Debate: Is London draining the life out of Britain?


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The Independent Online


Don’t punish the capital for being such a success

By Head of Business at the Evening Standard and the Independent, @JamesAshton

Britain without London at its heart is unconscionable – like a crown without its brightest jewel. I write this not as a Pearly King or as someone born and bred in Chelsea, but a son of Huddersfield who has made Europe’s biggest metropolis his home.

Without London, its money and its bling, Britain would still be mired in recession. Take the City’s financial services hub, a magnet for wealth that would otherwise be in New York or Hong Kong. The theatres and restaurants draw captains of industry.

Diluting London’s star across the country would be detrimental – not advantageous. Sure, such gold-plated prosperity is mithered about in the provinces, but creates a halo effect that supports jobs in Bournemouth and Leeds. Consider the statistic that one pound in every five earned by Londoners is used to fund the rest of the country, according to the Centre for Economics and Business Research.

There is evidence that the north-south divide will widen. George Osborne’s strategy of reducing corporation tax is gradually taking effect. But the HQs relocating here from Bermuda or the Netherlands are coming to London, not Birmingham or Edinburgh. It is a challenge for politicians to close the gap.

Foreign investors on the hunt for flagship property assets that have been priced out of London have started looking further afield, like the Norwegians who snapped up a stake in Sheffield’s Meadowhall shopping centre. It’s hard to detect that global interest along the bombed-out High Streets of Rochdale or Dewsbury. But that is no reason not to celebrate London’s success.


We need to feel at home – we need Tamworth

By Deputy Managing Editor of the Independent @SeanOGrady

Is it so radical to think the time has come to eject London from the UK? It seems almost cruel to confine this world city within Britain. With its huge financial services sector, plus tourism and other powerful engines of growth, not to mention the absurd property prices, London feels more and more like a foreign land.

All it does, as Vince Cable says, is attract the brightest and the best away from the rest of the country, leaving it denuded and only semi-occupied. Far more than Scotland, this world city could easily justify its existence as a separate state, not on ethnic or historical grounds, but pragmatic, present-day needs; a modern-day Venice, marked equally by elegance and prosperity. For the sake of London and the rest of the UK, we need to think radically.

The rest of us need a new capital city we can afford to live in and feel at home with – a capital city, probably just for England, needing a new parliament, a new royal palace, new industries, and a new start for the rest of us. It ought to be somewhere relatively central, and with scope for building the world-class monuments, properties and infrastructure an English capital demands.

Yes, that means Tamworth. Previously best known as the home of the Reliant Robin, a gingery breed of pig, and a “manifesto” for reform published by the 19th Century Conservative statesman Robert Peel, it has vast potential and would move the centre of economic growth at a stroke towards the long-neglected North. Take this as a modern day “Tamworth Manifesto”, as well as the founding of the London Independence Party.  

Tamworth, by the way, is just off the A5 in Staffordshire. I’ll see you there.