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Our Friends in the North

The Tories have always been masters of divide and rule politics. The current crop of Etonians have been taught to rule ever since they were carted off as toddlers to be schooled in the dark arts. To their dismay, the Empire is long gone, but the lessons of population control have not. Instilled with the self-belief of being born to rule, they have foisted regressive policies onto the public domain with impunity, driving a wedge through communities for political gain, whether it’s ‘work shy scroungers’ against the working poor, public sector against private sector, council house buyers against council house renters, strikers against selfish bastards or everyone against refugees.

Ever since the inception of the Labour movement first threatened their monopoly of power, they have managed to dictate the debate and steer people against each other with the help of their collaborators in the media. No consequence of this practice has been more galling than the North/South divide.

The North has always been left to fend for itself. In the Victorian era it was a bastion of industry and power within its own rights. After Tory policies led to the decimation of those industries, once proud and prosperous parts of the North have been left to wrack and ruin. Thatcher herself rejected plans for additional public spending in the great industrial cities of the North as a response to quell future rioting in the 80s. She sooner considered bankrupting Liverpool as a preferable option to investment.

Parts of Manchester have fared far better than our neighbours in the North. The population has risen by nearly 20% in ten years and the city boasts an enviable cultural record which draws tourism and prospective students (ergo money) from around the world. That is not to say that there isn’t a micro North/South divide in the city. Particularly areas in the north and east of the city are seriously underfunded and in need of investment that is sorely lacking. Whilst parts of the south and centre of the city can sustain themselves in their own micro-economy, the differences with the more neglected sides of the city are startling.

Remedying this disparity is unlikely. The honeymoon period enjoyed by the city’s financiers after the IRA bomb is souring each time George Osborne reaches for his red briefcase. After more than £1 billion was cut from the Greater Manchester area during the Coalition’s tenure, the area is set for further cuts of £32 million in April. This is coinciding with an increase in public spending in the South-East and rural areas of mainly Tory councils. It might be expected from the Conservatives, but all the more depressing due to its lack of presence in the press. The London-centric media is more likely to deride the North/South divide as nothing more than a collective chip on the shoulder than take it seriously – a standard response, despite the widening gap in health, life expectancy, public services, jobs and wealth to suggest otherwise.

The flood response to the Home Counties last year compared to areas in the North last month, including Manchester and Salford, tells you all you need to know about this government. With the introduction of new voter boundaries and changes to voter registration that will disproportionately affect the North and Labour strongholds, they are beginning to openly show their contempt. Whereas before they seduced the naysayers with public relations jargon about the ‘Big Society’ and how ‘we’re all in it together’, now they don’t need to pretend. The Northern Powerhouse is another masterstroke which allows pubic spending and ownership to dwindle through the guise of devolution.

Manchester Town Hall has done a mostly admirable job these past five years, despite all the cutbacks to the budget and its own workforce. That isn’t to say that their unenviable position excuses them from some damning decisions regarding the homeless crisis engulfing the city centre. Nor does it explain why they are so keen to adopt Osborne’s plans despite the already broken promises of northern investment in the railways and his predilection for continuing with debilitating cuts.

The Conservatives know that large areas of Manchester and the North will never be Tory and no amount of conferences will alter that fact. Instead, through the false promise of devolution they will create a safe distance from any localised decision making which, due to the lack of funding, will invariably be insufficient to stop the widening divide between the North and South.

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