Is George’s powerhouse solid enough to hit with a spanner and produce a ringing sound; or is it a slippery political construct aimed at soft-soaping northerners?
Personally I believe the northern powerhouse is all down to George Osborne’s hi-viz addiction. The chancellor does pop one on at every opportunity, turning himself into an illuminated twerp (if not an illuminating one).
Sometimes I imagine he dons hi-viz pyjamas at night. Perhaps he wears the hard hat to bed too, and then does a little Village People dance between the door and the bed. Then I tell myself to stop imagining such terrifying scenarios.
If the northern powerhouse is anything it is a cultural phenomenon too. So what are we to make of news that the Victoria & Albert Museum in London is to hive off the Royal Photograph Society collection from the National Media Museum?
Bradford’s museum has housed these world-renowned photographs since 2003. Yet now they are to be carted off to the V&A, presumably on the grounds that there isn’t nearly enough for people to see and do in London.
According to a press release quietly slipped out by the two museums, the National Media Museum will now “focus on the science, technology and culture of light and sound and will retain material relevant to that”. And if you can understand what that means, you should apply to run what’s left of Bradford’s museum.
Local MP Judith Cummins suggests this move is a blow to the long-term viability of the National Media Museum. “Visitor numbers have been rising so to now learn that an important collection, which is ten per cent of the collection as a whole, is to be shipped off to London starts alarm bells ringing.”
If you live in the north, it is hard not to feel London has far too much cultural clout already.
With that in mind, here is a quote from Michael Pritchard, the director general of the Royal Photographic Society: “The move of the RPS Collection to London from Bradford will increase accessibility in both a geographical sense and through the resources that the V&A is able to bring ensure public and research access. The Media Museum has suffered declining staff and funding cuts over recent years which has impacted on public access to the collection despite the very best efforts of the curatorial staff.”
Let’s analyse that for a moment. This move will increase accessibility in “a geographical sense”. Well, only if you live in London or the south east. If you live in the north, it will decrease accessibility in a geographical sense.
And the patronising final sentence? That can be translated as follows: “The country really cannot afford to have a northern museum looking after something so important. I mean, God, have you ever been to Bradford?”
Simple-minded dwellers of the north make a mistake when they see the word ‘national’ attached to an institution. They assume ‘national’ means what it says in the dictionary, as in relating to a whole country and its people. Whereas in fact what ‘national’ too often means is “snaffled up by London again”.
Hence the National Theatre, a very fine place and somewhere I once spent many happy hours, is an important theatre in London – where they are lots of other big theatres that attract large amounts of public support.
The capital will always have more pull, but if the government really wants to shift the nation away from London by a degree or two, it should divert more of that national cultural money to the north.
Incidentally, last week the government announced that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills would close its Sheffield office – the biggest one it has outside London – in 2018, putting 247 jobs at risk. Where’s the work going? To London, naturally.
George Osborne’s powerhouse project is overseen by that department, and – what’s more – he recently made a big fuss about Sheffield being another hub in the powerhouse. But now he’s moving staff from Sheffield to London.
Rumours that Osborne plans to take the lead role in a West End show called Northern Powerhouse the Musical can be discounted as the imaginings of a fevered mind. Or at least I hope so.