter.com/VisceralRage Slicer

      Most of the people in the North of England are insular and closed minded they don’t like change and won’t adapt to the new realities we face as a country, that is the principle factor that is holding back the North. They live in the past, the world has moved on and they are still reminiscing about 19th century factories and blaming Thatcher, or in fact any one and everyone for everything.

      • TomTom

        Crap. They live in the Multicultural Future. Bradford with the higheste density of Pakistanis in Britain in Frizinghall; Church of England Primary Schools predominantly Muslim; Urdu door signs in City Hall…….Bradford has embraced the Multicultural Future that awaits Conservative seats throughout the South and Midlands. Cameron should be coming to Burnley, Bradford, Oldham, Dewsbury, Batley to see the future of his Party. He is going to need a lot more Warsis running Central Office

  • Troika21

    What we in the North really need is a secessionist movement.

    • wethers_doldrum

      Oh please, you’re not Texas and the French are only sending millionaires to invade our country.

      • TomTom

        Catalonia is not Texas nor is Baden-Wuerttemberg, nor is Czech Republic, nor is Kashmir, nor is Kurdistan, nor is Greenland – though the latter is much bigger and yet is independent and outside the EU yet within Denmark

  • wethers_doldrum

    Well the first thing I have to say about that is VOTE UKIP!

    UKIP will:

    1. Allow Shale Gas to be fracked for energy security and jobs (that’s the north)
    2. Re-open and find new areas for coal to be dug (that’s the north again!)
    3. Keep people on minimum wage out of tax!
    4. Open more Grammar schools for the brightest

    Secondly, and not any less important:

    5. An ENGLISH Parliament!

    I do hope however, unlike Scotland, it’s built in the right place, which means outside of London! Somewhere truly English and that means, or must mean, further north and away from the Metropolitan Elite!

    UKIP Will deliver this, if voted in.

    • davy

      “find new areas for coal to be dug”

      Much as I respect Farage, he’ll need to be Harry Fucking Potter to do that.

      • Jambo25

        Actually, there are still very large coal deposits under the UK.

    • Fochabers

      “I do hope however, unlike Scotland, it’s built in the right place, which means outside of London!”

      So you think that the Scottish Parliament is in London?

  • paul

    The North does have great opportunities just like much of Africa,build M11 up the east coast over the humber bridge which could start paying for itself,New London Airport with train station 45mins from Kings cross,still gives benefits to the south whilst opening up new investment opportunities in the North/east

  • hotairmail

    No one in this country should have fewer rights, less democracy nor a quieter voice than any one else. Scotland, Wales and the South East (Boris effectively being the entire region’s representative as witnessed by his ‘London’ airport interventions) all have someone to stand up for their people, get a bigger share of the pie and put in place strategic local initiatives. And importantly to spend budgets locally rather than watch wistfully as it all gets spent on initiatives entirely within the south east.

    City mayors and democratically elected police commissioners are a complete red herring and designed to actually achieve precisely nothing. The English regions outside the south of the south-east are completely disenfranchised, down at heel and lacking hope. No, it is time we all had regional parliaments where decisions are made and budgets are spent locally.

    For the country as a whole to prosper and to improve all our standards of living, we need to reinvigorate the regions and take the pressure of the over crowded south east. We need to make a landmark compact between all the regions and UK nations and the centre. A standard template for the rights and responsibilities of each. Let us rid ourselves of the destructive East Lothian question and the envy and hatred of London and its unbelievable largesse from the locally based politicians.

    Finally, I would move Westminster and Whitehall to the heart of the country and away from the corrupting influences of the commercial centre and the City. To the heart of the country to refocus attention away from the London political/media/commercial ‘bubble’. Most countries do this – and for very good reasons.

    • http://twitter.com/VisceralRage Slicer

      What you’re forgetting in all this hotmailair is that London and the South East subsidises most of the North of England, if money is kept locally London and the South East would have more money to spend on themselves and areas of the North that rely on wealth transfers from the south will have less money than the currently do now.

  • hotairmail

    I would also like to add that I too believe in a capitalist solution to the problems of the north. But whilst most libertarian commentators solely seem to focus of ‘setting wages free’ I would also like to see equal emphasis given to subsidies and benefits.

    The south east is given huge amounts in housing benefits and wages top ups funded from the central kitty. I think it right and fair for such decisions to be made locally and, of course, to be paid for locally rather than from the central stipend. The current situation has huge distorting effects on rents and essentially benefits landlords. And I find it amazing that someone vehemntly arguing for low taxes, low regulation and free markets will, in the same breath defend high housing benefits for those living in London.

