Posts Tagged ‘Durham’

The Miners’ Strike and Times’ Editor Charles Moore’s Hatred of the Working Class

June 4, 2016

Owen Jones in his book Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class, argues that the impoverishment and degradation inflicted on the working class by Tony Blair’s New Labour and the Conservatives is due to a bitter hatred of them by the Conservative upper classes. He quotes Balfour as saying ‘Of course there’s a class war going on. We started it.’ Hollingworth’s discussion of the miner’s strike in his The Press and Political Dissent: A Question of Censorship adds more evidence to this. He notes that the right-wing press and its editors may also have had a very strong hatred of the miners, a hatred that was displayed in a comment by Charles Moore, a former editor of the Times and one of the Thatcher’s biographers. It was also displayed in a piece written by an academic, who talked about how the miner’s were all tricked into striking because they were the less intelligent pupils from Secondary Moderns and Comprehensive schools.

There is also some evidence, though far from conclusive, that Fleet Street’s hostility was based on simple class hatred towards the miners and their families. Charles Moore is the editor of the Spectator but used to be a Daily Telegraph reporter and writer and still contributes to the paper regularly. Asked about the miners, he replied: ‘I really hate those people, actually. This strike as brought out feelings I didn’t know I had. It seems to me such a lie that these people represent or are the defenders of an oppressed class and so clear that Arthur Scargill is an oppressor, that is has finally brought out all my contempt for the Left. A perhaps more serious example came from the Sunday Times in August 1984. The paper commissioned a feature article by Professor Frank Musgrove of Manchester University. This is what he wrote:

In the past 30 years two social processes have siphoned off men of initiative and ability. Educational selection has left a residue of D and E stream secondary modern and comprehensive school pupils for pit work – there has been a massive haemorrhage of talent from mining communities. And earlier pit closure programmes have set up eddies of selective migration which have drained away the most enterprising men from the more northerly fields.

It is the dilute human residues that remain, especially in Yorkshire and Durham, that have been most effectively manipulated and mobilised by the tactics of the NUM. They have been bounced into a strike without a ballot and have learned to repeat slogans (‘No pit closures on economic grounds’. ‘Cowards hide behind ballots’) whose horrendous implications they do not begin to grasp.

We did not solve the educational problem by raising the school-leaving age to 15, still less to 16. Five years in the E Stream of a comprehensive school is an excellent training in sheer bloody-mindedness if not actual subversion. … This is not education. It is a species of trench warfare. It is anticipatory socialisation for the mass picket line. (The emphasis is added by Hollingworth, pp. 283-4). The Sunday Times was, of course, edited by Andrew Neil, now presenting the Daily Politics for the Beeb.

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From 2013: Private Eye on Empty Places at Free Schools

March 22, 2015

Also in their edition for 19th April – 2nd May 2013, Private Eye carried an article on the number of empty places at the free schools in the government is encouraging being built up and down the country. May of these appear massively undersubscribed. Furthermore, the headmaster of the school, which was at the centre of the Eye’s article, had left his previous job due to incompetence and the massive dissatisfaction of staff and pupils. The Eye’s story ran thus:

Empty Desk Syndrome

A new free school in Durham will open in September in the very buildings of a local comprehensive that is closing due to falling pupil numbers. It’s yet another example of the bizarre policy of opening new schools where there are already far too many school places.

According to the National Union of Teachers, a fifth of the free schools opened so far are in areas which already had empty desks in schools. Millions of pounds of public money have been spent creating a huge surplus of secondary places, while primaries elsewhere in the county remain badly overcrowded.

County education chiefs opposed Durham Free School (DFS) taking over the site of Durham Gilesgate Sports College. Though the city is closing schools because it has so many unfilled places, it will be forced by the Department of Education to hand over the keys at the end of term to provide a temporary home until DFS finds a permanent site. DFS will open with just 60 pupils, but says it plans to have more than 800 eventually, gambling on future housing developments going ahead to the south of the city.

Meanwhile DFS’ headteacher Peter Cantley introduced himself – in a style that will be oddly familiar to Eye readers – with “A Message from the Headteacher…” Although he name-drops the schools where he was an assistant head and deputy head, he’s more reticent about his most recent post: “I previously led a school merger project for the [Department of Education}.”

