Economics and similar, for the sleep-deprived

A subtle change has been made to the comments links, so they no longer pop up. Does this in any way help with the problem about comments not appearing on permalinked posts, readers?

Update: seemingly not

Update: Oh yeah!

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

I can't go back to Salford now, the police have got me marked

From the Guardian, a hard tale of life round Jamie's way. This one really ought to be set in schools as a test of "advanced reading between the lines", as it seems pretty clear to me that there is also a tale here of heroically daft behaviour (which would run - man tries to effectively join a teenagers' gang, gets new girlfriend and wants to chuck all of local mates, constantly blames police for problems while making it impossible for them to help him, out of a totally misplaced belief in Manc omerta - I mean, at one point "Kenny" is " youngest son of the most feared family in the area" and untouchable, but nine paragraphs later he's suddenly found an ASBO in his breakfast cereal and is forced to obey it. Who sorted out that then?).[1] But blaming the victim aside, Jesus Christ, what a bloody story. I think he probably made money on the house though[2].

This is another dispatch from the "white working class"[tm] wars, by the way, and I frankly don't see how the John Cruddas council house scheme (which I reiterate would involve getting rid of the right to buy, something that the working class would not necessarily thank you for) would help. I'm particularly interested in the anti-Polish racism angle - this was the cornerstone of the BNP's surge in Wrexham in the 2006 elections, although it appears from the results that they are nowhere electorally in Salford (only running a candidate in one ward, which AFAICT wasn't this one). I would not necessarily read too much specifically racist content into the nativist rant that the attacker comes out with toward the end of the story - it looks just like a normal bully's speech to me - but on the other hand, the wild insularity of these little urban islands certainly is the sort of thing that racism is made of (the author notes that he had spent "the majority of his adult life in Moss Side and Hulme", but this might just mean "was a student" - unless there are two Ed Joneses in Lancashire journalism, he's the ex-bass player for Tansads and actually from Wigan, which might as well be Vancouver as far as passing for a native was concerned). (Update: there must be two of them - the biographical details for the Tansads guy just don't fit).

But I don't think that the problem here is really anti-East European racism - it's the more general category of bullyism. If Ed Jones and his Polish and Slovakian friends hadn't moved into that house and fallen out with the local bullies [3], then the bullies would have been picking on someone who'd lived in Salford all their life, because that's what bullies do. What to do about that is the ten ton gorilla of all social policy questions, because it absolutely goes to the heart of a whole load of issues which we all care about. If there are areas like this, then they are going to be not unlike the Salford that Ed Jones describes, because there is basically the choice is between economic development (which changes the character of the area and its community), and continued state subsidy through the benefit system (which has the corrosive effects described). I would say that it's the communities that need to be sacrificed, but I would guess that the Salfordians would disagree, and they get a vote too.

My personal view is that the Cruddas council house plan - and any other plan which subsidises the maintenance of these communities by "allowing children to live near their parents" - is exactly the worst of both worlds. It seems to me to be subsidising the existing social structures without making any real provision for economic development[4]. I think that's going to create communities that are inescapably and intractably tangled up with state involvement - both in terms of the economic subsidy and the implicit dependence on the broadly-defined law enforcement community (including social services, the council ASBO teams etc) to shore up the very social structures that we're trying to maintain. At some point I really must write the Great Welsh Holiday Cottages Post, because that's my mental model of regional development, but I really do believe that the Welsh nationalists wasted at least ten years in trying to preserve a past tense agrarian society, before basically getting with the program and seeing that there really is no substitute for economic development.

Update: Of course, these urban and suburban islands have a particularly important place in the electoral geography of the UK as they are historically the solidest of solid Labour, and this is a big problem. I've written in the past about how the "local politics" that this encourages in MPs like Hazel Blears is probably counterproductive to national politics and suspect that this might be a real problem for Labour, in that the future for these areas lies in one of two directions - either they go down the Barking & Dagenham route with increasing far-right nationalist presence, or the way of the Welsh Valleys, which are much, much less solidly Labour than they used to be.

By the way, assuming that the BBC plan to relocate 1,500 jobs to the mediacity:uk[5] complex means that there is likely to be a thin four thousand middle class Southerners heading for this district, clutching the sale proceeds of a flat in Shepherd's Bush. Jeepers Creepers. Enter the dragon, exit Johnny Clark.

[1] Also there's a little question mark in my mind about the author's admission of having "done two years in jail", which is actually quite difficult to achieve because four year custodial sentences (edit; I've just realised that "two years" doesn't necessarily mean "24 consecutive months" and "in jail" might include "on remand", so this might not be right, see comments) are not handed out for scrumping apples, or indeed much else other than aggravated mugging or possession of Class A Drugs with intent to supply. Whatever the author did, it's clearly in the past because at the end of the day he did get the mortgage on the house but I can't help thinking that a lot of the problem here comes from not having lost the habits picked up when he was doing whatever got him the jail sentence.

[2] Assuming it's in Broughton, which is where Hazel Blears did an ASBO walkabout in 2007, then four-bedroom terraced houses are going for about £120k - there is one up for auction with a guide price of £90k at the moment, and if you buy it, my advice is to get a big dog.

[3] Not all of the people in that story fit into this category, though, and I (making allowances that it is probably pretty fucking difficult to be objective about this sort of thing when you've been forced out of your bloody house) am not too keen on the way that some of them are referred to. "Michelle", in particular (she goes to raves and takes Es! Feel the desolation!), gets a writeup that really isn't far from what Julie Burchill is talking about in her articles on "cultural racism", plus the Eastern Europeans are given quite a chance to make sneery comparisons with "the culture of degradation around them".

[4] I realise I'm thinking about this as a development economics problem rather than a social policy one. Not sure about the implications of this.

[5] I don't know why, but jokey harrumphs about the use of typography in branding these developments are just beginning to seem a bit 2003 to me. Neville Brody (by which I mean "David Hillman", see comments) kicked off the whole phenomenon with TheGuardian in 1987 and it appears to me that post the iPod, it's here to stay.


61 comments this item posted by the management 1/08/2008 04:22:00 AM

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