Beyond the Watford Gap

I’m trying to read fewer books that I agree with as I think it’s healthier for the intellect to have to struggle to understand alien arguments than to be lulled by the apparently reasonable. However, I had to make an exception for Phillip McCann’s recent work “The UK Regional-National Economic Problem. Geography, globalization and governance” (Routledge/Regional Studies Association). It expresses succinctly many of the ideas that I’ve dimly perceived and confirms my feeling that the lack of ability to explain what was actually happening in the UK was an important ingredient in the successful defrauding of the periphery by the Brexiteers. It’s a bit of a struggle as it’s quite dense and I only have an electronic copy on my mobile (the hardback is four times as expensive) but I am plodding through it.

A few quotes from the introductory summary to provide a taste of the work

“The  UK economy is internally not only diverging but it is now disconnecting, decoupling and dislocating into two or possibly three quite separate economies….While London and its hinterland regions perform strongly, almost half of the UK population live in regions and cities whose productivity is similar to, or even below, that of the poorer regions of the former East Germany and weaker than many regions even in the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and Slovakia….At the same time, the overly centralised UK government system has not only failed to respond to this dislocating and decoupling for many years but in some ways has acted so as to exacerbate this”.

“The weak long run productivity performance of the UK is largely a result of the fact that productivity benefits do not spread across the country but remain largely localized in the south generating large interregional inequalities.”

“…large sections of the UK media and political circles appear to be largely unaware of where the UK as a whole actually sits in international rankings in terms of economic prosperity…much of the reason for this is that the UK media and political circles are dominated by the day to day experience of London and its hinterland, and, as such, the media and political circles frame discussions of these issues entirely with a London-specific backdrop, one which is not even approximately reflective of the UK as a whole.”

… “At the same time, the rest of the UK is relatively much more dependent on trade with Europe than is London, which is rather more global in its economic orientation”.

It’s well worth reading (I suspect there will be a cheaper paperback in the course of time). It feels as if one should have been reading much more about Britain much earlier in one’s life. Perhaps a case of Minerva’s owl flying out at dusk – flapping around a bit in front of her nest anyway..