Monitor: Regional newspaper comment on Tony Blair's attempt to debunk the myth of the North-South divide in England

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The Independent Culture
Northern Echo

It is difficult to dismiss the entire North-east of England as some economically ravaged wasteland, not least because that would be grossly unfair to all those who are trying, and often succeeding, to make life better here. We agree with Blair that it is easy to over-simplify regional differences. But we believe a fresh look at Government funding of the regions is the most sophisticated way of addressing the inequalities that indisputably exist.

The Western Mail

So the North-South divide is a myth. Instead, there are pockets of poverty alongside pockets of prosperity in every region. This at least is the message the Prime Minister would have us believe. Wales and its economy has never conveniently fitted into any English definition of North and South, neither geographically nor economically. But that didn't stop opposition politicians in Wales taking an interest in what the audit had to say on the implications it has for the Government's approach to regional aid. They know that broad-sweeping surveys of how the regions of the UK are faring are likely to lead those in the poorest areas to question why Wales, Scotland and Northern-Ireland should be treated differently by the Treasury. The end result of this report may not be to debunk the myth of a North- South divide but to trigger a review of the funding that goes to each point on the compass.

The Birmingham Post

Rather surprisingly for an MP whose constituency is in one of the loftier regions of England Tony Blair has awoken to the consequences of having the majority of the national wealth concentrated in one corner of the country. What caused this Pauline conversion is not exactly clear. Perhaps it was the proposal to build 1.1 million homes in the South-east? Perhaps it was a fear he might not be able to make any money when the time came to sell his constituency home in Sedgefield. No one is denying that poverty and prosperity rub shoulders throughout the United Kingdom. You only have to take the two mile bus journey from Sparkhill to Solihull to witness the inequality in our midst, but where Mr Blair misses the point is to suggest the South-east is in the same league as the rest of the country.

At every turn the Government has shown a preference for the capital over the demands of the other regions and by doing so it has reinforced the perception that this is a divided country.

Blackburn Citizen

Evidently bent on convincing voters in the heartlands of Old Labour that the North is not neglected by a New Labour Government dependent on the support of the middle classes in the South, Tony Blair resorts on the second leg of his two-day tour of the North-west to the political device of announcing something agreeable. But though the churlish may see this as a diversionary tactic, as the Prime Minister goes about the difficult task of convincing the less prosperous regions that the North-South divide is a simplistic myth, his announcement will be welcomed nevertheless for its benefits to a cherished service for which there is one-nation concern - the NHS. For Mr Blair was announcing a massive boost for the NHS Direct scheme which allows families to phone for medical help and bypass their family doctor. Everyone is familiar with the endemic log-jam at the surgeries of our hard-pressed family doctors. Mr Blair will do well to swiftly make the service available round the clock all over Britain so that, at least in terms of fast access to medical help, the country has no regional divides.