That merger was between two faith schools, one Church of England, the other Roman Catholic, becoming St. Andrew’s College in Cleethorpes. After 18 months as headteacher, Mr Cantley resigned suddenly in May 2011. Governors said he quite to pursue employment opportunities closer to his come in Cumbria.

Ofsted inspections from after his departure reveal that his headship in Cleethorpes was not altogether happy. In February 2012, inspectors rated the school “inadequate” and blamed some of the school’s problems on “turbulence in senior leadership” following the merger. A follow-up inspection this year says of the new head, who started in December 2011, that staff and students “say that things have got a lot better since she came”.

The evidence from this case certainly bears out other reports that the expansion in the number of free schools is driven by ideology from the Tories, not need on the ground. And the same double standards we’ve come to expect from the Tories are in abundant evidence here. The numbers were too low to support a conventional state school, but for free market Tories, there’s nothing wrong with them for setting up a school outside local authority administration.

1914 and the Lack of Popular Enthusiasm for the War

November 1, 2014

The documentaries and commemorative articles screened and published this year about the outbreak of the First World War have repeated the claim that it was greeted with enthusiasm by the mass of the British public. I was sent this paper by Nick Jones a few months ago, and unfortunately have only just now got round to publishing it. It’s an important, eye-opening piece, as Nick argues that the general, jingoistic patriotism claimed by many historians did not actually exist, though there were local patches of support for the War. Reaction to the War seems to have been mixed at many levels of society. The Royal Family weren’t keen on waging war on the Kaiser, who was, after all, the king’s cousin. The ‘little bounder’ Lloyd George, as Nick shows, was ambivalent about the War. The Labour Party was split on the issue, between those who believed support for the War would make the party more electorally respectable, and those, like Keir Hardie, who continued their principle opposition.

Nick’s article shows that some of the support for the War came from the gentry, and from particular commercial or bureaucratic groups, which saw a material advantage in the crisis. These included cinema chains, who used it as an excuse to open on Sundays under the pretext that they were supporting the war effort. Other organisations were equally cynical, but much more malign in their attitudes to the working class. These were the guardians of the workhouses, mental hospitals, borstals and labour colonies, who took the opportunity to reduce their inmates rations on the grounds that cuts needed to be made in anticipation of food shortages caused by the War. Some went even further, and forced their inmates to leave to join the army, thus reducing the economic burden of welfare expenditure for their ratepayers. Nick shows that some employers also used the same tactic to lay off staff by encouraging them to join the armed forces instead.

So, little popular enthusiasm for the War. But it did provide an opportunity for more cynical exploitation of the poor, the ill, the unemployed and the desperate. All in the name of patriotism and serving one’s country. Here’s Nick’s article:

Little Support for the War

There has, until very recently, been a general consensus amongst historians that the nation marched happily to war in 1914. A moment’s reflection might question this.

The classic account is that of Arthur Marwick;
“As the time limit [for the ultimatum] approached a great concourse of people gathered in Trafalgar Square and Whitehall…when the British declaration of war upon Germany was issued at the Foreign Office it was greeted with ’round after round of cheers'(1)

Yet an eye-witness later recalled; “We listened in silence. There was no public proclamation that we were at war. The great crowd rapidly dispersed”(2)

Outside London things were also done quietly;
“The little country town was full of anxious people. on the Tuesday night that war was to be declared, waiting in the half-lighted streets for the news that…never came until the morning…at 8 o’clock, when the post office opened .. or postmaster read to us a telegram, ‘War is declared..’ It seemed quite unreal to us, and after a few moments of talk we settled down to our ordinary lives..” (3)

Subsequent historians have repeated Marwick’s suggestion of general optimism. John Turner remarks “The Liberal government …and the British public, entered the conflict in 1914 expecting a short struggle, brought to an end by the success of British sea-power and the armies of the Entente” and in a recent study David Silbey suggests that “By the time Britain declared war, most of the population had converted to a pro-war position (4)

But Marwick had offered a note of caution ; “The patriots did not have things their own way” (5) In York; “When war was declared [the town] went into a turmoil and nothing caused greater annoyance and upset than the commandeering of horses for the army (6)

Another writer points out a few flaws in the accepted versions. He notes a lack of enthusiasm for war in Wales and that such crowds as there were in London, consisted of “a normal August Bank Holiday crowd” . He was unable to locate any precise numbers.(7)
[Further scholarly research] has suggested the indifference displayed by the population at large, to the ‘gentry’s’ enthusiasm for the war. Bonnie White’s [assessment] of recruiting in Devon suggests that, despite the efforts of the local grandees, appeals to ‘patriotism’ were not reciprocated with ‘local ardour’. Noting that; “As elsewhere in the country, Devonians were apprehensive about leaving their communities for military service”. (8)

The Royal Family, Liberals and the Labour Party

The Royal Family may not have been too keen to enter a conflict against a state headed by one of their closest relatives. Kaiser William had also been a member of their Life Guards. It is not recorded whether he was issued with mobilisation papers after the declaration of hostilities.

