Thursday, 25 March 2021

Here Is Why I Want an Independent North

I come from a working class town in the northeast of England where life is a constant struggle for most. 

Throughout my childhood, we had nothing... Well, that's not entirely accurate because when I was small, we had a bunch of parks to play in within walking distance. They were great too. I remember the park on my doorstep with a flying saucer climbing frame, and the one up the road with a huge ship climbing frame, and the one around the corner with a banana slide, and a bunch of other parks further afield. Thatcher tore them all down. Every single one.

I remember watching in horror as my favourite flying saucer climbing frame vanished, only to be replaced by a frigging building site. That building site inevitably became our new playground. Back in those days, building sites never seemed to have security guards and we were climbing through half-built houses and kicking over walls while the cement was still wet. Literally risking our lives because there was bugger all else to do. Although to be fair, we had great fun!

The other nearby parks with the ship climbing frame and the banana slide were removed and replaced with nothing but bare concrete. Even to this day, kids gather in the concrete area that was known as the ship park, and they still call it the ship park, a full thirty years later. That climbing frame was bloody amazing and I still miss it, even now.

The pattern of destruction continued and Margaret Thatcher left my generation with bugger all. We had a BMX track nearby which was demolished and allowed to become a wasteland. I still live on that estate and the situation today is exactly the same as it was in the late '80s. We had a small boggy field nearby with football goals where I would take my children to play on sunny days. It was literally all we had, but about three months ago, that boggy field vanished too. You've guessed it, building site.

There is nothing here for the kids. Thatcher and every successive prime minister has made sure of that.

When I was growing up, most parents were either unemployed or had one single low earner between them. Runaway Dads were common. Families with two parents living together and earning modest incomes were perceived as rich - they were a rarity. Those "posh" kids strutting around in their Nike Air trainers while we wore knock off shit and stood in the queue for our free school meal tokens. The shame.

Even to a young child, it very much felt like our region had been abandoned by the establishment. I remember watching TV and wondering why we never saw people who spoke with our broad accents on the kids' shows. We had no representation. It felt absolutely like we lived in a forgotten land. 

Of course, I didn't understand the socioeconomic conditions at the time, but I, we, knew Thatcher's government did not give a crap about us. I remember the girls doing one of those clappy rhyme thingies in the school yard. They'd clap their hands together and chant, "There's Maggie Thatcher, throw her up and catch her. Squish-squash, squish-squash, there's Maggie Thatcher." 

The children knew the Tory government didn't care because we were experiencing the consequences of their policies first hand. The northeast was being stripped of its industries which had been the economic backbone of this country for so long, which had given Britain so much of its wealth. And our people were left with nothing to show for their labour. 

We were the children and grandchildren of sacrificed workers. A lost generation.

As teenagers, we were hanging on street corners, drinking cider, then breaking into abandoned buildings where we'd listen to live recordings from our local rave - the Afterdark. We were doing all of the things a teenager should not be doing. And when I say teenager, it actually started for me at 11 years old when I drank a bottle of cider for the first time. Other children lost their innocence even earlier than I did. Some of my friends were smoking cigarettes and even weed at nine years old. I was the sensible one.

There was nothing better to do, and even if there was, we couldn't have afforded it anyways. Your £2.50 pocket money will only get you so far. Thank the lord for £2.49 bottles of Pulse! You can look down on teenage drinking all you like, but when it's a choice between that and standing on a cold street corner, doing nothing, you'll understand. It was a tough life and we had to make the best of it, anyway we could.

Now you will probably be surprised to hear, I was considered one of the more academic pupils in my school (it was a very low bar). I was therefore one of the kids who was expected to go to college and university and move away from my impoverished home town. Basically, you had to move away to earn good money, unless you were one of the lucky few.

Anyways, things never worked out for me and I ended like most of my peers, facing years of instability, frustration and long term unemployment. I spent eight years of my life on the homeless register before finally getting my own place at the age of 26. Many of my peers weren't that fortunate. Some of them ended up in jail. A few are sadly no longer with us.

