Industrialisation—and its delicine—have forged the psyche of the modern northernerby Chris Moss / November 10, 2020 / Leave a comment
The north-south divide is a cliché as much as it is a genuine geographical schism. It can be easily reduced to Thatcher vs the miners or become a convenient peg for accounts highlighting the brilliance of Mancunian pop music, Yorkshire fiction or Wigan pies (usually penned by northerners based in the capital).
Shunning simplifications and panegyrics, Tom Hazeldine takes us on a 500-year tour of the northern counties. Northern support for the Royalist cause during the Civil War does not sit easily with the mythologising of Peterloo or Jarrow. Instead it reminds us how backward-looking the north was before 1800, and how regional leaders there often wanted to maintain the status quo. Industrialisation was the crucible of the modern northern psyche—but the boom years were over all too soon. The social and environmental legacies of factories, mills, canals and mines have been mixed: success was filthy and violent; decline has been devastating.
A useful complement to both Frank Musgrove’s The North of England (1990) and Dave Russell’s Looking North (2004), Hazeldine’s book is particularly strong on the postwar period, during which both Labour and Tory governments wrestled with the northern question and failed to provide an answer. The recent repainting in blue of the so-called “red wall” in the 2019 election and Boris Johnson’s appeal to a large section of northern society—latterly dented by his handling of the pandemic—merely demonstrates how the north-south motif continues to be exploited as a political tool. “Does the deep recession accompanying the pandemic contain its own levelling tendency?” the author asks, though without much conviction.
The real divide, he suggests, is between London and everywhere else: the north is merely noisier in bewailing its subjugation.
The Northern Question: A Political History of the North-South Divide by Tom Hazeldine (Verso, £20)