Coffee House

Don’t set different parts of the UK against each other

4 December 2012

Kelvin MacKenzie made what I assume is a tongue-in-cheek plea for the formation of a ‘Southern party’ in the Telegraph yesterday. In the piece, he consistently resorts to crude caricature about anybody from North of the Watford Gap. According to MacKenzie, only people in the South East are ‘hard-working clever and creative, Glasgow has ‘unhealthy habits’, which are subsidised by the ‘people of Guildford’ and if you took the South East out of the economy, ‘it would be called Ethiopia’.

MacKenzie’s article is divisive, simplistic and wrong – ignoring the economic dynamism on display in many parts of the North and the fact that narrowing the North-South divide is necessary for the long term prosperity of the whole of the UK.  It’s also an example of a kind of populist politics that seems determined to set different parts of the UK against each other – using scapegoats as an alternative to vision.

The stereotype rolled out by MacKenzie is also on display on reality TV, with the execrable ‘Geordie Shore’ or ‘The Valleys’ on MTV or ‘Geordie Finishing School For Girls’ on BBC3. This negative, clichéd and out of date view sees areas like the North East as all heavy drinking and fake tan.  There are, however, plenty of good news stories from places outside of the South East.

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The North East, for example, is the only UK region that is a net exporter and the past year has seen record export figures for the North Eastern economy of £14 billion. The region also has the highest rate of apprenticeship participation amongst young people. The North has many advantages has many advantages, excellent natural resources and skills in high tech manufacturing for example, which will be crucial if the UK is to compete successfully in the global economy. The North East has also been blossoming in the arts and creative industries for the past few decades, from the Baltic Art Gallery to the ‘Sage’ and plays like the ‘Pitmen Painters’. Last week’s OFSTED report showed that schools in County Durham, for example, have continued to improve.

The world is, of course, more complicated than MacKenzie suggests. There are plenty of highly prosperous towns in the North and plenty of pockets of poverty in the South East. When poorer parts of London were exploding in riots last year, the North East or Scotland didn’t see any violence at all – indeed North Eastern police officers were sent to London to help the Met deal with the rioting. Politically, Conservatives need to be careful to distance themselves from MacKenzie’s comments and sentiments – the Tories need to win in the North and the Midlands and the Tory brand is already damaged in many of these places.

That isn’t to say that there isn’t much more to do to narrow the North-South divide. As Neil O’Brien pointed out last week, politics is becoming increasingly regionalised and polarised in the UK. If this polarisation continues you’re likely to get rabble rousing voices like MacKenzie’s popping up more and more. Certain parts of the North still haven’t recovered from the devastating shock of deindustrialisation – with unemployment and welfare dependency continuing to be an issue.  Too many Northern towns and cities are still too dependent on the public sector and have a shortage of sustainable private sector jobs. Transport infrastructure for the North also needs to be improved.

And we should be thinking seriously about addressing these issues and narrowing the North-South divide. That needs brave measures and radical policies.  We shouldn’t be letting this debate be cheapened by attention seeking talk of Southern separatism and the use of cheap, outmoded and unfair stereotypes about the North.

David Skelton is deputy director of Policy Exchange.

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Show comments
  • WhoUKiddin

    Is he only joking or just being sarcastic? The south east has been very successful in sucking the wealth out of the rest of the UK for 900 years or so. I’m surprised there’s anything left outside London.

    The taxpayers want their money back Mr Mackenzie. Time to cough up!

  • William Blakes Ghost

    This was always going to happen if the Tories keep handwringing and fretting about their ‘Northern Problem’ (actually it’s an urban problem not a northern problem) and failing to address the issues that cause people to think in regional terms. By running away from issues like Barnett, the variance in per capita PESA funding (the North East has the highest per capita PESA spending in England) and the English Question, the Tories (who suffer as a result unlike Labour) are asking for trouble because apart from lame arguments about (We wanna be together) all it does is play into Labour’s hands.

