Last weekend I paid a visit to the North-East of England to see my younger brother graduate from University. He got a degree in music and is leaving soon to spend a year in Australia.
It had been two weeks since the Brexit referendum and I had no idea what to expect. If the media was anything to go by then I could expect burning buildings, riots, and hate crimes on every street. It might not have been so bad if I were going into Newcastle, but I was heading down the A1 to Sunderland, the heart of the North-East Leave campaign to take back their country.
I hadn’t called my family after the vote, I didn’t want to know. I was too emotionally pummelled to deal with that.
What I did see was a grey, bleak, ghost town. I should say city but it doesn’t really feel like a city. I wandered up into the town centre from where I parked my car to find my grandparents in their favourite haunt, Neros. Shops had closed left, right, and centre. WH Smiths, which had been my Grandads first employer was now closed. It’s book lined shelves now filled with cheap, knock off, handbags and shoes, coloured lime green and called Kiwi. Which really just sums up the overall feel.
Don’t get me wrong, there is construction happening all over the city…which may get finished…at some point.
Gentrification has slowly starting dripping into areas like down at the shore, which is great, but is a little like getting a new paint job on an old Nissan that had failed it’s MOT.
My brother was hurt, and angry, he had never seen the North East quite as I do. He has always wanted to leave, but never with quite the speed I did. Now, it’s all he can do to stop himself packing his bags and running for the hills…or should I say Scottish Boarder.
A storm has been raging in the North for a long time, a storm which has been left to gather momentum by the government.
“The common people pray for rain, healthy children, and a summer that never ends,’ Ser Jorah told her. ‘It is no matter to them if the high lords play their game of thrones, so long as they are left in peace.’ He gave a shrug. ‘They never are.”
-Ser Jorah Mormont, Game of Thrones
Like in most other British cities, the younger, university educated people voted to Remain, while older, mostly retired people voted to Leave. We now have another new divide to deal with.
If you take the word EU (European Union) out of the conversation, and look at what people are talking about, it’s clear that their frustrations are mostly misplaced, and they were directed wrongly by our politicians.
My grandfather and I debated for hours on the topic of Brexit, from laws, immigration, history and the government.
He is in his mid-70s and has lived in the North-East his entire life, he worked on the ships and ran pubs with my nana. He had family work in the mines, has known steel workers, and watched his city blossom then wilt. To me, he represents his generation in the north, yet he is more knowledgable and open to discussion than many younger than he.
The storm clouds which rumbled and cracked a hallowed Labour stronghold show little signs of rolling on.
I’d like to share some of those views with you.
His views are his own, they come from his heart and removed from media bias, but as I was keen to remind him, he still reads the Daily Mail.
He told me that he left school in June when he was 15. He left on the Friday and started work on the Monday. But that is not the world we now live in.
Why do you feel leaving the EU was the best thing for our country?
Grandad: I felt, and a lot of people did, that we weren’t welcome to go into the common market at the start, we weren’t welcome. By none other than General Gauelle! He said Britain would make trouble. He wanted to be with Germany, this was after the war, in the 50’s. The British people were told we were going to be great trading partners, nothing was said about laws, we weren’t told about laws being brought here. Laws on how our courts were run, they were going to run them, we’ve been to war in Europe twice, no way! Join them and let them make laws for us? No way.
We have caused quite a bit of trouble over the years though haven’t we?
Grandad: We never should have been in.
What laws are you referring to? Human rights? Ability to deport?
Grandad: No, laws in MY land, laws about us, here. We have never went into Europe and said Here are some laws, stick to them!
I’ll pretty sure we have…
Grandad: When we were young, we were taught that we were making the world civilised. I don’t think that now, I know that now, it was wrong.
People want to do their own trade, like we did before, outside Europe, and inside. We deserted our main partners, Australia, New Zealand, South American countries, Canada.
We were told a long time ago, since the war, this country could be self sufficient. Look at the massacred fishing industry! Who gets the grants? Not them. They are decimated.
What about the EU funding? The Aquatic centre (Olympic swimming pool) was built not long ago.
Grandad: Ha! What use is that to us? I’ll tell you what it’s done. It’s got complicated pool times that are all over the place, it’s expensive and busy. But you know why its bad? Because they then closed the public baths, four of them! Now your nan doesn’t go. How has that helped?
