You can’t deny it – Boris Johnson is making waves up North

At least in rhetoric, Boris Johnson is hailing a dubious era of investment in England’s Northern hemisphere. Not unlike all those politicians that have gone before him, he has promised to splash out on education, the NHS and Northern transport, pledging a Northern Powerhouse Rail modelled on London’s Crossrail. He’s stated his intent to preserve and restore British Steel, a dominant force in the North East’s economy, while also turning Teesport into a ‘free port’ – thus gifting it with preferential trading arrangements. He’s even thrown in a commitment to improving provision for special needs education, which will give a small lifeline to local constituencies such as Durham, who earlier this year expressed a ‘debt crisis in SEND provision’ to the tune of £5.6 million.

These are hardly the dramatic bailouts the region would hope for: though they look like massive giveaways when compared with the stinginess of governments prior.

By conveniently rediscovering the Tories’ ‘magic money tree’ and pledging to divert a substantial chunk of it across Northern England, while making tangible commitments to a No-Deal Exit, Boris is doing something genius. He is appealing directly to the region’s staunch Lexiteers: left-wingers who want Brexit but rely heavily on public services. If austerity was the only thing keeping many Northern Labour strongholds semi-resistant to Conservative rule, Boris’s unorthodox political approach – and frank borrowing of long-held Labour manifesto pledges – may just clinch their support.

Of course, many other politicians, such as George Osborne, have made similarly blasé commitments which have failed to materialise. But Boris knows it’s different this time because of Brexit. Fed up with Labour’s lack of clarity on the issue – among the fact that all-but-one North Eastern constituency voted to Leave in 2016 – the region is perfect breeding ground for Boris’s new, patriotic, spend-heavy Brexit Britain. While the ‘Boris Bounce’ seemed muted in the Brecon by election, its impact in the North East is untested but guaranteed. This is mainly because of the region’s specific dynamics: high suicide rates, high unemployment figures, low immigration, a dominant age demographic between 40-55, a propensity to have voted Brexit and a history of voting Labour. Many Northern Labour MPs now fear a general election precisely because they know they might get turfed out. It doesn’t matter that Boris’s promises are most likely bluster and will damage the North East in the long-run. All he needs is to get his no-deal over the line.

In reality, Boris’s entire strategy will serve only to destroy the limited infrastructure the North of England has. The Confederation of British Industry has explicitly warned that the North-East will be hardest hit by a No-Deal Brexit because of the threats to its manufacturing industries and the region’s reliance on the EU as an export market. Bridget Philipson, Labour MP for Houghton and Sunderland South, recently tweeted a snapshot of the economic damage no-deal would inflict on her constituency – regardless of the spending Boris has pledged. She said: ‘Brexit will not make Sunderland richer, more equal or more free. Around 60% of our exports go to the EU and, on a per job basis, we export more into the EU than any other British City.’ Later, she added: ‘Johnson wants my city and my constituents to pay the price for him to stay in Downing Street. A No-Deal Brexit was hardly mentioned back in 2016, but it will wipe out jobs and industry.’

So, then, as Boris continues to make waves up North, by showcasing his devout commitment to anti-austerity, a Brexit that ‘works for everyone’ and the burgeoning potential of the ‘powerhouse of the North’, he sacrifices ever more livelihoods for his own political gain. Who knows what the result of that will be?

Cockroaches

Universities take advantage of caffeine addiction from students

who will later struggle to find a pot to relieve themselves in

as the doors of the NHS slam to privatisation

please tell me, what is the use of council taxation?

 

When the roads are still bumpy

and the grass is uncut

and the schools are all closing

as their budgets are cut

 

When will the small towns find any luck

will it take a neck and a noose for them to

give a…

care about us?

 

Like those Jarrow crusaders

let’s kick up a fuss

demand we’re treat fair

or is that too much?

 

Let’s march to 10 downing

I wish they were drowning

because too many times

they’ve broken our trust

Regional bias is responsible for the working-class attainment gap: it can’t be ignored any longer

Just two weeks ago, NEON, the National Education Opportunities Network, released a report exploring the statistical dearth of working class students in top UK universities. These figures revealed, tragically, that ‘more than half of England’s universities have fewer than 5% of poor white students in their intakes.’

Helpfully, though perhaps overdue, this report draws explicit attention to the limitations of current efforts to improve access within higher education (HE): that is, a failure to account for the diverse and intersectional nature of underrepresentation. For the first time, bitterly entrenched regional bias has been officially identified as a barrier to social mobility, with the report’s findings showing that many working-class students living in Low Participation Neighbourhoods do not go on to participate in top HE institutions.