In political circles, opinion was divided The ruling Liberal Party was deeply split over the war.

The Cabinet itself was divided almost equally. The day before war was declared four of its members resigned over the issue. Lloyd George was later reported to have believed ‘There appears to be nothing for a Liberal to do but to look on while the hurricane rages”. He did promise not to campaign against the War as he had done against the Boer War (9.)

There was a near fatal split between the Parliamentary Labour Party and the ILP.

Henderson, leader of the former, opted for participation in the war effort on pragmatic grounds, He thought that ‘Labour’ could show its fitness for government by collaboration with the ‘war party’. Ramsay MacDonald resigned the chairmanship of the Party when the Parliamentary section voted for ‘supplies’. Kier Hardie after voicing his dissent, retired to his Merthyr constituency and attempted to build opposition to the war from there.

War Fever in the Gentry and Contractors for the London Mental Asylums

It is true that there was an outburst of ‘popular’ enthusiasm for the conflict in some quarters.

“Next morning…there was much buying up of stores in the town by the gentry.. Prices were going up in the town; sugar had doubled, bread was a half-penny dearer” The London County Council “Asylums and Mental Deficiency Committee faced a spate of letters from “contractors [who] sent in claims for extra payment for goods which have been supplied since war was declared” (10)

The inmates of such institutions were less fortunate. In Bermondsey, by London Docks where it might be expected ‘business’ might be brisk, the Board of Guardians decreed that;

“If the Rations of the Staff or the Dietary of the Inmates can be curtailed in any way without inflicting any hardships … no hesitation whatever should occur in carrying the same into effect”.

These generous souls offered a list of suggestions how economies might be effected; “Preserved Meat, Fish or Beef Extract” could replace “Meat”. Biscuits should be offered instead of the lashings of ‘Bread and Cake’ inmates consumed. “Egg Powder” must replace “Eggs”. Superintendents ought to “Omit altogether Eggs (and) Poultry” except for the Sick, as shortages were anticipated. (11)

Hollesley Bay Labour Colony

The supervisor of the Hollesley Bay Labour Colony, no doubt keen to minimise rate-payers ‘burdens’, reduced the food ration there at the earliest opportunity. ‘owing to the military preparations in East Anglia” As a result the men protested’ and asked for an assurance that no further curtailment would take place. As the superintendant could [or would] not give this undertaking 101 men had left the Colony”

It is not recorded where they went to. A Deputation from the remaining inmates went to” the Central Office where they were interviewed by the vice-chairman of the committee who informed them…no further assistance [would] be given..to any of the men who had left the Colony”(12)

Employers and Redundancy

Employers saw it as a golden opportunity to shed ‘surplus’ (or recalcitrant) parts of their workforce. Balfour, a leading figure in the Conservative party thought it wrong that “employers [were] offering their employees the choice of getting the sack or joining Kitchener’s New Army” (13)

All Local Authorities acknowledged that there would be problems of ‘distress’ due to the war [and prepared measures to deal with mass unemployment.


Jingoism and the Cinemas

Not everyone greeted the outbreak of hostilities with long faces though.

LJ Collins has noted that ‘the theatre was employed as a recruiting and propaganda agent, and raiser of funds for war’ filling places in the auditorium. Although they were closed when war was declared, they still had to pay the bills and fill seats. There was a tradition of jingoism in popular entertainment, theatrical managements had used it to curry respectability with licensing authorities. Charity fundraising galas proved a godsend in filling empty spaces. (14)

One group of entrepreneurs welcomed the outbreak of war with open arms. The bioscopes, or Cinematographs were a relatively new form of entertainment. Like Music Halls, they were licensed by Local Authorities and had to observe strictly regulated opening hours. These prevented them from admitting patrons on a Sunday. One way in which they circumvented such restrictions was to offer ‘benefit performances’ for charities.

