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The MIT of the North

Images: Policy Exchange, UK in Japan- FCO [CC BY 2.0], via Flickr; Hans Christiansson, Cubankite, via Shutterstock   

Ivory Tower: We start a new serial, a romantic comedy set in the Northern Powerhouse

Episode one: It’s Glam Up North

Scene 1: A meeting room in Downing St. The prime minister and his senior adviser are meeting with officials.

Boris Johnson: We’ve promised it, so let’s get it built.

Cabinet secretary: Get what built, prime minister? HS2? A bridge between Scotland and Northern Ireland?

Johnson: The MIT of the North, of course.

CS: I see prime minister, I assumed that was just a junior minister who had one too many mulled wines after the election. It’s not a serious idea.

Dominic Cummings: Of course it’s serious. You know nothing about Bayesian analysis of algorithmic feedback loops.

CS: Very true Mr Cummings but I have served three previous prime ministers.

Cummings: We are doing things differently now. We must rebalance investment away from London and the south to our new northern heartlands.

CS: Heartlands? A few constituencies have had Conservative MPs for 5 weeks. Very well, where were you thinking of situating the institution? Leeds may be a suitable location with Channel Four moving there, it could be a strong offer in the digital technology sphere.

Johnson: It’s the MIT of the north not the LIT. That would be a stupid idea.

CS: Very good prime minister.

Selma Jones, assistant policy officer: I’ve taken the liberty of drawing up a list of suitable locations, just in case.

CS: Just in case of what?

Jones: That it was a serious idea.

CS: You mean major conurbations with transport connectivity and a critical mass of academic research and science-dependent businesses?

Jones: No, places in the north beginning with M.

Cummings: Right, let’s hear it.

Jones: Macclesfield.

Cummings: Too posh.

Jones: Maltby.

Johnson: Where?

Jones: It’s in Yorkshire. No? What about Mansfield.

Cummings: Too South.

Jones: Manchester

Cummings: Too Labour.

Jones: Middlesbrough

Johnson: Well, I’m not going there to cut the ribbon.

Jones: Morecambe.

Cummings: Say that again?

Jones: Morecambe, it’s on the west coast near Blackpool, just before the Lake District.

Cummings: Perfect.

Johnson: Is it?

Cummings: It’s a deprived coastal town. It voted Brexit and it has a Tory MP.

CS: The Eden Project is thinking of opening a franchise in Morecambe Bay. There may be a thing as too much infrastructure.

Cummings: Good, they can have both Eden and paradise, and we might even send some of your lot up there.

CS: I beg your pardon?

Cummings: Some of the more obstructive civil servants can be offered a package to re-locate there.

CS: I’m sure it will be a very suitable venue, Mr Cummings.

Jones: Actually, during the war thousands of civil servants were moved out of London to Morecambe, it was known as Whitehall-on-Sea. There was a large RAF presence there.

CS: Thank you Ms Jones, that will do.

Cummings: Super Brexitastic! I can see the celebrations now, Spitfires over Morecambe, Union Jack bunting along the seafront.

Johnson: What a bingo idea! There you are, The Morecambe Institute of Technology, job done.

CS: Not quite prime minister, what about the budget? May I suggest £100 million over the next five years, it’s the usual amount we use that sounds like a lot of money to ordinary people who don’t really understand government spending. I’ll have the communications team draw up a press release announcing the intention to begin a process of consultation and a committee to examine feasibility planning.

Cummings: £1 billion!

CS: Sorry?

Cummings: Its budget should be £1bn, per year, £10bn, no make it £100bn! Today we announce a £100bn investment in the MIT of the North!

CS: I think we will need to consult with the chancellor of the exchequer first.

Johnson: What, old Javid McBaldy Nut? He’ll be fine with it. Now, let’s get it done, I need to be on The One Show later for a searching interview with Matt Baker.

CS: Prime minister, I think it would be prudent at least to visit the town before making a public announcement on that kind of spending.

Cummings: Send someone to take a look then. Keep it quiet for the moment, while I spread the rumour among the lobby correspondents. At least three of them are bound to repeat it on Twitter without checking.

CS: But who? It will need someone with an expert knowledge of the region.

Cummings: Haven’t you got people there?

CS: The Higher Education Funding Council for England had regional directors with a detailed knowledge of research and university provision in every corner of the country.

Cummings: Good, send one of them.

CS: The last government abolished the funding council.

Johnson: What clot did that?

CS: Your brother, prime minister.

Johnson: Ah… well what about this young woman here, she seems to know an awful lot about this Morecambe place.

CS: Ms Jones is a trainee policy officer.

Johnson: Piff and paff, send Jones, get the job done, ping oven ready. Can you fly there? No time to lose, off you go, report to Dom in a couple of days. Now for The One Show. What do you think Dom, hair messy enough?

Jones: I have an Italian language class this evening, and I’ll need to find someone to feed the cat.

CS: Standard class rail ticket, keep your receipts.

