Michael Gove reveals Renaissance Italy inspiration for levelling up North

Michael Gove’s levelling up vision for the North is based on Renaissance Italy, he has revealed.

Michael Gove is reportedly taking inspiration from 15th Century Italy in drawing up the Government's levelling up policies.
Michael Gove is reportedly taking inspiration from 15th Century Italy in drawing up the Government's levelling up policies.

The Levelling Up Secretary told The Spectator that he is aiming for a modern interpretation of the methods used by the Medici family to transform Florence in the 15th Century.

It comes ahead of the long-awaited arrival of the Government’s Levelling Up White Paper policy programme, which is being overseen by Mr Gove and is due to be published in January.

Mr Gove said he defines levelling up as being about ‘making opportunity more equal’ and has been circulating a blueprint called the ‘Medici model’ around cabinet members.

He is reported to have shown The Spectator handwritten buzzwords such as ‘Productivity’, ‘Place’, ‘Quality of Life’, ‘Leadership’ with subcategories on topics such as ‘university pride’ and safer streets.

Mr Gove said levelling up is not just about improved infrastructure.

He said: “The human flourishing at the time of the Renaissance in the cities of Italy was as a result of a number of different factors coming together… It was the home of new methods of banking. It was the home of breakthroughs in architecture, in art, in literature and also in city governance. Obviously, we need a different Medici model now, but these are the key elements of it.”

He added: “To quote Anna Karenina, or rather the first line of the novel, often misquoted: ‘All happy families are happy in the same way, all unhappy families are unhappy in their own way’. All successful economic regions are very similar. They all have universities and cultural institutions of prestige.

"But all regions which are unhappy are unhappy in different ways, whether they’re coastal, post-industrial or rural. We need to make sure that levelling up is space-specific.”

The interview comes just days after the Sunday Times reported the Levelling Up White Paper had been described by a source who had read it as “blue skies theoretical ****” containing little in the way of eye-catching policy announcements. It has previously been reported the Treasury is making no new money available for the policy programme, despite it being a central theme of Boris Johnson’s agenda.

Mr Gove’s remarks have received a mixed reception.

Henri Murison, director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, which is chaired by former Tory Chancellor George Osborne, said there were promising signs that Mr Gove is “starting to fill in some of the blanks in the levelling up agenda”.

“Gove’s analysis bears a striking resemblance to George Osborne’s original northern powerhouse vision: investment in arts and innovation, strong cities enabling growth across their surrounding towns, with powerful local leadership to tie it all together.

“That focus on culture and science is now starting to bear fruit; the Factory arts centre in Manchester is nearing completion and the National Centre for Data in Newcastle is well established and delivering real economic benefits for the city region and the wider north.

“From Scarborough and Selby in North Yorkshire right across to Workington and Carlisle in Cumbria, if we can put levers in place to unlock the north’s full industrial force, we will create better paid, skilled jobs, drive up productivity and rebalance the UK economy.”

But Dr Arianna Giovannini, Interim Director of the IPPR North thinktank said while it is was positive that Mr Gove was looking for international inspiration for his levelling up agenda given “the UK is the most regionally divided country in the developed world, and that over-centralisation is the root cause of this”, she was unconvinced the Medici family were the best example to take.

“Creating a banking and political ‘dynasty’ in the North, that doesn’t result in the opportunity to participate and live a good life for all citizens, simply isn’t something that the region needs,” she said.

“The levelling up secretary should instead learn from examples of ‘what works’ to tackle inequalities in comparable countries, and understand why and how strong local and regional leadership and investment has helped to close regional divides in places like East Germany.

“Most importantly of all, Gove should look to local communities and leaders here, now, in the North for inspiration, and let them take control of their own future through a fully-fledged devolution agenda.”

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