I feel it is necessary to post my analysis of what is happening in Northern ex-mining / working class communities such as Doncaster at the moment. The situation this country is facing at the moment (either leaving the EU or remaining in the EU) will change politics in the UK forever and shouldn’t be taken lightly. The EU referendum campaign is getting uglier and more depressing by the minute.
I feel is a perfect opportunity to discuss politics in white working class areas more. I am aware that though I was born here, I am analysing these areas as both an insider and outsider due to my afro-caribbean heritage, my educational background and the fact I have only moved back into the area from Leeds around 3 years ago.
The political landscape here in Doncaster at the moment feels incredibly uncomfortable and anti-immigrant sentiment and right-wing politics in my personal opinion seems to have spread. The main question we should be asking is how did this come to be in areas that always leaned towards the relatively more “left wing” Labour movement? What can we learn from history?
The majority of media focus has been on what I see as “angry white working class people”; the views of ethnic minorities including those from Asian, black, Jewish, Irish Traveller, Roma Gypsy and Eastern European communities unfortunately pushed aside often by the media. I have witnessed an obsession with the image of white English working class wanting as Michael Gove drones on a million times “to take back control” (the teachers he fucked over during his time as as education minister are saying the same at the moment about their workload).
If we were to listen to economists, academics and other ‘experts’ it can safely be said that an overwhelming majority state that leaving the EU would as a result make working people and those from lower socio-economic backgrounds worse off and the statistics and research is clear. Bad for individuals and bad for business. Leaving the EU is if we look at the statistics and analyse history a bad move. If we use common sense – leaving the single market and making trade more difficult with neighbours means those neighbours will find business elsewhere (just ask China about the benefits of opening up to trade).
Statistics and numbers are not in favour of the Brexit camp, however Brexit campaigners seem to have learned a lot from the SNP during their Scottish Independence campaign which seen all logical economic cases against Independence brushed off as project fear and Tory party lies; lies stirred by the powers that be who are trying to hold back good folks fighting for a better society. What I have seen when it comes to arguments made by reputable and well respected academics, graduates, economists, professionals (medical, etc) and other experts in various fields is the brushing off of their advice; politicians almost screaming to the public that experts more than often seem to get things wrong and are mostly biased and out to oppress the public. This has resulted in feelings of confusion, distrust and fear among people in ex-mining communities who are often ignored by politicians and academics, economists and other so-called ‘experts’ in the first place.
In the context of the Doncaster area mistrust of ‘professionals’ can be seen to be exacerbated, especially when all the various high profile cases to hit the area are taken into account. Well known conflicts such as ‘the miners strike’, cases such as Edlington (which resulted in Doncaster being labeled nationwide as dysfunctional, social work professionals demonized and the first Local Authority to have their social services taken from their control), Donny Gate, English Democrat Mayor Peter Davies and recent developments involving South Yorkshire Police (Hillsbrough, etc). The Independent puts it bluntly stating Doncaster has “an unwanted notoriety for failing children’s services, political corruption and industrial decline.”
The so-called ‘experts’ often do not know how to engage with the white working class in mining areas. Tension between ‘experts’ and people in mining communities is nothing new and can definitely be reflected in past studies of these areas. Past research of mining communities has been criticised for giving a distorted picture of the case study areas they were analysing by residents and prominent figures in the chosen case study areas. Field notes by Warwick and Littlejohn (1992) from an interview with a local trade unionist and Labour councillor address this issue regarding the most prominent research into culture in mining communities Coal is our Life by Dennis, Henriques and Slaughter (1969). They express the participant’s feelings of betrayal regarding the portrayal of his community; emphasising the argument that “outsiders continually get the place and its people all wrong” and that the researchers involved in the Coal is Our Life study only looked for evidence which would support the stereotypes and preconceived ideas they had about the area.
“They had seriously betrayed the trust that had been showed to them, bitten the hands that fed them with information. The place was represented as a cultural desert, full of drunken, wife-beating miners who only thought of beer, baccy and betting, Rugby League, football and girls of low morals” (field notes, 1981, quoted by Warwick and Littlejohn, 1992).
The simplistic explanation given through mainstream media to often describe this phenomenon is simply that these areas (the north in general) are not very diverse, are full of angry and racist working class people (mostly white men) that have been ignored by Labour in favour of middle class people living in cosmopolitan Southern cities such as London, Bristol and Brighton where people reap the benefits of a ‘multicultural society’ and a better economy. Whilst there are truths in these they simply do not do justice in explaining in detail as to why these areas seem to have embraced the “Brexit” campaign more than lets say nearby regional capitals.
What is often ignored is the complex histories of the areas that the white working class populate; addressing issues of industrial decline, historically low educational engagement, the decline of traditional masculine jobs, the rise of the service sector, the boom in the warehousing industry and relatively more homogenous communities.
The brexit votes from ex-mining communities are rather votes reflecting a long period of frustration, tension (both racial and class based) and a result of fearmongering. The white working class in these areas are experiencing transition and a fear of change. To understand why the white working class in these areas are seen to be more in favour of a ‘Brexit’ it is important to understand the history and geography of these areas.
The capital and regional capitals vs. everywhere else (Doncaster)
One important thing to address is the diversity of these areas often defined by the media as ‘working class’ communities. Often enough no distinction is made between towns such as Doncaster and cities and in the case of the north, the region is often clumped together and simply defined as ‘the north’. Like these communities are all the same. There are significant differences between Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield and areas of industrial decline such as Barnsley, Doncaster, St.Helens, Wigan and Castleford.
Mining areas such as those in the Doncaster region are unique due to relatively lower levels of immigration linked to the nature of industry and business in the area (Doncaster Town Centre itself during the eithteenth and early nineteenth centuries were dominated by the leisure industry, in particular by Doncaster Racecourse).
The regional capitals of Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield despite still annoyingly depicted as being ignored and relatively more homogeneous areas that are still stuck in the 90s are now arguably be cosmopolitan, diverse and thriving cities with growing economies and increasing investment from the private sector. In case of Leeds, it is particularly known for it’s legal and financial sectors; boasting the largest functional economic centre outside of central London. The city also boasts an established, reputable Russell Group University (Leeds University) and also Leeds Metropolitan University which bring with them large student populations in mainly areas of North Leeds. All of this means these areas have relatively larger numbers of residents that can be defined as young middle class professionals (my God, let me never use that word again).
There are also historical factors to take into perspective as areas such as Leeds and Manchester and even to an extent nearby towns such as Huddersfield (which can now arguably by seen simply as a commuter and University town) experienced immigration on a large scale from Commonwealth countries such as India during the Industrial Revolution and also later in the Twentieth Century large numbers of Afro-Caribbean immigrants settling in areas such as Chapeltown in Leeds and Moss Side in Manchester, which to this day still boast high numbers of people of Caribbean descent. Worries of immigration are higher in areas with relatively little immigration as UKIP’s lack of success in areas such as London and other major UK cities proves.
*Part 2 coming soon*