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Will Labour finally save the left behind? Starmer underestimates the scale of Britain's inequality

A boy plays in the street in Stoke (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

A boy plays in the street in Stoke (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)


July 3, 2024   4 mins

This election has been a missed opportunity to face a grim but manageable reality: beyond London and Edinburgh, the regional economies around Britain have accumulated deep structural problems. Household incomes are far lower than in south-east England because there are fewer high-productivity firms, and correspondingly fewer workers with high-value skills.

I reveal why this wasteful and brutal regional divide came about in my new book, Left Behind. Much of the damage was done fast in the early years of Thatcherism, but renewing broken regions will take time. How can it be healed? Learning from experience elsewhere, it will take large investment programmes in new infrastructure and skills sustained for a generation. It is a mighty task.

As the regional divide widened due to a remote and disdainful Whitehall, distressed communities despaired. The Brexit referendum gave them the chance to mutiny: every English region beyond London voted for it. In the subsequent political turmoil, a new Tory government led by the maverick showman Boris Johnson promised to “Level Up”: I was appointed (unpaid) to advise Michael Gove on how it might be done. That promise, however, turned into a cynical deception.

“The Brexit referendum gave them the chance to mutiny: every English region beyond London voted for it.”

The mounting damage from Brexit is staggering, but it is dwarfed by the economic and human costs of what triggered it: our broken regional economies. Rectifying that failure should have been at the heart of this election. The Tories should have begun their campaign with an apology made credible by proposals for the taxes needed to fund renewal. Instead, we got bragging and the folly of tax cuts. As Sunak self-destructed, Labour watched incredulous. Presented with a landslide-for-free, they had no need to lay out how, or even whether, the regional divide might be addressed.

Nevertheless, Keir Starmer has done enough to be given the benefit of the doubt. Like the leading figures in his shadow cabinet, Starmer is tough, focused and a team player. He is not a prima donna wanting to be “world king” (like Johnson), or an over-confident technocrat (like Sunak).

But hard choices will have to be faced once Labour is in power. Rachel Reeves brings to the Treasury a politician whose authority is underpinned by technical competence, while Angela Rayner and Andy Burnham can communicate the lived experience of distressed regions. In combination, these capacities may be enough.

The regional divide was created by the Treasury’s ideology of trusting market forces; and it was then compounded by its obsessive micromanagement of public spending. If Reeves uses her authority to force through profound change, such as shifting the power of scrutiny from HMT to locally based institutions ultimately accountable to elected representatives, then Rayner and Burnham can complement her skills with their own to offer credible hope of improving the lives of regional voters. Their job will not be easy: they must admit that it will take two or three terms of Labour government to achieve, but honest realism will find an audience among those in despair.

The situation inherited by Labour will, however, be even worse than I have so far described. Not only has the Treasury been locked into a failed ideology of market-worship and habits of micromanagement, but it also refuses to think beyond the immediate. Public policy is sure to fail while budgets for projects and objectives are not set beyond the year-end, as has been its practice. We can see this in the HS2 fiasco, which was supposed to link the regions to the standards of fast rail connectivity normal in much of Europe and Japan for decades. As each year passed and bits of the project were axed to cut costs, it has shrivelled to around ÂŁ50 billion for an unwanted line between Royal Oak and Birmingham, which would worsen the already inadequate services further north. Hopefully, Labour will cancel it, but that will merely return us to the pre-HS2 status quo of failed transport policy.

The refusal to budget for serious objectives hits home most sharply in respect of training our workforce. Training needs to extend far beyond the abilities taught at British universities, as it already does in much of Europe. Most of our workers have not been to university, and around half of our teenagers will not do so. Yet as old skills in declining sectors and trades have lost their value, these people find themselves without pathways to vocations that would enable them to earn a decent wage. For our teenagers, the result is anxiety and despair.

That divide between the minority who are fortunate and the anxious majority is greatly aggravated by divides of class and gender. Working with the Institute for Fiscal Studies, Left Behind contains disturbing new evidence of the gross inequalities in life-chances that besmirch our society. We measure social mobility, an issue that no Labour government can afford to relegate, and which even Tories such as Theresa May called “burning injustices”. They still burn brightly in Britain, but some of the most egregious have gone unnoticed.

