London is not England: the question of equality in the UK

“London is not only England, but to a very large extent Scotland and Wales as well…it is merely to recognize the centralization of the interests of a comparatively small and densely populated country about an urban agglomeration which contains one-fourth of its entire population, and which is at the same time its political, social, intellectual, financial and industrial capital”. (Scarborough, 1934)

London in the 1930s - a bustle familiar to today
London in the 1930s – a bustle familiar to today

Harold Scarborough made the above statement in relation to the superior standard of the London press compared with the rest of Britain yet his general point remains relevant 80 years on. London is so essential to the economic and political status of the UK that even considering to try and disseminate national influence to provincial cities may seem pointless.

This is not to say that areas outside London are unproductive or in any way worthless. It is simply that, even as a capital city and seat of government, London hoards a disproportionate amount of national power.

As such, many people are criticising the High Speed Rail 2 (HS2) project, which proposes to develop a new rail link between London and Birmingham by 2026 and then on to Sheffield, Manchester and Leeds by 2032. With the costs anticipated to go beyond £50bn, and large swathes of rural heartland set to be obliterated from the map, such criticism is understandable.

What even those not affected directly by HS2 argue is that the improved commuter times and rail links will not actually rebalance the economic and political influence of the country, or create jobs further north, which is what the government hopes will happen.

Protests against HS2 flare-up periodically
Protests against HS2 flare-up periodically

Whilst businesses are unlikely to relocate further north simply because of infrastructural improvements, there could still be an indirect net gain for the provincial cities. Particularly, workers will have the potential to live further away from London and yet still commute to the capital easily. Therefore the economic catchment area of London will expand, raising the values of properties further north and hopefully leading to reinvestment by businessmen in their local communities.

The likelihood of political and trade conferences being held further north – something already being addressed by the main political parties – would also increase.

What must never be forgotten, however, is the already existing cultural and intellectual importance of Britain’s outlying counties. Home to a variety of reputed academic institutions and think-tanks, patronised by a plethora of diverse cultures, locations outside London are essential to the make-up of the UK. To overstate the ‘North-South Divide’ is damaging.

As Scarborough noted in 1934:

Among the provincial newspapers the Manchester Guardian stands head and shoulders above the rest as a national, and indeed an international force…it is, in the best sense of the terms, an intelligent, liberal, reasonable and urbane newspaper, read as carefully by its opponents as by its adherents.

Whilst sceptics might point to the fact that the Manchester Guardian is now a left-leaning, London-headquartered newspaper, it is an example of the historic intellectual and cultural contribution of the provincial cities (just look at Oxbridge for another). Whilst the decline of British manufacturing has diluted their economic contribution, that is not a reason to slander their efforts or precipitate jealous questions about London’s privileges.

The influence of the Oxbridge colleges on London politics cannot be overestimated
The influence of the Oxbridge colleges on London politics cannot be overestimated

The capital may lead but it is only as good as its constituent parts; and many of these parts originate in the so-called provinces.

Source

Scarborough H, ‘The British Press’, Foreign Affairs (April 1934)

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2014 Floods in Perspective: the reality of building on floodplains

The wettest January on record; highest river levels since records began; biggest winter storm ever. There is no end to the list of extravagant claims regarding the current floods across southern England. The Environment Agency and the government are being castigated in equal measure for preventing this untold disaster, ‘dredging’ has suddenly become a political buzzword and Ed Milliband continues to spout his inane and unhelpful comments. What would the Labour leader have done differently I ask?

The Somerset Levels are historic wetland that will always flood; planners and residents know this
The Somerset Levels are historic wetland that will always flood; planners and residents know this

Many people have undoubtedly been affected by the latest floods, losing homes, possessions and hope. Yet despite what some media sources and statisticians would have you believe there have been far worse floods in British history:

1) The Holmfirth Floods

2) River Thames Flood (1928)

3) North Sea Flood (1953)

4) 2012 Winter Floods

Canvey Island in 1953: over 300 perished in Britain alone during the North Sea flood
Canvey Island in 1953: over 300 perished in Britain alone during the North Sea flood

There have been others, many causing more damage and fatalities than the present flooding. Several reasons can be given for the 2014 Flood’s ascendancy to the top of many historical disaster lists:

  • The accuracy of recording rainfall and floodwater levels is constantly improving
  • Recording the water levels in rivers has been practiced only since the 1980s
  • Economic damage naturally rises with that of historical inflation
  • More people are affected because of overpopulation

The last bullet is the most significant. Britain, like most of the rest of the world, is grossly overpopulated. It is why welfare and benefit services are unsustainable, why there aren’t enough jobs, why adverse weather systems disrupt the lives of more people than before.

Furthermore, the overpopulation of the country – in addition to the constant cries for affordable housing – has resulted in planning laxity. People build on floodplains, they are actually encouraged to. What surprise then that they are affected by flooding?

Additionally, flood defences are built to serve a particular area yet ultimately redivert water somewhere else. The result? An area that was never previously vulnerable to flooding now is. Floodplains were an essential part of water control. Apparently they are no more.

The way statistics are manipulated means that we could be in the midst of the worst floods since Noah launched his Ark. Natural disasters are increasing, people howl. Surely this proves that climate change is happening before our eyes? No; it is simply evidence that more people than ever before are being affected by the weather because they have chosen – willingly or not – to live in vulnerable areas. In the distant past many weather systems would not have caused disasters because there would be no people to harm.

Rather than blaming the politicians, people should question the sustainability of an overpopulated world. Nature can never be tamed. If you live on land that has historically flooded, chances are it will again. Preparing an emergency plan for such an eventuality seems the most sensible course of action.