Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Northern Rocks

 by Ben Soton 

Northerners: A History, from the Ice Age to the Present Day by Brian Groom. HarperCollins 2022. Hardback: 432pp; rrp: £20.

Northern England – the area between the Scottish border and the English Midlands – has been the subject of numerous books, sociological surveys and Government task forces. In the last General Election, which Sir Keir Starmer won for the Tories, much of their success in Labour’s so called Red Wall was down to talk of “Levelling Up the North”, as well as the obvious Brexit betrayal. Meanwhile, in recent years there’s even been talk of a Northern Independence Party. With this in mind, Brian Groom has written a potted history of the region, with reference to the achievements to those folk knows as Northerners.
As a separate entity the North Country has its origins in the Roman province of Britannia Inferior, the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Northumbria, and a brief period in the late 9th Century and first half of the 10th Century when what is now Yorkshire was ruled by Viking warlords.
Its climate is colder and its soil quality is poorer than the South. As well as being further from the centre of power in London, the North has never had the same claim to nationhood as Scotland or Wales. For most of England’s history, with the exception of the period between 1750–1900, the North produced a proportionately smaller share of national wealth.
Northern England has, however, many great cities, and beautiful countryside and coastline. It is home of the outstanding Yorkshire and Lancashire cricket clubs, and a number of major Premiership football teams. And if you watch the many adverts promoting northern counties, it also has plenty of shopping centres, restaurants and nightclubs.
The author charts the many famous engineers, artists, poets and writers to have come from the North. Groom views the north as an essentially conservative place and to a certain extent attributes this to the prevalence of non-conformism in the region; an ironic name for a strand of Protestant thinking that ultimately promoted conformism.
Many of the great rebellions before the Industrial Revolution took place in the South; for example, the Peasants Revolt of 1381 and Ketts’ Rebellion in 1549. The south was the also bedrock of Puritanism and Parliamentarian support in the English Civil War.
Much of this is neglected by the author, who makes the ridiculous comparison between the areas that supported the monarchy in the English Civil War and those areas voting for Brexit in 2016. A comparison that the author admits has numerous exceptions.
All English regions, except London, voted to leave the European Union. Meanwhile cities like Hull, a northern bastion of Parliamentarian support during the Civil War, voted Leave; and Southampton, a bastion of Parliamentarian support outside of London, also voted Leave.
Although just a potted history, it does come up with a few interesting facts. For instance, Lisa Nandy, the Shadow Levelling Up Secretary, is the daughter of the Marxist academic Dipak Nandy – another example of a left-wing academic with reactionary offspring like the fate of the more well-known social-democratic guru Ralph Miliband.
Ultimately, the book’s greatest weakness is viewing regionalism as the most important divide in society. In fact regionalism only glosses over the real division in society – that of class.
In the 19th Century, however, the newly industrialised North fired the flames of Chartism and the 1970s saw two miners’ strikes that brought down a Tory Government. Sadly, this was not repeated in the 1980s.

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