Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Housing, People & Regionalism in the UK

by Brian Bamford  
AT the Green Gathering in the Methodist Hall Oldham Street in Manchester, last Saturday, Dr. Roz Fox from Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU), a qualitative analyst, said: 
'The city of Manchester is the fastest growing city outside of London, and there have been interim talks about the city needing 200,000 homes by 2030.'  The academic  argued that 'housing is not just about bricks and mortar, but more importantly 'about people; the local labour market; land availability and social facilities.'   
This all has now to be accomplished in an era of public service cuts and an increasingly ageing population.  
This has to happen at a time when devolution is becoming fashionable.  According to Dr. Fox, the challenges now are what type of properties are required, and most important how do with involve people in the decision-making.   
Meanwhile, last Tuesday, in Haringey civic centre councillors were heckled while debating plans to rip communities apart, and hand control to a private entity.  Aditya Chakrabortty wrote about the Haringey case on Friday 20th, January 2017:  'At its heart is a programme that is among the most audacious I've ever seen.  Haringey wants to privatise huge swaths of public property: family homes, school buildings, its biggest library.  All of it will be stuck in a private fund worth £2bn.'  The fear is that areas of north Manchester between Bury, Rochdale and Oldham something rather similar is in danger of happening as armies of protesters gather to protect what they perceive as the threat to the Green Belt. 
In an article about anti-social behavior in the North East, Neil Tweedie in the Mail on Saturday last November, claimed that 'Grimsby is a long way from the oak-paneled conference rooms of the government departments in Whitehall...' but that 'Cameron's project to "cure" Broken Britain (started in 2011) ' had cost '£450m' and it had 'achieved nothing-apart from exposing Whitehall incompetence, deceitful councils, the vanity of politicians... and how they squander YOUR money'.

Regions of the UK

In England, the culture of centralism dominates in a strange way of a kind of surburban relationship and attachment to London.  In 1905, the novelist Henry James declared:  'All England is in suburban relation (to London).'  
Since the beginning of the 20th Century the south and particularly London have come to dominate the English economy and culture.  The historian, Tristram Hunt, in concluding his book 'Building Jerusalem' (2004) wrote:  'The corporate and financial stampede southward was quickly followed by the political parties, the media (including the Manchester Guardian), the professional establishment (from lawyers to doctors to accountants to architects), the cultural elite, even the representatives of organised labour.' 
Centralisation is the problem confronting this country.  One or two comments last week, on this NV Blog suggested that DevoManc, as it is now being presented, is a top-down phenomena.  
The regions and localities of the England, unlike Scotland, lack the self-confidence and imagination required to promote a bold self-identity that could compare with provinces in France or the regionalism on the Spanish peninsular.  Notions of federalism seem alien in the English regions. 
I think that in Northern Voices' we have identified a broad North-South dichotomy, but the various particular regions lack confidence and up to now have had a provincial insecurity in relation to the metropolis that is London. 
This has not always been the case, Tristram Hunt again in 'Building Jerusalem' wrote:  'In the Victorian era, that metropolitan imperialism appeared out-dated as the great northern civilisations established themselves as core components of the cultural firmament.' 
Neither the Green Gathering last Saturday nor the Andy Burnham Manifesto Meeting last Thursday tackled this problem of building an awareness of regional identity, although in the workshops of the Burnham meeting it was asked 'How do we change mind-sets?'.

The Future of Federalism in the UK?

In France the French Revolution finished off the work of Louis XIV and gave France a powerful highly centralised state.  In Spain the Liberal Revolution imitated this development.  Then in both countries came a reaction to this centralisation with movements for greater local and municipal liberty. 
In France this reaction was best expressed by Pierre Joseph Proudhon, who put forward those ideas which, he believed, the French Revolution had come into existence to fulfil, but which had been diverted by the ruthless political action of the Jacobins. 
In Spain, with its intense provincial feelings and local patriotisms, one would have expected the movement towards decentralisation to be even greater,but because of the consequences for Spain after the Napoleonic Wars and the fact that Carlism drew into its ranks many of the forces of resistance to Liberal centralism, these feelings didn't for some time make their appearance among the parties of the Left.  Only as an result of the work of Pi y Margall, a Catalan, who knew and understood the social and political ideas of Proudhon, did he grasp that these ideas best suited the aspirations of his countrymen.  It was through the efforts of Pi y Margall that the Federal movement in Spain grew in the 1860s.  
Unlike France and Spain, no such popular radical movement to express the local and regional spirit in a federalist manner has yet developed in England.  This may be because as an island we have been isolated from the continental currents which are still prevalent in Europe.  It may be because anarchism and organised regionalism, have been half-baked traditions.  Marxism, even though the Communist Party itself has never caught on in Britain, has had a wider influence in the universities than anarchism or federalism.

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