Welcome to the north, Londoners! It's fantastic – but it could still be so much better

Colin Drury
New flood defences in West Yorkshire failed to prevent a river bursting its banks at the weekend: AFP/Getty

Ehhh, the north, the beautiful north.

The land of affordable drinks, reasonable house prices and strangers at bus stops giving it a cheerful “good morning, cock” even when – which is most of the time – it’s freezing cold, pissing it down and said bus appears to have treated itself to a lie-in.

Ehhh, there’s nowhere quite like it.

More and more people are moving here from London apparently. New figures show 13 per cent of those skipping the capital are heading for places like Leeds, Newcastle and Sheffield.

They’re not tired of life, they insist; they’re tired of paying £3.50 for a cup of tea in their local café.

Well, welcome.

I’ve never left the south because I never moved there in the first place. Why would I? I’m from Yorkshire.

I once interviewed an old timer who claimed that – save for sorting out a world war – he’d never been out the county, not even on holiday. What did the planet have to show him, he asked, that God’s Own Country didn’t? And I’m afraid to admit that, instead of saying the Grand Canyon (for instance?), I found myself nodding along. Who needs that when you’ve got the Calder Valley?

I like it here. If you’re keen on stunning scenery, a less hectic life and having change for chips when you buy a pint – and assuming you can survive without a Pret on every corner – you probably will too. As Lord Tennyson wrote: “True and tender is the North.”

Us in the north get to feel smug that, as suspected, living in a place that’s part Barry Hines novel and part Hovis advert really does have its charms. And them down south, one suspects, take a certain pride of their own. Life’s tough in the hustle and bustle; it takes character to make it. Wimps want away.

Except I have some quibbles. I can’t help wonder what it says about a country when a tiny uptick of people moving to a particular area is considered so unusual it makes headlines. What does it say about a region when a handful of relocators coming here is celebrated like some game-changing win?

Which is to say: if this trend is so surprising, then hasn’t something gone wrong?

Well, yes. Clearly it has. It’s gone wrong in the north. Wages are lower here, unemployment is higher and educational attainment is poorer. Our children have less chance of going to university than their southern counterparts and more chance of going on the rock n’ roll. For what it’s worth, they’re more likely to get pregnant in their teens too.

Public transport is crumbling and receives far less investment per person than gilded London. The most common train in use – the Pacer – is so old there’s already one on display at the National Railway Museum. Staff there call it an “example of railway history”. The rest of us call it an example of the 8.17 to Manchester.

More? The NHS is stretched to breaking point, and so are the police. In Hartlepool, residents set up vigilante groups because some nights they had just 10 bobbies covering an entire town of 92,000 people. We don’t even live as long here. Mortality rates in parts of Blackpool and Manchester are worse than areas of Slovakia and Romania.

Taken together, these regional inequalities are so bad that the UK2070 commission – set up by the government to look at this stuff – has called for a national renewal fund to be created. It should be modelled, they say, on the scheme used by Germany during its east-west reunification.

We have, almost literally, become two countries. London; and the rest.

Because this isn’t even really just a northern thing, is it? Swathes of the south-west, the Midlands and coastal regions – not to mention Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – have all been severed from the capital’s economic growth for more than 40 years. Underinvestment, both private and public, has become standard. It will take more than HS2 and Channel Four chucking a few staff into Leeds to put that right.

So, of course, it’s ace to hear of people heading for the Winterfell-lands above Watford.

But celebrating a few movers surely hides the huge long-term structural changes needed to rebalance the UK and make it some kind of coherent whole again. It obscures what is perhaps the great challenge of the age: creating a country where people don’t feel forced to move to the capital for betterment in the first place.

So, yes, welcome to the north. It’s wonderful here. It could be so much better.

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