22 October 2020, The Tablet

The centre can no longer hold

English divide


One of the most disturbing features of life in Britain is the glaring disparity between the regions – between the north and south of England especially. The north has more poverty and less power, and the two are connected. Scotland and Wales both have a substantial measure of home rule. The north of England, from Birmingham to the Scottish border, does not. Nothing illustrates this more dramatically than this week’s quarrel over the right measures to control the spread of Covid-19.

Scotland and Wales can devise their own policies, but Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle and Leeds, and all the areas in between, are left almost without agency. They do have a voice, mainly through their elected mayors and their elected representatives in Parliament; but with little access to the levers of power, particularly the national Treasury, that is little comfort. They have to take what London decides is good for them. All the mayors can do is to offer – or withhold – public support.

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