When I did eventually find long term employment, our bosses let slip one day that each employee was generating £400,000 a year for the company. We were getting paid £13,000 a year for bloody tough, stressful, skilled work, and constantly struggling to get by. The company could've paid us £40,000 a year and still kept 90% of the money we were generating, but they chose to impoverish us through sheer greed.

I was privately renting from a landlord down south who was taking half of my wages to pay for his mortgage. I was trapped in a spiral of bank charges and using a credit card to survive, running out of food before the end of every month. Life was simply impossible, and most people in this area have a similar story to tell.

In my region, prosperous areas are uncommon and most workers are struggling to pay the bills, always one bad month away from destitution. It's a never ending cycle. And it feels like workers exist solely to enrich bosses, landlords, and powerful people, so many of who are located in the southeast of England. It's a system of exploitation - and this kind of economic set up is far from typical. 

Other developed countries aren't seeing these huge regional inequalities and this non-stop transfer of wealth to one particular area of the country. Britain is fairly unique in that respect. Many of our friends in Scotland have had enough of this structural unfairness and rightfully so. Their independence movement has gained huge traction in recent years and they have effectively wiped out Scottish Labour. Their people are done with the British establishment and many people in the north of England feel exactly the same. Let's not forget, the Brexit vote was essentially an anti-establishment vote. It would be a huge mistake to assume us northerners are desperate to rush into the arms of the Tories.

It's just our options are being deliberately taken away. 

Red areas have turned blue, precisely because the pro-establishment blue Labour are not providing people with a viable alternative to Tory rule. Brexit voters felt betrayed by Starmer's PV brigade and the blue Labour leader now thinks he can win them back by going ultra-establishment. It's so painfully tone deaf. He's convinced himself we're all pub-dwelling social conservatives up here, who wave the flag and sing God Save the Queen, when in reality that stereotype represents a dying breed, and even the older generation aren't exactly shagging the Union Jack. 

Most of us think flag shaggers are bloody idiots and when Starmer drapes himself in the Union Jack to win us over, we roll our eyes. The Labour Party was always supposed to be ours. It was supposed to be the party that offered the north representation and a viable alternative to the Tories. And to hear this lot tell us what the north wants, while offering nothing in terms of policies, and getting us totally wrong every time, feels excruciating.

We don't want flag shagging and racist dog whistles. We want improvements to our material conditions and fairer treatment from our elected representatives. It's clear we're never going to achieve those things in a first-past-the-post system dominated by southern Tories who grow their wealth from our hard work. We have no main party fighting our corner and even if we did, that fight would probably be hopeless anyways.

I believe it's time for us northerners to fight for our independence, just like Scotland. I also believe it's time for Welsh independence and a united Ireland, but that's not my fight, of course, it's theirs. This may seem drastic to some, but ask yourself, what has the neoliberal economic model achieved for any region, apart from the southeast of England? Are you really going to tell us in the forgotten northeast that our life of constant struggle is beneficial to us?

If you look at the smaller countries of northern Europe, they are not struggling, they are thriving. They enjoy among the world's highest living standards and they do so through the left-wing economic policies that southern Tories won't allow us to have, because they're doing very well from their system of exploitation.

Imagine an independent Northumbria standing shoulder-to-shoulder with an independent Scotland and Wales and a united Ireland, following in the footsteps of nations like Norway. We get absolutely no benefit from remaining part of little England and I'm tired of southern Tory dictatorship. It's time to break free and stand on our own feet.

But let's be realistic here. 

No one is expecting overnight success, and of course, we know northern independence is so very far from guaranteed. But when you look at how new parties like UKIP, the Brexit Party, and the SNP have shaped the national debate, and when you look at the glaring chasm in the political landscape for a socialist party, it's clear the potential to make waves is there. We just need to raise our voices.

The newly-formed Northern Independence Party is doing just that and is contesting the Hartlepool by-election through independent Thelma Walker. (She has to stand as an independent because the party is not yet officially registered). 

Hartlepool has been a Labour seat since it was created, but the betting money is going on the Tories and the northern independence candidate. Labour are in a pathetic third place, which is probably something to do with Starmer choosing centrist, Tory Milf-lover, Saudi Paul as his candidate without a democratic selection process. Labour is back to neglecting the north on the basis we have nowhere else to go. Hartlepool may well be about to show them two fingers.

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