OPINION: Dispatches from the North/South divide

After eight years on the rubber chicken circuit as an after-dinner speaker, I have formed a certain view of the North/South divide: the further you are from London, the more relaxed they become until, at the extremities, they are disinclined to go to bed at all. Some will argue that this is why there is a divide because application to work weakens with the distance from the metropolis. It is a nice theory, but, like most North/South notions, it’s a load of nonsense.

After eight years on the rubber chicken circuit as an after-dinner

speaker, I have formed a certain view of the North/South divide: the

further you are from London, the more relaxed they become until, at the

extremities, they are disinclined to go to bed at all. Some will argue

that this is why there is a divide because application to work weakens

with the distance from the metropolis. It is a nice theory, but, like

most North/South notions, it’s a load of nonsense.



An awful lot of nonsense has been talked recently about the disparities

between North and South, but Tony Blair may have done regional

development PROs a good turn by trying to kill the stereotypes. He

cannot, of course, dispose of the facts. A Cabinet Office report shows

there is a pounds 3,000 gap in disposable income between the richest and

poorest regions - the South East and the North East. Unemployment is

nearly three times higher in the North East than in the South East. Only

four in ten children in the North East leave school with five or more

GCSEs, compared to more than half in the South East.



But the worst housing is in London, which is not surprising, given the

massive neglect of council houses by some local authorities. There are

huge disparities within regions in, for example, unemployment and

educational attainment. And Scotland, for decades the home of the UK’s

prize whiners and whingers, is far better off with a GDP 96 per cent of

the national average, compared with my native Yorkshire’s 89 per

cent.



Blair was nonetheless right to condemn the ’downtrodden North’ and

’stinking rich South’ stereotypes. They don’t come more stinking rich

and ostentatious than in parts of Cheshire. They have to be very bouncy

indeed to beat the burghers of booming Leeds these days. And for sheer

animal spirits you have to go a long way to better those in

Newcastle-upon-Tyne.



That said, the London area is now the richest part of the European Union

and, as such, a magnet. So what’s new since the Thatcher reforms of the

1980s? But it does the North no good to moan about it. The North’s - and

West’s - strongest PR card is to celebrate the national recovery over

the past 20 years and their relative advantages under it in terms of

availability of labour, land and quality of life. One of the reasons I

find diners well away from London so much more relaxed is that they

don’t have to spend the equivalent of one working day a week - and often

more - getting to work.



They are liable to be fresher, less stressed and more integrated into

their community ’oop’ North than ’dahn’ South. You might not earn as

much up there, but then you don’t have to spend as much, either. Life’s

a bargain.



I hope that regional development PROs seize their chance, forget the

caricatures and glory in their advantages. ’Get a new life in the

North’, they should cry - credibly.



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