Having started with the far right, now for the not quite so far right…the Labour Party.
Are musicians and creative people generally more likely to lean to the left, politically speaking ? It does generally seem that way.
Labour once had a good relationship with musicians – I’m particularly thinking of their engagement with Red Wedge, the collective of musicians who attempted to engage young people with politics in general, and the policies of the Labour Party in particular, during the period leading up to the 1987 general election, in the hope of ousting the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher.
Fronted by Billy Bragg (whose 1985 Jobs for Youth tour had been a prototype of sorts for Red Wedge), Paul Weller and The Communards lead singer Jimmy Somerville, they put on concert tours and appeared in the media, adding their support to the Labour Party campaign.
Artists who appeared at Red Wedge gigs included The Style Council, The Communards, Junior Giscombe, Jerry Dammers,Madness, The The, Heaven 17, Bananarama, Prefab Sprout, Elvis Costello, Gary Kemp, Tom Robinson, Sade, The Beat, Lloyd Cole, The Smiths, The The, Captain Sensible and the Blow Monkeys.
Which is a pretty good support base. It didn’t work though, and Red Wedge was formally disbanded in 1990.
I wonder how many of those would appear in support of Miliband ? Labour lost any credibility they may have still retained under Blair (despite desperate attempts to woo ‘Cool Britannia’) and I dont really think its ever going to come back. Tough shit, Ed.
There’s not even much in the way of anti-Labour songs out there… not in the same way as there is for UKIP. There’s one or two featuring Ed Miliband, but they are more speech cut-ups – well executed and quite funny, but without the vitriol and satire that fuels the anti-UKIP ones.
It’s a if we’ve been so disapointed by Labour that we cant even be bothered to heckle anymore.
I do like the bacon sandwich one, though.
Ed Miliband (feat. Queen): One Nation
Rap Battle – Miliband, Farage & Clegg
Ed Miliband eats a bacon sandwich
It’d probably be unfair to drag Tony Blair into this…but, hey – why not ? This is a great video and neatly sums up the disillusionment Bliar left in his wake : “we could have been anything…”
Goodbye, Tony Blair
The president of a transport union with roots in the Labour Party will contest a North seat for the Greens.
Peter Pinkney, the highest ranking layperson of the RMT Union, will campaign against Ed Miliband’s party in Redcar, claiming: “The party of the left is now the Green Party.”
The union boss also brands Labour “a sort of reddish Conservative Party” and accuses MPs of betraying working people.
The dramatic political move by the ex-TUC General Council member threatens to derail Labour’s campaign in one of its top target seats.
The RMT boss also revealed the union has donated £7,000 to Caroline Lucas, the country’s only Green MP, after the Greens were supportive of plans to renationalise the railways.
Mr Pinkney said:
“Labour is no longer the working class party. They have betrayed us time and time again. They should remember that it was the unions who formed the ‘party of labour’ not deny our links.
“The radical Labour Party of 1945 is long gone. No longer do they champion nationalisation, social housing, the NHS, education etc, they are a sort of reddish Conservative Party.
“In my opinion the party of the left is now the Green Party.”
Labour hit back last night, saying a vote for the Green Party is a vote for the Tories.
> This is the kind of stupid comment that makes me even less likely to vote Labour.
It’d obviously be a vote against Labour, Tories and Lib Dems… because we have no belief in any of them anymore.
The move underlines a deepening fracture in the relationship between Labour and the RMT.
Predecessors to the RMT were among the unions which founded Labour back in 1899. But after 105 years of history the RMT was disaffiliated by Labour in 2004, after the union rejected an ultimatum to stop supporting the Scottish Socialist Party.
Former General Secretary Bob Crow publicly slammed Labour, which was then led by Tony Blair, for a failure to support members.
The deadlock continued until the 2012 Durham Miners’ Gala, when the then Deputy Chairman of the Labour Party, Tom Watson, seemed to offer the RMT an olive branch.
He said: “We need the RMT and the FBU back inside the Labour Party – a house divided cannot stand.”
But Mr Pinkney said three months after Bob Crow died the union voted to sever ties with Labour permanently – and today rules out any future affiliation.
“That is not going to happen,” he said.
“It was a unanimous decision to disaffiliate with Labour and our members would never want to go back.
“If Ed Miliband is [more supportive of unions] then he is doing a strange impression of it. He might say that he is to his paymasters at Unite and GMB, who make hefty donations, but our members will not affiliate to Labour or any other party ever again.
“The press calling him ‘Red Ed’ is a joke. A minimum of 75% of people want to see the railways renationalised. He has never once said he would take the railways back into public hands – not even East Coast.”
Labour has named Redcar in its top 100 seats to win in May and has high hopes for candidate Anna Turley.
Vera Baird lost the seat to Lib Dem Ian Swales in 2010 in what was the highest swing against Labour in the wake of the closure of the Teesside Steelworks.
