///

London-centricity and the quackery of ‘Levelling Up’ 

London disproportionately accounts for 22% of the UK’s GDPdespite only housing 12.5% of the population. London dominates political decision-making in the UK and comprises the only part of the UK that contributes more in taxes than what’s expended. Without doubt, London dominates the UK from every conceivable viewpoint. 

Talking to fellow placement students, more often than not, they desire to work and live in London. As a student of Politics, jobs in the field are highly concentrated in London for obvious reasons. But, London is highly inaccessible. With rents soaring and the cost of living increasing while wages lag behind, the high concentration of exciting opportunities in London can only go to those fortunate enough to enjoy financial assistance, or those already living there. It makes me extremely frustrated. 

What is behind this imbalance? 

London is one of the richest cities in the world: a global financial hub attracting plenty of investment, talent, and interest. It can be said that all countries have a major hub city, and this imbalance is to be expected – to an extent, this is true, but the UK does it on a level almost unparalleled elsewhere. With a population of over nine million people, more than the size of the next FOUR cities in the UK, it is no wonder it holds primacy.

The titanic size of London’s economy, some £500bn per year in GDP, is not even good for all 

Londoners. Sure, those qualified to work in highly paid industries like financial services are fine – but working-class Londoners are being pushed out. The city is being wholly gentrified; boroughs previously boasting cheap housing and tight-knit communities are reduced to the same fate as Camden Town, with high-end street markets, artisan coffee shops and sourdough bakeries. The average house price in Camden Town was £120,933 in 1995. They have septupled since. It is no wonder working-class Londoners are priced out – their job market has shrunk, their wages haven’t risen, and their cost of living is simply unaffordable. 

I don’t think it’s that London is too big, or too powerful. I believe other areas of the country are underdeveloped and neglected. Economic growth should be spread throughout the entirety of the country, where everyone can benefit from new and promising opportunities. No other European state aside from France has this problem. Germany boasts Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, and Cologne – all cities with over one million inhabitants, all connected with a functional, affordable high speed rail system. Spain has a triopoly of Madrid, Barcelona, and Valencia, and the country is connected with 3,487km of highspeed rail, constructed in its entirety for €56bn – just over half of the projected cost of HS2, a line (when Manchester was still included) of only 530km.

Why do other large UK cities lack such economic opportunities, and how could they be ‘levelled up’ to change things? Would HS2 to Manchester and Leeds have helped uplift the region, in the face of spiralling costs? 

Levelling Up – a misleading slogan 

Quackery was the Victorian practice of fraudulent medical practices, where salesmen conducted wacky and unbelievable shows to demonstrate the efficacy of their ‘cure’. 

Levelling Up, introduced by Johnson’s Conservative manifesto in 2019, supposedly aimed to concentrate investment in areas otherwise deprived. They promised to invest in transport infrastructure, which the Institute for Government claimed in 2022 would lead to the biggest economic benefits, improving links into and around cities.

Levelling Up was, and will continue to be under Sunak, a quack. It is a slogan to make parts of the struggling northern electorate, especially those in the former ‘Red Wall’, feel as if the political establishment cares about their problems. The cancellation of the northern leg of HS2 is an obvious example. The replacement, what Sunak calls ‘Network North’, a reinvestment of £36bn otherwise destined for HS2, is laughably inadequate for the task at hand. A large sum of such investment is being spent to fix potholes throughout England. It is simultaneously depressing and laughable that a scheme meant to placate the public after the loss of the most important sections of HS2 is so inadequate and misguided. Transport infrastructure is key, and that doesn’t just mean more frequent buses – it should mean affordable, reliable rail travel throughout the country. HS2 would have been a driver in a national economic rebalancing, linking the biggest Northern cities to the financial hub of London. Northern people would have more access to London’s opportunities, and Londoners easier travel to powerful Northern cities. 

‘Levelling Up’ has so far failed in tackling the UK’s stark geographic inequalities. The gutting of HS2 is an insult to the people of the Midlands and North. Network North will not free up space on existing trainlines, reducing prices in turn. Network North will not empower the so-called Northern powerhouses of Sheffield, Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle, Liverpool, and many others. Network North is another quack: a scam to once again poach the support of northern voters. 

Latest from Comment & Conversation