The North Deserves Better

Christopher Fowler
sacha Britain's empire was managed from the South but driven by the North; the South fed the nation from Kent, 'the garden of England', but coal, wool, steel, ships, china, cutlery, chocolate and most of its exports came from the North to provide us with trade.
You see the remains of the wealth it generated when you walk around Manchester, Leeds and York, although you have to look hard now because the sturdily elegant Victorian facades are fast being lost. But the South doesn't care about the North. London is its own nation now, and the money it makes doesn't get reinvested above the Watford Gap. It doesn't take a genius to see how funding has been redistributed via the endless rezoning of the North in order to reduce it. To all intents and purposes the North has ceased to exist as far as the South is concerned. Parts of Lancashire are now among the poorest places in Europe. Chronic obesity - a poverty marker - is epidemic, and all the half-baked initiatives in the world won't change it unless someone stops the North from being a dumping ground for the South's unwanted chain stores. Limit supply and you change demand. What angers me is that the more you travel in the North, the more you find things to delight and celebrate. Most of the traditional stereotypes are as dead as Sacha Baron-Cohen's new film 'Grimsby', which trades on cliches from the last century. I find it disturbing that Baron-Cohen, a middle-class Jew, should consistently find comedy in offending ethnic groups when he of all people should understand where such behaviour leads. In 'Borat' his ridicule of East-Central countries wasn't only offensive but spectacularly inaccurate - Latvia, for example, has a higher literacy rate than the UK. Still, poor people are always good for a laugh, aren't they? At least 'Grimsby', which portrays the North of England as a giant slum, has been rubbished by the critics. I'm heading North through Yorkshire and Lancashire this spring on a tour of my own as most of my favourite British writers are from the North or from Scotland. If the North wants to change attitudes down South it should reach out and proactively upend the cliches. Bring writers and artists and independent manufacturers down here to show what it can do. There's no point in the oppressed waiting for the oppressor to change.


Peter Dixon (not verified) Sun, 28/02/2016 - 15:00

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Don't get me started!

While London gets projects like Crossrail, which seems to cost about £1m per inch of construction, and the bizarre 'garden bridge' being realistically considered, we in the north east have, in the last two weeks, seen the closure of 'Bede's World' a heritage and interpretation facility dedicated to the work of the Dark Ages monk who gave us the first history of England and produced illuminated gospels that are famed throughout the world.

If the Venerable Bede had the foresight he would have set up his place of worship in Londinium where ,by now, his church and monastery would be a centre with major interpretation of his life and work. As it was he stayed in Jarrow and never lived to read phrases like 'affordable rent', 'banker's bonus', 'we're all in this together' which result in the place that was a shining light of Christianity and education in dark ages England being unaffordable to run.

What London and politicians of all parties don't understand is that the regions will eventually bite back.

Lee Carson (not verified) Sun, 28/02/2016 - 18:22

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

How about the "Northen Powerhouse" a half baked idea that just won't work.

If they want the trains to run quicker between Leeds & Manchester then this won't be the solution. Mind you a new trans Pennine tunnel,would probably only cost a fraction of Crossrail

Yorkshire has some outstanding places which the "South" in the main won't know about nor do they want to know about

Roger (not verified) Sun, 28/02/2016 - 18:42

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

" 'Grimsby', which portrays the North of England...".
A very southocentric view. East Anglia is sui generis, anyway.
Apart from that, though, you're right. The government spends enormous amounts of money relieving the discomfort and inconvenience of London and builds baubles for the pleasure of rich foreigners and then sets to work to make it even more uncomfortable and inconvenient for anyone but millionaires.