On August 18th WF Pettie, proprietor of the Crofton Park Picture Theatre applied to the LCC’s Theatres and Music Halls Committee for permission to open on Sundays in contravention of a previous undertaking not to do so. he offered ‘that the proceeds…be applied wholly or in part to the Prince of Wales’s National Relief Fund.” Permission was refused. (15)

The LCC’s Committee felt obliged to assess the effect of the war on attendances at cinemas. This was deputed to the London Fire Brigade. For the most part, audiences were down. In the East End, whilst a few managers thought sanguinely of affairs. they attributed any loss of business to the warm weather.

The managers of The Britannia, Hoxton ‘stated’ that their ‘house [was] doing better than ever, packed; war not affecting them at all”. Also in Hoxton, the manager of the premises at 55 Pitfield Street stated that his “house [was] doing rather well.”

Yet the majority bemoaned a loss of business. At the Variety Theatre Hoxton ‘Managers stated [that they were] doing fairly well, but [were] affected by large numbers of territorials called up.

At the Adelphi Chapel, Hackney Road the manager thought his
‘Bad business [could be] attributed to [the] number of territorials and reservists called up, who with their women folk were regular patrons”. (16)

Audience figures for individual cinemas are hard to come by. Even when they are, a number of variables need to be taken into consideration. Above all the popularity of the programme offered, the entrance price and competition from other entertainments

The manager of the Essex Road and Packington Street Cinema offered a more informed opinion, He believed;

“The cinematograph business might…suffer somewhat owing to the renters insisting on cash for films instead of allowing a two weeks credit, as formerly (17)

Managers who had regularly opened for business on Sundays before the War, quickly found a new excuse for doing so.

At The Princess Row, Kew cinema the manager Harry Gray claimed on the 30th “I am open by direction of my employers in aid of the Middlesex War Relief Fund..” by the 13th the reply had been modified to “I am open by direction of the owners and on the advice of Counsel. The proceeds are diverted to Charity, the Middlesex War Relief Fund”. (18)

At the Electric Palace, Cricklewood, the police had reported on the 7th June 1914 “The Managers informed me that the proceeds after deducting expenses would be given to London Medical Charities” On 16th August they were; “informed by the manager Mr Hallam that the proceeds after deducting expenses would be given to the War Fund. (19)

Borstal Boys Recruited into Army

On a more mundane level, it is remarkable how many young offenders were pardoned by Home Office Warrants during the latter part of 1914. Richard Van Emden has noted that approximately 150 ‘former borstal boys were known to be serving’ at the end of 1914.

Accurate figures are not easy to gauge. The figure of 150 is given by the Association’s annual Report. In the a minute of March 1915 it was noted that “320 Borstal Boys have been discharged direct into the Army and many others have enlisted on discharge or within a few weeks”

They had an inducement to do so as “The Association was asked by the [Prison] Commissioners to provide a suitable outfit for boys enlisting in the Army from the Institutions… a piece of soap, a towel and a leather belt have been added to the outfit provided” The generous souls overseeing the borstals felt able to be this magnanimous since they no longer had to ‘make any payments on account of fares, board & lodging or extra clothing in these cases’ thus saving over £300. As the war dragged on the Army was the destination for nearly all boys who left the ‘Institution’. By September 1916 it was estimated that “Nearly 50% of the boys who have enlisted are already in action abroad”. (20)

Recruitment and the Workhouses

Poor Law Guardians and Workhouse masters took the opportunity to remove some of their ‘clients’ to the care of recruiting sergeants.

The Clerk to the Sedgefield, Durham, Union, a JW Lodge, circulated a motion passed there on 26th August to other Unions;
“in view of the large number of able-bodied vagrants … who appear to be generally living on the community, the attention of the Local Government Board and War Office be drawn to the matter with a request that legislation be passed for the purpose of utilising.. the services of these able-bodied men for the Country’s good at this time of National stress” (21)

He found some receptive ears.

