Last modified: 31 March 2015
Britain benefits enormously from London’s position as the world’s greatest global city. We must not resent that success. Instead, we should be proud of our metropolis and grateful for the wealth and opportunity it provides.
“If it ‘aint broke, don’t fix it”, they say. Spend any time in Yorkshire and you’ll hear the phrase often. It is a morsel of common-sense that I fear is lacking from our nation’s political discourse today.
Whether it’s the SNP, Plaid Cymru, or even Yorkshire’s own Yorkshire First, an increasing number of Britons seem keen to "fix" a system that has served us extremely well. Today is a chance to step back from this toxic and disuniting debate about the UK and examine our joint successes more objectively.
Nothing in my lifetime has represented Britain better than the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Our nation united in our capital to welcome the world to a festival of sport. But it was so much more too. We also joined together in a celebration of our national re-emergence. British athletes and spectators from as far as the North of Scotland, the West of Ireland, and the South of Cornwall converged on a gleaming Olympic park we had built together, to be represented and represent themselves in our gleaming and growing Capital City. The world once again looked to Britain as a beacon of progress in unity.
Our Prime Minister was indeed wise to channel that same spirit from the same venue when he launched his campaign to retain Scotland within our stunningly successful family of nations.
Britons are famously modest, and I am extremely proud of that. But our modesty has its costs. It gives air to the separatists and devolutionary fetishists who would question the UK’s track record under Westminster governance. They claim that provinces away from the capital could be as wealthy as Ireland, Finland, or Belgium; former provinces of other great nations.
That optimism is admirable, but these fanciful ideas need challenging.
Belgium’s success is of course largely the result of its position at the heart of Europe. It is simple geography, not any governmental dispreference, that precludes the North of England from benefitting similarly. Ireland may be healthier and wealthier than the provincial areas of the UK it opted out of nearly a century ago, but, as its high unemployment and huge disruption following the financial crisis prove, this has come at far too high a cost in terms of stability.
Finland’s success is more interesting, but the simple truth is that, were it not for London's governance and assistance, the UK’s provinces would follow Portugal and Greece’s lead and not the Nordic model. Many have tried, but none have succeeded, to emulate Nordic success outside that unique region.
The harsh fact is Britain's provinces would be “Spain without the Sun”, not "Swedens of the West" if they loosened their affiliation, even slightly, with the UK's succesful centre. Our great national institutions should be less modest of pointing out that stark truth.
Of course there are also some difficult truths to address on the other side of the debate. London is among the richest areas in Northern Europe and many of the UK’s provinces are among the poorest. It is understandable that the people of those regions might search for a silver bullet to fix that problem, or blame their comparative failure on London's succes. But we must accept that silver bullets rarely exist, and that London's success is merely a product of its own exceptionalism.
The UK’s provinces were built in a different era, one of mining, heavy industry, and Empire. That they are poorer than their Capital now is not because our national institutions have forsaken them, but simply because their recovery from the decline of those specialisms has been exceptionally difficult. Nowhere else in Europe industrialised so successfully, and thus nowhere else has had such a struggle to move beyond the age of industry.
Let us not forget either that it is London’s huge productivity and wealth that pays the bill for the rebirth we now see in cities like Manchester and Leeds. We need only look at cities such as Detroit, and regions such as the South of Italy to see what might happen in a less generous Union.
It is this last point that I want to expand as my finale. One of the best phrases to come out of Scotland’s Independence Referendum was “pool and share”. This is indeed where the UK excels above all others.
“From each region according to its wealth, to each region according to its potential” is the unspoken mantra of our country. The state, in London, objectively evaluates — without preference to any region or city — where investment will generate most growth for the nation. It then ensures that the dividends of that growth are spread as widely as possible and can be accessed by all.
Where regions have fallen behind others, we must of course do more to help. But let us not sacrifice any of our capital's potential brilliance in that pursuit.
Whatever problems our nation may have, it is by working together — by avoiding the outdated and inward-looking parochialism of Finland, Ireland, and Belgium — that we will forge the best way forward. Together.
London belongs to us all. It is the heart of our nation. Long may that continue.
GOD SAVE THE QUEEN!