Our London-centric, lopsided economy is damaging the recovery and trapping people in poverty

Everyone knows in these areas that work is the best route out of poverty, but making that a reality without addressing regional issues is a recipe for social disease

Share

I’ve long held that when George Osborne decided that the most important thing was to hang the world’s economic problems round Labour’s necks in 2010, it was almost inevitable that his doom-mongering would depress the economy. And so it has proved.

This week’s polling still shows people are deeply pessimistic about their own and the economy’s future, and unemployment rose this month by 70,000. The IMF has waded in too, suggesting quite rightly that Britain needs a Plan B, as relentless austerity has put industry in the deep freeze. And everyone knows that growth and investment will come only with a political thaw.

But there’s another part of the equation that Osborne misses. The UK economy is geographically off kilter as well. In London and the South-east, house prices and rents continue to soar, which makes it impossible for people in areas of high unemployment to consider moving to where there are jobs.

In areas where heavy industries once predominated, the lack of bankable modern skills and the lack of educational ambition have conspired with inaccessible geography and poor health to keep thousands of people so far from the labour market that “economically inactive” doesn’t really match the depressing reality. Everyone knows in these areas that work is the best route out of poverty, but making that a reality without addressing the lopsided Londoncentric aspect of the economy is just a recipe for national social disease.

Government incompetence hasn’t helped. Just one example proves the point. Several large financial institutions are thinking of relocating from London to South Wales, but one senior executive told me this week that what really puts him off is that Cardiff to London mainline trains have no Wi-Fi, so staff complain that they can’t get work done as they travel. Sadly, the Government’s inept handling of the West Coast rail franchise means that the Department for Transport has decided to extend existing rail franchises to 2016, including the Swansea to London First Great Western one that has no provision for Wi-Fi.

Playing politics with the Blair baby

Several MPs had whooping cough last year, so with Swansea recording 808 cases of measles and a mass vaccination campaign under way, we are all conscious of the need to protect against illnesses we thought dead and gone. As many as a million children may be at risk of measles. Many blame the scientist who falsely linked the MMR vaccine to autism. They have a point. Risk is one of the most difficult concepts to assess and his now discredited research undermined public health, dismantled herd protection and put those children who cannot have the vaccine at even greater risk. The papers that stoked the story didn’t help, either. But I feel angriest with a former Tory MP, Julie Kirkbride, who asked Tony Blair in 2001 “whether the Prime Minister practises what he preaches” and demanded that he “let us know whether little Leo has had his MMR jab”. Blair, below with Leo in 2001, could not answer without accepting that his baby child was a legitimate player in the political process – as Kirkbride knew perfectly well. She was playing politics with the PM’s child, and rammed the message home later in the day saying, “I can only assume that he has something to hide, which is to say that little Leo has not had his jab.” Despicable stuff, really, and note the pretence of compassion in the words “little Leo”. I hope she’s now ashamed.

PM is unwilling to face the music

The Government has been up to its jiggery-pokery again. The Commons could easily have accommodated the Thatcher tribute session this Monday, but the Government was determined not to shunt business forward even by a day, as it wants to prorogue Parliament next Thursday, or the following Monday at the latest. Why? Well, if we continue sitting, we will have Treasury Questions and PMQs on the Tuesday and Wednesday. As things stand, we will have an extra 13 days off from Thursday plus a two-week Whitsun recess starting on a Tuesday, so the Prime Minister will face PMQs only four times in 12 weeks. Even more extraordinarily, the Chancellor will not face his first Treasury Questions until 18 or 25 June, fully three months after the Budget. It is beginning to feel as if the primary purpose of Parliament is not to scrutinise the Government, but to staff it. And the only opportunity to scrutinise ministers in real time comes from the Speaker allowing urgent questions. A weaker Speaker and we’d be stuffed.

When Parliament is just the day job

Anomalies abound in Parliament, but consider these. Tony Hall is the excellent new DG of the supposedly independent BBC, but I can reveal that quite preposterously he will be retaining his seat in the Lords, he will attend and he may even speak in debates. And The Daily Telegraph has campaigned against conflicts of interest in Parliament, yet Lord Black not only pursues the interests of his employer, the Telegraph Media Group, in the Lords, but he even provides a free pass to the group’s public affairs manager, Edward Taylor. Harrumph.

A lack of respect for George

Overheard this week: a colleague regaling everyone with a George Galloway story. Apparently George invited an acquaintance to his wedding last year (his fourth). He was not free, for which he got an ear-bashing from George who thought it was his duty to attend. “I tell you what, George,” came the cruelly quick-witted and slightly exasperated reply, “I’ll come next time.”

Twitter: @ChrisBryantMP

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Solutions Architect - Permanent - London - £70k DOE

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

General Cover Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: Great opportunities for Cover...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The bustling Accident & Emergency ward at Milton Keynes Hospital  

The NHS needs the courage to adapt and survive

Nigel Edwards
 

Letter from the Sub-Editor: Canada is seen as a peaceful nation, but violent crime isn’t as rare as you might think

Jeffrey Simpson
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?