A poll by Lord Ashcroft in September put Labour on 44%, Lib Dems on 18%, Ukip on 23%, the Tories on 12% and the Greens on just 2%.
A Labour Party spokesperson said: “The choice in front of Redcar people in May is between a Tory or a Labour government.
“For all those passionate about the green agenda only Labour has the record and plans to deliver a green government.
“A vote for the Green Party is a vote for David Cameron to carry on hitting the people of Teesside.”
> Well, don’t they have a sense of entitlement ? Only us or them can be in power – its our right. Two sides of the same coin.
The Saltburn-born rail union boss, who is calling for capitalism to be replaced, said he was inspired by the election of the left wing Syriza in Greece.
He said: “We need to look after our elderly, build social housing, repeal anti-trade union laws, scrap bedroom tax, renationalise railways and utilities (and any profit reinvested), but most of all we should give the young hope.
“We are definitely handing on worse conditions than we inherited. My generation should hang our heads in shame for letting this happen. Instead of complaining about young being on streets, and using drugs, we should be asking why.
“Redcar and Cleveland has seen a massive decline in my lifetime. We need proper investment, and not just paper over cracks. I believe the Greens are only large party (as surely they can now claim to be) that wants to put things right.
“I am a left wing socialist, but I am pragmatic. I have seen what Syriza have done, and we can learn from that.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 07 Feb 2015
A “Westminster elite” of Labour MPs look down on people with Northern accents, a politician from the region has claimed.
Wansbeck’s Ian Lavery, himself a Labour MP, said that when MPs hear his North East accent they think “that man doesn’t know too much” and claimed his party has too many politicians who haven’t worked “on the factory floor”.
But he today claimed the remarks were not a criticism of party leader Ed Miliband – saying they were about getting more working-class MPs into Parliament.
The Northumberland MP was recorded making the remarks at a conference on social mobility in London organised by the think-tank Class.
“I’ve got to say there are some superb Labour Party MPs,” he was reported to have said.
“Sadly, there’s not enough MPs who’ve actually worked on the coalface, on the factory floor.
“We haven’t got enough ethnic minorities, we haven’t got enough disabled people in, who have actually been there.
“We’ve got an elite in Westminster which, quite frankly, frightens me.
“They haven’t been anywhere or done anything, and when you’ve got an accent like mine, they think ‘Well, that man doesn’t know too much’.”
Mr Lavery, a former president of the National Union of Mineworkers, said some national media had “willfully misrepresented what I said” and stressed that he fully supports Mr Miliband as his party’s leader.
“My comments were about the need for more working-class MPs and in no way a criticism of Ed or his office.
“For the record, I believe s absolutely the right man to bring in policies that will be of great benefit to people in the North and across the country.”
It comes after former Prime Minister Tony Blair appeared to criticise Labour leader Mr Miliband.
The ex-Sedgefield MP told The Economist that May’s General Election was shaping up to be one “in which a traditional left-wing party competes with a traditional right-wing party, with the traditional result”.
> Sounds good – remind me, which is the left-wing party ?
Asked if he was implying that the Conservatives would win, Mr Blair is reported to have said yes.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 01 Jan 2015
> In late 2006, Freud was appointed by the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, to provide a nominally independent review of the British welfare to work system.
Freud acknowledged that he “didn’t know anything about welfare at all”.
Despite the great complexity of the welfare system Freud came up with a draft plan for reform within three weeks of his appointment.
And that, folks, is what happens when you allow talentless, unelected knobheads to get their hands on power.
And also flags up the difference between Labour and Tory when it comes to dealing with those nasty poor people… there isn’t any. Labour allowed this prat to set the ball rolling, Tories have allowed him to continue.
Comedy toff and Minister for Welfare Reform Lord Fraud stopped being funny a long time ago. Of all the blundering fucking idiots in the DWP, this failed banker, who cost investors millions due to a series of bungled deals, has shown the true face of the out of touch gilded elite that dominate all of the main political parties.
This is the man who thinks people queue up in foodbanks just for a laugh and not because they are hungry. The same prick who threatened every Women’s Refuge in the country with closure and wanted to charge the very poorest benefit claimants to have banks manage ther personal finances. The clown who doesn’t even know how much the dole actually pays despite being in charge of reforming it.
His recent comments at the Tory Party Conference, where he agreed…
View original post 440 more words
Action is needed to tackle “outrageous” levels of child poverty in parts of the region, campaigners have urged.
It comes as figures suggest nine of the 12 North East councils have wards where more than 20% of children live in pockets of severe poverty.
The worst areas were in Middlesbrough (33%), Hartlepool (29%), Newcastle (28%) and South Tyneside (26.5%).
The North East Child Poverty Commission warned inflation, unemployment and cuts could see levels of deprivation spiral.
> Oh wow – they’re on the ball, aren’t they ? What do they think has been happening these last few years ?
The group has produced a map of child poverty for every ward, council and constituency in the region.
