by William Rees
Centre-right think tank Onward recently published a report showing that, whilst in government, the Conservatives have spent more on London alone than the rest of the UK’s regions and nations combined. With Boris Johnson just having been swept to Downing Street following a near-clean sweep of ‘Red Wall’ constituencies; seats stretching from the North East of Wales all across the North of England, his government is under pressure to ensure they aren’t seen as too ‘London-centric’, a label that could be tacked to all Westminster governments this century, from Theresa May’s lacklustre administration all the way back to Blair and the advent of devolution.
Sadly, I do not think he’s up to the job and, like his predecessors, will fall into the trap of leaving vulnerable communities in Wales and the North of England behind, in the peripheral vision of Whitehall’s government departments. Growing up in rural Wales, and even from my current location in Cardiff, it’s clear to me that the UK has become too London-centric, with London and the South-East of England receiving preferential treatment on a range of things from economic investment, transport infrastructure and housing.
Whilst London gets Crossrail, a multi-billion-pound transport system, with a sequel likely on the way, the South Wales train line was only electrified over Christmas 2019. Promises to electrify the North Wales train line haven’t come to fruition and the South Wales metro remains years away.
“It’s clear to me that the UK has become too London-centric, with London and the South-East of England receiving preferential treatment on a range of things”.
Additionally, Johnson has just approved HS2, a new high-speed rail line which just makes it quicker to get to London and, according to the Treasury, it comes in at an estimated cost of £106 billion. Welsh taxpayers will have to pay for it, whilst not receiving any of the benefits. Even Teesside Mayor Ben Houchen, a prominent Northern Tory, has said that North East England won’t benefit from HS2.
This ‘London-centricism’ can also clearly be seen when looking at gross disposable household income per head across the nations and regions of the UK. Whilst London has upwards of £21,000 gross disposable household income per head according to the ONS, Wales’ comparative figure is only £14,000, whilst the figure for the North East of England is even lower at £13,000. As a result of this, the UK has higher levels of inequality amongst its constituent nations and regions than any other large wealthy country in the world.
In England, Labour’s Manchester Metro Mayor Andy Burnham has said Westminster must trust regions to make their own decisions, which may help tackle the ‘left behind’ feeling that led to many people voting to leave the European Union.
In Wales, some may argue it was the job of devolution to fix this, however Welsh Labour have been in power here for 20 years and have clearly shown they are not up to the task. We’d do well to learn the lessons of failed London rule, and avoid becoming too ‘Cardiff-centric’; a charge frequently levelled at the administration in the Bay. As a member of Plaid Cymru, it will come as no surprise therefore that I believe that no matter the colour of the government on either side of the M4, having a Plaid Cymru led Welsh government that will always put the interests of the people of Wales first is the answer, and upcoming marches for Welsh independence in ‘left behind’ areas, such as Wrexham, will show that there is indeed an appetite for this antidote to ‘London-centricism’.