Thursday, November 08, 2007

Nothing But The Same Old Story?

The Liverpool most residents know
The Liverpool most tourists know
Before the Liverpool Culture Company, aided & abetted by their allies, Trinity Mirror, try to persuade us that Merseyside will be transformed into Disneyland on the Mersey by 2008, it's necessary to innoculate oneself against such bullshit.
Perhaps one vaccine has arrived today in the form of a report on the BBC's own website:
It relates, "The think tank Policy Exchange said Liverpool and another 18 cities and towns, including Warrington, are not catching up with the rest of England.
"The Labour Government had been 'well-intentioned' but 'successful towns are becoming more successful, poorer towns are becoming less so', the report said."
The article goes on to say: "Local Government Minister John Healey rejected the claims, saying the economic performance of six of England's eight largest cities had improved since 1997."
Well, he would say that, wouldn't he? After all, it's his job to bang the drum for "the provinces", as they were once patronisingly called. So, Healey's brief, it's valid to say, involves a good deal of PR.
Healey said he found it "alarming" that the think tank report had come to its finding. Does he mean "alarming" as in inaccurate, or as in "shit, we've been dropped in it by some intellectual's candour!"?
To try & get a little more context on this story, I visited the Policy Exchange website ( ).
It should be noted that Policy Exchange describes itself as "the UK's leading centre-right thinktank".
Aha, the picture's getting a little clearer. The Right (let's not bother with the media savvy "centre-right" tag) has long had an approach to areas like Merseyside which could be seen as, at best, benign neglect, or, at worst, outright hostlity. The first approach was voiced by then Tory Chancellor Geoffrey Howe in 1981, when he recommended that the Thatcher Government's policy on Merseyside in the wake of the Toxteth riots should be one of "managed decline". The second approach manifested itself in the Tories' use of unelected law lords to bar the 47 Liverpool Labour councillors from office in 1987.
The report's author, Dr. Oliver Marc Hartwich, is, perhaps predictably, vague on detail:
"While we should not give up on urban policy, much of the £30bn spent in the last decade appears to have had no effect. Britain needs to consider policies that will make it easier for people to work in places that have high productivity and therefore offer high wages. Urban policies should provide towns and cities with incentives to grow, prevent ghost towns from appearing, and give towns and cities much more freedom to decide how to use regeneration money."
Couple of morsels to feast on here: So, areas known for high productivity also offer high wages, do they? That'll be news in the Asian sweatshops. Ghost towns should be prevented, eh? It is in the nature of global capitalism to leave ghost towns in its wake; look at the area around Detroit in the US, where the decline of the car industry has had that social & economic result. Towns & cities should be able to decide how regeneration money is spent in their areas. Fine. Just as long as the decisions aren't taken by locally elected representatives who start to question the "logic" of market forces.
Back to your ivory tower, Dr. Hartwich.

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