    Take for example all the furore over regional English issues such as the NHS reforms or the Police Commissioners both of which have been severely undermined by Cameron’s Coalition pals. The thing is the Tories were elected with a 60 seat majority in England.Yet they do nothing to respect the voters mandate . Even worse in doing nothing they give their opponents the upperhand so that down the road Tory supporters will have to suffer Labour again.

    Now if you are a southern Tory voter, given such lack of action (on any of the issues from the EU to Barnett) you have to wonder what on earth is the point of voting Tory? In fact you have to wonder what the Tory party is for if it refuses the opportunity to wield the power mandated to it.

    That of course then opens the door for other parties and potentially regional parties. So instead of whining about McKenzie perhaps Skelton my turn his mind to the failure of the Tories to address the real issues in our political system and do to the other parties what they have been doing to the Tories for a decade or more..

  • Fergus Pickering

    The main trouble with the North is that it is full of Northerners. I fled Scotland to escape the Scots who are even worse. It’s true the South is full of them, but they tend to be of the better sort, like Fraser. And me, come to that.

    • Jambo25

      I’d guess, Mr. Pickering, that you are not greatly missed.

    • TomTom

      I watch you in Harry Enfield sketches Fergus

  • Jambo25

    Tell me Mr.Skelton, what did you and your organisation do, over the past couple of decades as the London based MSM ramped up and led attacks on Scots and Scotland in the crudest terms possible? What did you do when, the ever so amusing, Dr.Starkey went off on one of his anti-Scottish hissy fits? What did you do when Ruth Deech and Douglas Murray went on major anti-Scottish rants on Any Questions back in 2010? did you ask why an ex-Governor of the BBC was acting this way and what it said about the BBC? Did you launch any protest when Paxman made his “Scottish Raj” jibe? Did you have any feelings about him comparing Scotland to North Korea or Zimbabwe and Salmond to Pol Pot or Mugabe in an interview with Salmond. The Irish Times journalist, Mark Kennedy, who was on to comment on the interview immediately after was clearly gobsmacked by the utter rudeness and borderline racism of it. Gordon Brewer didn’t look ll that comfortable either.

    How about Rod Liddle’s ever so amusing Sunday Times piece in which he called Scots (All of us?) “Druggies and drunks” ? What about when Mackenzie called Scots “Tartan tossers” in a Sun article and seemed to express some satisfaction with the fact that they died young? What about when Tories, like Alan Duncan floated the idea of banning Scots from certain high offices of state? What about the constantly averred but never adequately supported claims that Scots are, somehow, ‘subsidy junkies’. Did you or your organisation ever object to any of these? Why are you, now surprised that these kind of insults are now being flung in the direction of English Northerners as well. Was it OK as long as they were only aimed at Scots and presumably Welsh?

    • the viceroy’s gin

      All well and good, but the “Scottish Raj” crack is pretty funny, you gotta admit. 😉

      • Jambo25

        Not really. It was what passes for humour amongst the London ‘establishment’ nowadays. Pretty weak. Paxman’s real views were shown by the ‘Newsnight’ interview I referred to. He’s part of a media class which mistakes utter rudeness and bad manners for candour and being a ‘bit of a character’. I really do wonder how you would react if the Scottish MSM commented on the English and England the way that the London based MSM frequently comments on Scotland and the Scots.

        • the viceroy’s gin

          I don’t really have a dog in this fight.

          I just don’t find ethnic humor out of bounds. It’s fun and silly sometimes, and nothing wrong with that. Hey, give it to the Londonistan twits, I say. They deserve it, too.

        • Colonel Mustard

          They do, don’t they? As far as I know the English do not have a pejorative collective name for the Scots that has the same connotation as “sassenach”. The fact that the Scots as a nation despise the Tories says it all. Most of the anti-Scots bile you document is retaliatory – you do understand that?

          And “racism”? Please. Xenophobia maybe. But even then that is not wholly appropriate because an Englishman might feel great empathy towards most Indians or Poles but then thoroughly dislike a certain type of grievance airing Scotsman. Extending “racism” to include anything you don’t want to hear or are offended by is puerile but, I admit, very “now”. And of course the socialists love it because it furthers their aspirations to control everything written, said or thought.

