Saturday, 24 May 2008

Setting your hair on fire

I’m up in Crewe and Nantwich territory, or thereabouts, visiting family and feeling sorry for myself and the world in general. I’m supposed to be running the Buxton half marathon (‘tough but – tough’) tomorrow but I got taken out by a flying tackle at football last Sunday and I’m lucky to be walking. Two A&E visits, three doctors and half a dozen x-rays later, they’re ‘pretty sure’ nothing’s broken (what’s happened to the world when even doctors have lost their certainty?), so I’m happy about that at least.

In Stoke-on-Trent, where I spent the first 13 years of my life and the rest of the family still resides, I’m finding it hard to come up with other reasons to be cheerful. The local headline news today is the conviction of an Asian father-of-six for the manslaughter (he was acquitted of murder) of his BNP-activist neighbour (and father-of-seven) in a fight that marked the culmination of years of conflict between the two families. The convicted man attended a mosque in the street where I was born; the local councillor is from the BNP. I find it hard to come to terms with the fact that the BNP now represents the ward in which I spent much of my childhood. The party is nine strong now, on a council where Labour has just 16 councillors left from the 60-0 majority it had just a few years ago.

I find this far more disheartening than the kicking the Tories delivered in Crewe, but both reflect an alarming trend. Former Labour voters in white working-class areas are expressing their discontent big time electorally – and, in England at least, they’re doing so by casting their votes anywhere but to the left.

I caught a comment by Jeremy Hardy on Radio Four’s News Quiz on the way up here, in which he said that he could understand why people wanted to punish New Labour but he didn’t understand why the voters had gone over en masse to the Tories rather than the Greens or someone else. ‘It’s like saying “Ooh, I’ve always had my hair done at the hairdresser’s in the high street but this time I think I’ll set my hair on fire,”’ he suggested. The left would do well to consider why it is that people would rather set their hair alight than have it done at their place.

1 comment:

Fred said...

It always used to perplex me why Bury, Lancs where I grew up - a Northern 'working class' town now with little industry and high unemployment - was so Tory. I concluded it was a form of snobbery, social climbing, as though merely voting Tory automatically made you upper middle class!