    • http://twitter.com/VisceralRage Slicer

      The South East and London subsidises most of the north, if local areas could keep their money it would in fact benefit London and the South East because there would no longer be any wealth transfers to other parts of the country. Parts of the North which rely on wealth transfers from the South would have to cut public sector pay and spending.

      • TomTom

        Bullshit. There are 8.6 million people in the South East and 56 million outside the Southeast. Do the arithmetic before making it certain you had a duff education

      • anyfool

        Parts of the North does not equate with the rest of the country barring the South, but if what you said was true and areas kept the wealth generated, the SE and London would soon be overcrowded with all the unemployed immigrants from the rest of the country, be careful for what you wish for as you would soon be poorer than the rest of England

    • Jambo25

      Excellent point. I find it interesting how a lot of people in London and the South East call for hard-eyed, market derived solutions which will be painful but suddenly get very queasy when those solutions are suggested for their home area.

  • Bloomsbury Boy

    If the North is that good Neil, why don’t you resign your job as a spin doctor and head home to to set up a business doing something useful. I’m sure you’d be welcomed with open arms.

    • TomTom

      Health Care is much worse. Life Expectancy is much worse. Cultural provision is much worse. Roads are much worse. Weather is much much worse. Heating and lighting bills are higher. Shopping is worse. It is another Country and should be separate like Greenland is fron Denmark

      • Jambo25

        I think, Tom Tom, that you are exactly the kind of person who makes Londoners so popular. I don’t really care that much. I’m fairly neutral as I split my time between Edinburgh and the Scottish Borders: both infinitely preferable to London.

  • romanlee

    No wonder northern voters think politicians ignore them,

    They ignore the thick stupid idiots who keep voting for that shower of shit Labour, Labour does not need to try and the Conservatives have stopped wasting their time trying to convince the closed minds of the north that everywhere in the country the cesspits are usually Labour areas.
    Labour keep throwing money at the dole budget in its areas but never really tries to lift them from their supplicant status, it is not in their interests.

    • http://twitter.com/VisceralRage Slicer

      I think you’re right about how closed minded a lot of the North is. London and the South East are a lot more open-minded, which would explain why there is more entrepreneurialism and dynamism in the populations there.

      • romanlee

        It is made worse by the regulations that are the result of gold plating EU rules which under Labour has about destroyed any inclination to take chances.

  • Fitzmark2

    wethers-doldrum – your response to my post is typical of someone who can not accept a verifiable fact, which comes from the Office for National Statistics. Just type “life expectancy in Glasgow” into a search engine to achieve enlightenment.

  • hotairmail

    In additon to the revitalisation of local democracy and local power to make decisions and spend on strategic projects, we would also benefit hugely from establishing regional ‘Landesbanken’ supporting regional family-owned businesses to encourage a ‘Mittelstand’ that is tied emotionally to an area.

    Too often we have given money away to fly by nights and those who would sell up and/or leave at the first hint of trouble or profit. Not the way to develop sustainable regional value adding businesses.

    • TomTom

      Landesbanken are illegal under EU Competition Rules – they only exist in Germany because there was no Central Bank in the Occupied Zones so there had to be Banks at State level. The Bundesbank did not exist until 1957

  • TomTom

    Some very lousy use of language like “for a Panzer tank.” the English say “tank” the Germans say “Panzer” meaing armour so because O’Brien is addressing morons he has to say “panzer tank”/ “Kulturkampf” was Bismarck’s policy in Prussia of persecuting the Catholic Church and jailing bishops – he had half the Catholic Bishops in Prussia in jail 1871-1878 and this drovbe Catholics to organise their own political party. The analogy holds if you agree Thatcher waged War on the North and marginalised Northerners which is exactly what many feel……”Kulturkampf is the War waged by The State Apparatus AGAINST its Citizens.

    O’Brien may have studied PPE at The House or Aedes Christi as it likes to be called, but he should have been better educated – standards seem to have fallen at Cowley – Latin Quarter.

  • William Blakes Ghost

    It seems to me that this is an outdated view (as the many references to the 1980’s and such like indicate) It’s no longer a ‘northern’ problem, There is an urban problem though. The fact that in 2010 Labour held out all across Birmingham, Leicester, Nottingham, Stoke, Plymouth, Exeter, Southampton, Luton, Coventry and all of its urban London heartlands (none of which are in the north) when polling only 29% nationally tells me that the Tories have an urban problem. Much as northern Labour are hung up on Thatcher and the Tories of the 80’s, the problem is increasingly not a regional one or legacy one..