  • Richard John O’Callaghan

    Excellent article. Also, the fact that a UK without London or the Southeast would be more akin to India or Canada in the GDP stakes (rather than Ethiopia, as MacKenzie claims) illustrates how there is more economic dynamism to the rest of the country than many in the Capital realise

    • David Lindsay

      Canada? Now, there’s a thought.

      Not least, though not exclusively, because of the effect that it would have on arresting any slide towards the dissolution of the Union, the MPs and municipal leaders of the 12 ceremonial counties of Cheshire, Cumbria, Durham, the East Riding of Yorkshire, Greater Manchester, Lancashire, Merseyside, North Yorkshire, Northumberland, South Yorkshire, Tyne and Wear, and West Yorkshire need to issue a Declaration that, in the event of the secession of either or both of Scotland and Wales, each of those ceremonial counties would become a State of the Union of the North of England.

      The identity of the Head both of the Union and of each of the States would be made abundantly clear by the fact that, in best Commonwealth fashion, the flags of the
      Union and of each of the States were in all 13 cases variations either on the Blue Ensign (as in Australia and New Zealand, among other places) or on the Red Ensign (as historically in Canada), the same Ensign for all 13.

      Each would have the appropriate heraldic shield and motto emblazoned on it, surmounted by Saint Edward’s Crown as would befit the last outposts of the England, as well as of the Britain, in which most English and most British people had grown up.

  • HooksLaw

    Correct – it was a disgusting fatuous anti British statement by MacKenzie.

    Sundeland will soon be making more cars than all of Italy.

    • PlumedHat

      Spelling lesson HooksLaw?

    • Daniel Maris

      Quite. The North East is showing the way forward.

  • Jebediah

    Whilst Scotland has a voice, England doesn’t. Still less the successful over-taxed south of England. If a part of the UK starts saying it wants to break away, it’s not surprising other parts suddenly wake up.

    • Jambo25

      Yes, it’s all the fault of them pesky Jocks.

  • Kevin

    This is all down to Labour supporters, including in the media, from at least the 1980s.

    They bleated on about it being “grim oop north” for the entire decade as per the typical Socialist strategy of divide-and-conquer. Now irreparable damage has been done as southerners would rather go to Stockholm than visit Newcastle.

    • eeore

      The stereotype of which you speak was not created by Labour or the media in the 1980s, it’s history is much older. Perhaps you should look at the novels of Dickens or Mrs Gaskell, or the poetry of the Romantic movement.

      • Kevin

        Thanks. I just have this image of Dickens guest-editing Time Out.

        • eeore

          And no doubt Mrs Gaskell would these days be posing in her underwear in the Mail.

    • Jambo25

      That’s been the case for at least 40 odd years since I first went to live in London, back in the 60s. Londoners were amazingly closed minded and lacked knowledge of what life in Scotland was like. They weren’t too good, in those days, on most other parts of the world either. As someone who had just finished 6th Form at a ferociously academic and competitive Edinburgh public school and had relatives living all over the world, so knew a great deal about ‘the big out there’ I found myself being patronised by dunderheads. It was somewhat irritating.

      • rubyduck

        Scotland isn’t the North, it’s Scotland.

        Nevertheless, it being so interesting ‘n all, I trust you’ve gone back ?

  • Daniel Maris

    There you have it: the North East. That’s what a real economy looks like.

    Imagine if the whole of the UK was like that! But instead we have in London and South East this financial sector which is dragging us down, promoting mass immigration, creating a housing crisis, encouraging welfare dependency, and driving a wedge between two mutually exclusive parts of community.

  • Get it right

    To be fair, many people in the rest of the country has a very low opinion of people from the south east, so what’s the difference?… 😉

    • eeore

      And would welcome being freed from the dead hand of London.

  • Colonel Mustard

    I definitely think the anti-racist and anti-discriminatory laws should be extended to regional and county differences between the people in the UK – and of course to city differences. And whilst we are at it to hair colour, eye colour, clothes and jewellery. In fact it should be a criminal offence to comment on anything pertaining to an individual’s identity, characteristics or appearance, including their choice of watches. Only in this way, by cracking down ruthlessly on comment and opinion, can we build a modern Utopia here where everyone loves everyone else and no harsh words are ever uttered.

