Sunday, December 02, 2007

The North-South divide

We have to decide whether we stay living here or move back to London at the turn of the year. That is the timetable we set ourselves. Whether we end up staying or go back (I was going to say "home" there - oops), I am feeling increasingly frustrated by the bad news stories coming out of the North-East.

Twenty to 25 years ago, it was all pit closures and heavy industry closing with a constant stream of job losses in shipbuilding and engineering. No one rolled over and no one gave up - unions fought for jobs, "management" pulled together buy-outs and there was a fierce struggle for American and Japanese investment in car building and the high tech sector. There is still a skills issue in the labour market courtesy of the heritage of unskilled and semi-skilled jobs. But more people are in employment in the region than ever before. The implication behind the stories on Northern Rock, the child benefit debacle and this latest political fandango over David Abrahams is that something is "not quite right" about the North-East. Perhaps they are not as sharp as they are down South; the financiers oblivious to risk, the underpaid poor bloody infantryman following orders - oblivious to the need for security and rigor? As for the eccentric property developer, the conspiracy theories whisper that it might be the Israelis or it might just be that the Labour party of the 1970s is alive and well and living on Tyneside. Cor blimey. I do not think I knew what "community" was till I moved to the North-East. I have found the people to be sharp, funny, immensely decent and infinitely generous. I thought it might be the right time to say so. Perhaps I will open up an account with Northern Rock, pay in my next child benefit cheque and use the interest to send a donation to the Labour Party - in my own name naturally. I wonder if that would help my Northern credentials?

30 comments:

Intyloper said...

I agree with you about the community.

But there are some things about the North East – or at least Tyne and Wear – which has helped these coincidental events happen: the isolation and the combination of arrogance and inadequacy.

Northern Rock would not have got into such problems if it had been headquartered in London. It was the only financial company of any scale in Newcastle and the lack of communication and employee interaction with others in financial service companies meant that management never heard the message that they were building an unsustainable house of cards.

Tyne and Wear is a one party region. This breeds a disregard for the law or even any proper sense of perspective. “Don’t you know who I am?”. It’s not surprising that this lead to illegal party donations especially when coupled with a highly moralising if not moralistic government.

And lastly: those lost discs. Yes, that could have happened anywhere. But I wonder how many senior DWP or Treasury civil servants (never mind ministers) have ever spent more than a token couple of hours in the offices at Washington to get an understanding of what it is like to work in a vast office factory disconnected from the real world, and to understand the morale and attitudes of the people entrusted with handling enormous amounts of taxpayer money (and data).

mutterings and meanderings said...

I never considered these issues to be 'northern problems'.

Intyloper, after the region was cut adrift by greed-is-good Tories in the 1980s who couldn't give a toss about working class, non-champagne guzzling ordinary people, do you wonder that the Conservatives do not have a foothold here?

Oh, and Newcastle City Council is Lib Dem-controlled.

On the whole, the Labour politics in this part of the world are very different to those of New Labour.

Swearing Mother said...

In my experience of working for a huge organisation (the NHS) it is frightening how little management appear to know about the way the whole thing is run. Sure, they attend all the meetings, read all the graphs, drag their lap-top computers around all day long but their view is of a much more distant objective than the ground roots one that we are working on, so it's inevitable that they won't get to know the ins and outs of working practice as handed down by word of mouth. Guidelines (except for medical procedures in the case of the NHS) are hardly ever written down, no one knows the rules which often get made up as they go along, existing and often disgruntled staff are responsible for what little training is given to new people. Consequently, bad as well as good practice habits are passed from one to the other in the absence of any formal protocol. Common sense doesn't seem to feature in many departments, just custom and practice. I guess this is much the same within many massive organisations.

This is what I think happened in the case of the DWP and Treasury. Some poor sod was given a couple of discs to send out, didn't think to ask how and bunged them in the internal post as usual. Presumably, this isn't an isolated occurance either, I bet it's the way they've always done it and probably would have continued to do so if these two CDs hadn't gone astray, causing the balloon to go up in a spectacular fashion. Whether this would have happened in London or not, I don't know, but this sort of cock-up will continue to occur until managers become more aware of and less detached from the real work which is done in their names by people who earn far less than they do.

I feel sorry that this should have happened up north because it will help fuel the myth that good work can only be done in London.

