Small country big divide


A journey across England underlines the political and economic division in our small country.

I was a guest last week on Any Questions, hosted by the Workers Education Association in Newcastle . The other guests all tweeted their followers to get them to listen or send in questions, but I’m not that organised and sadly my tweeting is now restricted to an automatic notification of new blog posts.

Judge for yourself but I achieved the three key objectives I set myself:

  • Mention the RSA
  • Don’t make a fool of yourself
  • Be reasonably politically balanced
  • I was helped in the final task by being sandwiched between Tory blogger Iain Dale and former Gordon Brown pollster and RSA speaker Deborah Mattinson. It may have simply been that her answers were better but Deborah was easily the most popular guest with the audience.  The WEA is an organisation with roots and branches in the labour movement but even so the audience reaction underlined that the North East is systematically more left wing than most other parts of England.

    It is also – and of course the points are related - the region whose economy is most dependent on public spending. So the future for the region is of deep and painful cuts which will be implemented with little or no public sympathy.

    I have long thought that the North East needs to think boldly about how it can boost public service productivity both to improve services but also to exploit the commercial potential of cutting edge public services (after all, education, health care and security are all fast growing global markets). I tried to get something off the ground with ippr North but it turned into a damp squib. A more recent attempt to develop a project with a high tech health company specialising in remote heath care also came to nothing.  

    I know there is interesting work taking place in the North East, particularly through its universities (notable for the high level of regional collaboration). But the danger is that the region succumbs to a feeling of victimhood and victimisation in the challenging times ahead. I wonder whether the RSA in the North East can do anything to foster a more creative and positive response?

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