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Moving the ENO marks Levelling Up’s descent into outright farce

English National Opera's production of Giacomo Puccini's "Madam Butterfly"
English National Opera's production of Giacomo Puccini's "Madam Butterfly"

The last time I went to Manchester it set me back £150. This did not give me the impression that the north of England’s premier city was particularly easy to reach, or, sadly, somewhere I’d visit again soon. Our broken train system made such plans unrealistic.

Despite these difficulties, the English National Opera is set to relocate there. This isn’t because of unmet market demand; the ENO will be joining (or competing with) the excellent Opera North. It’s moving as condition of continued funding from the Arts Council.

Used as we are to a government that seemingly makes decisions entirely without regard to common sense, this is a particularly strange move.

To start with, I suspect the people of Manchester – at the very least this Londoner – would be much happier with fast, reliable and affordable trains between the two cities. But with our state more interested in fiddling – and banning – rather than problem-solving, it’s opera instead.

Even so, the political calculus is hard to fathom. We are in the middle of a huge political crisis over immigration, a complex issue that the desperate Tories are trying to hammer into submission.

For all the talk about Rwanda and income thresholds and the sheer volume of new arrivals, little thought seems to go into who is arriving. Where is the plan to better distinguish between those who deserve to stay and those who don’t? To make sure Britain is strengthened by newcomers who work hard and benefit the nation, not endangered and sucked dry by those who mean ill?

It seems that all the Government can do to improve Britain’s social fabric, to make it “fairer”, or more “levelled up”, is to make London that bit worse by forcing its second opera house to a city that doesn’t need, or arguably want, it. What a tragicomedy.

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