Broken Britain

Moss Side Estate. Greater Manchester. Teenagers huddled on street corners while others ride up and down on bikes outside long deserted boarded-up shopfronts.
The North of England has a tinge of sadness to it. From the gun crime that has dominated estates like Moss Side since the early 1990s to old cobbled town’s whose cotton mills have laid dormant for years. This is an area of the UK with so much to give and to be proud of. Brilliant scenery, friendly locals and a refreshing lack of pretentiousness which can’t be found anywhere in London.
I didn’t fully appreciate how much the rest of the England, and particularly the North, was neglected as opposed to the Capital. I am constantly reminded of this fact by northern friends, but until I jumped ship to move up here I had no idea. Governments past and present have failed these people. A sea of ghost towns have been created by the loss of industry, leaving it wide open to be homogenised by the usual Tesco, McDonalds, et al.
The only southern equivalent to be found are the washed out seaside resorts located on the south coast. With crumbling piers, and sunshine providing the only real source of income, these towns have also been neglected. The fundamental difference between them and their northern counterparts, is that they never had much to offer in the first place.
Consider places like Burnley, Oldham, Rochdale. Once upon a time these milltowns provided a steady source of employment to skilled and unskilled workers alike. Times change, but when we lost the mills, we lost a fundamental sense of community and camaraderie, similar to the Welsh miners. These are towns that are now taken over by greedy property developers, creating a concrete jungle that is more akin to some kind of Gilliam-esque dystopian phantasmagoria. It saddens me more than the lonely seaside resorts, because there was once something beautiful here.
Looking at the redbrick and wonderfully precise York Stone buildings, one is aware of a gold mine of local history. It says a lot about governments past and present that they continually try to embrace the modern in order to improve and maintain Britain’s global standing. I think far more respect would be given to them by the people of this country if they instead invested more in nurturing tradition, as well as revitalising local governments which are in stasis and promoting localised issues.


2 responses to “Broken Britain

  1. I don't know if it's fair to say the towns of the south coast were useless as such, many having originally been based on a fishing, commercial or naval shipping based economy that was slowly eroded in the same way as northern industry by the development of global capitalism. The issue is whether people should move to find jobs (completely destroying these towns) or whether jobs should be a right for people, which is more or less impossible under neo-liberalism.There was a program on the BBC (think it's still on Iplayer) fronted by John Prescott, addressing the north south divide, which analysed Prescott's belief that the north had been neglected and abandoned by the south. It was a pretty good program for various reasons, giving you the context of the industrial revolution and development in the north and its demise. With Prescott actually advancing a class analysis by the end of the show, which makes you wonder how he dealt with the years he spent as the token commoner in the new labour clique (In fact he remembers these days through out as though he was on fucking tour with his band or something).The point about the north is that during its period of industrial development up to its zenith, it had the highest concentration of production and exploitation of anywhere in human history up to that point. An immense population and a capitalist class with an empires worth of resources meant near constant growth. The best work on the subject being E.P Thompson's The making of the English working class. Which also discusses the formation of the community and camraderie you mentioned.What basically destroyed these communities was the golbalisation of capital, with the advance of the labour movement, rising standards in working conditions at home in tandem with the development of industry in developing countries meant that businesses moved abroad looking for higher profit margins. There was no reason for them to maintain these communities based on market logic so they fucked off. It's not about improving Britain's standing it was simply about enriching Britain's ruling class. I mean come on, does anyone really think that privatisation primarily benefits the consumer anymore?The last line of defence people had against these processes were the trade unions, once these were smashed by Thatcher, there was nothing the country, primarily the north, could do but adjust to the new economic realities. Which meant the destruction of Britain's industries and the historical working class. On a final point; I think whilst some of the old industrial buildings are incredible in their scale, they weren't called 'dark satanic mills' for nothing. It's worth remembering that Britain's industrial history was dirty, brutal and slick with blood. It's the history of people fighting these conditions and improving their lives and the those of the community through solidarity and struggle that we should primarily take from the past.Whereas some of the coastal fishing towns in the south are just straight up hauntingly beautiful.

  2. Hmm. While I take most of your points, notably that Prescott's program was surprisingly good. However, having a lot of family that were embedded in this northern industry, I can safely say that they were done down by westminster. I see no such categorical taking apart of the southern ports, they merely fell by the wayside because of expansion and globalisation. But good that you commented 🙂

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