Terenzio (not verified) Sun, 28/02/2016 - 19:24

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

The UK economy was based on having an empire. Once that didn't exist the economy needed to change or adapt to the new political and economical sutuation of the 1950s. Unfortunately, this never happened. And the election of Thatcher...much like the election of Ronald Reagan just put the nails into the coffin. Thatcher sold off state assets i.e. the railways to her friends and privatized others. Partly because she didn't want to spend the money to update the system and the rest for pure capitist greed. In the 80s, 90s, 00s while France, Germany etc. we're upgrading their nationalized railways the privatized UK railways were languishing. Of course since the country and not the private companies are responsible for maintaining the rail infrastructure the tax payer is on the hook for billions in maintence cost while not being able to share (at least directly) in the revenue generated. And why was the Queen Mary 2 built in France given the great history of British ship building? Or why are the trains built in Japan or China when the British once dominate this industry? One by one since the end of the war the UK has sacrificed one industry (electronics, ships, aerospace etc.) after another and for what. Today the biggest car manufacturer in the UK is Nissan...a Japanese company. I've always though that after the war the UK should have gone Communist or at least threatened to do so. Perhaps the U.S. with its paranoia with communism would have given millions to help rebuilt the economy. We did thus for Japan and West Germany. Who knows it might have worked.

Economically the north would need major investment. The only way to do this is through redistribution of wealth either directly or indirectly through tax revenue. For years London politicians have been short changing the southerners and northerners by using tax revenue in an irresponsible way. Instead of using the money to create long term sustainable jobs in the north...and probably in the south and west as well but to a lesser degree...they've used it for temporary jobs and welfare benefits. So what you have today is a country deeply in debt and deeply divided between the somewhat well off south (London and the south east) and the poor north with little or no prospects for the future. Of course southerners are resentful because they see their taxes wasted and in many ways they are right, but in other ways they're are wrong. Their are people in society who did need help, so benefits/welfare in itself is not wrong. And the north is still part of England. They're not a separate country. What both southerners and northerners need to do is come together and force the politicians to do the right thing. Train the workers in north to make good quality products that others will want to buy and use the capital in London to finance it. I read Tony Blair is worth around 60 million Pounds......all or most of which was made once he left office. Thatcher had a beautiful house in Belgravia...which doesn't come cheap. I won't even mention the net worth of the Clintons. Politicians everywhere are the same. I've no problem with success, but I do have a problem with politicians making a killing while the vast majority of people are actually experiencing a lower standard of living, less money and less security.

As for Baron-Cohen, I've no idea why you even brough him up. The guy has the sense of humor of a 13 year old boy. And as an adult he should know better which makes his jokes just plain cruel and nasty. Much like Donald Trump he's simply an opportunist....laughing all the way to the bank. But I'm sure Baron--Cohen appreciates the free publicity for his new film. Personally I won't waste my time or money watching or paying for his type of entertainment. Give me programs like Absolutely Fabulous any day. At least with comedies like that they're making fun of themselves as much as they're making fun of others. I do apologize for getting in a huff over this. I just can't stand people like Baron-Cohen. And I believe the media gives him and others like him including Donald Trump far too much attention and free publicity.

À bientôt....the one in the gorgeous purple silk dressing gown and lovely and extremely adorable wolfie slippers. I shall retire to the boudoir with Julian Barnes latest book on art, Keeping an Eye Open...to improve the mind of course, a cup of earl grey and a delicious and decadent piece of chocolate tea cake.

Jo W (not verified) Sun, 28/02/2016 - 20:20

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Not everyone in the South is rich. Not everyone in the North is poor.

Helen Martin (not verified) Sun, 28/02/2016 - 21:19

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I agree, Jo, but Terenzio certainly has a grip on things. Remember Yes, Minister when they were discussing the decentralisation of government and Humphrey said that it would not be fair to send departments north because wives would complain about schools and the lack of good shops, instead of being concerned about improving schools and raising living standards so there would be a market for good shops. The North isn't all "Eh, lad, that's nobbut a..." , but lots of the South has its own problems. You get the situation everywhere there are population disparities (either numbers or incomes) and government always seems to be in the "have" section where it can effectively ignore everyone else.
And what kind of country has difficulty finding accommodation for 6 member families? We're having trouble in Canada finding affordable accommodation for the 25,000 refugees we've taken in since October because so many are "large" families.