The map classes children as living in poverty if they are in families on out of work benefits or work tax credits where income is less than 60% of median – before housing costs.
Alan Milburn, who chairs the Social Mobility and Child Poverty (SMCP) commission said current levels of child poverty in the North are a “moral outrage” and have to change.
> MP for Darlington from 1992 until 2010. He served for five years in the Cabinet, first as Chief Secretary to the Treasury from 1998 to 1999, and subsequently as Secretary of State for Health until 2003.
A strong supporter of Tony Blair‘s policies, especially his continued policy of increased private involvement in public service provision
Following his resignation as Secretary of State for Health (to spend more time with his family), Milburn took a post for £30,000 a year as an advisor to Bridgepoint Capital, a venture capital firm heavily involved in financing private health-care firms moving into the NHS, including Alliance Medical, Match Group, Medica and the Robinia Care Group. He has been Member of Advisory Board of PepsiCo since April 2007.
Another New Labour “socialist” you could trust with your life… if you’re tired of living.
The former Labour cabinet minister said: “Poor kids in the region are four times as likely to be poor adults.
“The poorest kids in the region’s schools face a double whammy. They arrive at primary school less ready to learn than their more privileged peers and only a third leave primary school with the required levels of reading and writing.
“Two in three of those kids then leave secondary school without five good GCSEs. The challenge we have in this country is at large in the North.
“Children post 16 are more likely to drop out of education than anywhere else in the country. The region also has the lowest rate of children going to university.
“It is more clear than ever that effective collaboration at all levels of government is required to help ensure the right conditions for children living in these deprived communities.”
The figures come three days before a group of young people from the region march on Parliament to give MPs their views on how to tackle child poverty.
As reported last week, more than half of the 38-strong cohort of youngsters that have been working on a children’s manifesto hail from the region.
They will present their national findings to an All Party Parliamentary Group on Wednesday.
Source – Sunday Sun, 12 Oct 2014
The exact moment that the British public lost its faith in the benefits system has been pinpointed by researchers.
Tony Blair’s famous pronouncement in 1999 that welfare should be “a hand-up, not a hand-out” in reference to Labour’s New Deal policies coincided with a fundamental change in public attitudes towards benefits claimants, according to a paper published today by academics at the University of Bristol.
Using data from the British Social Attitudes survey, the researchers argue that around the time Mr Blair introduced his fresh approach to the benefits system, public opinion on the subject reached a “point of intersection”.
Throughout much of the 1980s and 1990s, they argue, there was a widespread belief in Britain that out-of-work benefits were set at derisory levels, causing significant hardship for those who relied upon them. But by 1999 people had started to feel they were set too high – ushering in an era of benefit “scroungers” rhetoric which has continued to this day.
“Attitudes towards unemployed people are clearly changing and hardening fast. Solidarity with unemployed citizens, poor people and welfare claimants has declined significantly in recent times,” said Dr Chris Deeming of the University of Bristol’s School of Geographical Sciences, who led the research.
“The British public now sees work aversion and the declining work ethic as one of the main issues facing society. Coupled with this trend is a growing belief that out-of-work benefits are now too generous and act to promote the ‘dependency culture’,” he added.
> But who exactly believes this ? Certainly no-one who has actually had to live on benefits for any length of time.
Nor, you’d suppose, anyone who had close relatives of friends who had to survive on them.
Still, wasn’t it Sid Vicious who once remarked: “I’ve met the man on the street, and he’s a cunt” ?
The research also reveals that support for the welfare state among Labour voters has been in steep decline for two decades. In 1987, around 73 per cent of the party’s supporters agreed that the Government should spend more on welfare benefits for poor families, compared with just 36 per cent in 2011.
The study, which was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, is published in the journal Social Policy and Administration.
Source – The Independent, 25 Sept 2014
A damning report today reveals the “totally unacceptable” inequalities driving a widening health divide between the North East and the South.
Experts are warning the current approach to tackling the gap is failing, and the situation is only likely to get worse.
According to the report, a baby girl born in Coxhoe, County Durham, can expect to live for 15 fewer years in good health than a baby girl born in Richmond, London.
Public health experts have now highlighted how devolved powers from central government to the North East could play a vital role in helping close this gulf.
Due North: the report of the Inquiry on Health Equity for the North, is the outcome of an independent inquiry, commissioned by Public Health England.
Professor Clare Bambra from Durham University’s Department of Geography and an Inquiry panel member, said:
“The differences in people’s health in the north compared to other parts of the UK are totally unacceptable. Without a radical change to the current approach to health inequality, we are likely to see things getting worse.”
In the North East, 18% of residents are classed as living in poverty, compared to 12% in the South East. During the past 20 years the region has consistently had lower employment rates than the South for both men and women. These factors, among others, have had a subsequent knock-on effect on general health.