    Of course urban areas have the highest concentration of immigrants, younger voters and working class voters and its these groupings I suspect where the Tories are failing to reach nationwide (although currently they increasingly seem to be losing the middle classes as well). I suspect being led by Public School/ Oxbridge educated privileged professional politicians (as Labour and Libdems do as well) does not help winning over such urban seats many of which have amongst the lowest turnouts as well. I ‘d imagine all the establishment parties will begin losing vote share in these urban areas over the medium term if they persist in this identikit profile of a professional politician as their leader. Such a factor would help to explain the rise of the likes of Respect and UKIP in urban areas taking votes from all the establishment parties recently.

    So whilst I’m sure the ANL demo reminiscences go down great with a glass of the Liberal set’s ‘Bolli’ (which of course won’t be going up in price) in the trendy but surreal environs of La-La land in North London the Tories need to stop self-flagellating and obsessing over past successful Labour propaganda campaigns (most of which were utterly false) such as the Tory decline in the North. Its not the north now. It’s urban!

    And the next time Labour or some ignorant lazy journo starts baiting Tories about their ‘Northern’ problem just point out that in 2010 the Conservatives won 42 seats in the North of England. Outside London (I know according to Westminster the world revolves around London) the Labour Party won 10 seats in the South Of England. JUST TEN. Now which party has the bigger regional problem?

    Its urban seats where the Tories need to concentrate their focus.

    Oh and by the way while you are at it every time the Tories
    self-flaggellate over some variant of the ‘nasty party’ jibe as well it
    just further validates that stereotype fabricated by Labour and allows
    Labour to dictate the terms of the battle.

    PS We southerners had to suffer 13 years of Brown/Blair “northern bigotry” and along with it we are forever suffering self-absorbed ‘world revolves around us’ London-centric Westminster Freakshow view of the world so to be honest this constant Tory obsession with the ‘Flat Cap and whippet brigade’ is really getting tiresome. There are millions of voters across the whole country who feel disillusioned with all the establishment parties. Tories need to be wary that in fixing what, in the way its couched, seems like the wrong issue they don’t start a wholly new issue in their very own backyard!

    • TomTom

      Blair and Brown are SCOTTISH not Northerners – they did NOTHING from Northern England but lavished attention on THE CITY OF LONDON and LONDON Media but did F.A. for The North of England……..the last Northerner to be Prime Minister was Harold Wilson 40 years ago and before than Macmillan could claim to know Stockton well

  • TomTom

    “When I was growing up in the North, I looked around at the evidence of
    its former glories. The amazing town halls, public libraries and great

    Poor kid…..I remember working factories turning out aircraft at BAe and generating sets and machinery and textiles and mansions built by cotton millionaires and parks donated by wealthy millowners and the Rowntree Estate in York and the Vickers tank (Panzer) factory in Leeds and Newcastle.

    All they get now is NSA Listening Stations like Menwith Hill bugging telephones outside Harrogate or Thatcherite KGB Buildings like Quarry Bank in Leeds or Quangoes galore……

    What happened to Filtronic Comtek ? What happened to Crompton Parkinson ? What happened to AE Autoparts ? What do you know about Abraham Moon Ltd ?

    • William Blakes Ghost

      When I was growing up in the North, I looked around at the evidence of
      its former glories.

      He should be so lucky…..

      “Eee when I wert growing up all we’ ad we’rt shoebox in’t middle’ut road. Mum dad and six kids

      Not that northerners moan all the time but Monty Python must have noticed something about them to write such a sketch…….

  • therub

    Strange the author doesn’t mention the 2008 report from his own think-tank arguing that northern cities “are “beyond revival” and residents should move south.

    Same old right-wing double-think. Your lot has abandoned the north twice in recent memory. Once could be considered an accident…..

  • nakuru

    Neil, your article is brilliant. It is clear, factually accurate and insightful. However, some of the comments it’s attracted are bizarre – especially those from UKIP supporters. They seem to have missed your most important point that we should ’embrace’ our economic reality. I work with young people – many are asylum seekers, and I only wish more of our ‘own’ kids had the same respect, work ethic and drive for education that they have. Their aspirations are towards the professions, and we need them more than ever as state education fails and fails again our children. I am horrified that only one fifth of over 14s in Barnsley go on to higher education! Why aren’t more commentators highlighting this terrible statistic instead of selfishly banging their own drums? Thank you for an extremely sobering wake-up call

  • rongraves

    Sod UKIP, what about the 80% of Barnsley kids who don’t attend secondary school – where the hell are they? It’s a legal requirement that they attend school, so why aren’t they, and where’s the local enforcement?

