As London overheats with investments and the populace of the South notices the recovering economy, the North of England is struggling to keep up. The region has never fully recovered from the decline of heavy industry and the mine closures of the Thatcher years, yet despite its ongoing struggle, government policies are still being implemented in a way that just serves the South of the country. Very little has been done to encourage growth or generate employment in the parts of the country that need it most.
Last week Ed Balls wrote an article for The Independent where he made the less than controversial statement that the Tories are not the Party of the North. David Cameron would like us to think otherwise, but cast your mind back a few years and one of the Conservative Party’s leading think tanks was branding Northern cities like Sunderland and Liverpool ‘beyond revival’, suggesting mass migration South would be for the good of the people. To minimise both embarrassment and damage to the party’s already woeful polls in most Northern regions, our current Prime minister quickly rejected the findings, but the fact that such an idea was proposed by this think tank was enough. It comes as no surprise that in the last election only 31 per cent of Northerners backed a Tory government, an enormous 12 points fewer than the rest of England. Four and half years later, what feels like a total disregard for the region leaves its inhabitants feeling badly misrepresented.
It is not just a lack of appropriate policy for economic improvement in the North either; government austerity policies have been sharply felt in the region. Northern regions continue to suffer as a result of their long-standing reliance on the public sector, where we have seen the harshest cuts in over a decade – with many small and medium-sized companies disproportionately squeezed by the government’s austerity programme. The measures have led to a rise in financial difficulties for all of the affected regions, as unemployment rates rocketed particularly in the early stages of the crisis.
As we fast approach the familiar time of election campaigns, it is clear that a charm offensive aimed at Northern voters has already begun, which is hardly surprising, as the Conservatives have little hope of winning an outright majority without picking up more seats in northern regions. George Osborne has promised that the North will be the ‘centrepiece’ of the budget, with an aim to create new ‘regional economic powerhouses’, but other than a general promise of more money for infrastructure, there seem to be few concrete plans in place to generate work and tackle unemployment which are absolutely paramount for economic improvement in the North.
Ed Balls has similarly promised bigger investment in infrastructure and housing under a Labour government come 2015, but the fact that the economy is still in a state of recovery means a constrained budget will continue to govern public spending. Northern voters are left to ask themselves whether another alternative really exists.