In more recent years, massive efforts and tens of millions of pounds have been spent across the North East on schemes aimed at improving wellbeing. Newcastle and Sunderland are just some of areas that have implemented ways of reducing inequality by campaigning for the payment of a Living Wage.
But the report sets out a number of recommendations including the use of devolved powers to ensure decisions about health issues in the North East are made in the North East. It states:
“Devolution is central for addressing health inequalities with the rest of England. Devolution means regions in the North retaining more power and resources to collectively develop solutions that build on the assets and resilience of the North.”
Ms Bambra said:
“Central government takes a ‘one size fits all’ approach to health spending. Devolution would allow us to address the problems we have here. In recent years we have lost our regional agencies in the North East so there is less focus on us.”
The report also recommended “collecting better data on children in the early years” so they can be tracked over time, monitoring inequalities in development.
In Sunderland over the last two years, figures showed 10% of reception-age children are obese, with local variations of 13 to 17% in some areas. By Year 6, the figure is 21% average, with some areas spiking at 26 to 34%.
Just days ago, plans to build a McDonald’s near a Newcastle school were rejected by councillors. Hundreds of people objected over fears the restaurant would promote unhealthy eating to children from nearby Kenton School.
Ms Bambra said:
“Lots of children’s life chances are determined before they are even born. We need to improve peoples’ access to affordable, healthy food.”
Bridget Phillipson, MP for Houghton and Sunderland South, said:
“This report highlights the need for Government to take action on poverty and the underlying causes of health inequalities.
“Many people in our region also still suffer ill health as a result of our industrial past. Ministers should prioritise those parts of our country with greatest need, not shift resources into more affluent areas.”
However, Coun Lee Martin, leader of Wearside’s Conservatives, said:
“If Tony Blair and Gordon Brown had done exactly what the coalition are doing on jobs, welfare reform, and education then the gap would have closed in the last 20 years. If anything we need to go further in tackling poverty and poverty of aspiration. Some of the North East’s councils adopting the Living Wage would be a start. I’m all for more powers being devolved but let’s have them devolved to people the public can elect directly rather than faceless council leaders.”
Prof Eugene Milne, director of Public Health at Newcastle City Council, said efforts were underway on Tyneside to address some of the most prolific health concerns. He added:
“We know that we have an extensive public health programme which aims to improve the general health of the local population – as a result we have made progress in key areas over recent years.
“However, this report correctly points to a continuing divide across the country, and between the rich and the poor in our society. We welcome that debate.
“Even with the rate of progress that we have, we know that it would take many decades to close the gap between the north and the south. Larger scale action is needed if the problem is to be addressed.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 15 Sept 2014
> The Northumberland “I’m more local than you are” cat fight rumbles on…
A would-be MP is urging her political opponents to sign a fair-fight pledge after a row over being local.
Election leaflets put out across the Berwick Constituency from Liberal Democrat candidate Julie Pörksen have sparked comment.
The latest leaflet appears to pick on Conservative candidate Anne-Marie Trevelyan because she worked in London, and question her status as a Northumbrian.
Ms Trevelyan said: “I am genuinely surprised that the Lib Dems decided to try to pick a fight on my local credentials as I have been fighting for Northumberland and ‘being local,’, for nearly 20 years.
“Whereas their candidate has been working in London for a firm of spin doctors and as a member of Nick Clegg’s team for the last 20 years. She stood as a council candidate for a London council seat recently claiming that she was local to Pimlico, one of the poshest parts of central London, having been there bringing up her kids for 10 years.
“Perhaps the Lib Dems who now seem to be running things locally would like to sign a pledge for a fair-fight campaign. In the last general election, against Sir Alan Beith, we were able to have a civilised campaign where every candidate presented their plans and credentials honestly, without criticism of others.
“I came into politics because I hated all the spin peddled by Tony Blair and hoped I might be able to bring some blunt honesty to representing our patch. Over my eight years as Conservative candidate voters have always said that is what they want, so perhaps the Lib Dem camp could join me and others in signing a fair-fight pledge.”
Ms Pörksen said: “I grew up here in the Berwick constituency – many farming people know my father. One of the reasons I am so passionate about the right for free post-16 transport to college and school is because I used to get the bus to Ponteland High School in the eighties so know first-hand what it’s like growing up in rural Northumberland with poor public transport, dependent on parents – to be able to get to school should be a basic right.
“However, like many Northumbrians, the lack of local jobs forced me to move away. Moving back to Northumberland was the best thing I could ever do for my children. I want to represent the area where I grew up and which I love in Parliament to make sure future generations aren’t forced to make the same decisions I had to, that there are well paid jobs and decent opportunities here for our young people.”
> The locality question doesn’t appear to have touched Alan Beith, the current MP, who was born in Cheshire.
Source – Berwick Advertiser, 08 Aug 2014
At a time when, once again, America (and its vicious but puny sidekick UK) seems to be trying to pick a fight with Russia, its a good time to post this again.