That’s the government that shut them down not the EU.
Grandad: Governments aren’t worth nowt! It’s not a case of being safer with them down there, I don’t believe in any of the parties! Look at Neil Kinnock coming out of the wood work, he said, I will not rest till the House of Lords is gone! Oh it’s Lord Kinnock now if you please.
It’s nothing to do with believe, it’s to do with what I feel, not what those imbeciles did (referring to the Leave party), I believe we should never have been part of it.
Look at all that Eastern Bloc joining! They wanted nothing to do with us while they had the soviet, but now, Russia is crumbling, and now they want to be on our side? Is it them or do Russia want to push them onto us because they can’t afford them anymore. We trade with them! Russia!
Not freely though. The amount of blocks that get put up against Russia is still on going.
Grandad: We buy most of our electricity from there!
Again, the government, not the EU specifically.
Grandad: Have you seen what they are planning up the coast in Northumberland? Open cast Mining. 50 million tonnes of coal out in northumbria! It makes me so sad. There is enough coal under us right now to last for another 100 years, and they closed all the pits down! And bought it from Europe! Now they are doing this?
(Open Cast mining takes from the surface rather than underground.)
The Polish ship yards and all! They closed, they fought arm and leg to keep them open.
Our last Queens, the ships, got built in Italy! We built ships here for the war, Liberty Ships, they were all rush jobs, not marvellous but did the job. They needed replacing after the war. The SD14 was designed and started being built in Sunderland. We just couldn’t build them fast enough! Everyone wanted them. Then, somebody in the government, sold the licence of the SD14 to Korea and Japan, obviously for a fee. Then every beggars ship started getting built in Japan or Korea, so all the ship yards went skint!
We can’t change what happened, this won’t bring that back. We couldn’t compete with the market even if they opened up the ship yards again.
Grandad: Most people, my age, have just had enough. Did you read about Sunderland being the first town to say they want out? The country was like What? Its a labour stronghold. People said to their kids, vote Labour, and they would, but nee clue why. My old man used to question them, never just accept what a politician tells you.
It’s not like me and your nan get huge pensions, we have to apply for extra allowance. Not like those beggars down there in the government, not their pensions. Have you seen what they get? They get everything paid for them, it’s a disgrace! We pay them to look after us, but their not! They look after Europe, and themselves!
Take Branson, a few years ago, he wanted to take over the Lottery as a non-profit making Lottery. So more went back to communities, you know. What did they say? No. Most of the top dogs, government ministers, wives, all have stakes in it. One of the big wigs, don’t remember his name, might be dead now, had all his shares in his wife’s name, said no. No no. Good for the country, not for them.
Show me a politician, I’ll show you a liar.
There was Michael Foot, brilliant politician, but he didn’t look the part, they ridiculed him, the media, all of them. Made fun of a jacket he was wearing in the paper because it wasn’t a sharp tailored suit. He was an old man! And his wife bought him that jacket, expensive too it was. But brilliant politician he was and they all laughed at him. One of they comedians on the telly said I don’t know how Foot escapes Bonfire night every year! His hair was all wild like.
Don’t you see, thats exactly what they are doing now to Jeremy Corbyn?
Grandad: I haven’t made me mind up about Corbyn. The media is controlled, you don’t know what to think. Rupert Murdoch, runs all sorts.
Mind, I didn’t know the Daily mail, had a bad reputation mind.
Tony Blair, did you see him? (After the Chilcot report) He had a sob on his voice, and the look on his face, and you know what I said? He was the spitting image of Pritorius when he got sentenced.
Now I believed, when that man got the job (Blair), that this country was in for a brilliant time. I couldn’t have imagined what would happen. He was a breath of fresh air, every body was for him! Absolutely disgusting.
I think his list of employment after being Prime Minister might be even worse.
Grandad: Aye. Spokesman for Europe, ambassador in the Middle East, a war criminal! Disgusting. People are shocked, they didn’t know, the public, that he was out there. He deserves to be put up against a wall and shot, like any other war criminal!
Have you seen Have I got news for you? It is the only show I can watch, especially when they’d bring Boris Johnson on, they’d treat him like an idiot, and he’d just take it, why? Money. They’d pay him.