Wifey, it's going to be a hard decision to make re your possible return. By the sound of your blog of late you have found friendship and contentment to a certain extent. But the pull of "home" - ah well, that's another thing.

Potty Mummy said...

Sounds like you might be going to stay, though, despite all that...

Stephanie said...

Hey stay, don't go, why go back to the grim streets of Metropolis when you can breath the clean Northumbrian air, scramble over the North Pennines and have breakfast at the Hartside Cafe... what other life is more beautiful.

Moi said...

I can't remember how long you've been living up there, but one or two years isn't long enough to shake off the London veneer. I started to feel I really lived here (Glos) after about five years...five very long years. When I go back to London now, I go back as a stranger.

Flat Out said...

After reading the fule Jasper Gerard spouting about the North East in The Observer today, it cheered me up to read your blog this evening. Thanks from the East...

Iota said...

You talk of 'community', of people who are funny and sharp, decent and generous. You're aggrieved by the bad press the North East receives. That smacks of loyalty. I think you are going to stay. At least for the time being.

The Grocer said...

I hate to do this on Wifey's blog but intyloper, you haven't a clue.

1. Tyne & Wear doesn't exist, there is no Tyne & Wear and hasn't been for many years.

2. Northen Rock would have been fine if based in London, poppycock. If yoy genuinely believe that the directors of a Plc can operate without any advisors or contact with other "city" companies your living in cloud cuckoo land. "An unsustainable house of card", easy to be wise after the event, although I didn't notice the big American companies not located in the North East managing to avoid the problem. Also since when were A&L based in Newcastle? They too have just been highlighting changes to their business model as a result of similar issues.

3. A one party region, others have already highlighted that Newcastle Council is controlled by Lib Dems and has been for some time.

The only arrogance is your own thinking your views are relevant rather than the inadequate and stereotypical over generalisations they are.

laurie said...

i don't know anything about politics. but didn't you just spend most of the last year remodeling your house?

and now you would leave?

Crystal Jigsaw said...

You can't leave, Wifey. My Crystal Ball indicates you have found happiness amongst us Northerners. It is no longer grim up North. More a breath of fresh air. Especially since you have moved here.

Best wishes, Crystal xx

Marianne said...

Sounds as though you are recovering from your fall downstairs. It does take a while to get back to whatever passes for normal, though.

I shall be interested to see what you decide. As a reluctant incomer here 20 odd years ago, there have been many wobbly moments, but many compensations too.

Winchester whisperer said...

I hope you decide to stay: Old Wife on the North doesn't sound a good title.

Winchester whisperer said...

nor does ex-Wife in the North

sunshine said...

Wifey, setting yourself a deadline does sound like a good move. In this country, we say "sh-t or get off the pot"......

When uncomfortable, it is so easy to vascillate about in/out of a situation. If you decide to move back South, you will do it fully. If you decide to stay in the North, you are requiring yourself to cut the umbillical cord which has held you to your past.

You must be having a difficult time -- you both are deciding for a whole family -- not just yourselves. But in any family, no one is content if Mom isn't content!

Jeff said...

We also say, "Look before you leap", and "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds". Deadlines are fine if we have some goal behind them. However, this deadline seems somewhat arbitrary, at least from the reader's viewpoint, driven only by some anxiety about life in the North. If I find nothing but anxiety behind a deadline I have set, I usually ignore the deadline and try instead to find the reason for the anxiety.

Follow your heart...

Intyloper said...

Grocer, I thought the purpose of a comment facility was to comment. That’s why I did.


The Metropolitan county of Tyne and Wear certainly does still exist; of the five (unitary) councils within its boundaries, one, Newcastle (representing about a quarter of the population and area), is Lib-Dem controlled. The other four are Labour controlled. All of the MPs in the county are Labour.


A&L is also headquartered outside London, in Leicester.


If you look back, quite a few people had expressed fears that Northern Rock was over-trading. It’s not just hindsight: I for one decided about three years ago not to be a customer. Formal paid advisers rarely tell the whole story: informal feedback is much more useful.



My comments weren’t meant to be critical of the North East, which I love. They were an observation. Its isolation is a real problem for its economic development (although an advantage if you are retired).

Karen said...

A&L is headquartered in Liverpool.

Eats Wombats said...

Having moved from a smallish university town in the a rural part of the Philippines, where I lived for 8 years, to London (in January) I understand the dilemma.

