"Rivers of Black Pudding"

Well, here we are, silly season once again. And, as a result, we have the wondrous report that was farted from the bowels of Conservative-leaning policy unit Policy Exchange yesterday (link here to a BBC story about this). To call it idiotic would be to do a great disservice to idiots everywhere. If even the moon-faced poltroon Cameron is even calling it insane, then things are looking bad for the dunderheads at th ePE…

So, a bunch of Tory policy wonks who mostly think the north starts at the North Circular Road and beyond that there be dragons have come up with what, even for them, is a crassly and comically piss-poor piece of work. Why is it bad? Well, all you have to do is imagine what would happen if there were a mass migration from the north. The consequences for the beautiful south would be truly dreadful:

The language: Northerners all speak Northern, not English, you see. They say things like “Ay Up”, and “Sithee’ (whatever that means) and similar. They split their infinitives, drop their aitches and can’t say ‘bath’ properly. Think of the expense of translating public service documents and providing interpreters for interviews because they’ll spend most of their time in the council and benefit offices, sponging off hard-working Daily Mail readers; most of these Northern types don’t want work, you know.

Housing: Where will all the whippets go? Northerners all have whippets don’t they? Or pigeons. Or Bull Mastiffs And they’re all drug dealers. Of course, worst of all, when one Northerner moves into your street, soon he’ll bring all his relations to live with him. Then before you know it the street is full of tracksuited neanderthals with moustaches from Barnsley (though it’s not just the moustaches that are from Barnsley of course). At that point the price of your house has dropped through the floor. You’ll never sell it. Not that you can now of course. Ha ha.

Economy: For those few who are not workshy, what will northerners contribute to the economy? Of course, any money they earn will either be sent home to the barren north, or used to pay to bring a herd of evil-smelling proletarian filth in ill-fitting clothes to our green and pleasant land. Of course, we can use them for all the nasty jobs that no one in their right mind would do, like being the continuity announcer on Big Brother, or being Lauren Laverne, for example.

Culture: When Northerners get to the south, the fact that they have different customs and speak a different language means they are likely to form ghettoes of their own where they can speak northern and do their northern customs and wear northern national costume – the flat cap, muffler and braces. They won’t drink real beer, they’ll insist on drinking that northern muck. And they all smell of chip fat and northern food, you know. Schools will have to spend a fortune on teaching Northern children to speak proper English, innit? And teach them proper rugger instead of that league game.

But northerners won’t want to integrate. They’ll cling on to their old way and bring down areas. They’ll insist on intermarrying with other northern families. There are all those fundamentalist Yorshiremen too. That’s when the trouble will start, because we will be accused of not respecting their northern culture and ways. No, we’ll be accused of discrimination against them. We won’t be safe in our own communities. The Thames will foam with black pudding…

An exaggeration, perhaps, but it does point up a couple of worrying things if one happens to live in the North. There is still an ingrained metropolitan snobbery in some sections of the Conservative Party (and in the Labour Party come to that). And those sections have the ear of the leadership. The other is that the north, even in Labour circles is seen as a “problem”. While the north undoubtedly has issues connected to economic development it is lazy and short-sighted to characterise the whole place in such a blinkered fashion. One example given was to get people moving from Sunderland to the south. Comparing like with like, Nissan has been a great boon to Sunderland (and the North in general). Can the same be said of Cowley in Oxford, one of the shining examples held up in the report? Hardly a ringing endorsement of the city. Indeed, beyond Arnold’s ‘Dreaming Spires’ Oxford has just as much social deprivation as some parts of the North. But this report doesn’t really talk about that, does it?

The depressing vision here is one of an unacceptable social and geographic Darwinism: if the south is relatively more prosperous, don’t let’s address the gap in the poorer communities. Or try to improve the transport links into the South East. Heaven forbid that we should make it easier for companies to do business in other parts of the country. Does anyone remember that at some time there was supposed to be a high speed Channel link from the North? No, I didn’t think so…

No, let’s just let those communities die on their arses. Idiocy hardly seems sufficient to describe this, especially when you consider who was responsible for most of the destruction of those places in the first instance.

The real problem once again is one of control. There seems to be a desire to “roll up” that funding and “allocate according to need”. But this would more than likely be controlled from the centre. And we know all too well that the centre knows little and cares even less about outlying regions, especially if there is no electoral gain to be made from doing anything.

Actually reading the report (and yes, I have) is a depressing experience. In fact, what’s even more amazing is that in a rush to concentrate economic resources they are trying to solve the wrong problem. The economy is concentrating in the south. So let’s make it even worse! Let’s take an already overcrowded region and build more houses on flood plains! Let’s make water shortages even worse! Let’s further overload already overstretched public transport systems! Let’s overload local authorities even more!

The idea of encouraging people to move south in this way has faint echoes to me of Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech forty years ago. It’s a speech that, as a left-wing libertarian I find unsettling but oddly prescient. and this report seems hell-bent on further ingraining a ‘them and us’ mentality between north and south. People laughed at it this summer, but it might not be long before som eactually begin to take som eof the ideas within seriously.

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