Vivienne (not verified) Sun, 28/02/2016 - 22:21

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I've been to Grimsby and, approaching it from the north there is this enormous tower. But you can't see it from the town. Walton-on-the-Naze has a similar phenomenon. But Grimsby struck me as the most fish oriented place I've found. There were firms for doing everything you can think of with fish. I tried very hard to get right to the docks, but this isn't easy- there are fences everywhere. Even asking locals didn't help: they didn't know and they looked at me as if I was mad to ask.

Christopher Fowler Mon, 29/02/2016 - 07:25

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I was using the film 'Grimsby' to hang the piece on but in fact Cornwall is the poorest county in England. George Osborne's Northern economic powerhouse has been undermined by revelations in a new report that 10 of the UK's 12 towns and cities in greatest economic decline are in the North.

Rochdale, Burnley, Bolton, Blackburn and Hull lead the list of places caught in a downward spiral of low employment and population growth.

Roger (not verified) Mon, 29/02/2016 - 21:16

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

"Cornwall is the poorest county in England."
A lot of people in Cornwall would disagree - not about the poverty, but about the "in England" bit.
I think thatonly applies to permanet residents - there are a lot of wealthy people who visit for a few weekends now and then.

Terenzio (not verified) Mon, 29/02/2016 - 23:47

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Jo W...I don't mean to sound simplistic. But in the past 30 years England has lost something like 2/3 of manufacturing. And nothing has really replaced these jobs. Predominately these jobs were in the north. Of course you have economically deprived areas everywhere. For example, Margate in Kent is trying to make a comeback with the Turner Contmporary Museum but the downtown/seafront area is still somewhat rough. I think Cornwall has had it tough for most of the 20th century because of the decline and now extinction of the mining industry. Aside from tourism and fishing there aren't a lot of industries left. Fortunately places like St. Ives and Penzance are incredible beautiful so people want to visit, but how much do jobs in tge tourism sector pay. And these days London's economy really does drive the economy of the region and in many ways is similar to New York City (especially when compared to NY state) in that they are out of whack with the rest of the country.....at least when it comes to economic prosperity. The U.S. is heading down the same route. It gets me upset when people like the late Stever Jobs tells us they can't manufacturer Apple products in the U.S. due to labor costs. Of course they could especially given the incredible profit margin of iPads, iPods, iPhones etc. but instead of having 160 billion dollars in cash, they might only have 80 billions dollars in cash. And it's not like they are using these cash for R&D. It's just sitting in banks (outside the country of course). I've read about this clothing company in San Francisco that makes their stuff in the U.S. that seems to be doing okay. The trade off is their stuff is more expensive. So you may not be able to afford as much stuff, bu at least you are supporting local workers. In many ways I feel guilty about using Amazon all these years. I still use them but now I try to buy more from independent bookstores when I can. Sometimes it means I have to buy less books. And after reading about the great lengths Starbucks Coffee goes to avoid paying taxes I won't set foot in one. However, getting back to the topic with manufacturing it's difficult because of cheap labor in places like China and automation....the flip side to technology and becoming more efficient and increasing productivity....is you need less workers....

Christopher Fowler Tue, 01/03/2016 - 07:17

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Sorry Roger but Cornwall is most definitely 'in England'. The last Cornish speaker died a long time ago!

Helen Martin (not verified) Tue, 01/03/2016 - 19:26

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

(fewer books, fewer workers)
It is happening everywhere although there are jabs against it. Laurie King urges readers to order from one of two independent book stores if you want autographed copies. There are a couple of Canadian firms manufacturing in the country - Lee Valley Tools is one - and yes it does mean things are more expensive, but have you ever seen a Veritas tool? Their Korean style garden hoes are made in China, as are the Chinese style scissors, but that's not a problem.
We're urged to build tourist industries in place of manufacturing, but those jobs are seasonal, no benefits, and subject to instant layoffs.

snowy (not verified) Tue, 01/03/2016 - 21:26

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Cornwall may be in England, but I wouldn't say it out loud West of the Tamar, they will have you tied up in a wicker pasty and blazing away before you knew what hit you.

Chris Everest (not verified) Mon, 07/03/2016 - 12:00

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Sometimes its grim. Sometimes its not. We are not too fond of the South though. We had a powerhouse - it got spent.