And I had a longer distance long distance relationship for the last couple of years. You've never mentioned using Skype and a webcam. It's no panacea but maybe worth trying. At least you have no time zone difference.

In the end one is attached to people. I have had the experience of returning to a city I knew well and finding it very changed and devoid of anyone I knew. It's a spooky Rip van Winkle feeling. If you have long term roots in London I'd keep them.

However, I feel about London as I did about my last abode: however much I like it I'd be miserable if I had to stay forever, if it was a permanent home, with no escape. Time away and choice makes you see things differently.

The quality of one's personal relations and of one's closeness to nature in a small community is very different.

In the end I aspire to being a swallow and to migrate back and forth. A perch in a city, which may or may not be London, and in the country.

Paradise Lost In Translation said...

I think you've only been in Northumberland a year haven't you? Give yourself more time. When we moved to Sri Lanka 2 yrs ago, it was our '1st posting'. Having spent all 16 yrs of our marrie dlife in Oxford. Rooted in a community, with friends, family etc. All the seasoned ex-pats round me told me it takes at least a yr to find one's feet. It did. Now nearly two yrs on, I feel 'content', though not as much as 'happy'.I have a small community and some genuine friends. Trouble is we're now moving again. And I have to start all over again, again. Give yourself more time, so you can say, and feel, you really made a go of it. or you will never know what might have been, whereas London, won't that just be 'more of the same'? Reverting to your 'old life' again? And who knows maybe Macbeth is right, if you choose not to go on any further in the north, perhaps "returning were as tedious as go o'er"......

The Grocer said...

Intyloper, let's take the Tyne & Wear argument somewhere else, see today's post at http:famousforallkinds.blogspot.com.

Wifey, stay, if only for the pease pudding.

farming-frenchstyle said...

If it were me I'd stay. No language problems (ish) to speak of, a lovely countryside, great place for the kids, near to country and seaside - am I jealous? Yes. We were in Cumbria, but are now in Fance. Lovely, yes, but with the language barrier. Enjoy!

oap of the north said...

Your life sounds preety good. I have lived in North Yorkshire for 15 years and still pine to go home. It is much easier to move when you have children or are a church goer then you have some commom ground.. When your children are grown and you live in a village how do you meet people. I have joined in every local event, run stalls etc. but have never made any friends.I love the scenery and the lack of traffic but as for northeners being friendly not in my experience. I have grown used to my own company and resigned to having to stay put. I don't spend my time moaning about how good life was in the "south" but get on with things. I help in a nearby charity shop and belong to several organisations, I have had people in for meals and never been invited back - not even for a coffee. Somedays I wonder what is the matter with me but it wasn't like that in the south. I fill my time and have grown used to being lonely.

wakeupandsmellthecoffee said...

If your husband is in London all the time and you're on your own with the kids, moving back sounds like a tempting option. But I don't think the news stories you mention should sway you one way or the other. They could and do happen anywhere. London is as full of corruption as any other place. In my experience of moving (from Florida to New York, from New York to England), I have found that it takes at least five years to feel a part of a community. Also, the distance can do something to your vision, making it distinctly rosy-coloured. But if you're a born-and-bred Londoner, with all the good and bad that goes with it, then you'll never feel at home elsewhere.

A Mother's Place is in the Wrong said...

I don't know, Wifey, it's a big decision for all of you - but I think you said it all when you nearly said "home". Best regards, M.

sophie said...

wifey, please stay; create a lovely garden of your own. Not possible in London unless you are a zillionairess.Plus your plants do not need to be pollution resistant. I have many cuttings waiting for you.

Peter from Putney said...

My guess is you'll go - I was faced with yhis choice a few years ago - lots of pros and cons, but funnily enough it was the weather that swung it in the end - it's just so much warmer in southern England

Hilary said...

You are lucky that you are in a position to choose where to live Wifey,I'm sure you would all be happier if your husband was with you most of the time,either in t'north or dahn sarf.
Good luck with whichever you decide and hope you will continue the blog!

@themill said...

Decisions, decisions....
Tell too many people where you are that you're going to make a donation to The Labour Party and you may not have to choose - they'll have thrown you into the harbour.

Curly said...

Best stay where you are. You don't want to be calling yourself "nearly a northerner" do you?