Saturday, January 29

Deflating London’s bubble is the only way to fix the north-south divide | north of england

IColleagues in the London media are often surprised that I live in the North West of England. “Oh, do you teach at a university up there?” They ask, as if there could be no other reason for wanting to live outside of the Southeast. “I do not say. “I live here because it’s brilliant and I love it.” After the treadmill, comes the follow-up: “Well, I guess you can buy a house there, at least.”

I have had many of these conversations. If you live in London, or Manchester, Bristol, or any major city that has tried to emulate the capital, you will have little hope of getting a mortgage through wages alone, spending a large part of your salary on rent. pay off your landlord’s debt when you could pay yours elsewhere.

If you don’t live in the overheated capital or another major city, you may have lower housing costs, but you will also have fewer job opportunities and lower income, so housing is cheaper in the first place. England’s distorted economy, with employment opportunities, wealth and infrastructure spending overwhelmingly concentrated in the South East, has created a trap for both tenants and landlords, wherever they live in the country. The fact that geography matters, and that the same economic trap can have different manifestations in different places, seems lost for those who persist in speaking of the “red wall”, as if the only division between the south and the north were cultural.

As author Owen Hatherley writes in his spirited new book, Red metropolis, Homeownership levels in Barrow-in-Furness, which became Tory in 2019, stands at 75%; in some parts of London, it is less than 20%. This does not mean that the people of Barrow, with their cheaper housing, have it easier than Londoners. Think of it this way: there is nothing to envy to living in a place where property is cheap when you consider the reasons why could be cheaper.

Northerners know the South better than Southerners know the North: They have spent much more time working, studying or training in London and the South East, because the country’s economy and infrastructure are structured to make this a necessity. You go because you have few other options if you want to find the job you are qualified for, with a commensurate salary and the opportunity to do things with your free time that do not involve spending hours trapped on the M62.

If you don’t move south, you will likely have to commute to find a well-paying job and will need a car to get around, because buses only run sporadically and cost twice as much, sometimes more, than they do in London. . The only overnight store will be a 24-hour Tesco, and every day you’ll be faced with the reality of what economic punishment centrally imposed for decades across an entire region looks and feels like.

This is something not only quantifiable but tangible. Whenever I visit London, or any of its expanding commuter funnels, I’m amazed by the glaring gap in infrastructure spending: you see new train stations, fleets of electric buses, smoother roads, better sidewalks. You feel the difference as you walk. It is the feeling of suddenly realizing how deceived you have been.

In response to the Chancellor’s spending review last month, Marcus Johns, a researcher at the thinktank IPPR North, commented: “In transport alone, if the North had the same investment per person as London over the last decade, it would have received £ 66bn more.” These north-south funding gaps extend to arts and cultural institutions, scientific research and development, and perhaps inevitably to the pandemic.

As my adoptive city of Liverpool enters level 2, the Additional Restrictions Grant you will receive from the Treasury equals £ 2.86 per person for each of the seven weeks you spent under severe limitations on economic activity. On the Isle of Wight, now back at Tier 1 after a four week national lockdown, the payout amounts to £ 5.19.

In light of this, it becomes clear why a townhouse can be bought for £ 50,000 in some parts of northern England, while in London the same house could cost £ 1.5 million. The price of a bargain is limited infrastructure and career options, created by a London-centric economy. Investors know that the demand for property in big cities is not going to fall, and so they continue to invest excess wealth in the real estate market, driving prices up even higher. This situation was not inevitable, but the result of political and economic elections that have created a country with the most geographically unbalanced economy in Europe.

Yet instead of closely examining the economic and political decisions that helped create these problems, an overly powerful and almost exclusively London-based alliance of policy makers, politicians and media figures prefers to baffle the North. They treat it as a uniform wall of voters, be they red or blue, rather than a region full of people who know very well that the places they live are subject to an excruciatingly protracted process of controlled decline.

On the surface, the accumulation of resentments behind the electoral collapse of Brexit and Labor in 2019 may seem like mere “cultural differences” between a progressive South and a conservative North. But they are rooted in deep structural inequality. Successive governments boosted London’s economy because it was the path of least resistance, and they expected money to seep out. It goes without saying that the places where the money did not arrive are those where houses cost less.

It is easy to change the name of resentment, it can be called “social conservatism”, some may call it “backwardness”, but it is much more difficult to address. In any case, political resentment is useful to conservatives, who can gain more by blaming the divisions between North and South on a fabricated culture war than by setting an economic model that hurts people in all areas of the country.

Deflating the London bubble as the north rises is the only chance we have of leveling off, never mind leveling up. But mention that in polite circles and what is the answer you get? More tumbleweeds.

• Lynsey Hanley is the author of Estates: an Intimate History, and Respectable: Crossing the Class Divide

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