The Angel of the North on February 3, 2012 in Gateshead. Photograph: Getty Images.
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How Osborne could use the Budget to make peace with the north

Rather than token announcements, the Chancellor needs to give much more meaningful power and autonomy to cities.

George Osborne is likely to use tomorrow's Budget to make another peace offering to the north of England, normally in the form of a transport (re)announcement – last time it was some pennies for the North East Metro, at the Autumn Statement it was Northern Hub. The Budget represents a key staging post ahead of the local elections. Some Tories like David Skelton have got a keen eye on how the Conservatives will fare in May as they know that to win a general election next year, they’ve got to retain and build on their seats up north. They particularly fear UKIP eating into their vote share in the region.

But it wasn’t always the case that the Tories struggled so much in the north. In fact, history shows that the Conservative Party had an important role in the growth of England’s great Victorian cities. Both Joseph and Neville Chamberlain were key figures in the rise of Birmingham in the late 19th century. Disraeli famously set out his vision for the nation in Manchester stating "what Manchester does today, the rest of the world does tomorrow". Lesser-known figures such as William Huskisson were behind major infrastructure developments like the Liverpool-Manchester Railway and even up until the 1960s, the Tories controlled the city of Liverpool and still boasted Conservative champions like Michael Heseltine.

What Osborne’s predecessors grasped was the importance of powerful, autonomous cities, not only in driving national economic prosperity but also as the basis for strong civic institutions and a vibrant local democracy. Much of this was stripped away under Thatcher, but if the Tories want to win back the big cities they need to revisit their strong civic past and give much more meaningful power and autonomy to cities than we have so far witnessed. The coalition’s "City Deals" – championed by smoggie Greg Clarke MP - only went so far and seem to have run out of steam. The localism agenda largely bypassed councils and was a front for cuts.

So rather than baubles and sweeteners, what could Osborne do with the Budget that could set a new direction for city growth?

First, he could revisit the excellent Heseltine Review and specifically carve out much more substantive elements of departmental budgets to put into the Single Local Growth Fund – the current £4bn over five years is derisory and has reduced strategic economic planning in most cities to a small-scale bidding contest between Local Enterprise Partnerships. We need large-scale five-year settlements with city regions to allow them to get on with the joint task of economic growth and public service reform.

Building on this, cities should be allowed to keep the proceeds of economic growth and public sector savings. The concept of "earnback" has been instituted through the GM Infrastructure Fund but now it needs to be applied more widely in relation to all economic growth, welfare and housing as IPPR North has argued.

And finally, Osborne needs to go much further than the current business rate retention scheme and set out bold ideas for giving cities much great fiscal autonomy. The London Finance Commission was keen to devolve land and property taxes. Gordon Brown's suggestions for the devolution of income tax in Scotland could set a precedent for some kind of income tax assignment in England too. However it is achieved, fiscal autonomy is a key plank of the success of cities in other developed nations and in England we are getting left behind.

Time is running out for the coalition government to really drive the cities agenda that promised so much at the beginning of the Parliament. Not only is this the right thing to do for the national economy – it is probably their only chance of being returned to power. Let us hope that the Chancellor grasps the spirit of his northern predecessors more fully, rather than present us with just another northern Budget bauble.

Ed Cox (@edcox_ippr) is the director of IPPR North. 

Ed Cox is Director at IPPR North. He tweets @edcox_ippr.

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I am special and I am worthless: inside the mind of a narcissist

There's been a lot of discussion about narcissists this week. But what does the term actually mean?

Since the rise of Donald Trump, the term “narcissistic” has been cropping up with great regularity in certain sections of the media, including the pages of this journal. I wouldn’t want to comment about an individual I’ve never met, but I thought it would be interesting to look at the troubling psychological health problem of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).

People with NPD (which is estimated to affect about 1 per cent of the population) have a characteristic set of personality traits. First, they have a deeply held sense of specialness and entitlement. Male NPD sufferers frequently present as highly egotistical, with an unshakeable sense of their superiority and importance; female sufferers commonly present as eternal victims on whom the world repeatedly inflicts terrible injustices. In both cases, the affected person believes he or she is deserving of privileged treatment, and expects it as a right from those around them.

Second, NPD sufferers have little or no capacity for empathy, and usually relate to other people as objects (as opposed to thinking, feeling beings) whose sole function is to meet the narcissist’s need for special treatment and admiration – known as “supply”. In order to recruit supply, NPD sufferers become highly skilled at manipulating people’s perceptions of them, acting out what is called a “false self” – the glittering high achiever, the indefatigable do-gooder, the pitiable victim.

The third characteristic is termed “splitting”, where the world is experienced in terms of two rigid categories – either Good or Bad – with no areas of grey. As long as others are meeting the narcissist’s need for supply, they are Good, and they find themselves idealised and showered with reciprocal positive affirmation – a process called “love-bombing”. However, if someone criticises or questions the narcissist’s false self, that person becomes Bad, and is subjected to implacable hostility.

It is not known for certain what triggers the disorder. There is likely to be a genetic component, but in many cases early life experiences are the primary cause. Narcissism is a natural phase of child development (as the parents of many teenagers will testify) and its persistence as adult NPD frequently reflects chronic trauma during childhood. Paradoxically for a condition that often manifests as apparent egotism, all NPD sufferers have virtually non-existent self-esteem. This may arise from ongoing emotional neglect on the part of parents or caregivers, or from sustained psychological or sexual abuse.

The common factor is a failure in the development of a healthy sense of self-worth. It is likely that narcissism becomes entrenched as a defence against the deep-seated shame associated with these experiences of being unworthy and valueless.

When surrounded by supply, the NPD sufferer can anaesthetise this horrible sense of shame with the waves of positive regard washing over them. Equally, when another person destabilises that supply (by criticising or questioning the narcissist’s false self) this is highly threatening, and the NPD sufferer will go to practically any lengths to prevent a destabiliser adversely influencing other people’s perceptions of the narcissist.

One of the many tragic aspects of NPD is the invariable lack of insight. A narcissist’s experience of the world is essentially: “I am special; some people love me for this, and are Good; some people hate me for it, and are Bad.” If people with NPD do present to health services, it is usually because of the negative impacts Bad people are having on their life, rather than because they are able to recognise that they have a psychological health problem.

Far more commonly, health professionals end up helping those who have had the misfortune to enter into a supply relationship with an NPD sufferer. Narcissism is one of the most frequent factors in intimate partner and child abuse, as well as workplace bullying. The narcissist depends on the positive affirmation of others to neutralise their own sense of unworthiness. They use others to shore themselves up, and lash out at those who threaten this precarious balance. And they leave a trail of damaged people in their wake. 

This article first appeared in the 16 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times