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What exactly is London’s problem with Liverpool?

London has a Conservative mayor who famously accused Liverpool of displaying a ‘deeply unattractive psyche’, and even of ‘wallowing in its victim status’. But as a cockney myself, I reckon scousers can be forgiven for feeling that little bit chippy.

Nor is Boris Johnson’s attitude any novelty within his party, as is demonstrated by today’s revelation that back in 1981, top Tories Geoffrey Howe and Sir Keith Joseph advised Margaret Thatcher to abandon that beastly city altogether.

Howe actually employed the expression ‘managed decline’, before duplicitously warning everyone else against using such a scandalous locution in the public’s earshot. Thanks to the 30 year rule, the gaffe is now public. Be sure your sin will find you out.

Despite the reputation Liverpool picked up for radicalism after Militant secured control of the local authority in the year that followed Howe’s overly frank memo, until the 1950s it was just about the only working class conurbation in this country to return mainly Conservative MPs to Westminster, thanks largely to religious sectarianism imported from the other side of the Irish Sea.

These days, only a handful of better-off local constituencies do so, and that is only when the Tories have a good year. What changed matters was decades of decline, and not particularly managed decline at that.

For most of the political, media and business classes of the South East, ‘the provinces’ represent today’s faraway countries of which we know little. I am not absolving myself from that stricture, either.

I have a job that regularly takes me to various European capitals, and sometimes to the Middle East and the Far East. So it is that I have been to St Petersburg, but never to St Helens; to Tokyo, but never to Toxteth; to Warsaw, but never to Wallasey.

What is the rest of the UK like? Why would anyone go there? I mean, there are posh bits as well, right? Search me, and search the average London-centric policymaker, come to that. The incomprehension is almost complete.

Majority thinking on other towns that ostensibly form part of the same country in which Londoners live can be summed up in the infamous Cities Unlimited report, published by the centre-right think tank Policy Exchange in 2008.

Essentially, the document demanded mass migration from Liverpool, Bradford and Sunderland to the bottom right-hand corner of the country.

The impossibility of developing the necessary additional housing and attendant infrastructure in a region that cannot keep pace with the needs of its own natural population expansion did not seem to figure in these deliberations.

Authors Tim Leunig and James Swaffield identified real problems, of course. But if the free market economics they espoused was capable of delivering solutions, surely the Invisible Hand would have done the business already.

What I do know is that under Labour, Liverpool recorded annual economic growth of 5.5%, the best performance of anywhere outside London. Yet even that seems not to have eradicated some of the deep seated social problems on the Mersey.

And what I also know is that writing off entire swathes of the north to ‘managed decline’ is wrong in principle. What is needed is a regional policy that offers a strategy for managed revival, and sadly that isn’t going to happen under the ConDems. Then and now, the sheer indifference stays the same.

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