Brexit…and the future of Stoke On Trent/Staffordshire
Its happened, and im as surprised as anybody else. Stoke On Trent had the 15th highest percentage of leave voters. For some reason the London centric media sounds surprised!
Trying as I might to watch as much coverage of the vote Thursday night, I managed to see around a dozen results come in before falling asleep, during that time the total votes swayed between Remain and Leave being infront. In all honesty I did not expect that I would wake up Friday morning with ‘UK Votes To Leave’ plastered all over the news, yet somehow it happened.
As I examined the results, it was quite clear why. Although it was expected the long time euroskeptic and elderley voted to leave and the wealthy on the whole voted to remain and keep the status quo along with young people. The areas of England and Wales that have suffered from globalisation, stagnating living standards and wages since the 70s had voted out, and in big numbers. That statement in no way illustrates the complexities of what really happened, and the history behind it. But let’s try to break some of it down.
As always, we need to look back to be able to look forward, Prime Minister Edward Heath led us into the EEC in 1973, and in 1968 we had around 62,000 people working in the pottery industry. By 1991 that number had gone down to 22,500. In 2000 Shelton Steel Works also shut. Today the number working in the pottery industry is believed to be around 6000.
Stoke On Trent, along with most other post manufacturing cities, struggled to adapt like their larger cousins in Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham. All of whom were modernised, well funded but critcally created a highly skilled workforce fit for the 21st century. The city centres had large governmnet investment and jobs were created in areas such as IT/digital media. Instead Stoke On Trent, like many other places, had the tactic to ‘replace low paid jobs with as many other low paid jobs as possible’. This involved a few main ideas; Call centres, Distribution Warehouses and glitzy shopping centres (Remember…)
Spending our way out of our problems is no solution to our problems, its far to simple, bordering on the insulting. Successive governments didn’t care that this approach wasn’t working as it didn’t really affect them and their base continued to support them.
Businesses now operate in clusters, car manufacturing in the West Midlands, finance in London and Biotech in Oxford. Although not entirely true, Stoke On Trent was not creating something important enough that the rest of the world wanted, Pottery created with the back stamp of Made in SOT. However we do have natural resources for pottery that tie us specifically to the area, and as shown recently by Wedgwood, brands when managed properly, can become very valuable and moving forward creating a ‘Made in SOT’ brand should become very important.
In terms of highly skilled jobs, we have the benefit of three great assets, Staffordshire University, Keele University and University Hospital Of North Staffordshire (If its still called that), we should be making the most of these to bring in money from outside the area as the cumulative effects of falling investment, poverty and crime have resulted in less investment both inwardly and from outside the area.
Between 2001 and 2011 there was a 9.3% decline in full time jobs available, and recently Stoke On Trent was voted as number 11 in the UKs top struggling cities. It says all you need to know. Since the 1980s, and especially in the last decade, the population has been bombarded by articles in the Sun, Daily Mail and Telegraph telling them about the apparent burecracy of the EU along with the negative effects of immigration. In no way holding successive governments to account for their failed policys on housing, welfare, job creation, education and inequality.
As real wages, working conditions and living standards fell governments were happy to allow the press to tell the population that it was all the EUs fault. If only for the EU, they could solve all of these problems, when in fact they couldn’t/didnt know how to solve the problems themselves. However this is not the message received by the general populous. Who believed that leaving the EU would mean more school places and better schools, more housing, more opportunity and more spending on the NHS. However just one day after the leave vote these promises are already unravelling.
The emperors news clothes are there for all to see, and hopefully the public will soon realise that it was infact government policy all along that has forgotten about us, including Stoke On Trent, with little care for living standards and inequality. This has been at both a local and national level, and I am yet to see a political party/leader that could have workable solutions to these problems. This lack of ability in our politicians to solve these problems has lead to a lack of trust which in turn lead to the lowest voter turnout in the country for local MP Tristram Hunt in recent elections.
There was, and still is to a certain extent, feeling of hopelessness. This was partly due to an unrepresentive political system, growing inequality, shrinking opportunity and effects of forces outside of their control. As stated in the start of this article, when given the opportunity to ignore the government, ignore the Labour party, go against the bankers, big business and also leave the EU, of which we had been told had been a considerable part of our problems for 25 years, it should come as no surprise this opportunity was grabbed with both hands.
People who have nothing to lose hold very little fear, and as the Conservative government and establishment found out. If you ignore great swathes of the population for decades at some point that will come back to haunt you. David Cameron, the endless gambler, placed one bet too many and lost. Badly. Costing him his job. And now the political landscape has changed forever. The politicians have no excuses and they now must realise they have to improve the lives of the population instead of playing games, or face their wrath.
If nothing else hopefully some of the population have realised they can effect politics in a big way, and have taken some of the ‘power’ back. People will expect to see living conditions improve, the NHS given a new round of funding, the end of food bank britain and young people given the promise of the future granted to their baby boomer parents. Wether this happens or not, is another matter. I have no doubt that Johnson, Gove, IDS and Farage have little care for the people of this great city, but thats nothing new.
So thats where we are, watching to see what happens next, i’ll give my own thoughts on what I think we could/should do in my next article.
Vis Unita Fortior