Cyril Pearce records that ‘Huddersfield’s Poor Law Guardians.. agreed to support a proposal to compel all able-bodied male applicants to enlist. Its supporters claimed that this policy would soon clear out the vagrant wards and ‘be very great relief to the expenses of the country’ (22)

In fact this had been official policy since the declaration of War. A Relief Committee was set up under the chairmanship of Balfour. When the Cabinet had sought a vote for supplies in the House of Commons, it had included measures to alleviate any distress caused by the resultant unemployment. The Local Government Board, under Herbert Samuel, set up a formal Committee for the Prevention and Relief of Distress.

Administered by an Education official Joseph Alfred Pease, it’s aim was to co-ordinate the various methods of Relief, including Charities and Poor Law Boards.

As early as August 7th. recommendations had reached the Charity Organisation Society in London, who passed them on to its members, that “Single able-bodied men and lodging-house cases should be dealt with by the Poor Law”(23) The COS was soon “asked by the Local Government Board Intelligence Department for London..to collect certain information indicating the existence or otherwise of abnormal distress” in the Capital (24)

Within a week of the declaration of war draft guidelines for the dispensation of relief had been distributed by the Local Government Board Committee. These stated; “that men living with their families should have priority over single men, or those living apart….relief should be refused to young single men capable of military service”.(25)

Notes

1. [The Deluge p.31 1967 ed citing Daily News 5 August 1914 Daily Mail ibid] The Guardian pages for the 4th and 5th of August give a far more nuanced impression of the public response and list some of the appeals for peace and/or neutrality
2. [M MacDonagh. London During the Great War, London, 1935. p.10. MacDonagh was the Times correspondent. It is good to know the Mail has maintained its veracity through the years. J.C.C Davidson recalled the occasion differently some years later; “Whitehall was simply packed with a seething mass of people…(after sending the Colonial Office telegrams relaying the declaration of war) “We started back to Downing Street, to find thousands of people milling around shouting and singing and bursting with cheers.. They didn’t know what they were in for, and they had this awful war fever..” quoted in R.R. James; Memoirs of A Conservative, London, 1969 pp.10-11].
3. M. Fordham ‘War and The Village’, The New Statesman, August 15 1914. p.593]

4. J Turner, British Politics and The Great War; Yale 1992. p.4; DJ Silbey The British Working Class and Enthusiasm for War, London 2005, p.20.
5. [Deluge p.30]
6. Peacock, York In The Great War p 294]

7. [A Gregory, British ”War Enthusiasm’ in 1914: a Reassessment’ in G. Braybon (Ed); Evidence History and the Great War, New York & Oxford, 2003 p 71 ]

8. White [citing Cox Be Proud; p.20 Mansfield; in Gliddon, 1988. p18ff]
9. [BL Add Mss. 46386 f.52. ; Cabinet Letter to George V;f,69; Runciman to Spender Nov 4th 1929 f.72. See also Ramsay MacDonald’s memoir; PRO 30/69/1232]
10. [[Fordham op cit p 593] LMA/ LCC Minutes 3 Nov 1914 pp 694-5; Report 27th Oct 1914….See also 13 October 1914, p.537 report of 29th September 1914 Printed Minutes of Proceedings, July-Dec 1914]

11. [LMA BBG 104. Bermondsey Board of Guardians Minutes and Cash Papers; Memorandum B, 8th August 1914.]

12. “[LMA /CUB 71. Minute August 6th f.75. Minute 22nd Sept. f.84.]

13. [Balfour to Lady Wemyss; August 29 1914 cited K Young; Balfour London, 1963. p.350]

14. [ [LJ Collins Theatre At War, Oxford 1998, p.3]. P Summerfield ‘The Effingham Arms and Empire’, in E & S Yeo (Eds) Popular Culture and Class Conflicts, Hassocks, 1981 S Pennybacker; ‘It was not what she said….The London County Council and Music Halls’; in PJ Bailey Music Hall, Milton Keynes, 1986]

15. [Minute 7th October LCC/MIN/ 10,735 Signed Minutes Theatres and Music Halls Sub-Committee Minutes 1914 f.761.]

