Take it from a Londoner, Corbyn is right about de-centralisation

After Jeremy Corbyn announced his support for taking power away from London, Matteo Everett explores the merits of the policy

Last week, Jeremy Corbyn, speaking at the EEF Manufacturers’ Organisation, announced that he would curb London’s power if he ever became Prime Minister.

This shouldn’t come as a shock. A “fundamental shift” in the country’s economic policy has always been one of Corbyn’s most appealing promises, but a move so radical as the de-centralisation of a nation could potentially send even the most die-hard Corbynites astray.

It shouldn’t.

Corbyn said – quite rightly – that London has for too long held “dominance over industry” and “control over politics”, in such a way that has rendered the country, to some extent, “undemocratic”.

“In a post-HS2 world, people from the Queen of the Midlands will also begin to migrate South for work.”

The call for decentralisation could not have come at a more critical time. Despite all of its opposition and the recent stepping-down of the project’s chairman, the proposed High-Speed Railway 2 is still, by all accounts, going ahead.

Of course, proponents of the infamous HS2 (which aims to link London to Birmingham and the East Midlands, as well as the major Northern cities of Leeds and Manchester) might argue that this is a step towards de-centralisation, an opportunity for businesses to flood out to other areas of the country – improving local economies – while allowing these businesses to maintain links to the City so as not to become destabilised.

As well as the environmental and economic cases against the proposed High-Speed Railway – of which there are many – there is also a counter-argument that, instead of decreasing centralisation, the HS2 will increase the number of businesses moving to London.

“All the financial benefits these projects are supposed to have might be nullified.”

An Economist article – proposing moving the nation’s capital to Manchester, no less – notes that Birmingham, widely considered Britain’s Second City, “suffers from being close enough to London to tempt people to commute from there (some already do).” The development of a railway which increases connectivity between those cities will facilitate a greater net movement of workers from Birmingham to London, and while at the minute the idea of people commuting from Nottingham to Canary Wharf is (almost) laughable, there is every chance that in a post-HS2 world, people from the Queen of the Midlands will also begin to migrate South for work.

This will only cause chaos while Nottingham continues its campaign to reinvent and reinvigorate itself, with the development of the new Broadmarsh Centre and numerous other changes happening across the city. All the financial benefits these projects are supposed to have might be nullified as workers from Nottingham are given the opportunity to find jobs elsewhere, in Sheffield, Leeds, Manchester, and, of course, London – a city which, due to the imminent opening of the new Elizabeth London Underground Line, is preparing to connect intimately to Reading, and expand to a previously unforeseen size.

“The only way to curb this unprecedented power-grab is self-conscious decentralisation.”

And you thought students from Watford claiming to be Londoners were annoying enough.

As the HS2 shows no sign of slowing down, the only way to curb this unprecedented power-grab is self-conscious decentralisation. While some businesses are taking the initiative and leading the fight for spreading out power (HSBC are building offices in 13 regional hubs), without the government’s encouragement, companies will inevitably continue to gravitate toward the strong pull of the City and Canary Wharf.

At the minute, one in four university students move to London soon after graduating, meaning long-term negative repercussions affecting their diminishing home regions are time-bombs waiting to happen.

Increasingly alarming economic concerns aside, living in such a centralised nation has obvious political consequences, as people from poorer regions might feel excluded from the UK’s seat of power.

“Brexit was a protest vote against an inaccessible government as much as it was anything else.”

The shutting down of coal mines under Thatcher’s regime, and the consequent hits the economies of affected areas took, demonstrates Westminster’s ignorance of the state of the nation north of the Watford Junction. Brexit was a protest vote against an inaccessible government as much as it was anything else, and the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum – as well as the not-empty threats of possible future referenda – were more anti-Westminster than they were anti-England, with some Northern English regions teasing joining an independent Scotland.

These expressions of profound dissatisfaction with a centralised and elitist capital should not be ignored.

The North/South debate is more than a bit of banter played out across university campuses, it is a very real indication of the zeitgeist of an undoubtedly divided nation. And while we’re at it, the only reason you’ve met so many Londoners at uni is because the city grew so much during the 20th century that it began to swallow large parts of surrounding counties, including the entirety of Middlesex.

“Rebalancing the UK’s finances across the land will boost local economies.”

That same Economist article (and your columnist, who is a Londoner, agrees that Parliament should move) notes that countries such as Germany, Canada, Australia, and even Scotland, have two or more economic centres, far enough apart to ensure each has their own gravitational pull, without being swallowed by the other. Even Italy, whose North/South divide is much deeper and prominent than England’s, has managed to maintain a pretty healthy balance of power in the North of the country, between Milano, Torino, and Venezia.

Even if the capital remains in London – and Corbyn has given no indication otherwise – rebalancing the UK’s finances across the land will boost local economies, which will ensure Westminster will have to start to take previously overlooked regions more seriously – resulting in not just a more economically balanced country, but a more democratically accessible and acceptable country, for all.

Matteo Everett

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Image courtesy of Pedro Szekely on Flickr.


One Comment
  • Finn
    2 March 2018 at 17:23
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    The government should encourage organisations to move away from the capital.

    However wouldn’t HS2 allow businesses to move out of the capital to benefit lower operational costs while still maintaining close links as a result of HS2.

    Also as many European countries such as France and Holland already have far more sophisticated train networks isn’t Britain already playing catch up?

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