First released in the 1980s, if I remember correctly, it takes the form of a telephone conversation between Margaret Thatcher and the secretary of war
at the state department of the United States, who proceeds to put forward the idea of an economic war…
We have a problem, the companies want something done
About this sluggish world economic situation
Profits have been running a little thin lately
And we, we need to stimulate some growth
Now we know there’s an alarmingly high number of young people Roaming around in your country with nothing to do
But stir up trouble for the police and damage private property
It doesn’t look like they’ll ever get a job
It’s about time we did something constructive with these people
We’ve got thousands of ’em here too, they’re crawling all over
The companies think it’s time we all sit down
Have a serious get-together and start another war
And the payoff – what politician could resist…
Now just think for a minute, we can make this war so big, so big
The more people we kill in this war, the more the economy will prosper
We can get rid of practically everybody on your dole queue
If we plan this right
Take every loafer on welfare right off our computer rolls
Now don’t worry about demonstrations, just pump up your drug supply
So many people have hooked themselves on heroin
And amphetamines since we took over, it’s just like Vietnam
We had everybody so busy with LSD they never got too strong
Kept the war functioning just fine
It’s easy, we’ve got our college kids so interested in beer
They don’t even care if we start manufacturing germ bombs again
Put a nuclear stockpile in their back yard
They wouldn’t even know what it looked like
Thatcher, of course, really gets turned on by the idea, as no doubt Blair did and Cameron would.
This is one piece of music which (Thatcher’s prescence aside) has not dated at all, its a relevant today as it was when Reagan was bombing Libya and Thatcher was posturing over a few rocks in the South Atlantic that we didn’t even know we “owned”.
The more things change, the more they stay the same…
Until seven years ago, there was a secret room at Darlington station. Just off one of the platforms, between the standard-class waiting room and a cleaners’ storeroom, and set back behind three successive doors, it was small and plain: a desk, a grimy extractor fan and two windows made opaque to passing travellers by reflective material.
Tony Blair used this room when he was prime minister. His constituency, Sedgefield in County Durham, was a short drive away. When he needed to get to London, 260 miles south, he and his entourage would often catch the fast Darlington train, which can take less than two and a half hours.
More usefully still, many other key New Labour figures took the same line, among them Peter Mandelson, Alan Milburn and David Miliband. Altogether, the north-east of England, which contains about a 25th of the UK population, was represented by “a third of Blair’s first cabinet“, noted the veteran anatomist of British power networks, Anthony Sampson, in 2004. (Sampson was himself born in County Durham.) Rarely before had our remotest and often poorest region been such a hub of political influence.
> Of course it could be argued that their only real interest in the region was that it provided safe Labour seats – Mandelson got elected in Hartlepool ! Atriumph of blind devotion over common sense if ever there was one.
When Blair arrived early or his train arrived late, it was felt by Whitehall that the increasingly controversial premier could not just stand on a platform, waiting. Hence the secret room. Now, it is just the station manager’s office. The building around it has gone back to being a market town station with flaking paint and a fragile roof, where isolated passenger footsteps echo in the long middle-of-the-day lull and trains for Scotland and the south of England rattle through without stopping. No current cabinet minister has a north-east seat – only two of its MPs are Tories. Labour’s power base is now in London, Yorkshire and the north-west.
Since the Blair era, the area has slipped in other ways. Between 2007 and 2012, unemployment rose faster than in any other UK region, to more than 10%, the highest in the country. Throughout 2013, as joblessness receded in most of the UK, in the north-east it carried on rising. This year, it has begun to fall a little but remains the worst in the nation.
> And how much of that fall can be attributed to sanctions ? Quite a chunk, I’d guess.
Since 2007, the area’s contribution to national economic growth, measured as gross value added, has shrunk from an already weak 3% in the Blair years to barely 2%. The Northern Rock building society, with roots in the region going back a century and a half, has suffered a humiliating meltdown. The north-east has been, and will probably continue to be, especially harshly treated by the coalition’s spending cuts.
According to the Special Interest Group of Municipal Authorities, a typical council in the region will lose £665 in government funding per inhabitant between 2010 and 2018, the biggest national fall. Meanwhile, public sector employment in the region – the highest in England at more than one job in five – has been falling since 2009, a year before the coalition took office.
At Newcastle United, one of the north-east’s disproportionate number of fiercely followed, rarely successful football clubs, the recent sponsorship of the team shirt tells a similarly dispiriting story: Northern Rock from 2003-2011; Virgin Money, Northern Rock’s current, Edinburgh-based owners, from 2012- 2013; this season, the payday loan company Wonga.
Between 2011 and 2012, child poverty rates in Middlesbrough and Newcastle Central rose to 40% and 38% respectively.
“For as long as anyone alive will remember, this has been a ‘problem region’: a special case, a sick man,” wrote the Newcastle-born novelist Richard T Kelly in a 2011 essay, What’s Left For The North-East?