16. [[LMA ibid 4/458 7th Oct 1914; 10,981 Visit 29th August p.1].
/ LMA ibid 10981 31st August p.3].
17. [LCC; p.2 10, 981 31st August]
18. [MCC/CL/ES/EL/1/16 Middlesex County Council; Engineer and Surveyors Department; Entertainment Licensing; Files concerning prosecutions against licensed premises no folio but dated 21st Sept.]. f.31956]
18. [3 May to 9 August : MCC/CL/ES/EL/1/33; MCC/CL/ES/EL/1/17 Middlesex County Council; Engineer and Surveyors Department; Entertainment Licensing; Files concerning prosecutions against licensed premises]
20. [Emden, Boy Soldiers of The Great War p.127. Emden’s precise quote is ‘Of 336 boys released from borstal institutions in the year ending March 1915 150 were in the forces, while in all some 60 former borstal boys were known to be serving’ quoting , presumably, HO 247/2 Annual Report, p 12. Borstal Association Records. Remarks on Income and Expenditure during the year 1914-1915. p. 2. ibid. Tss Report On Cases. Oct 1916. Some were fortunate enough to be rejected by the Military they appear to have, largely, ‘gone to sea’]
21. [reproduced in LMA/BBG /104. Bermondsey Board of Guardians Reports; Minutes Vol. XXXIV. No.8 p.27 22nd Sept 1914.]
22. [Pearce Comrades In Conscience pp 81-2 citing Huddersfield Daily Examiner 1.9.1914 Worker (Huddersfield) 5.9.1914] .

23.[ Circular No 3 7th August 1914 COS Archive; LMA/A/FWA/C/A3/49/1 between ff. 323-4].

24. [Circular August 14th 1914.ibid.]

25.[COS Minutes Vol 50; LMA/A/FWA/C/A3/50/1 between ff. 3-4 August 20th 1914. “The Local Government Board advised in their circular of August 10th…”]

So the image of cheering crowds, ecstatically greeting the news that war had come, is a myth. The reality was a deep ambivalence about the War amongst nearly all levels of society, and, for many, indifference. It was also cynically used by the nascent cinema to gain greater respectability, while employers, borstals and the managers of the workhouses and labour camps for the unemployed used it as a means to cut down on expenditure, either by reducing rations or encouraging their unwanted staff and inmates to join up.

There are several parallels to the war in Iraq nearly a century later. There was wide opposition to the beginning of the War, with a million people marching against it. The present government has continued its campaign of welfare cuts, including laying off senior military staff, while simultaneously running recruitment campaigns trying to get more people to enlist. And as the Capped Crusader, Michael Moore showed in Fahrenheit 9/11, the burden of the War has fallen on the poor and working class. It is they, who have been targeted by the recruiting sergeants, while the rich and powerful, with the possible exception of the British Royal Family, have been keen to keep their sons and daughters well away from the frontline.

And the mass media, the cinema in the case of the First World War, and the TV news now, have done their best to support and promote the War.

It makes you wonder… After all the rhetoric about the War to End All Wars, what have we learned … what has changed over the past century?

Thinking the Unthinkable: Move Parliament out of London

October 19, 2013

From Hell, Hull and Halifax, good Lord deliver us

-16th Century beggars’ prayer.

Last week The Economist recommended that the government cease trying to revive declining northern towns and leave them to die. The main example of such a town, where further intervention was deemed to be useless, was Hull, but the magazine also mentioned a number of others, including Burnley. The Economist is the magazine of capitalist economic orthodoxy in this country. Its stance is consistently Neo-Liberal, and the policies it has always demanded are those of welfare cuts and the privatisation of everything that isn’t nailed down. It has loudly supported the IMF’s recommendations of these policies to the developing world. Some left-wing magazines and organisation like Lobster have pointed out that the IMF’s policies effectively constitute American economic imperialism, citing the IMF’s proposals to several South and Meso-American nations. These were not only told to privatise their countries’ state assets, but to sell them to American multinationals so that they could be more efficiently managed.

