England must unite to solve deepening divides
July 24, 2012
I was at a ‘think tank’ dinner last week on the ‘Westminster bubble’. It was in Soho! Nevertheless, a good meal and conversation was had. Inevitably we got onto the north/south divide. Many around the table felt it was getting worse. I agree. However, it is being surpassed by something much worse.
For 80 years, the ‘regional question’ was inadequately tackled. From 1999 to their abolition in 2012, the regional development agencies tinkered with the economic output gap between the regions, but it was never enough to check the extent to which the successful post-industrial areas got richer, whilst the old industrial areas got poorer. The failure to tackle this national systemic economic issue then, has now been coupled to national economic recession and cuts to the welfare state. This has spawned deeper local social and economic divisions. We may well look back on the north/south divide as a walk in the park, compared to what we have now. The social and economic landscape of England has moved on, to something much worse.
The north/south divide argument is a convenient shorthand for many who wish for a fairer and socially just England. However, while it describes a general feature of our economy and it does has some cultural meaning, I think is being overtaken by a new national shared reality.
We now have growing divides across all our regions, cities and towns. We have two speed economies, dual cities, haves and have-nots, the employed and unemployed, the well paid and the low paid, the elites and the excluded. There is no simple geography to this. England is a land of many and deepening divisions –inequality has no compass points. You could now argue it is more London and the rest? But even that doesn’t ring wholly true. London is riven with just as many divides, as the haves gentrify, colonise and drive the have-nots increasingly outward or squeeze them into social housing pockets.