Which returns us to this election and the great silence surrounding these issues. Once in power, the temptation for Starmer may be to rely on continuing the mass distraction — on postponing the hard choices — and to rely on civil war among the Tories to retain a vast parliamentary majority. But within two or three years, the crunch will come, when Labour will face an acid-test which cannot be fudged. We will then know whether that benefit-of-the-doubt was justified.

If that choice goes the wrong way and the social and economic divides in our country are left to fester, the path to inclusive prosperity will be steeper for whichever future government finally faces it. Meanwhile, the siren voices of Nigel and Jeremy with their charlatan remedies are waiting in the wings.


Sir Paul Collier is a Professor of Economics and Public Policy at the Oxford Blavatnik School of Government. His most recent book is Left Behind.


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Carol Forshaw
Carol Forshaw
9 days ago

Tough and focused? Keir Starmer? The man who took three days to decide what to do about one 72 year old woman, Diane Abbot? The man who could not say what a woman is till told by Tony Blair? Starmer’s best day in politics will be July 5th. Then he will discover that repeating the word ‘Change’ is not enough to run a country. All he will do is tax people then waste the money. What a prospect.

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
9 days ago
Reply to  Carol Forshaw

Maybe it’ll become like May’s ‘steady and stable ‘ mantra, and rapidly become a joke.

RedFringe
RedFringe
10 days ago

There must be loads more in his book because this is just drivel.

Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
10 days ago

“The mounting damage from Brexit is staggering…”

Does the ‘learned Professor’ think that simply stating this makes it even remotely true? What damage, compared to those nations which remain subject to the EU bureaucratic sinkhole? For someone with a distinguished record, this type of nonsense is staggering only in its myopic economic illiteracy.
He’s right to point out the absence from the election debate of how the structural economic decline of the UK can be turned around. I suspect there’s a straightforward reason for this: no-one in the political circus ring has a clue how to address it. It’s hardly something that hasn’t been pointed up in Unherd articles and comments since the election was called.
In short, the author is saying nothing new; the cliches and barbs flow freely and its as if his time in the limelight has passed, another fading academic whose books achieved nothing except to document the sterility of the solutions offered up these past few decades. Still, i wish him well; it appears at least he’s tried to make a difference.

Andrew Dalton
Andrew Dalton
9 days ago
Reply to  Lancashire Lad

I also found it an article full of assertions and question begging.
Perhaps it’s a reflection of our political malaise.

David Morley
David Morley
9 days ago
Reply to  Andrew Dalton

Can you give us an example or two of question begging in the piece.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
9 days ago
Reply to  Lancashire Lad

Yes. Another academic who hasn’t grasped the most fundamental economic reality: if you want prosperity and levelling up in an economy where a majority of the workforce is employed in small business then you need to create an environment where small businesses can grow to become big ones. We don’t have that. And we won’t get it under these wonderfully ‘competent’ apparatchiks in the incoming government, who will simply bury employers under yet another avalanche of counterproductive regulation.

J Bryant
J Bryant
10 days ago

The author touches on a problem that seems to be almost entirely overlooked in the discussion about why Western societies are so dysfunctional: the lack of economic opportunity for the young.
Sure, many commentators acknowledge the problem of limited career options for young people, but they do little more than note the problem.
In my opinion (and it’s only my opinion), the lack of meaningful job opportunities for young people is the main driver of most of our social dysfunction. If you must attend a university, and thereby acquire huge debt, to qualify for even the most menial service or administrative job that doesn’t come close to paying enough for a home or the trappings of middle class life, why would you have a family, or have loyalty to your country or to the concepts of democracy or liberalism? Why care about a country that so obviously doesn’t care about you?
The weird social fads (transgenderism, blm, net zeroism, etc) are nothing more than opportunistic infections of an economic and social system that no longer provides for the majority of citizens.

Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
9 days ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Throw in that said white collar job will probably never pay enough for the debts to be repaid and, even if it does, disincentives career progress and you have a huge financial timebomb. Yes, I completely agree that all the woke nonsense we see is, in part, a consequence of young people who feel they have little ahead of them.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
9 days ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Since 1945 , education has been run by left wing middle class people with humanities degrees and minimal experience outside of teaching. Consequently many young people leave school with no skills and wrong attitude. Switzerland has high value engineering such as watch making because it produces people with the skills and attitude to be trained to make watches.
B Wallis stated that in the mid 1950s 5-12 % of graduates in civil and mechanical engineering were leaving the UK , mainly for the USA and Canada. Those who created the American computer industry have degrees in engineering and maths, not humanities.

David Morley
David Morley
9 days ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

Since 1945 , education has been run by left wing middle class people 

Not in the grammar school I went to – a long time after 1945. Stuck in the mud, rendered nervous by the 60s and social mobility, blaming working class people for everything, sheepishly mimicking the public schools and equipping their pupils with old fashioned attitudes, mindless obedience to authority and ridiculous levels of formality completely out of place in the modern world.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
8 days ago
Reply to  David Morley

Depends upon school and what you put in. Some people in German POW camps used the time to educate themselves.
George Stephenson
George realised the value of education and paid to study at night school to learn reading, writing and arithmetic – he was illiterate until the age of 18.
J R Mitchell- Spitfire, R Chadwick- Lancaster Bomber
Frank Whittle – Wikipedia
Look at what F Whittle went through to join RAF.
Many of our scientists and engineers were educated at Grammar Schools. A friend at King Edward VIth , Birmingham was taught maths by a Cambridge. Went up to Cambridge completed three years of physics in two years then completed a year of electrical engineering, two years national service in the Royal Signals for whom he played rugby. Worked extensively in Britain, Africa and Middle East. A brilliant electrical engineer.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
9 days ago

800 words of nothingness – platitudes and triteness.

Martin M
Martin M
9 days ago

Will Labour finally save the left behind?” Of course they won’t. Labour abandoned the Working Class years ago. They are now the Party of inner-city Leftard hipsters.

David L
David L
9 days ago
Reply to  Martin M

Indeed they are. People who hate and despise the working class, and wish them harm.

M James
M James
6 days ago
Reply to  Martin M

When I first saw the title, I thought that they had forgotten the ‘s after the word left.

Andrew R
Andrew R
9 days ago

Labour will be little different from the Tories, faced with insurmountable difficulties created by thirty years of incompetent governance they will revert to type.

The micromanaging will continue but handed over to Quangos and NGOs who will demand businesses follow strict guidelines on DEI and ESG which schools and colleges must also implement.

The only growth sector will be in “elite overproduction” to staff said Quangos and NGOs funded by borrowed money. Mass immigration will continue at its unsustainable rate. Small businesses will disappear while larger companies will relocate due to increasing costs and regulations imposed on it by government.

Mismanaged decline is what the electorate has come to expect, they will not be disappointed.

Jonathan Nash
Jonathan Nash
9 days ago

The decline of areas which were once prosperous is, with the collapsing NHS, the biggest challenge for the governance of this country. Why have the Potteries, for example, become a wasteland of closed shops and poundstores? But when the author writes “Starmer is tough, focused and a team player” I understand that he is just another cheerleader.

Stuart Bennett
Stuart Bennett
9 days ago

No.

Malcolm Webb
Malcolm Webb
9 days ago

Wake up Prof! The country is drowning in debt and deeply troubled by unprecedented levels of uncontrolled immigration. There is no surplus wealth (from rich taxpayers or elsewhere) to spend on more welfare, useless degree courses.or sustaining the failing NHS. The idea that HMG can replace private capital in improving inventiveness and productivity is a proven falsehood. We have need of strong, honest and courageous leaders to tell us the bleak truth and give us a credible policy prescription to get the country out of the enormous hole it is in. Sadly all we have are a bunch of political leaders who just want to dig the hole even deeper.