In recent years, some rightwingers have begun to throw up their hands. “It is at least as hard to buck geography as it is to buck the market,” said the influential Tory thinktank Policy Exchange in 2008. “It is time to stop pretending that there is a bright future for Sunderland.”
And last year the Tory peer Lord Howell suggested the region had “large uninhabited and desolate areas… where there’s plenty of room for fracking“. Weeks later, the Economist described Middlesbrough and Hartlepool as part of “Britain’s rust belt“; “Despite dollops of public money and years of heroic effort… [these] former industrial heartlands are quietly decaying.“
The magazine concluded with an unlikely but ominous comparison: “The Cotswolds were the industrial engines of their day. One reason they are now so pretty is that, centuries ago, huge numbers of people fled them.”
From Darlington, an old and scuzzy two-carriage train chugs east along a branch line towards Middlesbrough. Along the way, it stops at Thornaby-on-Tees, an ex-industrial town beside the river Tees. From the 1840s until the 1980s, the Head Wrightson ironworks here made everything from parts for bridges to parts for nuclear power stations; then foreign competition closed it.
In 1987, Margaret Thatcher visited the site and took a much-photographed walk across a yellowing wasteland of weeds and factory remnants, wearing an inappropriate smart suit but looking unusually pensive. Shortly afterwards, her government, seeking to soften its reputation as the hammer of the north, created the Teesside Development Corporation, and the wasteland was turned into the Teesdale Business Park, a US-style landscape of corporate lawns, car parks and low office blocks.
The blocks are still there, neat and anonymous except for the corporate logos: Barclaycard, the NHS, the privatised services firm Serco. The car parks are full of mid-range vehicles. For three decades, the north-east has been a centre for modestly paid clerical work, such as call centres and the “back office” administrative processes of companies based elsewhere. But at the Teesdale Business Park, “To Let” is the most common logo; some are so old, they have rotted and snapped off.
As with Thornaby, Middlesbrough is a flat riverside town that once grew fast because of iron foundries: from only 25 inhabitants in 1801 to 165,000 in the 1960s. The Victorian centre was built to a grid pattern, like a US boom town, with docks just to the north for exporting iron and coal.
But in 1980 the docks closed, the population began to fall, and a void opened between the town and the river. It is still there, starting a few yards from the town centre; a great windswept triangle of rubble and rust, boarded-up houses, Dickensian wall fragments and roads to nowhere. Derelict waterfront warehouses stand in the distance. A middle-aged security man in a peeling wood cabin guards them. “There’s lots of steel cable in those sheds,” he says. “And lots of people try to steal it.” When asked how long it has been so run-down, he shrugs and says without emotion: “As long as I can remember.“
The town’s population is around 138,000. To a visitor, the long, straight streets of the town centre seem eerily empty of pedestrians. At the sizable railway station, the weekday rush hour sometimes barely exists: at 8.30 on a Friday morning, I counted fewer than a dozen other people on the platforms. The station cafe had not bothered to open.
“If things carry on as they are now,” says Alex Niven, a leftwing writer from Northumberland, “in five years the situation will get somewhere like Detroit.” Several other authorities in the north-east that I interviewed invoked the long-imploding American city, unprompted.
He left the area 10 years ago, aged 18, and now lives in London. “Almost all my friends from school live in London now. When you go back to the north-east, the landscape’s kind of crumbling. There is this sort of sadness. It feels like a people who’ve been weakened, who’ve just been cut loose.”
Geography does not help. “The north-east is at the far corner of the country, but it is separated by more than just miles,” writes Harry Pearson, born near Middlesbrough, in his 1994 book The Far Corner.
“There is the wilderness of the Pennines to the west, the emptiness of the North York Moors to the south, and to the north, the Scottish border… Sometimes the north-east [seems] more like an island than a region.”
It is an island that the HS2 rail project is not currently intended to reach. Meanwhile, the prospect of Scottish independence and the near-certainty of more Scottish devolution threatens to marginalise the region further. “Scotland can already do more to attract inward investment than we can,” says Chi Onwurah, Labour MP for Newcastle Central. “More power for Scotland, in that sense, would not be a benefit for us.”
Pinned to a board in her constituency office is a list of Newcastle food banks. Outside, contrastingly, the grand city centre streets are much busier than in Middlesbrough, full of prosperously dressed people and big branches of the same upmarket chainstores as in richer places.
“Newcastle is the economic capital of the north-east,” she says, “but the centre, especially, is not representative of the region.” A few minutes’ walk farther out, cheap cafes offer soup of the day for a pound, and other scruffy businesses have long ceased to offer anything. “Every time I see a building boarded up,” Onwurah says, “it strikes fear into my heart.”