For a long time, we’ve known that there is underachievement of disadvantaged white youngsters across all forms of education. But now we know why: because the majority of these individuals living in ‘Low Participation Neighbourhoods’ come from regional backgrounds. Students living in those areas where university attendance is lowest – which is mainly among regional areas in the North and Midlands – are less likely to apply for ‘Russell Group’ universities, but instead enrol at ‘post-1992’ universities. Wrongly or rightly, these are considered to be less prestigious than their red-brick counterparts. The report showed that Sheffield Hallam University accepted the greatest number of poorer white students, along with Liverpool John Moores and Teeside. The top UK universities admitted barely any.

This is an issue much wider than higher education: it is about the discrepancy in opportunity between the country’s capital and its peripheries in all aspects of life. It isn’t about race. The young working-class individuals deprived from a fulfilling HE experience at more ‘prestigious’ institutions is not because they are white. It is because they live in areas with depressed local funding, terrible schools, high unemployment rates and little access to cultural enrichment.

While London and the South-East are brimming with cultural opportunities, grammar schools and ample prospects to earn a decent living (as well as all the associated ambition bound up with these phenomena), the North-East habitually produces the UK’s worst unemployment rate and possesses not a single grammar school. The capital alone boasts the highest proportion of outstanding schools in the country in both affluent and deprived areas, while the North-East sports the highest number of individuals living on free school meals (and therefore the ones less likely to make it to university).

What this report should make clear is not that working-class students are not being deliberately ‘forgotten about’ and ‘left behind’; only that the same opportunities to succeed are being withheld from them. More accurately, entire regions are left behind, and that incorporates everyone within them: it just so happens that they are predominantly white.

The ‘relative lack of white learners from low participation neighbourhoods (LPN) attending London institutions’, the report explains, reflect the small numbers of LPN in the capital, which is ‘almost universally a high participation neighbourhood area’. This explains why students of any colour living in the capital are more likely to participate in prestigious HE than their regional counterparts. NEON’s analysis found that of all applicants to HE by the LPN demographic, only 22% were accepted. More than half of UK universities have no procedure in place to prevent these students from slipping through the cracks. Instead, HE institutions accepted fewer than 20% of the applicants received from this social group. Doesn’t seem like a sensible way to incite confidence and fight cultures of exclusion, does it?

The take-away point here should be that one form of positive discrimination needn’t be privileged over another. Instead, society must focus on creating, as far as we can, an equal playing field that accounts for all forms of inequality during the admissions process by engaging with different measures of deprivation.

For example, getting 41 students from a state-school in London into Oxbridge is a massive achievement, but this in itself does little to fix the educational and participation imbalance between different regions of the country. The ‘working class’ is a broad church, but it’s important to note that everyone – including poor white students from a regional background – will benefit from wider inclusion policies.

We already have methods to track regional deprivation: now it’s time we put them to use. Take the POLAR quintile. This is a postcode tool that measures the proportion of young people in a specific area that participate at different levels of education. The POLAR4 quintile specifically looks at the proportion of young people who enter higher education aged between 18 and 19 between the years 2009-10 and 2014-15. It should be taken into greater consideration during admissions procedures as part of implementing ‘clear targets to recruit white working-class students’, which the report recommends.

Fees have so far acted as a deterrent for society’s ‘residuum’. As have cuts to local government funding in deprived areas. Rather than persist with the divisive tuition system, new scholarships and maintenance grants for deprived individuals from underrepresented POLAR regions must be created immediately in those institutions showing minimal admissions from LPN backgrounds, especially where living costs are particularly high (like Oxford, Cambridge and LSE, in which LPN acceptances make up only 3%, 2% and 1% of all acceptances).

The Government, meanwhile, must undo years of regional bias in local government funding and investment. Otherwise, divides will get bigger, people will become snobbier and the UK, on the whole, will not be a particularly pleasant place to live. 

The North-East is doomed – it has been for a thousand years. But does it have to be this way?

Originally published in Backbench.

1066 is an important date in British history. It was the year William the Conqueror landed in Hastings ready to wrench the throne from the deserving (and probably dashing) English King, Harold Godwinson. But this didn’t just initiate sweeping changes in landscapes and government. It launched Anglo-Saxon England into a turbulent millennia of North-South civil unrest which continues to this day. 

The North’s seething animosity towards its Southern counterpart is more than an extended response to the violent class wars of the 1980s. Margaret Thatcher and her band of ‘dry’ economic disciples no doubt ring-fenced Northern prosperity for decades to come and intensified regional-metropolitan divides. But her crippling of Northern manufacturing industries is less important than the fact that she felt this was historically and politically acceptable – and, as a matter of fact, ‘necessary’. Why is that?