Jon Morrow
Jon Morrow
9 days ago
Reply to  Malcolm Webb

Generations of politicians have convinced the electorate that if we vote for them then they will solve our problems, and the electorate now mostly believe it. Only once the electorate realise that politicians generally make things worse will we have a democratic process that delivers the result we need – a removal of all hands from levers of power and a return of personal responsibility (and freedom, happily). Unfortunately, the electorate will have to learn the hard way, it’s just human nature.

edmond van ammers
edmond van ammers
9 days ago

Maybe we should look at how the surging Asian economies manage: Education (value it), youth (strong discipline and teach them their place in society), the elderly (respect), money (save, not spend). These basic values could save Britain, not any politician or bureaucrat.

David Morley
David Morley
9 days ago

Along with the well noted emphasis on collectivism and community rather than rampant individualism. Which means somehow weaning ourselves off the American attitude to life.

Eleanor Barlow
Eleanor Barlow
8 days ago
Reply to  David Morley

Weening ourselves off the American attitude to life would mean wholesale abandonment of social media and Hollywood films, from which all their rubbish is disseminated. Sadly I don’t think this is likely to happen.

Eleanor Barlow
Eleanor Barlow
8 days ago

This would require a step change in the attitude of some parents towards their offspring. Once they have lost their novelty value, these kids are neglected by their parents. They aren’t taught the value of education because the parents don’t believe in it, nor are they taught thrift, respect, discipline or good manners. Anything goes and the devil take the hindmost.
Having worked with young people leaving the care system, I am cynical about the ability of any government to follow the example of the Asian countries.

Amelia Melkinthorpe
Amelia Melkinthorpe
9 days ago

No. Next question?

Walter Marvell
Walter Marvell
9 days ago

Pah. Starmer and the modern Labour Party represent the 50% graduate metropolitan army filling the ranks of our bloated wfh broken public sector. White collar middle class statists. It renounced saddo working class men long ago when they drowned in the globalist tsunami. The left behinds in the North are white and Brexitty and therefore are nasty racist bigots; their referendum votes so unclean Starmer wanted another. They will carry on being fed the opiates of welfarism and totally neglected by the property rich millionaire new rulers of London.

B Emery
B Emery
9 days ago

‘The Brexit referendum gave them the chance to mutiny:’

This reads like there was no other reason for voting brexit other than ‘to mutiny’. Ignoring the fact that people voted brexit partly because they wanted lower immigration policies – a policy that Labour have now finally adopted after years of criticising brexit voters.

‘The mounting damage from Brexit is staggering, but it is dwarfed by the economic and human costs of what triggered it: our broken regional economies’

What mounting damage from brexit. Labour has now adopted policies that were championed by the leave campaign, like lower immigration and stopping the boats, these academic contradictions are adding up.
Our regional economies were broken by Labour and then finished off the last bit by the conservative party, the author is careful to avoid placing blame on labour I see and instead blames Thatcher. Absolutely ridiculous really, our most recent economic problems are a result of:
Support for high immigration. Both parties guilty.
Support for sanctions and the war in Ukraine. Both parties guilty.
Support for covid lockdowns. Both parties guilty.
Allowing illegal immigrantion to spiral out of control. Both parties guilty.
Labour also supported the wars in the middle east, if they had saved the enormous sums of money wasted there, then we would have had more to spend regionally or would not have run up so much government debt by the time the conservatives took over.
They were also in charge of one of the most enormous financial crashes in history. Well done.
The establishment are lucky there is an economy left at all.

It is hilarious that having not supported brexit, having repeatedly slammed people that criticise mass migration, labour suddenly has tough stance on the matter. I’ll believe it when I see it.

‘. If Reeves uses her authority to force through profound change,’

It is more likely there will be more of the same, profound change is really stretching it, even the director of the ifs says not to get too excited:
‘IFS director Paul Johnson said earlier this week: “Regardless of who takes office following the general election, they will – unless they get lucky – soon face a stark choice.

“Raise taxes by more than they have told us in their manifesto. Or implement cuts to some areas of spending. Or borrow more and be content for debt to rise for longer. That is the trilemma. What will they choose? The manifestos have left us guessing.”
I’m not quite sure what ‘profound changes’ we are supposed to be expecting, the author is ambiguous on this point.

