A Brief History of Liberty

Liberal, Lover, Scientist

Putting the myth of the North-South divide to bed

For Labour politicians, grumbling about the infamous North-South divide has become a staple - honed over decades into the meaningless soundbyte we have today. It wasn’t always meaningless, during the 1970s and 1980s there was a huge decline in Northern fortunes. It seems broadly forgotten today but Ted Heath and Harold Wilson closed far more uneconomic pits and mines than Margaret Thatcher.

But, as the rhetoric goes today, the North is once again being left behind as the South (and London in particular) surges ahead into a futuristic age of prosperity and safety. Politicians from all major parties are jockeying to appeal to concerned Northern voters. The Coalition has made a positive response to Labour’s bitterness (I understand that under Ed Miliband, Labour MPs have been banned from droning on about the North-South divide as it alienates Southern voters, whose votes Labour will need if they ever want to win again) and we’re seeing policies designed to foster Northern industries. HS2, enterprise zones and thousands of new apprenticeships to name just a few - and now Osborne is trying to kindle a debate about further transport links in the North.

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These are tremendous and worthy policies - no part of our country should be left behind as Labour’s bank-busting deficit is eased. But voters in London and the South are quite right to be bemused by all the talk of their glittering palaces and mountains of hoarded gold. Here are the stats for unemployment from the ONS (2012):

North*: 1,321,605 (8.9%)

Midlands: 830,813 (8.2%)

South: 1,938,910 (6.9%)

While the rate of unemployment is lower in the South than in the North, due to the population difference, there is a significantly greater number of people looking for work in the South. Here are the figures for poverty** from Poverty.co.uk:

North: 3,407,720 (22.8%)

Midlands: 2,387,070 (23.6%)

South: 6,164,998 (22.0%)

Again, the rate of poverty in the South is slightly lower than in the North or the Midlands but there are almost twice as many people living in poverty in the South than in the North. Almost half of these are in Greater London, where prices are notoriously much higher - a salary may be decent by Coventry standards (for example) but would get you much less in London. This means the problem is even more exaggerated in London than the figures show (the poverty rate in London is 28%).

My point is not that we should forget the North, quite the opposite. We need to see a sustained industrial strategy for revitalising Northern business and bringing new tech to the North but this can’t come at the expense of other regions, including Scotland, Wales, the Midlands, London and the South.

* Northern figures represent figures for North East, North West and Yorks & Humber. Midlands figures represent figures for East Midlands and West Midlands. Southern figures represent figures for South East, South West, East of England and Greater London.

** Poverty defined as people living in households below 60% of median income after deducting housing costs

Are we heading for a wipeout in London?

As you know, two years ago we had elections in London for the Mayor and the Assembly. In a shocking act of helpfulness, some bright spark has arranged the voting data from these elections into a ward by ward spreadsheet.

Since London only votes for its council once every four years, the 2012 vote is a useful tool to predict how the votes will fall this May. I used the data for the London-wide Assembly vote and drew up a ward map of what it would look like if London voted the exact same way in a Local Election:

The first thing you’ll probably notice about that map is that there are no yellow wards. Not even in any of our strongest areas did we receive a plurality.

Now, if that happened on the 22nd May, it would be an unqualified disaster. Imagine it - not a single Councillor in all of London. But there are a few reasons it won’t work out quite that badly.

First - that was two years ago. Several local parties have made a real impact since then and the feeling of anger over the Coalition is beginning to subside.

Second - not everyone who wants a Lib Dem Councillor wants a Lib Dem Assembly member. The 2012 election was dominated by Labour and the Conservatives in the inevitable Boris v Ken race and the Lib Dem message was squeezed.

Third - that was without incumbency. Literally thousands of talented, experienced Councillors will be going up for re-election and many more energetic and persuasive new candidates. We’ve already shown that where we work, we win.

Fourth and finally - we got 7% across London in that vote. Rallings & Thrasher have forecast the Lib Dems to get 14% of the vote nationally on the 22nd.

That’s not to ignore by-elections either - according to the LibDems4London website there have been 42 council by-elections since 2010 and we’ve won several (in Kensington & Chelsea, Kingston, Brent and Sutton).

These are going to be tough elections for London Lib Dems and there are probably going to be a lot of disappointed candidates on the 23rd - but it’s not too late to turn it around in your ward, get those last few leaflets delivered and knock on those few extra doors.

Party Political Broadcasts: the roundup

So the major parties PPBs for the upcoming Euro elections have been released and they make interesting viewing. David Cameron sets out his vision for the EU in the Conservative video and while I find his language about Europe pretty patronising, his party deserves credit for talking about Europe when it’s so divisive within their own party. Nick Clegg gives a powerful defence of Europe in the Lib Dem PPB, explaining (quite rightly) that his is the only party to fully support our membership of the EU to keep our economic recovery on the rails.

The Labour broadcast is the odd one out. It doesn’t feature Ed Miliband at all, nor does it mention Europe or the EU, either by name or allusion. It’s just a whiney attack on the Government. No positive vision for the EU, no promises of what a Labour MEP will do that no other party will, nothing.

The BNP broadcast reminded me just how much I hate the BNP (it’s easy to forget they exist these days). You can also find the Green PPB and the UKIP PPB.

Stewart Arnold stands for the European Parliament

Lib Dems with good memories and an eye for miniature drama will remember when Diana Wallis, Lib Dem MEP for Yorkshire & Humber, resigned a couple of years ago. Her husband, Sterwart Arnold, was next on the list and so was expected to replace her.

But there was a big media frenzy where some commentators tried to make out that he was replacing her just by virtue of being her husband and eventually the decision was made that the place would go to third-on-the-list Rebecca Taylor, who never expected to become an MEP. Incidentally Ms Taylor is standing down from the European Parliament to finish her Masters course which she was part way through at the time.

Stewart Arnold, however, is running for the European Parliament. Not with the Liberal Democrats either, according to UKPR he’s standing with his own ‘Yorkshire First’ party.

Well I suppose there’s a Yorkshire First time for everything.