A lot of these guys used to go out and do reporting on war and things. Bob Geldof, have you ever hear him talk about Ethiopia recently? You know why? He went out there and saw what was happening to the aid. Guys I went to sea with, going out there, ships full of food, clothes, the ships supplied by us, sent to Ethiopia. What did they find at the harbour? Harbour dues raised 4 times the normal rate because they were coming. When the food and everything was getting unloaded the government troops were loading it into warehouses, to be stored and to feed the Ethiopian Army! People weren’t getting a thing! Even Geldof didn’t say out!
They were happy to get the stuff he was shouting for.
That’s a very complicated discussion to get into…involving Imperialism, white supremacy and our violent history…
Grandad: Yeah, well, why are we sending 100s of millions of pounds to India and Pakistan every year? They’ve said they don’t need it. India are looking at sending a guy to the moon! We can’t even send someone to the moon. Aid for their poor, but if they can afford a space program they don’t have poor people, we know that’s not true but still.
Give them their due, I’ve not noticed anything in the papers, or been preached at by a Hindu or Sikh. Islam is set on world domination.
Like Christians were?
Grandad: Not now. Ha, we’ve given up on Christianity really, except maybe the pope.
We don’t get preached to as bad as other countries do. I don’t see christians trying to get you to church. Scientologists? Muslims? We want this. We want that. Have you seen the size of the Mosque next to your Aunties? Mosque here, mosque there, one was a cafe, they were flocking in there, to use as a mosque, it was dangerous, no fire escape doors or anything! The local council said stop, so they said okay, but kept on using it anyway. Now again, the size of the new one! The loudspeakers, shouting the odds, they think they are in the majority, must be their way. Not even got a car park! The amount of people that are going to go in there and it’s all narrow streets, where are they all going to park?
That’s freedom of religion, just because it’s different doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be allowed.
Grandad: See people from here going out there? The government are trying to stop people leaving. In 1936 huge amounts of people volunteered and went to Spain to fight in their civil war, but now we are stopping them going. Why? Same principle. Young girls, going to go over and marry one of them Jihadist, very clever. Some of them want to come back, but they’re not preaching about that. Shooting every bugger, bombing every bugger.
What you’re talking about is Isis, extremists, they don’t represent Islam. Did you see the recent bombing at the end of Ramadan?
Grandad: Oh aye…it’s awful. In their countries, they couldn’t do the things they do here, especially the women. But none of them are prepared to stand up and say something! Why don’t they go over there and say something about it.
Because they would likely be killed?
Grandad: Well aye, they’d go and fight them, get rid of them, stop all the fighting themselves. We’ve done too much fighting for other peoples countries.
That’s like saying why doesn’t my brother go and fight for his country
Grandad: Well because he doesn’t want to. They make their mouths go from here about whats happening over there. What do they want us to do? Go over for them. We’re not fighting over there anymore. Again, Tony Blair, we did nothing to stabilise, got rid of Saddam Hussain and came out, now look at it!
It’s very rare you’d see other Muslims condemning them.
Remind me to set you up with a Twitter account soon. People are speaking out but your newspapers aren’t going to print that.
Grandad: Well yeah, I know it’s not all of them. There was a load of people, muslims, sikhs and all kinds with a stall on the town not so long ago. No information or anything but drinks and little cake things. I went over to talk to a guy and said can you tell me what this is in aid of? Nothing in particular, he said, just a gesture of people trying to be friendly. We had a good chat, nice guy.
The fact that he hadn’t mentioned anything about Europeans, the people going to be impacted by leaving the EU, hadn’t escaped me.
The main question on many peoples lips have been, what about Nissan? It’s a huge employer here. What will happen if they go?
Grandad: Ha. Look, sweetie, we’ve got nothing anyway. It might go, but whats new?
There is only so much neglect, injustice, lack of opportunities and manipulation people can take before they say enough is enough. Labour seemed to forget about his area, taking it for granted to be a Labour stronghold no matter the weather. But those Mines and Ship yards have been closed for 20 years and they are still waiting.
My aim in writing this is to try and shed a little more light on the complexities driving our nation. Misrepresentation and biased media, people fed a diet of lies, hope and an idea of what it means to be British by politicians desperate to keep people blaming everyone but they have led our country down the path of inequality, poverty and confusion.
I’ll keep looking for a silver lining, I’m sure it’s out there somewhere.