Pedro the Exile
Pedro the Exile
9 days ago

Much of the damage was done fast in the early years of Thatcherism, 
Hate to point out to the writer in case he hasn’t noticed but that was 40 years ago-a whole generation or two during which any semi competent Government could have implemented policies to rectify or at least mitigate the issue.
The mounting damage from Brexit is staggering,
Really-good to see a rigorous analysis from the learned Professor.
No mention of the vast reserves of coal and gas under the Northern territories which given political leadership could have transformed the North into a real powerhouse and given the UK real energy security-but hey-thats a tad obvious to an ideologue with a book to sell.

David Morley
David Morley
9 days ago

They still burn brightly in Britain, but some of the most egregious have gone unnoticed.

It’s not made explicit here, but I wonder if it is the disadvantage faced by boys that is being hinted at. Unnoticed in a feminist society, but it is boys who are now massively outnumbered at university, and white working class boys who are doing worst of all, followed by black working class boys.

Simply bringing boys up to the level of privilege and attainment enjoyed by girls would make an enormous difference.

Gordon Hughes
Gordon Hughes
9 days ago

Paul Collier is a really admirable economist. He has done some outstanding work on African development. But this falls into the trap of what can and can’t be said in polite academic society. First, the role of Thatcherism is greatly overstated. What did for the old industrial Britain was the currency appreciation brought about by (a) the development of North Sea oil during a period of high oil prices, and (b) the rapid growth of the London financial complex. Mrs T was the symbol of the decline of the old Britain, not its cause. Politicians are not that important. In effect, all she did was to say that you cannot resist the inevitable.
Second, what is left of the new industrial Britain is succumbing to the costs and consequences of Net Zero. Everyone knows that but few are willing to acknowledge it. Instead we get lots of fluff about green growth – i.e. spending vast amounts of money – and no discussion of the consequences of diverting investment from high productivity to low productivity assets.
If climate change is really an existential threat to the UK, then compensate those whose future is being trashed by imposing special climate taxes on anyone who lives in London, the SE or Edinburgh. Not taxes on wealth, because money just moves, but on location. Spend that money on huge upgrades to infrastructure in the “Left Behind” areas. On proper roads and rail connections within or between such areas, not on vanity projects like HS2 whose sole effect is to such more assets into London.

Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
9 days ago
Reply to  Gordon Hughes

Thanks for the corrective to my earlier claim regarding “economic illiteracy” which this article suggests the Professor has succumbed to. I’m unaware of his work on African development, which hopeful has made a difference – as i suspected must have happened at some point in his career given his credentials.
You’re right in your conclusions regarding the misjudgements in this article.

David Morley
David Morley
9 days ago
Reply to  Gordon Hughes

Not taxes on wealth, because money just moves, but on location.

Really good point.

And focussing on rapid transport between northern cities, rather than HS2 has the potential to create a northern super city to rival London and balance its power.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
9 days ago

I’m afraid I can’t take anyone seriously who thinks that Rachel Reeves is competent

mike otter
mike otter
9 days ago

Anyone would think this fella was talking about serious people, politicians committed to democracy and with the public interest at heart. He is talking about starmers labour, which is the same as corbyn’s. A bunch of thugs and losers who see no issue with stirring up class, race and gender hatred and actively support violence be it hamas terror or mob attacks on MPs and their staff (even including their “own” – Duffield, Berger etc) Their politics resemble the “national liberation” movements from th 50s-70s and Irish sectarian factions of the pre-“peace process” era. There is no place for such a party in a civil society anymore than there was for Franco or Salazar. If, as it looks likely they achieve the epithet “government” it will be bad news for all of us. Whilst the only solutions to a criminal state appears to be anarchy like Haiti or martial law – see Franco, Salazar above, we do have a fifth column that might help the UK populace avoid the worst of their plans: This is the pseudo-graduate wokist “civil service” who despite their vile instincts are so incompetent they only strike fear into the poorest, weakest sectors of society, who mostly dont’ vote anyway/

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
9 days ago

The problem with this kind of analysis is that a it assumes that we have low taxes already and can easily increase them effectively rather than just symbolically. (Hint people don’t like playing taxes that much even if they say they do!). The idea that Britain today is some kind of like watchman free market paradise is quite ridiculous.