Onwurah grew up on a Newcastle council estate in the 60s and 70s. It was then a smoky, clattering centre for shipbuilding and other heavy industry, but these were in terminal decline. In 1984, she left to study electrical engineering, then worked away from Newcastle for a quarter of a century, until she was elected as MP in 2010. In the interim, the city reshaped its economy around tourism and nightlife, as an internationally hyped “party city“; around sport, with the 90s resurgence of Newcastle United; and around culture, with the opening in Gateshead of the Baltic art gallery in 2002 and the Sage music centre in 2004.
“It was a very heady time,” says Niven, who supports Newcastle United and as a teenager often travelled into the city from rural Northumberland. “The north-east has a brash, confident side. There’s also often a sense of slumbering potential, that one day a messiah or a revival will come.”
In the 90s and noughties, optimism was most concrete along the river Tyne, which separates Gateshead and Newcastle. Decaying canyons of quayside buildings filled with flash new bars, expensive flats, high-end office space and public art. It was easy to visit Newcastle – which I often did then – and think it was becoming a swaggering, economically self-sufficient provincial city, such as those you find in less centralised countries: another Marseille or Hamburg.
The quaysides are slightly less uplifting now. On the Newcastle side, several bars have shut down. Bridge Court, an enormous, empty office block, has a plaque that reads, “The foundation stone was laid by Mr Eddie George, governor of the Bank of England, on 22 September 1994“; another sign says, “Demolition. Keep Out“.
Niven sees the north-east’s revival under the Blair government as “largely superficial. In the long term, it didn’t lead to better jobs and infrastructure. You can’t base the revival of a region on nightlife and football.“
Onwurah, whose grandfather worked in the shipyards and whose mother grew up on the quayside, is less scathing: “Labour did a lot in the north-east, to stop the concentration of economic power elsewhere getting much worse, but we didn’t overcome the underlying issue. We haven’t got the previous sources of economic growth. And we haven’t got enough skills and entrepreneurs.” A successful region, she says, has a “critical mass” economically. “If you don’t have critical mass, to attract people and investment, you go into decline. We’re on the edge of that.” She holds up her hands and makes a flat, wobbling gesture: “We’re teetering.“
In Middlesbrough, the riverside wasteland has been earmarked for regeneration – as a new area called Middlehaven – for almost 30 years. Recessions, anxious developers and the town’s wider economic struggles have confined most construction to the area’s fringe. Yet there is one exception: an incongruous silvery curve of a building in the centre of the emptiness. Middlesbrough College opened in 2008; it houses engineering workshops, training kitchens, hair and beauty salons, and other vocational course facilities for 16- to 18-year-olds. In 2011, it was rated “good with outstanding features” by Ofsted. Walking down the college’s bright and warm internal street, seconds after being out in the dereliction, and seeing students at work in the glass-walled rooms or rushing back and forth, it seems absurd to think that Middlesbrough does not have a long-term future. But in the window of the in-house Jobs Shop, only half a dozen positions are offered. One is at a local seaside care home for the elderly: the successful applicant will earn £107.20 for a 40-hour week.
Further education is one of the north-east’s few growth industries. “Without it, I dread to think what some of the cities would be doing,” says Andy Pike, director of Newcastle University’s Centre for Urban and Regional Development Studies. “A lot of people want to come and study in the north-east” – academic standards are high, living costs low and the nightlife boisterous. But, Pike adds, “We have a problem with graduate retention: not as many stay as could do. It’s a thin labour market. The people who stay typically will not end up in graduate jobs. And then local non-graduates will be bumped out of the labour market altogether.”
> But the influx of students also puts a strain on rented accommodation. Certainly in Sunderland (which seems to be ignored in this article) its noticable that streets near to the university appear to becoming student-only ghettos – private landlords presumably looking to maximise profits by packing them in.
In the north-east, the increasingly de-skilled, low-paid labour market of Britain under the coalition is at its meanest. Full-time wages are the lowest of any UK region.
In 2007, the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art, or Mima, cheekily echoing New York’s Moma gallery, opened on a redeveloped square in the town centre. It looks the part: slick, glassy exterior; high-ceilinged interior; dozens of attentive young staff in Mima T-shirts. It offers an ambitious programme of community events and exhibitions – currently, Art And Optimism In 1950s Britain. Yet a gallery cannot make a town centre vibrant by itself. On Thursday evenings, it opens late, but on the Thursday I visited I saw four other visitors in half an hour.
Since the 1930s, governments have tested regeneration projects in the region. Edward Twiddy is one of the latest reformers to be despatched from London. Since 2012, he has been head of the North-East Local Enterprise Partnership (Nelep), a typically optimistic coalition creation, which aims to get business and local councils – almost all Labour – to work together for the area’s economic benefit.
Twiddy previously worked at the Treasury and for the Foreign Office in Iraq. He is slight and cerebral-looking, and speaks mostly in fluent Whitehall jargon. “The region’s still going through some fairly big structural changes,” he tells me. “The north-east was over-specialised – in coal, for example. Nowadays, people need to be able to approach life differently. You’ve got to be able to travel, to be competitive… Economic activity will move [away] if you cannot convince the market that yours is the right place to work.” But even Twiddy is off: he is set to leave Nelep for Atom, a new digital bank to be based “in the north-east“.
