In the wake of his party’s stunning General Election victory, Boris Johnson promised not to take the votes of northerners who caused longstanding Labour seats to change allegiance for granted. But as he headed northbound for a victory tour and spoke of being “humbled” and “servants of the people”, it took the Conservative supporting Spectator magazine to decode the reality that lay behind this conciliatory tone.
“Given that the first rule of politics is that you must dance with the one that brung you,” wrote their political editor, James Forsyth, “they must now deliver for these places.”
And it’s going to take a lot more than Brexit to cover this debt.
Arguably for the first time in their history, the Conservatives will have to prioritise the Midlands and the North at the expense of London and the South East. London-centric decision making can no longer be the default mode of the Treasury.
For years, the economic arguments for greater investment in the north have fallen on deaf ears. When thinktanks like IPPR North argued that transport spending has risen more than twice as much per person in London than in the north, nothing was done. There have been powerful local newspaper campaigns and Early Day Motions. Business has raised its voice through organisations like the NP11, Northern Powerhouse Partnership and the Chambers of Commerce. Civic leaders and Metro Mayors have called for investment. However progress has remained painfully slow. But if there’s one argument that always trumps a reasoned economic case and spurs government into action, it’s a political argument.
And now the political argument is irrefutable.
As large parts of the north turned blue and a new brigade of Tory MPs head to Westminster, the call for investment in our failing trains and roads, neglected hospitals, depleted police, struggling town centres and underfunded and closed community facilities is going to become deafening.
If it’s acted upon quickly, there is a once in a generation opportunity to unleash productivity and growth, while unlocking the potential of countless towns that gaze back nostalgically on an illustrious history rather than look confidently towards a bright future.
This is not to paint a misleading picture of the north. From Daresbury to Blythe, our region is bursting at the seams with innovation. In cities like Leeds we’re seeing rapid scaleup growth. And decisions like Channel 4’s move to Leeds, GCHQ’s decision to open a new base in Manchester and The Royal College of Physicians committing to Liverpool’s Knowledge Quarter shows a rising confidence in the north.
But this confidence, innovation and creativity is contained and held back by poor infrastructure. With better transport connections, faster broadband and properly funded public services it can only grow and create more and more jobs.
And with 70 per cent of digital economy jobs located outside of London, the north is also well poised to lead the fourth industrial revolution.
We’ve waited long enough for a fairer settlement and with the right investment, we could be on the verge of a northern renaissance. There is an abundance of talent here straining at the leash. It brings to mind what Boris’ hero, Winston Churchill once said, in the early part of WWII when waiting on American armaments.
“Give us the tools and we will finish the job.”
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