Secondly, there is rather a lot of experience that governments – or at least British ones – are not that good at picking out excellent investment opportunities. I’m a moderate on these issues; I think for expensive and long term capital schemes, government funding may be necessary. But which capital projects? It is rather worrying that Paul Collier seems to think that paint full scale HS2 was part of the boost to the the industrialised parts of Britain that he wants to see. But what did it have to do with Cleethorpes? You could do a hell of a lot in terms of City Transport let alone other public sector investment with the money that HS2 has already squandered.

HS2 was NEVER a key strategic project for this nation – as evidenced by its constantly shifting justification. Like other white elephants it gained an enormous tail of self-in interested consultants and contractors and city administrations who didn’t have pay to boost it despite its obvious failings. Britain is not France, in terms of population density, land costs, legal, planning and regulatory structures (and burdens) and even “nimbyism”. A new high speed rail line built enormous cost between London Birmingham and Manchester is not going to create levelling up. Coventry and many other smaller cities will be completely bypassed by HS2 and will not be getting any improved connectivity from it! But had those costs not remorselessly increased astronomical levels the line WOULD have been built. Lessons should be learned there.

Also at the moment a state administration is mediocre at best. We need a much more competent state, such as the much maligned Singapore has, not a bigger one. And it’s very difficult to see how labor will almost immediately give in to public sector vested interests through pay increases not justified by productivity gains etc.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
9 days ago

It is not the role of govt to “save the left behind.” A solid case can be made that the multitude of interventions designed to do that did more to exacerbate the problem than resolve it. The unchecked immigration is perhaps the most obvious example – when you import people by the millions to compete with the domestic labor force, someone will lose out.
These people and their boundless belief that the public sector always knows best are the height of hubris. Govt can barely manage its core duties effectively, let alone the social engineering tasks it has needlessly created. These noble figures of the professor’s fantasies have driven debt to dizzying levels, they presided over the harm caused during the pandemic, they have done in every way the precise opposite of what he thinks they can do.

AC Harper
AC Harper
9 days ago

I rather expect that the good professor has his ‘everything backward’ glasses on. If you believe that the UK’s problems require a ‘bigger ‘ government intervention then you have probably got the cause and the solution back to front.
Luckily we have a real world example to watch – Milei’s down sizing of the Argentine state. It seems to be working so far… and is in the opposite direction to the good professor’s nostrums.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
9 days ago

Completely ignores that earning wages depends upon skill,riski taking and responsibility. Those willing to undertake the following : technically skilled work in dangerous and unpleasant conditions such as offshore work and diving: ex Commandos/Airborne/Special Forces;Engineers, especially computer, electrical and mechanical; top chefs, maitre’s butlers and hotel managers, top craftsmen in general. Where wages are low in areas of former heavy industry for those who are unskilled, poorly educated and have no desire to travel to better themselves. Someone can come from a run down poor area and if they join elite military units and make sergeant they can earn very good money. Many supervisors in Middle East oil industry are ex British armed forces .
A girl who joins the RN and becomes a chef,learns languages, trains as body guard and as a purser could enter any top hotel in a mangement role who set up their own business. Traditionally many ex pursers became hotel managers.
The main issue is the poor education system run by left wing wing middle class people who have no experience outside of teaching.
In the Middle Ages an archer could earn 6d a day, six times a labourers wages and after six months on campaign take home equivalent to today of ÂŁ180K to ÂŁ360. No cal for archers today. As technology and World trades evolves, one must obtain skills which are in demand. Canals, railways, steam ships, roads , cars etc all created and destroyed employment. In few years time it will be the chips made by Nvidia which will determine employment
Nvidia – Wikipedia
Collier and the EU are living in the past; one cannot regulate and control the innovation which occurs in other countries, only learn to use it. Better, is to innovate oneself.

David McKee
David McKee
9 days ago

As a dyed-in-the-wool Tory, I have to say that Sir Paul has a point. He makes it in a highly partisan way, which is unhelpful (I’d like to hear Gove’s side of the story). Moreover, he gives no explanation why Blair and Brown did nothing about this.
But he has a point. Theresa May commissioned the Augar Review, to look at vocational and further education, which reported just weeks before she fell. Sadly, Johnson was not remotely interested, nor Sunak, so it’s been gathering dust ever since.
Will Starmer do something about it? Well, why should he, when a Labour government in a much more benign economic environment, did nothing?

