The solution is EU membership coupled with a new kind of capitalismby Will Hutton / February 1, 2019 / Leave a comment
Britain’s towns are ailing. Often dependent on one industry whose time has passed, a couple of factories under intense pressure from globalisation, a now closed mine or some fading tourist attraction their economic base is dwindling or disappearing. The new industries are passing them by, attracted to the cities where there are the skills, the bustle and a critical mass of customers prepared to try the new.
There are poles of growth and vitality in the regions outside London—university cities like Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool, Bristol and Newcastle have boot-strapped themselves up impressively over the last 20 years even if they fall short of the wealth and economic diversity of the capital. But the wider story is dismal. Seven of the ten poorest regions in Northern Europe are in England with average per capita incomes at the same level as Mississippi or Romania—disproportionately exposed to the ailing town effect.
Worse, too many people are trapped. Nearly all of the 30 social mobility cold-spots identified by the Social Mobility Commission as districts of substantial economic and social stagnation are in those self-same regions. Life expectancy actually fell in the northwest and east, Yorkshire and Humberside and the east and west midlands between 2014 and 2016. These were the heart of the Brexit vote, aided and abetted by a huge majority of the over 65s. To win any second referendum, there needs to be well-thought through plan for these voters that addresses what is happening—and credibly provides a solution. Their complaint is well-known. It can’t get any worse (actually it can and will post-Brexit if right-wing Leavers run our affairs), so why not vote to leave the EU?
Last week the German Coal Commission proposed that coal mining in Germany cease by 2038, in order that the country might meet its climate change targets, but also proposed that the last coal mining districts receive €40bn (£36bn) to devise appropriate economic renewal strategies. It’s a scale of resource of which devastated British mining towns can only dream—vastly outmatching anything Theresa May might offer Labour MPs to vote for her deal. But then Germany has a constitutional commitment that all citizens in all parts of Germany enjoy broadly the same living standards and opportunities. The enormous gap between the M25 area and the rest of Britain would…