Eh, lad, it’s grim oop north.
That is, according to BBC correspondents when they venture there. Veteran reporter Hugh Sykes was up in Yorkshire yesterday for a series of special BBC Radio 4 World at One reports ostensibly about the issues of the General Election.
His focus was the plight of the the 67,000 men who had once worked in the West Yorkshire coalfield around Wakefield and Barnsley. Where could they turn to now?
No such BBC report would be complete without a clip from Margaret Thatcher – Corporation code for that the demise of the pits was mostly her fault – and Hugh Sykes duly obliged.
The former miners he spoke to – one now the manager of the National Mining Museum at the former Caphouse Colliery, near Wakefield, another, the treasurer of the Grimethorpe Colliery Band – were a practical, no-nonsense, philosophical lot who had clearly moved on with their lives.
But this was the BBC and that wasn’t the point. First it was the reminder of Thatcher, then a carefully-edited melange of interview clips that showed that a proud, team-player way of life had been crushed and lost for ever – and then that they had now turned in their desperation to Brexit, and could no longer easily vote Labour.
What had they got instead of their steady jobs-for life? Well here, Sykes turned, of course, to the Barnsley poet and BBC favourite Ian Mcmillan, whose poem about the 1980s strikes in Yorkshire contains these lines:
The past is not just Kings and Queens, it’s those like me and you
Who clashed with a woman at Number 10, who had to stand and fight
Cos when your way of life’s being smashed to bits, what else can you do?
Mcmillan duly painted a grim picture indeed – most of it the Tories’ fault. This, he declared, was a soundbite election with phrases such as ‘strong and stable’ but they meant nothing. ‘Austerity’ dominated and was destroying all. Men – those proud miners – and their families, were ruled and being crushed by it, and even those with jobs had to go to food banks to make ends meet.
Then, to reinforce the tragedy of lost jobs, lost hope and lost spirit, it was on to the Grimethorpe Band with their mournful rendition of ‘Abide With Me’. How very, very Northern. Cloth caps united.
Job done. Another clichéd version of a constant BBC refrain: That nasty austerity caused the Brexit vote.
(Image: Chris Sampson)