John Riordan
John Riordan
9 days ago

This reads as mostly nonsense. I say mostly because I don’t dispute the regional divide between London/SE and the rest of the country (which does possess a few other bright spots such as Edinburgh, Manchester etc), but I don’t really agree with any of the rest of it.

The main issue I have (apart from the lazy and undefended assertion about Brexit) is that the whole thing implies a need for vastly increasing spending, which must surely involve both tax rises and more borrowing. There is no scope for more of either: the UK is already over the peak of the Laffer curve so higher taxes will crush growth and tax receipts, and the scope for even-higher borrowing is pretty much non-existent.

The worry is that Labour might return to form and behave like it used to in the 1970s, rather than the (relatively) sane eocnomics it pursued in the Blair years.

Dr Illbit
Dr Illbit
9 days ago
Reply to  John Riordan

I basically came here to mention the Laffer curve, but saw you had the same idea and beat me to it by 30mins


Why is a certain kind of person always obsessing over “how we cut the pie up into smaller pieces”?

What intrinsic pessimism or lack of intellectual curiosity prevents them from asking “how might we grow the pie for everyone at the table?”

David L
David L
9 days ago

Typical academic. Hasn’t got the slightest clue about the real world.

Simon Woods
Simon Woods
9 days ago

The writers constant reference to the situation being somehow better in the EU beggars belief: it most certainly isn’t better. The problems are pretty similar there to here despite EU bungs galore. Structural regional poverty is just as bad in France, Italy (especially stark there), Spain, Greece, the former East Germany etc etc etc. I know since I have seen it for myself over the years. I wonder if the good professor has ever bothered to leave his Dreaming Spires to have a look for himself?

Malcolm Webb
Malcolm Webb
9 days ago

I am afraid the Professor just doesn’t understand. This country is drowning in debt and very troubled by unprecedented levels of uncontrolled immigration which started in the Blair years. There is no great source of available government wealth ( even from taxing the rich until the pups squeak) to spend on more welfare, more useless degrees or propping up the failing NHS. What the country badly needs are honest, competent and courageous politicians who tell the truth and have a workable plan to enable us to get us out of the enormous hole we are in. Sadly it seems that all we have are politicians who just want to carry on digging the hole.

David Morley
David Morley
9 days ago
Reply to  Malcolm Webb

Sadly it seems that all we have are politicians who just want to carry on digging the hole.

Yes, our politicians – or is it our electorate – just seem to have lost the will to change things.

David Morley
David Morley
9 days ago

In terms of analysis of the malaise, there’s not a lot I disagree with. But where is the money to come from to implement the solutions. Even implementing efficiencies usually takes investment in the short term. And significant improvements in productivity will take money and years to achieve.

Labour seems to be betting on growth to make everything possible – but if such growth comes in the short term it is more likely to be due to luck than anything else.

My hope is that once in power something more radical is proposed.

C Yonge
C Yonge
9 days ago

I follow Unherd, but I don’t have a great feel for the political parties and all. I hear some people talk about Thatcherism as if it’s a bad thing. I was under the impression she did good things for Britain. Anybody care to give me their short take on Thatcher?

David Morley
David Morley
9 days ago
Reply to  C Yonge

I think it took time for things to come home to roost. To take just one thing – the sale of council houses. Council houses acted as a dampener on the housing market and provided homes for people of normal child rearing age. Half of those sold off are now owned by private landlords charging exorbitant rents. Huge chunks of people’s wages now go to these landlords. Others are getting rich on the tax payer via housing benefits.

What looked like an immediate boon – own your own house cheaply – has turned into an albatross around the neck of the young, and the rise of a parasitic rent seeking class.

C Yonge
C Yonge
8 days ago
Reply to  David Morley

thanks for the response

SIMON WOLF
SIMON WOLF
9 days ago

The article does not mention that Hunt in his budget speech said that tax on average UK earnings was the lowest since 1975 and the lowest in the G7.
In other words after Labour govt wins the election they will have to raise taxes on average earnings in order to pay for needed increases in public sector.