The Economist’s advice that economically hit northern towns should be ‘closed down’ also reflects the almost exclusive concentration of the metropolitan establishment class on London and south-east, and their complete disinterest and indeed active hostility to everything beyond Birmingham. This possibly excludes the Scots Highlands, where they can go grouse shooting. It was revealed a little while ago that back in the 1980s one of Thatcher’s cabinet – I forgotten which one – recommended a similar policy towards Liverpool. Recent economic analyses have shown that London and the south-east have become increasingly prosperous, and have a higher quality of life, while that of the North has significantly declined. The London Olympics saw several extensive and prestigious construction projects set up in the Docklands area of London, intended both to build the infrastructure needed for the Olympics and promote the capital to the rest of the world. It’s also been predicted that the high-speed rail link proposed by the Coalition would not benefit Britain’s other cities, but would lead to their further decline as jobs and capital went to London. A report today estimated that 50 cities and regions, including Bristol, Cardiff, Aberdeen and Cambridge would £200 million + through the rail link. The Economist’s article also demonstrates the political class’ comprehensive lack of interest in manufacturing. From Mrs Thatcher onwards, successive administrations have favoured the financial sector, centred on the City of London. Lobster has run several articles over the years showing how the financial sector’s prosperity was bought at the expense of manufacturing industry. Despite claims that banking and financial industry would take over from manufacturing as the largest employer, and boost the British economy, this has not occurred. The manufacturing has indeed contracted, but still employs far more than banking, insurance and the rest of the financial sector. The financial sector, however, as we’ve seen, has enjoyed massively exorbitant profits. The Economist claims to represent the interests and attitudes of the financial class, and so its attitude tellingly reveals the neglectful and contemptuous attitude of the metropolitan financial elite towards the troubled economic conditions of industrial towns outside the capital.

Coupled with this is a condescending attitude that sees London exclusively as the centre of English arts and culture, while the provinces, particularly the North, represent its complete lack. They’re either full of clod-hopping yokels, or unwashed plebs from the factories. Several prominent Right-wingers have also made sneering or dismissive comments about the North and its fate. The art critic and contrarian, Brian Sewell, commented a few years ago that ‘all those dreadful Northern mill towns ought to be demolished’. Transatlantic Conservatism has also felt the need to adopt a defensive attitude towards such comments. The American Conservative, Mark Steyn, on his website declared that criticism of London was simply anti-London bias, but didn’t tell you why people were so critical of the metropolis or its fortunes. This situation isn’t new. At several times British history, London’s rising prosperity was marked by decline and poverty in the rest of the country. In the 17th century there was a recession, with many English ports suffering a sharp economic decline as London expanded to take 75 per cent of the country’s trade. The regional ports managed to survive by concentrating on local, coastal trade rather than international commerce, until trade revived later in the century.

It’s also unfair on the North and its cultural achievements. The North rightfully has a reputation for the excellence of its museum collections. The region’s museums tended to be founded by philanthropic and civic-minded industrialists, keen to show their public spirit and their interest in promoting culture. I can remember hearing from the director of one of the museum’s here in Bristol two decades ago in the 1990s how he was shocked by the state of the City’s museum when he came down here from one of the northern towns. It wasn’t of the same standard he was used to back home. What made this all the more surprising was that Bristol had a reputation for having a very good museum. Now I like Bristol Museum, and have always been fascinated by its collections and displays, including, naturally, those on archaeology. My point here isn’t to denigrate Bristol, but simply show just how high a standard there was in those of the industrial north. Liverpool City Museum and art gallery in particular has a very high reputation. In fact, Liverpool is a case in point in showing the very high standard of provincial culture in the 19th century, and its importance to Britain’s economic, technological and imperial dominance. Liverpool was a major centre in scientific advance and experiment through its philosophical and literary society, and its magazine. This tends to be forgotten, overshadowed as it has been by the city’s terrible decline in the 20th century and its setting for shows dealing with working-class hardship like Boys from the Black Stuff and the comedy, Bread. Nevertheless, its cultural achievements are real, quite apart from modern pop sensations like the Beatles, Cilla Black, Macca and comedians like Jimmy Tarbuck. The town also launched thousands of young engineers and inventors with the Meccano construction sets, while Hornby railways delighted model railway enthusiasts up and down the length of Britain. These two toys have been celebrated in a series of programmes exploring local history, like Coast. Hornby, the inventor of both Meccano and the model railway that bore his name, was duly celebrated by the science broadcaster, Adam Hart-Davis, as one of his Local Heroes.

And Liverpool is certainly not the only city north of London with a proud history. Think of Manchester. This was one of Britain’s major industrial centres, and the original hometown of the Guardian, before it moved to London. It was a major centre of the political debates and controversies that raged during the 19th century, with the Guardian under Feargus O’Connor the major voice of working class radicalism. It was in industrial towns like Manchester that working class culture emerged. Books like The Civilisation of the Crowd show how mass popular culture arose and developed in the 19th century, as people from working-class communities attempted to educate themselves and enjoy music. They formed choirs and brass bands. Working men, who worked long hours used their few spare hours to copy sheet music to sing or play with their fellows. The various mechanics institutes up and down the country were institutions, in which the working class attempted to educate itself and where contemporary issues were discussed. It’s an aspect of industrial, working class culture that needs to be remembered and celebrated, and which does show how strong and vibrant local culture could be in industrial towns outside London.

