“Why can’t that lot down South ever work out which way we’ll jump?” muttered the Byreman into his brandy balloon. It was the evening following the Oldham by-election and the Red Lion’s Young Farmers’ Club (average age 67) was ruminating on the ‘shock’ result.
THE North is a foreign country; we see things differently up ’ere.
The unacceptably left-wing new ‘Old Labour’ led by a pacifist, anti-war, supposedly terror-friendly Jeremy Corbyn had just confounded Westminster politicians, Fleet Street’s finest news makers and the whole tribe of London-based poll takers by ‘kettling’ Ukippers, Lib-Dems and Tories up a blind alley.
Who knew that, far from rejecting the supposedly revolutionary anti-bombing stance taken by Corbyn and Co, the first electoral test in a northern seat predicted by experts to bring disaster down on the Left would actually see Labour increase its share of the vote?
“Do them southerners think SO differently from us northerners?” sighed the old dairy farmer, dramatically spreading his arms as if conducting the chorus of rural regulars, all of whom still scoff at the Blair government’s misreading of the north-east’s readiness to embrace ‘devolution’.
“Is there really that much of a North-South divide?” he implored as the cottonheads’ nodded agreement.
The North? As far as that bibulous old cattleman is concerned that region is everywhere above Leeds and as far up as Lapland. His geopolitical view of the United Kingdom is simple: anywhere warmer than Wakefield is The Mucky Midlands, all points below Solihull constitute The Deep South and every place across the Irish Sea is Trouble. That’s pretty well the way we roll up here in Godzone.
That was last week. Dominoes night this weekend was more sombre: to the west the Lake District had, over the course of three days of torrential rain, turned into a joined-up sea dotted with island communities called Carlisle and Cockermouth and Keswick. Water as far as the eye could see.
To the south, the 90mph gales which had battered our neck of the woods were whipping up waves to lash the crumbling cliffs of the East Yorkshire coast where streets of cliff-top houses teeter drunkenly on the perpetual brink of destruction until they fall, one by one, into the jaws of a relentless North Sea tsunami.
Of schadenfreude there is no sign; farming communities share each other’s hardships. Judgments are Biblical, views forthright.
“They should scrap that HS-bloody-2 that just wants to suck more people into London faster; instead they should spend the money protecting Lancashire and Cumbria from these constant floods but I bet they won’t,” says Billy the Quid, a sheep farmer who will wager his last pound on anything.
“Fifty-odd-thousand homes without electricity, thousands evacuated, streets of houses ruined for the third time in ten years, sheep dead in the fields and the West Coast rail line stopped! How many more times?”
Defending the coastline brings up the subject of Yorkshire’s disappearing cliff-top villages and evokes a chorus of support from the domino players between games. A buttress against the pounding waves is what’s needed, all agree, “but London doesn’t care” is the popular view.
“We’re only good for wind farms up here as far as the government is concerned,” says the Byreman fiercely in the direction of his golfing buddy Klondike who earned his nickname after he joined the ‘Northumberland gold rush’ and gave over some of his land to four giant wind turbines – “The best cash crop I’ve ever had,” he beams.
“Maybe they could plant their turbines on top of the coastal defence,” someone quips.
“Not such a bad idea,” says Klondike. “At least it would be a guarantee of some sort of protection: the government might not care about us but they wouldn’t let the turbines be swept away!”
Just as long as they don’t get wet feet in Westminster. . .