The Westminster political system and the effect of the City of London on the national economy have constrained the regional development of the UK for decades. London is the seat of national government, the centre of commerce and finance, and the capital of the UK. So perhaps it is natural that a large number of policies and spending decisions are often coated with a London-frosted topping. Or perhaps natural isn’t the right word here.
National infrastructure, transport and tourism expenditure are balanced heavily in favour of London. The Think tank IPPR revealed last year that Londoners enjoy £2,596 per head of public investment in transport infrastructure, compared to the north-east, which receives just £5 per head. The HS2 rail link project when built, will connect the north with London, because why would you want to go east to Norwich or west to Liverpool?
The question of airport expansion will see either Heathrow or Gatwick gain an extra runway whereas regional airports will be largely ignored. Significant disparities in spending between London and the regions will mean the capital enjoys better connectivity, increased job creation and superior skills.
This can disable other UK regions from becoming powerful self-sustaining entities, unable to contribute to national economic growth.
Every now and again we hear the usual rhetoric put forward by the three major political parties about how they are going to empower the regions outside London. Former Prime Minister Tony Blair promised to destroy the north/south divide following his successful election in 1997. Chancellor George Osborne spoke of a “northern powerhouse” a couple of weeks ago, whilst Prime Minister David Cameron unveiled £350 million of funding for the West Midlands. Labour too is voicing bigger ambitions, with large plans to divert £30 billion of funding to the north of England if they win the next election in 2015.
Meanwhile, the north/ south divide continues to grow and Westminster becomes even further remote.
The media does little to help too. The appearance of a Secretary of State or his shadow counterpart, as they perch on Andrew Marr’s sofa on a Sunday discussing the latest policy U-turn, (with a glorious background of the Thames behind) does little to inspire those eating their breakfast in Newcastle or Aberdeen. Now in fairness to the BBC they have moved jobs and the media focus to Salford Quays in Greater Manchester, but when the move took place, many acted as if they were being ferried off to Siberia.
It is undeniable that London is a multicultural, booming metropolis. However, whilst it continues to enjoy a political bias, many often forget that the regions and cities of the UK are also capable economies, boasting skills, expertise and innovation. Birmingham is an important manufacturing and engineering hub, Leeds has a large financial centre and Newcastle is looking to become the first carbon neutral town.
Lord Adonis once suggested moving the House of Lords to the Midlands or Salford Quays in a bid to chip away at the capital’s colossal supremacy. Perhaps place the booming clock of Big Ben on the skyline of Wolverhampton or in the medieval town of York? Or perhaps not.
Politicians need to think bigger. And what could be better than a parliament that lives and breathes on the pages of the web? By making parliament more accessible online, through an app or on social media, the internet could be better used to augment MP’s ability to engage with wider audiences and attain a better understanding of the needs of their constituents. In turn, the public can better understand the decisions taken in Whitehall. It could create more meaningful engagement with a much wider and diverse audience, help to break down geographical barriers and the capital's dominance, and certainly hold our elected representatives to account.
To increase confidence in our currently waning political structure, we have to start thinking outside of the box, and away from the M25. As is the norm, such a creative evolution of politics is in the hands of those enjoying the status quo. But with the general election next year, the question of Scottish independence hanging over Westminster and the endless opportunities offered by the internet, the next few years in politics could be very interesting.
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