    I would recommend that everyone wears the same green cotton suit and tennis shoes too, but that might undermine Growth.

    • RealTory

      I object to your greenist comments. Plod will be around after they have been on a greenism awareness course arranged by Common Purpose (only £2,750 plus VAT and free labour party membership for one year).

    • William Blakes Ghost

      I agree the South East, South West and East Midlands would then be able to sue the Government over their discriminatory patronage of Northern England and particularly the North East over other more southerly regions.

      Its hardly surprising that Skelton makes the case he does for the North east (all though the export stats sounds like disingenuous statistical salami slicing) given that for just about all the last 40 years since the commencement of Barnett (and so pre Thatcher) the North East has had the highest PESA exenditure per capita of any region in England. 40 years!

  • TomTom

    It is a great idea to polarise England geographically and to push for a split. There is very little binding the regions of England together and it is probably best to move towards a de fact separation. At the very least there should be A Council of The North and a Northern England Party to hoover up votes and block any of the Corporatist Parties from ever forming a government in Westminster again.

    A New Party to push for the interests of the North in the same way SNP pushes inside Scotland would be the way forward. To push Labour and Conservatives out of the North completely should be the goal

    • Wessex Man

      I hear the sound of distant drums, don’t cry for me Rochdale!

    • David Lindsay

      Labour is already there under Ed. As recent local and by-election results have demonstrated.

      Next, look out for the two Coalition parties finishing behind the Monster Raving Loonies at any Northern by-election contested by the latter, except perhaps in an extremely rural area.

      And look out for the European Elections, at which the Conservatives are going to come third as ever in Scotland, and are going to drop from first to second in Wales, but are going to come fifth or below in each of the three Northern regions, as well as probably in each of the two Midland ones.

      • TomTom

        Labour is a total disaster and has destroyed everything it has touched. Miliband is a North London boy who should stick to his Primrose Hill set. Labour with cretins like Barry Sheerman, Denis MacShane, Gerry Sutcliffe, Ed Balls, Yvette Cooper etc has been an Unmitigated Disaster and it would have been better to have been under foreign occupation than let Labour destroy what survived their previous terms in office

        • David Lindsay

          Tell it to the voters. Labour has never, ever been more hegemonic in the North of England that it is now.

          But then, Labour also comfortably won back Corby, comfortably held on to Croydon North, and carried Chipping Norton at the local elections, winning over 60 per cent of the vote in Southern villages that it had not contested in 30 years or more.

          Those are just the facts.

  • Richelieu

    Neither should we be letting this debate be cheapened by attention seeking talk of Scottish separatism and the use of cheap, outmoded and unfair stereotypes about the Union – but we have. Alex and the SNP have been all be celebrated – and until their recent maladroit manoeuvres they did deserve some recognition for their skill in fairness.

    Separatism is now the modern lever to justify local advantage, typically unearned and unjustified, obtained at others’ expense. It will be hard to stifle.

    • MichtyMe

      There is to be a referendum in 2014 so it is worth talking about, unlike separation from the EU, which although a popular topic at this place, is unlikely to be voted upon anytime soon.

  • wrinkledweasel

    I might be mistaken but I thought I saw a map some days ago which showed that people tend to be “happier” the further North they live. Of course, there are some exceptions, but these coincide with small pockets of extraordinary wealth. For me it was a shock to visit London recently and witness the glum faces and the kind of driving you only expect in Helmand. Also, I managed to spend an awful lot of money in a very short time and although I had fun, and indeed a drug-like buzz, I was very glad to be back to a less de-humanizing way of life.

    I could not help noticing the comparative wealth down South – the houses, the cars, the haircuts that seem to cost three times as much. It’s obvious there is more money, but it’s equally obvious that everything costs more. So what is the net result? Are people better off humanly speaking if they live within the M25? Only if they are very rich. You can be poor up North and have a reasonably pleasant life, as long as you don’t crave 54″ TVs or the latest phone or smoke 20 Marlboro a day or drived a Porsche Cayenne.