Back in the 1990s the magazine, Anxiety Culture, suggested a way of breaking this exclusive concentration on London and the interests of the metropolitan elite to the neglect of those in the provinces. This magazine was a small press publication, with a minuscule circulation, which mixed social and political criticism with Forteana and the esoteric, by which I mean alternative spirituality, like Gnosticism, rather than anything Tory prudes think should be banned from the internet, but don’t know quite what. In one of their articles they noted that when a politician said that ‘we should think the unthinkable’, they meant doing more of what they were already doing: cutting down on welfare benefits and hitting the poor. They recommended instead the adoption of a truly radical policy:

Move parliament out of London.

They listed a number of reasons for such a genuinely radical move. Firstly, it’s only been since the 18th century that parliament has been permanently fixed in London. Before then it often sat where the king was at the time. At various points in history it was at Winchester near the Anglo-Saxon and Norman kings’ treasury. It was in York during Edward I’s campaign against the Scots. In short, while parliament has mostly been resident in London, it hasn’t always been there, and so there is no absolutely compelling reason why it should remain so.

Secondly, London’s expensive. The sheer expensive of living in the capital was always so great that civil servants’ pay including ‘London weighting’ to bring it up to the amount they’d really need to live on in the capital, which was always higher than in the rest of the country. The same was true for other workers and employees. As we’ve seen, these inequalities are growing even more massive under the Tories, and there is talk of a demographic cleansing as poorer families are forced to move out of some of the most expensive boroughs in the capital. MPs and the very rich may now afford to live in luxury accommodation in the metropolis, but I wonder how long it will be before the capital’s infrastructure breaks down because so many of its workers simply cannot afford to live there. The government has declared that it is keen on cutting expenses, and public sector employees’ salaries have been particularly hard hit. The government could therefore solve a lot of its problems – such as those of expense, and the cost in time and money of negotiating the heavy London traffic – by relocating elsewhere.

Birmingham would be an excellent place to start. This has most of what London has to offer, including excellent universities and entertainment centres, such as the NEC, but would be much cheaper. Or York. During the Middle Ages, this was England’s Second City. It’s an historic town, with a history going back to the Romans. The excavations at Coppergate made York one of the major British sites for the archaeology of the Vikings. It also has an excellent university. One could also recommend Durham. When I was growing up in the 1980s, Durham University was considered the third best in the country, following Oxbridge. Manchester too would be an outstanding site for parliament. Apart from its historic associations with working class politics, it has also been a major centre of British scientific research and innovation. Fred Hoyle, the astronomer and maverick cosmologist, came from that fair city. While he was persistently wrong in supporting the steady-state theory against the Big Bang, he was one of Britain’s major astronomers and physicists, and Manchester University does have a very strong tradition of scientific research and innovation. British politicians are also keen to show that they are now tolerant with an inclusive attitude towards gays. Manchester’s Canal Street is one of the main centres of gay nightlife. If parliament really wanted to show how tolerant it was of those in same-sex relationship, it would make sense for it to move to Manchester.

Furthermore, relocating parliament to the north should have the effect of reinvigorating some of these cities and the north generally. The influx of civil servants and highly paid officials and ministers would stimulate the local economy. It would also break the myopic assumption that there is nothing of any value outside London. If the government and its servants continued to feel the same way, then they would have the option of actually passing reforms to improve their new homes by providing better road and rail links, improving local education, building or better funding theatres, orchestras and opera companies, investing in local businesses to support both the governmental infrastructure, but also to provide suitable work for themselves and their children, when they retire from the Civil Service. In short, moving parliament out of London to the midlands or the North would massively regenerate those part of England.

It won’t happen, because the current financial, political and business elite are very much tied to the metropolis as the absolute centre of English life and culture. They won’t want to leave its theatres, art galleries and museums, or move away from nearby sporting venues, like Ascot. They would find the idea of moving out of London absolutely unthinkable. But perhaps, as Anxiety Culture suggested twenty years ago, it is time that these ideas were thought, rather than the banal and all-too often ruminated policies of cutting benefits and penalising the poor.