The North/South Divide

How the gap between Northern and Southern England goes deeper than the price of a pint

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When the Conservatives won several rock-solid Labour seats in last December’s election, it’s fair to say many were surprised. In fact, most people within the Party probably at least raised an eyebrow when ‘red-wall’ seats such as Bishop Auckland and Blyth Valley turned blue. In the aftermath of the election, the Conservatives pledged to invest in the north, in turn helping to tackle the infamous ‘North/South divide’.

The dividing line in England is historically more uneven than you may think. Rather than right across the country, the line starts from Hull in the east and moves diagonally down towards Bristol and South Wales.

After ten years of Conservative rule, it may be hard for most people to believe this, yet what can be said for certain is that once 2020 is over, the divide between the north and south will never have been so wide. The new Conservative voters in these new Conservative seats may have thought that they had done enough to see more attention given to their area, but it could unfortunately take more time and money than what the government is willing to invest to bring about social and economic change.

For far too long, the UK has been southern-centric. Big businesses, better infrastructure and increased funding keeps parts of the south affluent. This is whilst areas of the north, in desperate need of investment, go unnoticed. The diagonal line is drawn up to represent this, with the most affluent areas of business and infrastructure existing in the south east.

Companies have the greatest opportunity of maximising profit by moving to the south, but what helps is that there is little incentive to relocate elsewhere in the UK. When over 20 million people in the UK live within a one hour commute of London, why would a business want to move to a city anywhere else?

It is all good to make empty statements about investing in the north and thanking new northern Conservative voters for ‘loaning their votes’, which Boris Johnson said following the election, but this isn’t enough. In the past the Conservatives have failed on their promises for the north, and these new northern Tories will do well to remember that.

The ‘divide’ looks set to be further opened up by the coronavirus pandemic. The new three tier local lockdown system has put areas of the north into the ‘high’ and ‘very high’ category whilst nowhere in the south is above a ‘medium’ on the new chart. Northern mayors confronted the government about the new restrictions, warning that it would further worsen issues such as unemployment and financial instability. As Mayor of Manchester Andy Burnham said last month, how can the north hope to level up when it is under stricter lockdown restrictions?

To some, this article may have devolved into nothing more than a bit of Tory bashing, but the truth is every government since the early 2000s (Conservative and Labour) have failed on promises to level up the north.

In his Guardian piece on 5 September, Burham wrote: “The reason why this virus has taken hold in the old red wall and new blue wall towns is exactly the same reason why successive governments promised to level them up: an over-concentration of low-wage employment and poor, overcrowded housing.

“A powerful illustration of this point is made if you map the areas with the highest case numbers against the Labour government’s housing pathfinder areas of the early 2000s.”

In approximately 20 years, some areas of the north which multiple governments have promised to support have remained the same; with Coronavirus things will get worse. The North/South divide needs to be, in a socio-economic sense, be eradicated for the sake of millions hit the hardest by the pandemic lockdown. If not, then the gap will soon reach a point of no return and all hopes of a single nation concept will be lost.

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I am a journalist with an honours degree from Coventry University. Passionate writing about politics, culture, sport, society and more

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