IT’S an iconic image that most older readers will remember. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, handbag to the fore, walking across the industrial wasteland of the former Head Wrightson plant at Thornaby.
Dubbed ‘The Walk in the Wilderness’, the photograph was beamed around the world and the Tory spin that went with it was widely reported. The message was simple: Thatcher wanted to see the North’s heavy industrial decline herself and was determined to address the problems.
The ‘Walk in the Wilderness’ was 30 years ago and I was reminded of it when I went to the MIMA to see an exhibition about those times. One thought stuck in my mind: the usual Tory promise of jam tomorrow. The same sort of promise that they’ve been making to the British people during seven years of austerity.
Sadly, for the North East and places like Hartlepool, there wasn’t much jam from Thatcher’s Tories and there will be even less from May’s lot.
A report published last week shows that the North-South divide is widening. Researchers say that since 1965, about 1.2 million more people have died before the age of 75 in the North of England than in the South, taking into account differences in population.
The experts may tell you this outrageous situation is because of economic under-investment, but it is much more than that.
It’s about decimating communities and ignoring their needs.
It’s about leaving people without hope for a future.
It’s about lying to our pensioners about safeguarding their future care, free bus passes and protection of the triple lock.
It’s about lying to our young people about education funding, meaningful apprenticeships and job opportunities.
It’s about lying to women about equal pay agendas and career prospects when there are precious few and life expectancy for them in Hartlepool means that they won’t live to see their pension at 65 let alone 68.
That’s what it’s about. That’s the North-South divide in stark reality.
It’s sickening that in the fifth largest economy in the world, we accept that Foodbanks are a norm; even though they cater for not just the down at heel and desperate, but also other ordinary folk, and even though they just don’t focus on food but also basic sanitary products for women who have been forced to choose between feeding the kids or personal hygiene needs.
Our communities and people are strong and proud, but they are dying. Literally.
As Thatcher’s iconic image proves, the Tories can’t be relied on to care about the North. There’ll be no bread, let alone jam.
Thankfully, the Labour manifesto at the recent election offered hope. Not just hope for the North but hope for all.
Young people bought into Labour’s vision in huge numbers and more older people are realising that the Tories just don’t care and haven’t a clue how to revive the economy.
Jobs and financial security will be the catalyst to close the North-South divide and only Labour can deliver.