    It’s no good simply tossing out a statistic like that and just walking away from it, it needs explaining and exploring (it also needs a verifiable source).

    • TomTom

      Government statistics show of 15000 pupils in Barnsley Schools 800 are persistently absent and 402 parents were taken to court with 2 jailed

  • peteswordz

    Westminster politicians ignore the North? Well what’s in it for them? Not much for the Conservatives, for a start. Wouldn’t matter what they achieved up there, they’re unlikely to get the credit. Not with the chattering classes wedded to the ‘enemy of the north’ narrative. And Labour? Last thing the Labour Party want is a thriving North. If the area were thriving too many people would be questioning why exactly they were supporting socialism. Better if those in work are working for the State & everyone pinning red rosettes on donkeys.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Simon-Fay/1127268875 Simon Fay

    Couple of days on and it turns out this article was a job application

  • jaysspectator

    Yes, we are in a troublesome age and it’s not improving. Perhaps regional assemblies with limited devolved budgets could improve matters. Coming from Oxford and now living in Colchester I feel ‘connected’ and reasonanbly happy with life but I don’t believe in the culture of ‘I’m all right Jack’ so let’s try and reconnect our whole country. Scotland, however, is another matter although I do feel our history shows we are generally better off pulling together.

  • Andrew Tagg

    Neil O’Brian again takes a he knows best approach to the political divide in the UK. I live in Halifax and have campaigned as a Conservative against the BNP who are now non-existent. He tries to explain the political response of Northerners to the three main parties from a typical Westminster, Media London perspective. Oh they vote that way because of the economic divide. We’re just misguided get some pride back in the North and policies which might make our economic prospects a little better and we will come running back to the polls. The fact he fought the BNP as a member of anti-Nazi league probably as a student does not give the insight of why people turned their backs on Labour and Conservatives and originally voted BNP but now UKIP. For one there was a lot more people who would have voted BNP if they were not a racist party and as such no stigma associated with it. People in the North have seen sections of their towns transformed into areas the don’t recognise. Mass immigration has left them feeling aliens in their own country. I hear that on the door step numerous times. The BNP also had a grass routes organisation and were predominantly from the very class and areas they were representing. They were C1 & 2’s. Not upper middle or middle class private school educated Oxford graduates which most of the present front bench and opposition benches come from. This was one of Mrs Thatchers appeals to C1 & 2 in the North who were not part of the big industries. Note in 1983 the Conservatives polled 25% in Rotherham this at the height of the battle with the unions. There still is and always have been strong Conservatives in the North a lot who are working class/ lower middle class backgrounds. Mrs Thatcher was from similar background. The BNP also supported leaving the EU, Grammar schools, being very tough on crime, issues most working people have strong feelings about. Crime is especially one issue. A lot of voters have lived with antisocial behaviour for years and feel the police has become totally PC and the criminal justice system has abandoned them. They know that when Grammar schools were widespread there were some schools if you had a bright child they could go to and would get real chance in life. These were replaced by failing Comprehensives. The BNP showed a strong form of misguided patriotism. Northerners are very patriotic and proud of being British. So why UKIP. its simple they support a lot of the same stances on the EU, Grammar schools, Law and order, and immigration without being racists. They are basically strong Conservatives. So people now have a party that represents them is respectable and they now feel free to vote for. Mr Fararge talks about issues they understand and effects them . He is not politically correct or condescending. He calls a spade a spade and that is a breath of fresh air to voters who are sick of political correct media centric spin politics. He is the only party leader to condemn the postal vote that everyone knows is being used for widespread electoral fraud in predominantly ethnic minority areas . This Happened in Halifax in 2010. So yes UKIP are here and if it causes the political class to wake up to the Northern voter well good for them

    The problem is the political class has forgot a famous statement.

    You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time but not all the people all the time. I think that time has now come.

  • http://www.englishstandard.org/ Wyrdtimes

    UK parliament treats the whole of England outside London with contempt. The English get the least per person funding, the worst services, zero recognition and zero representation. The Lefts latest plan for divide and rule in England is the last thing we need. What we need and deserve is an English parliament dedicated to the English interest spending English taxes on England.

  • http://thecornishrepublican.blogspot.com/ cornubian

    Your decision to leave Cornwall as part of some imagined rich South England is utter nonsense! Cornwall, because of its poor economic situation, qualifies for Convergence funding (once called Objective One) from the EU. If being attached to England is so wonderful I wonder why we in Kernow are as poor as parts of Eastern Europe?