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BREXIT Episode Four - The North South Divide

Episode Four - The North South Divide

In England we talk of the north south divide. Anything north of Watford Gap Service Station on the M1 motorway just outside of London, is unknown to the south. As I guy from Bradford said to me, ‘Southerners think Yorkshire is full of stupid people who wear flat caps’. It’s the North South Divide.

‘Southerners think Yorkshire is full of stupid people who wear flat caps’

Most people here relate that they feel forgotten, that they don’t have a voice. That government pays ‘lip service’ to their needs, and only pretends to care. They rarely accept that they still live in a democracy. It’s a major factor for the Leave vote.

Nick Toczek, a writer, poet, musician and magician.

I met with Nick Toczek in Bradford, a writer, poet, musician and magician, amongst many other skills. He has sold nearly a million books, and has travelled the world giving young people a voice. He confirmed that the north south divide is real, that people here don’t feel that their opinion matters. He teaches his writing classes so that young people will learn to voice how they really feel.

But the North South Divide is deceptive as Nick said. If you leave Bradford and head west, across the spectacular landscape of the Yorkshire Dales, just twenty kilometers away, is the wealthy and gentrified town of Hebden Bridge. You pass sheep farms along the way, remnants of what was once the most productive wool industry in the world.

Hebden is what happens when new money regenerates a broken system, and it is in shocking contrast to Bradford. As the economy of Manchester exploded into life, the young and the prosperous, moved to Hebden, refurbished the old derelict mills and revitalised that community energy. It is full of life, a bustling community of cafés and restaurants.

In Hebden, I met Jasmine, 18 years old, who works part time in a café whilst studying. She is an example of the ‘micro’ north south divide, her father, wealthy enough to ‘home school’ her after she was bullied at her original state school. She said of Brexit, ‘I feel cheated. I was too young to vote. How could a bunch of old people decide my future for me. I love being European. I had planned to take a ‘gap year’ after my A Levels, and travel around europe, but now I have had to change all my plans.’ When I listened to her articulate assessment of Brexit, it was like listening to my daughter who two years ago, expressed the same words - ‘I feel cheated’.

‘I feel cheated. I was too young to vote. How could a bunch of old people decide my future for me. I love being European. I had planned to take a ‘gap year’ after my 'A' Levels, and travel around europe, but now I have had to change all my plans.

I then spoke with Ian, a retired building surveyor. He was every inch, the English gentleman - dressed in the clothes of the ‘country sect’, quietly spoken, a charmer. For him, voting to leave was the only option, ‘We won World War one, World War Two, we will win this’, he confidently stated.

Andy, is a boat builder who renovates the old canal boats, that have become a much sought after style of living. He didn’t vote. I asked if he now regretted that and he replied, ‘No, I live for the water, I love my work and go fishing at the weekend. I don’t know anything about politics. And I don’t care’. I envied him.

Edward is an artist who lives in nearby Clitheroe, but he has an Italian girlfriend in Hebden, and a brother who has lived in the Netherlands for sixteen years. He would like the UK to stay in Europe, but when pushed his reasons were simple; it wasn’t about bureaucrats or legal sovereignty and other such issues. He’s concerned that his girlfriend will move away, and the life that his brother has built in mainland Europe will be wrecked.

And finally I talked with Steve, a diver who was renovating the flood defence system in Hebden. And he said something to me, something so ironic, it made me smile. He said:

‘I voted to leave, but my dream is to retire to Majorca.’

The point is that for the gentrified middle class, a hard Brexit is survivable, not pretty, but survivable. To remain is fine too. Some of them are retired already, with healthy pensions. For the boat builder, he has chosen a simple life in an area where enough money is available to keep his business going. And Brexit won’t affect him. For Edward and the rest, the same is largely true. Somehow, their voice in this North South divide is less important than the voice of the poor and the segregated, from Bradford. Because they will be hit hardest if Brexit fails.

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© Martin Middlebrook | All Rights Reserved

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