On Saturday The Guardian published an article comparing the North East of England to the US city of Detroit. Apparently, the reaction to the article was fairly loud. I have to admit having read the original feeling a growing sense of anger and dismay. From the leaden prose, to the incredibly selective photos used to illustrate, the whole thing felt like a another knife into the ribs from an increasingly insensible metropolitan media that neither understands not cares about outlying regions of the country.
The reaction was rather more gratifying and, it has to be said, considered. And this was followed up by a rather nice buzzfeed article too.
Articles like this seem to be part of a more widely rooted problem: that anything outside the “centre” of the country is at best irrelevant, and at worst a hindrance. Maybe it’s also part of a mindset that thinks of the regions as adjuncts to the “bigger picture”, when in fact they are a major part of the picture itself. A few weeks ago, Rory Stewart presented an excellent documentary series on BBC2 about how the middle band of Britain was, in essence a separate country. His thesis was that Britain is divided into three parts: the south (up to about the Trent or the Humber), the middle, from there to the Scottish lowlands, then the Scottish highlands. It’s an interesting thesis, and one I think has a lot of resonance with me. Many of the issues raised in this Guardian article could be applied to parts of the North-West, the borders, and even to places like Edinburgh and Glasgow (like the quality of road and rail links-no HS2 here, folks!). Like those places, the North-East has a distinct culture and ambience (and it is heavily related to the Scots).and these regions have advantages the south do not enjoy: more space and more water amongst them.
Building the Guardian article around a photo of possibly the single most derelict part of the town was not a great help. The writing of someone who was clearly a dilettante did not help either. It was disappointing, and plants a further seed in my head that there might be a better future for the north, if only it could be divorced from its southern cousin, or at least allowed to thrive more on its own.