Go back 1000 years, and we find her predecessor in Duke William II of Normandy. His ‘Harrying of the North’, which involved ‘wasting’ land in an effort to deter rebellious Northern lords, established a precedent. This was the strategic and ‘necessary’ depletion of the region’s population, community and sustenance in an effort to solidify centralised governance and consolidate Norman rule. 

A 1/3 of Yorkshire was declared uninhabitable as a result. This raid laid the foundations for an embittered Northern separatist movement that has ever since struggled to wrestle itself from the yoke of Norman London and its descendants.

As the South quickly ‘Europeanised’ through trade with modern-day France, the North was weakened and subdued. York, once a powerful political contender to London, was demoted. The Archbishop of Canterbury was made supreme, with the Archbishopric of York left flailing in the remnants of its former importance. Vital trade with Scandinavia was cut off. 

Today, the castles that litter the Scottish border and East Coast of Northumberland are relics of a Norman plot that drove northern communities inwards and stripped them of their autonomy.

Unbeknownst to William, this was not to be a temporary phenomenon: it condemned the North, and particularly the North-East, to a fated political subservience that has proven all-but-impossible to overcome.

The political consequences of the Battle of Hastings are still being felt today – even if historical impasses allowed for the temporary levelling out of regional inequalities. 

Almost 800 years after the Norman Conquest, a brief pattern of co-industriousness between North and South emerged during the time of the Industrial Revolution. Back then, the North fed the capital with its vast reserves of coal and enjoyed a prodigious, though short-lived, prosperity. But fast-forward to the 1980s and Thatcher’s brutal policies signify a return to normality: a vicious re-imposition of an entrenched North-South divide that politicians feel far more comfortable with. 

Stripping Northerners of their rights in the 11th and 12th centuries was a tragedy, but imposing inequality upon them in the 21st century has far more sinister consequences. Lower life expectancies, higher suicide rates, consistently high levels of unemployment, lower central investment on infrastructure projects and culture, less spending per person on education and transport, hardly any attention in the national media and next to no representation in political professions: these are all innumerable realities that pervade parts of Northern England without any justifiable cause other than careful neglect. 

It’s no surprise that the Confederation of British Industry estimates that the North-East region will be the hardest-hit under a ‘No-Deal Brexit’, or that government support rate to Northern councils is among the highest-cut in the country. This has simply become tradition.

Indefensibly, most governments view the North-South divide as a historically determined reality over which they have no control, obviating government obligation to reverse the decay and rendering it politically fatal to commit to doing so.  George Osborne gave it a feeble attempt with his ‘Northern Powerhouse’ solution, but this hasn’t materialised in any substantive sense. 

Democratic politics commonly consists of five-year cycles that leave little time to address regional disparity with any genuineness. Just like New Labour’s stint, which did so little to revivify the North during its time in power, Jeremy Corbyn’s plans to rejuvenate the High Street will equally fall flat without adequate funding proposals and attempts to create sincere power-sharing regional authorities. Simply preventing high-street bank closures is not enough. Theresa May’s assertion, meanwhile, that the North East will ‘not be left behind’ after Brexit is highly dubious.

Norman Tebbit – one of Thatcher’s closest aides during her time in government – expressed remorse at the way the Thatcher government treated Northern mining communities many years after the damage had been done. In 2009, he claimed that the enormous ‘devastation’ inflicted by closures ‘went too far’ – ‘with people out of work turning to drugs and no real man’s work because all the jobs had gone.’ There is no doubt, he admitted, ‘that this led to a breakdown in these communities with families breaking up and youths going out of control.’

Perhaps David Cameron and Theresa May will, in due course, express their own forms of nostalgic regret about the way their governments have slashed resources and investment for deprived Northern communities. But what good is this to those who have suffered at the hands of a recurrent insensitive elite?

An EU membership referendum and then supposedly ‘Delivering on Brexit’, will not, contrary to Cameron and May’s electoral logic, make the North feel adequately ‘listened to’ or represented by those in Westminster in the long run. It will not undo years of deliberate political devastation. We need a far deeper reassessment of the country’s fundamental regional power prejudices if we ever hope to emulate a civilised nation; starting with acknowledgement that regional disparity is anathema rather than an inevitable state of affairs.  If we fail on this account, it’s clear that the next millennia will unfurl in the exact same way as the last one. The North will remain doomed, and history will happily repeat itself.