I ask how many staff Nelep has. Twiddy pauses: “The core is four. Then there are people doing discrete pieces of work for us, people loaned to us, people I’ve scrabbled around for, got a few pennies for… There are about 11 or 12 of us in all.” Nelep replaced One North-East, a regional development agency created by the Blair government that had 400 staff.
Yet there is a more economically independent side to the region. A few miles east of the centre of Newcastle, a side road leads steeply downhill to a half-hidden stretch of the Tyne. In the early 1980s, the quays here were a rotting ladder of derelict docks and slipways. Then two local property developers, Freddy and Bruce Shepherd, began to buy the land, clean it up, reuse the old cranes and rent out the quaysides: first to companies involved in North Sea oil, then to others involved in undersea cable-laying and offshore wind power.
Shepherd Offshore now stretches along the Tyne for miles. In its riverside boardroom, with giant reels of cable as tall as tugboats looming outside the windows, Twiddy makes the introductions over coffee served in Versace mugs. The Shepherds are heavyset men with fierce handshakes and slightly loose tongues. “We are the raggy end of the couch up here in the north-east,” Bruce says. Freddy interjects: “We get nothing easy. Not off the government. Without us, there would be nothing here but two abandoned shipyards.” “Up and down the river, we’re close knit,” Bruce says. “There are more than 2,500 jobs. We’re a manufacturing base. We train people. But we’re forgotten down here.”
How many jobs were there in the days of the shipyards? “Six and a half thousand,” Freddy says. “I was an apprentice in the shipyard here. You’re never going to get back to those numbers.”
Bruce offers a tour of the quay in his spotless Range Rover. As we drive, he points out other cars parked nose to tail at the roadside: “There’s never enough parking. The number of people working here keeps growing.” We leave the road and enter a muddy construction site, scheduled to house a new national research centre for offshore and undersea technology, a collaboration between the Shepherds, Newcastle city council and Newcastle University. Bruce ploughs through puddles, his property developer’s patter in full flow, then stops his spattered Range Rover at a fence that faces the famous old Swan Hunter shipyard. It is still a wasteland, but new developments are encroaching from all directions.
Another sign of entropy reversed would be to attract more southerners; not just to study but to work. Twiddy is one. Tony Trapp is another. Raised in London, he has been one of the area’s handful of legendary entrepreneurs since the 70s. Then, he helped invent an undersea plough for laying seabed pipes and cables by driving a specially adapted tractor up and down a beach in Northumberland. Several companies and clever products later, he now runs Osbit Power, which makes self-stabilising gangways to connect offshore wind turbines to maintenance vessels.
The enterprise is based in a previously derelict hotel in sweeping Northumberland countryside. Behind its unkempt walls, purposeful-looking young employees cluster at desks or in front of whiteboards, while Trapp, a creased man of 68 with a murmuring voice but an intoxicating can-do aura, briefs them and holds court. “I’ve always based my businesses on clever graduates,” he says later. “I’ve taken on hundreds, some from Newcastle University, from Northumbria University. For offshore engineering, the north-east is the best place in Europe.“
But in other ways he sees the local economy as still underpowered. “Persuading clever people from the south to come here is quite hard. It’s not just the image they have of the north-east – it does have the worst statistics, in health, in booze… If you look at many CEOs of big companies here, they don’t live up here. They live in Surrey, London. It’s insulting, in a way.” For a second, he looks his age. “I don’t have the solution to the north-east.”
It is not Twiddy’s job to voice such doubts. Instead, he takes me to the coast, not far from where Trapp tested his undersea plough. It is a brilliant blue day, and the often luminous north-east light is at its most seductive. We drive into the small town of Blyth, where there has been a port since the 12th century, which suggests the region has more staying power than the doom-mongers claim. We approach a cluster of shiny, towering blue-grey sheds, where the National Renewable Energy Centre tests blades for offshore wind farms. In December, the government increased its subsidy for this source of electricity, a rare gift from Whitehall to the north-east in the age of austerity. Twiddy sounds like a small boy for a moment: “The crane for lifting the blades is just amazing!“
We walk to one of the windowless sheds. Inside, spot-lit, suspended above an expanse of polished concrete floor, a single pale grey blade, with weights and cables attached to it, flexes slowly up and down, vast and stately as the tail of a whale. The only sound is the hum of the air-conditioning. In a space the size of a small cathedral, but clean and tidy as a science lab, only two employees are visible: distant, purposeful figures in dust coats.
Working here looks much better than working in a chilly shipyard, a call centre or a nightclub, or for most of the region’s previous economic saviours. But Mill says the centre has a staff of 69. The north-east will need an awful lot more workplaces like it this if it is going to stop teetering.
Source – The Guardian 10 May 2014