The North Deserves Better
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.