    I recommend to my friends in the South that they sell up their three-bedroom semi and buy a castle in Dumfriesshire and a few hundred acres, using the left-over money to retire.

  • swatantra

    The man himself is a bit of a Dickensian caricature and a disgrace. He needs to spend a year in Newcastle and learn that the NE has indeed a great deal to teach effete southerners. Then perhaps he’ll eat his words.

    • David Lindsay

      All right, so Geordie Shore and Geordie Finishing School are not exactly aimed at me. In any case, people from County Durham are not Geordies, as Geordies would be the first to tell you. But the latter, since it was made at public expense, was still the most pig ignorant BBC depiction of the North East since it sent some Jolly Hockey Sticks reporter to walk around upmarket Tynemouth, which always had a
      Tory MP until 1997, and marvel that the Conservative Party had managed to win a few council seats anywhere so improbable. The question should have been how it ever managed to lose them. Even last year, it still did not managed to win back the seat in Parliament. Have you ever been to Tynemouth?

      Until last year, Newcastle had had a Lib Dem council for some years. That authority was under Conservative control for much of the post-War period, and the city regularly returned Conservative MPs for certain seats. There is still a strikingly high number of privately schooled children, a posh university with Princess Eugenie at it, a thriving arts scene that is certainly not reminiscent of the pitmen painters, several gentlemen’s clubs, a racecourse of some importance, and no shortage of the swankier sorts of shops, restaurants, bars, and the like. There are poor places around it (as well as several very rich ones), but there are very few poor areas in it, although the ones that there are, are undeniably very poor indeed.

      Any chance of a programme in which the products of somewhere like the Newcastle Central High School for Girls were sent to somewhere like the South Coast or numerous parts of London in order to learn how the other half live?

  • Olaf

    It’s not a surprise that things happen in the SE and particularly London when the Government and the media are fixated upon it. London is getting as insulated as the USA.

    • TomTom

      Notting Hill is less in touch with the real world than Brixton but I guess Kelvin spends more time in Weybridge than on Coldharbour Lane

    • William Blakes Ghost

      You clearly have no idea about the south because from down here in Kent Cameron might as well be in Peking he’s that out of touch. Whatever the Government are fixated on its not the south. The Westminster Freakshow perhaps but definitely not the south.

  • Reconstruct

    He’s a wag is Kelvin. Not much of a boy for facts though. Here are a couple, taken from the ONS: the most rapid regional rise in employment in the 12m to September was in, er, the Northeast (employment up 59k, or 5% yoy). Next up was Yorkshire/Humberside (up 83k, or 3.4%), after which it was the West Midlands (up 77k, or 3.1% yoy). What about London and the Southeast? Up 57k and 1.5% yoy, and 53k and 1.3% yoy.

    So, uncomfortably for Kelvin, and the vast majority of those writing in his wake, the assumption that the North is an economic wasteland is. . . well. . . . how can I put it kindly?

    This data is all available, for free, from ONS. But getting to them demands a good five minutes work, and anyway, why let facts get in the way of preconception/prejudice?

    • John Hall

      Delta shifts in employment can appear high when starting from a lower level.It’s the overall rates of employment which are key. If you already have high employment rates, then steep % rises are well nigh impossible to achieve. Nonsequitur of an argument. If employment rate changes from 1% to 10%, you will have achieved a 1000% increase in employment but you still have 90% unemployment.

      • TomTom


      • Reconstruct

        John Hall,

        At some level of differentiation that would, of course, be correct. But once again, your problem is that you are blithely making assumptions without bothering to check the data. If you had, you’d find that rates of employment in London are 69.6%, which is actually lower than in Yorkshire/Humberside, (69.8%) and the West Midlands (69.7), although slightly higher than in the Northeast (67.8%). As for unemployment ratios, yes, they are slightly higher in Yorkshire/Humber (9.1%) than in London (8.7%), but that actually reflects the fact that folks in Yorkshire/Humber (and W Midlands too) have a high proportion of the population classed as ‘economically active’ than in London. (Data: 76.9% in Yorkshire/Humber; 76.5% in W Midlands; 76.4% in London). In other words, your point about delta changes is specifically not carrying in these cases. In the Northeast? Well, it’s not as clear-cut: unemployment is 9.8% and economically active rate is 75.2%, so maybe there’s a smallish delta effect at work.

