John Bird: Drawing a line in the sand after the politics of neglect

"How do we build a new political and social alliance out of the ruins of the compromise British society has lived for so long?"

I saw a map displayed on a poster outside the British Library the other day. And I was shocked. As if the water had been drained out of the seas it showed the scarred and weird world at the bottom of the ocean.

It looked like the skeleton of the world and I had never seen it presented like that before. Strangely I had been talking in Blackpool earlier at a college and had mentioned my idea of starting a water-bottling business in that town. But the water wouldn’t come from some hill bore-hole; rather, it would be extracted from the sea. It would be desalinated water, in other words.

There are, though, some issues I need to resolve around extracting water. They will be resolved because we will have to end up drinking the infinite rather than the finite.

Blackpool is one of those places that needs a giant investment of money. It needs new jobs, and not simply the stuff that keeps people just about managing. It needs prosperity and that is not simply going to come through the usual government support. You need opportunities where businesses move there.

Blackpool is one of those places that needs a giant investment of money

The only recent investment seems to be a fracking site a few miles out of town. That will produce jobs – but what kind, and at what costs to the environment?

Margate, another seaside town – they do seem to be suffering – has managed to begin to turn itself around by building the Turner Contemporary gallery on the beach. This has pushed up visitor numbers and generally aided the local economy.

Government and businesses have to work in tandem and help bring hope and deliver prosperity in order to revitalise the many Blackpools there are in the UK.

It is a charming place, and the trams and bracing sea are worth a journey. And of course Britain’s own Eiffel Tower – Blackpool Tower. And, like much of the North, it was a place that largely voted to leave Europe.

There is a direct relationship between poverty and the vote. I raised the question in the House of Lords that if you were socially mobile you tended to vote to stay; but if you were socially immobile, not getting much out of life, you tended to vote Brexit.

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Of course there are exceptions, as my mail bag shows. A retired couple letting me know that they used Waitrose yet voted to leave. This was in reference to my recent article that tried to suggest buying habits, smoking and so on were a way of fathoming who voted what way.

Brexit seems to bring out outrage among many of the people who have written to me. ‘Appalled’ is a word thrown around greatly. On reflection, though, isn’t it true that much of the rage comes from not expecting the result, as well as Trump’s triumph?

Weren’t we shocked because we never expected it? We seemed to sleepwalk into it, borrowing historian Christopher Clark’s imagery of how the Great War started. Only after we have woken up to this history changer; and no, I still cannot think of a comparable time. Although I did compare it to the execution of King Charles I. It was that big.

It would seem more social mobility produces more contentment with the status quo

Feeling let down, feeling powerless and feeling alienated might not be every leaver’s reasoning. But enough people did, and now we live the consequences of neglect and the sense of loss.

How do we build a new political and social alliance out of the ruins of the compromise British society has lived for so long? That produced the rejectors; or enough of them.

For we will need to build a social consensus; but one that is real and is not imaginary. If we get more people socially mobile we may find an appetite to rejoin a Europe that we have exited. This may be a long shot but it would seem more social mobility produces more contentment with the status quo. Remain rather than exit.

Blackpool beaches, by the way, get the blue flag for cleanliness and good clean water. So there’s something to build on.

And Blackpool and the Fylde College is a bustling harbinger of, hopefully, a better future for people on this Lancashire coast, doing much to spread the social opportunity that is the basis of all social mobility.

John Bird is the Founder and Editor in Chief of The Big Issue. Email him: john.bird@bigissue.com or tweet: @johnbirdswords