Why The North Is A Petri Dish (Spoiler: It’s Not)

Government Newcastle brankrupt 2020

The North of England saw its luck plummet in 2020.

Government Newcastle brankrupt 2020

Manchester City Council Bankrupt in 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic only served to crystallise the long term issues at the micro-level of local UK governments typically being “unable” to manage their budgets regardless of council tax increases, and central governments “not giving” them any.

Oh so wait – scratch that.  Add in: the North got a bad rap, significantly more than usual. 

See, in the North of England, the daily grind normally involves beating the odds provided by the correlation between the economic disparity between the South and the North – one proven time and again by various think tanks to still affect the North’s status, many years after the industrial decline, further outlining a long parched environment for meaningfully sustaining an economy.

Plainly, the perception of this disparity is not the best, either. There are people in the crowds of power who just don’t believe in the divide, or the petri dish – even those representing these Northern areas who sit around debating ooh, what it must really be like; researching it – rather than just living there and seeing what it’s like. The newly formed Northern Research Group inside the Conservative Party will try so hard but it probably won’t be able to win – most northerners won’t believe them following almost a full 2020 being told they can’t go about their daily lives or do their jobs while others can; their own political cohort will eventually mutilate them ideologically.

But the North is a real entity, not some sort of mystic idea. Unfortunately for these weird phenomenalists – there’s no way of producing a discourse from them. In case the point wasn’t clear, the same goes for a someone who doesn’t think there is a North/South divide at all. As soon as you ask: “What evidence would you regard as disproving your idea?” – someone who talks in abstractions can’t think of, or really prove anything. Same goes: “What evidence would you regard as disproving that there is no divide?” And again, they cannot think of anything. Idealism is like a mask and it’s used all the time against the North.

Who is Anti-North?

A primarily anti-North Conservative government since 2010 hasn’t helped matters, despite their weird, dangerously expensive HS2 obsession with bringing bang average high speed trains (read: make it fast like the ski train in France!) to connect London and Manchester — while towns and cities full of people would appreciate electrified trains and investment in basic building regulations for living in. But of course the future is bright so long as private cash rumbles in and “trickles down” with the same fervour as a leaky tap in a haunted mansion.

Specifically under the premiership of Theresa May and Boris Johnson, (though let’s not mistake what the history books will say – a country in 2020 under the PM-ship of Boris Johnson but under the thumb of Dominic Cummings) the North has had a fairly crapper than usual innings since 2016.

And when it became apparent that the lowest income families in the North West and North East were about bite and eat dust as a direct result of the indirect economic sanctions posed by the global Coronavirus pandemic — an unelected although helpfully loud Mayor had to stand up and say no, it’s not OK to leave people in financial destitution.

Speeches were made, letters written and tribal mouth-offs galvanised. For a precious, short week in October – a Northern city in England dared to call the shots about local politics, and challenge central Government. And it worked, at least, for the self-replicating headlines from which most corporate UK news media were able to generate a fairly decent week’s worth of coverage.

But as the sentiment analysis dashboards showed that no-one outside of Manchester really gave a fuck, Andy Burnham and Sir Richard Leese received a who dis text in front of everyone – live at their own press conference, telling them it was no deal.

It felt like a real evil genius Dominic Cummings play, despite him not having said a word.

For a moment, people in the North had a clear and present socioeconomic reason to be angry beyond the surface satisfaction of needing to go tribal.

It went beyond some swaggering, arbitrary or even a well-thought out North Manchester manifesto: it went beyond Manchester.

People in the North were close to remembering how to have critical thought – at the very least while locked down in their own homes – in the era before social media. People would understand who you were and where you were from, forming a loose sense of an economic collective.

Beyond 2020, that anger now constitutes some sort of digital, emotional horcrux that has to be publicly broadcast in order to let it become a membership card for ‘I Like’ and an ‘I Hate’ group that you click like for, and bam, that becomes your public identity and reality without needing to do the work of considering other people’s thoughts or sensilibiltes. No – for a moment, people in the North started to remember what politics is supposed to empower. People. Citizens, us – regardless of our revisionist, social media psychogeography long since reclassed as demographics.

The North Is Not A Petri Dish

Nevertheless, the North-South Divide in England was no less apparent than it was when the UK Government did a U-Turn and decided to grant people money to save from the inevitable slide into destitution – because it was clear the effects of sanctioned poverty was having an affect on Southern English communities. 

The North Is Not A Petri Dish – but people in the North of England are still typically seen as caricatures, never people who become characters based on their specific upbringing.

Eavesdropping is the worst kind of segue into thinking of content to finish the article with; but the genuine phrase: “chips and chimneys and pies, i’n’t it?” was perfect to transcribe while sitting on a train typing, and yet it was hopefully an ironic statement, concealing a respect for people above the Watford border as his accent indicated…

…Or maybe it didn’t. The fictional meaning within the fantasy is easier to deal with, than it probably would be to have to resolve and accept the real hard truth of Northern post-industrial decline over the course of an 11-year period, from which it never properly recovered. No research group is going to overcome that without said acceptance.

But for the benefit of that twat on the train who is only capable of imagining a distorted northern geography somehow held up by chips, chimneys and pies (though one notes the structural integrity of these three items compared to an Eton Mess) – imagine the following. As a normal kid, you go to the local comprehensive schools and learn from dog-eared text books and teachers who earn less than their London counterparts. Your parents work hard to make sure you have a lunch most days they can afford it – and if you have no internet or drop out of education, the safety net is is almost zero. Covid-19 exposed this even more.

Without the system of grades themselves, proof of your education is also zero – which applies to kids across the country, not just the North.

Mind you, walking to school is worse in the North than it is in the South. Statistically, in the North of England, you are more likely to be the victim of a knife attack at any age compared to the rest of the UK; be injured or abused at home, or on the way to a place of work or education. These shouldn’t be “a given” – but to survive, people in the North (particularly in towns and cities) often have to overcome these kinds of hopeless critical factors daily, without blinking – factors that are directly impacted by lower public funding than its southern peers.

That isn’t an idea immediately understood below the divide; yet it is often ridiculed.

Idiosyncrasy is the bedfellow of archetype and the precursor to “rationalised” deprivation

There are a few considerations for the comfortable classes who are able to sit encapsulated by a moat – knowing the North/South divide is a social class divide, not a geographical one – as if that were assertion to perpetuate the divide passively. But then it might always be this way: in name and practice, the divide is perpetuated by those benefitting from the divide who don’t need it change. Ever.

But for those striving and working in the North – both class and geographic divides do exist, and the cycle doesn’t change, no matter who is in power centrally or locally. The effect on personal effects continue: lower incomes, poorer economies,  lower levels (generally) of attainment academically and productivity – with some sort of weird assumption that to deviate from this, you can only become a footballer or a reality TV star.

The North is not a petri dish, but it is so frequently is a petri dish as an environment that has limitations forced upon it, when we compare it simply the relative abundance and wealth that is bestowed as funds in Southern regions together.

Better funding for basic; cultural and education opportunities enabled by the extra cash that isn’t just obligatory ‘make do’ subsidy.

Northern people in their so-called petri dish are therefore “miserable” and “hardy” – when better words might be disenchanted, resilient.

And perhaps, after the pandemic, they will also be somewhat tricked into further accepting what can only be the long-term further financial penalty of increasingly devolved powers, the penalty it has always been.

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