        But generally, I hope you can have the good grace to acknowledge that an examination of the facts undermines the crude stereotypes and assumptions underpinning Kelvin’s entertaining piece.

        • John Hall

          Interesting. Fair points. Are there also figures which would indicate what percentage of the potential workforce in those N/northern areas are university students and what percentage are newly-arrived immigrants (first 24 months, finding their feet in the country) in comparison with the SE? You strike me as someone that would know.( I’m from the East Midlands, Northamptonshire, which is dreadfully underfunded in comparison with the metropolitan areas of the North and yet there is no great swell for change as there’s no expectancy of the ability of government to make any positive impact. We just don’t suck at the teat as much, mainly as it’s historically been withdrawn for quite some time. Things are further complicated by the beancounters forcing us into East Anglia in some regional reviews as they like to ‘level’ playing fields for comparison withother areas)

          • Reconstruct

            Thanks for the courtesy of your reply. But see below: don’t wish for a greater suck at the teat for E Midlands: it’s a narcotic which generally brings on ‘public sector blight’.

    • TomTom

      MacKenzie is simply a dimwit pubic schoolboy (Alleyn’s) with one O-Level to his name and a well-connected mother. Otherwise he is simply an outrider – he must have a chance to appear in Liverpool with his new campaign – I bet they are waiting for him !

    • William Blakes Ghost

      Except that the North East gets the highest per capita public spending of any English region. In fact those figures you are providing seem to coincide with the amount of PESA each region receives.

      Given it has the greatest Government Investment you’d expect the North East to be doing better (especially when the likes of Blair and Miliband Snr represented constituencies in the North East). Now the question is now that the North East is so successful (Skelton and you say so) is the North East going to give up the extra government subsidies its had for the last 40 years, stand on its own two feet and give someone else a go, say like the East Midlands which has historically been the least funded?

      • Reconstruct

        Two responses to that. First, of course, it’s true. And because of that, in a time of public spending restraint (alleged), one would expect those places which have ‘relied on’ public sector spending to have the worst employment record as the alleged ‘cuts’ are made. But in fact, as we can see, it turns out that the North is actually doing rather better in terms of relative employment right now. Strange, ain’t it?

        My second response is this: the higher per capita public spending in the North, if it is accompanied by higher public sector employment, is an integral feature of the ‘public sector blight’ which afflicts wide parts of the north. The key document here is the LSE’s Spatial Economics Group study of the impact of regionally disporportionate public sector employment on private labour markets. It shouldn’t surprise you to know that in the medium-long term it’s bad news for private sector labour markets. Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the northern cities will know full well how true this is: public sector blight is a very real and very damaging condition.

        As you will have discovered by now, I am emphatically not supporting disproportionate public sector spending in the North. Indeed, cutting public sector employment (in particular) is a necessary part of rejuvenating the regions. But I do also want people to question their own prejudices, or rather confront their own ignorance, when it comes to commenting on North/South price disparities (which, ultimately, is what we’re talking about). Kelvin was lazy – but hey, no-one expects much of him when he’s off on a rant. But commenters shouldn’t get such an easy pass.

  • Vulture

    If Kelvin’s little squib was only tongue-in-cheek having a larf, WTF are you devoting a whole column to refuting it?
    There is a widenening gulch between north and south, with the Tories having lost the former and Labour the latter, and at the moment the only party which is bridging it is….UKIP!

    • dalai guevara

      UKIP have zero seats, they will remain having zero seats as they are a one issue (the wrong issue) party. In fact, they are a one person party – when Kilroy II finally gives up due to boredom, what happens next?

    • Jambo25

      Look at my first comment. MacKenzie has form here.

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