They were supposed to tip their caps to their educated betters, the enlightened elite, and disappear into history… the Liverpools, the Sunderlands, the Blackburns and now on the other side of the EU the Milans, the Turins and the Veronas.
The economists, and the metropolitan elite predicted the brightest would pack their suitcases and move from Britain’s industrial heartlands to London and the south east – as the textbook economics of internal migration dictate.
But they hadn’t reckoned with real people, pride in their towns and cities, and powerful ties to family, community and history.
Today it is these towns, once dismissed by one economist as “the places that don’t matter” who are calling the shots, roaring from beyond the cosy metropolitan centres and bloodying the noses of both complacent domestic politicians and the elitist power-brokers at the highest levels of the EU.
In 2016 Sunderland sparked a political earthquake when it became the first city to vote Leave in the Brexit referendum.
And last weekend EU bosses saw Italian counterparts like Verona and Milan loudly telling the self-appointed elite – and specifiucally the European Union politicians – that enough was enough.
Andrés Rodríguez-Pose, Professor of Economic Geography, at the London School of Economics, said ignoring theses “places that don’t matter” had been a huge mistake and risked undermining the prosperity of Britain and Europe.
He added: “Populism was not most popular among the poorest, but instead in a combination of poor regions and areas that had suffered long periods of decline.
“Now the places that don’t matter have reacted.”
Mr Rodríguez-Pose pointed to the experience of Government adviser Tim Leunig who called for people from “failed” Liverpool to be moved to the south sparking fury and condemnation.
Leunig had also suggested the Government end all efforts to try and stimulate the economies of northern towns and cities.
But Mr Rodríguez-Pose said it was time to put in place proper, workable, development policies for economically struggling towns and cities.
He said welfare was a mistake as it just created a dependent culture and added: “When Tim Leunig encouraged Liverpudlians to move to the southeast, he was expressing the assumption in urban economics that mobility is costless, or at least that it is preferable to move than to stay in a place where there would be a limited chance to find a job.
“But those that stay in lagging or declining regions may be unlikely to relocate because of emotional attachment to the place where they live, age, or lack of sufficient skills and qualifications, among other reasons.
“Overlooking the economic potential of lagging-behind and declining areas. The places that don’t matter have often been characterised as ‘rustbelts’ or ‘flyover states’.
“Dealing with the revenge of the places that don’t matter.
“The revenge of the places that don’t matter – reflected in the rapid rise of populism – represents a serious and real challenge to the current economic and political systems. And doing nothing is not an option.”