Scene 2: The chamber room, Morecambe town council.

Mayor: Thank you, Mrs Clitheroe, I quite agree the new parking charges outside of Farm Foods are unacceptable. Let’s refer that to the accounts committee. Moving on, item four on the agenda. Now, we’ve had an email from the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Apparently, they are sending an official up to assess our infrastructure needs, which is nice.

Councillor Taylor: Are we going to get a Greggs?

Councillor Braithwaite: The bulbs in the roundabout on Marine Road West need re-planting.

Mayor: I’m sure you’ll all have a chance to lobby them in turn.

Councillor Clitheroe: Blinking ink! What the actual…

Mayor: What is it Mrs Clitheroe, I’ve asked you before not to read texts from your daughter’s school during council meetings.

Clitheroe: The BBC say, “An anonymous Number 10 source has said the government will be investing £100bn in an MIT of the North and has despatched an official to assess the infrastructure needs of the host town… Morecambe”.

Taylor: Heck as like.

Braithwaite: £100bn…

Mayor: A what of the north?

Clitheroe: A MIT, dunno what that is.

Taylor: Is it supposed to be a PIT, are they going to re-open the mines?

Clitheroe: Wait, there’s more. Apparently, it stands for Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Mayor: Why is it moving from Massachusetts to Morecambe?

Braithwaite: Is it part of the trade deal with Trump? We get a MIT and they get a member of the Royal family.

Clitheroe: “The Downing St source said that part of the £100bn would be needed to buy up property in the town at above market rates and to reimburse residents for the disruption and loss of earnings”.

Taylor: We’re rich…

Braithwaite: They could buy by my old Newsagents and I could get shot of that rental block on Balmoral Road.

Mayor: I could sell up and get the hell out of here. I could afford to go live near the grandchildren in New Zealand.

Clitheroe: I’ll retire to the Algarve.

Braithwaite: Florida.

Taylor: Every single person in Morecambe will rolling in it.

Mayor: La la la la…

Clitheroe: Mr Mayor, are you singing?

Mayor: Bring me sunshine in your smile. Bring me laughter all the while. In this world where we live, there should be more happiness.

Taylor: So much joy you can give…

All: To each brand new bright tomorrow.

Scene 3. The train to Morecambe, a converted bus on wheels, “older rolling stock that may not yet have benefitted from refurbishment”. A handsome young ticket guard is making his way through the carriage.

Guard: Tickets please madam.

Jones: Again? This is the fifth train I’ve been on today.

Guard: Where have you come from?

Jones: London.

Guard: I see, like that is it?

Jones: What do you mean?

Guard: You’ve come up from that London and you think you are hard done by?

Jones: No, I’m just tired. I’ve been travelling for eight hours.

Guard: Why? You get the train from Euston to Lancaster, change for Morecambe.

Jones: All trains from London are stopping at Manchester due to engineering works. I had to walk across town from Piccadilly to Victoria, got a train to Warrington, another one to Preston, one to Lancaster, and then this one, which is like a transit van on rails. I’m tired and hungry and want to get to my hotel.

Guard: Count yourself lucky you didn’t come from Wales. You would have had to change seven times. Tickets please, any more tickets…

Jones [mutters]: Patronising northern git.

[Inaudible static squawk over the train’s Tannoy system]

Jones: Excuse me what did that say?

Guard: Was its northern accent too thick for you Mary Poppins?

Jones: It’s clearly broken, can you just tell me.

Guard: Morecambe next stop, end of the line.

Jones: Thank you, Lord. Get me out of this town and back to Zone 1 as quick as possible.

Guard: Southerners. All change, next stop Morecambe everyone, all change…

Scene 4. Morecambe train station.

Jones: Excuse me can you tell me where I can get a taxi?

Station master: Taxi?

Jones: Yes, my Uber app doesn’t seem to be working.

Station master: Uber? In Morecambe? What do you think this is, Piccadilly bleeding Circus?

Jones: I’m sorry it must be my 4G provider.

Station master: 4G in Morecambe?

Jones: It’s fine, I’ll walk.

Station master: If you go down past the Farm Foods you might pick up a mini cab there, the new parking charges are ridiculous. 50p for two hours, honestly.

Jones: Thank you.

Scene 5. Outside Morecambe Farm Foods. Jones has been waiting a long time but finally a cab draws up, she gets it.

Jones: Thank goodness, you are a life saver. The Midlands Hotel please.

Driver: I’m surprised you’d want a taxi after those 5 trains you’ve been on.

Jones: It’s you! But weren’t you the guard on the train?

Driver: Everyone in Morecambe has two jobs, some have got three, some have got none of course.

Jones: Spare me the lecture, just take me to the Midlands Hotel.

Driver: You might prefer to walk, it’s just over there next to the crazy golf course.

Jones: Patronising northern git.

Driver: I heard it that time.

[Jones gets out and slams door, and heads to Midlands Hotel]

… To be continued.

Read episode 2