Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Tories' Policy On Liverpool: Close It

You know you're well & truly into the silly season when "academics" propose the wholesale abandonment of northern towns & cities.
That's precisely what is put forward in a report by the Policy Exchange thinktank (http://www.policyexchange.org.uk/ ), entitled "Cities Unlimited", which asserts that northern towns & cities, including Liverpool,have "failed" (http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2008/aug/13/conservatives.regeneration ).
The report suggests that people in the north should be paid to move south.
This seems like a twenty first century version of Norman Tebbit's infamous "on yer bike" speech at the Tories' 1981 conference & Geoffrey Howe's "managed decline" comment on Merseyside around the same time.
The Tories' "minister for Merseyside" (ha!), Chris Grayling, has attempted to distance the party from the report. However, as Nicholas Watt notes in the Guardian piece, Policy Exchange "enjoys strong links with the Tory leadership".
It is also commonly acknowledged that the role of such thinktanks, particularly those on the right, is to say things which the party would rather not voice at this stage (the sale of council houses & Thatcher's privatisation programmes first saw the light of day as thinktank suggestions). Therefore a significant Tory input into the Policy Exchange report is inevitable.
So where should we northerners go (assuming we can just up sticks, move our entire families & communities, etc. & move to similarly paid jobs in southern England)?
The answer: Oxford, Cambridge & London.
Yes, London.
Of course, everyone knows that the UK's capital city has enough space to spare...don't they?
As for Oxford & Cambridge, can you imagine the level & scale of infrastructure required for these two cities as they prepare to welcome the northern hordes?
To be fair (& believe me, it's bloody difficult being fair to this report's Pythonesque premise), the Guardian article does quote two paragraphs from the thinktank's report which have to be acknowledged by us northerners:
"Many of Britain's towns and cities have failed --and been failed by policy makers for far too long. It is better to tell uncomfortable truths than to continue to claim that if we carry on as we are then things will turn out well. Just as we can't buck the market, so we can't buck economic geography either. Places that enjoyed the conditions for creating wealth in the coal-powered 19th century often do not do so today.
"Coastal cities, whether large like Liverpool and Hull, or small like Scunthorpe and Blackpool, are most vulnerable...They are almost always at the end of the line. They have lost their raison d'etre [as ports] and it is hard to imagine them prospering at their current sizes."
The Liverpool Echo gets its teeth into Dr Tim Leunig, one of the report's co-authors, who helps to dig his own hole with a few garbled & ignorant comments over the phone to the Echo's reporter (http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/liverpool-news/local-news/2008/08/13/meet-the-boffin-who-says-abandon-liverpool-100252-21525159/ ):
"[Liverpool] is poorly connected to the road network, the rail network and air links.
"And it is a long, long way away from markets in Europe.
"People are doing their best without a doubt. But the city still suffers the problem of not being near London or Heathrow."
The comments about the city's transport links may be valid but his other points make him sound like a remedial pupil who's just got the hang of basic geography (so Liverpool's 200 miles from London? Oooh, I didn't realise that before!).
The Echo notes that Dr Leunig lectures in economic history at the London School of Economics. Economic history does indeed make the point that the Port of Liverpool enjoyed its heyday in the mid to late 19th century. However, it is not the role or purpose of economic history to extrapolate future prospects from the study of the past.
Mischievously, the Echo publishes Dr Leunig's email address: t.leunig@lse.ac.uk .
However, let's leave the final word to Dr Leunig himself. According to the Guardian story, he acknowledges that his ideas will be seen as "unworkable, unreasonable and perhaps plain barmy".
You said it, Tim!

1 comment:

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