It’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about. Who are the voices of the North?
I’d say the public ones tend to be blokes. Either men with craggy features standing around (wryly) pointing at things on rocks (You know, your Paul Morley, Ted Hughes, Simon Armitage, Stuart Maconie) or men in suits looking grim about all the other men in suits they’re going to have to eat a lot of tea and biscuits with at council meetings and meetings about council meetings and meetings about why they’re not going to have meetings about council meetings.
Or, they might be men who want you to know they could wear overalls if given half a chance- but could equally be trusted to turn their hand to a BBC documentary about seals or a musical about ships. We’re in Robson Green, Sting, Jimmy Nail and Tim Healey territory here.
Then there’s the jesters – our Peter Kays, Jason Manfords, our Ant and Decs, our Chris Ramseys.
Or, perhaps, no offence to my fellow bloggers, they’re mainly half corporate, half whimsical columnist chroniclers of the ups and downs of modern (and middle aged) life in Northern cities or suburbs.
We know that in the North there’s still a sense that in private women do more of the talking (and laughing), and perhaps that means they hold the true power (I do what ‘er indoors tells me to do). I’d argue though that unless you’ve got a public voice, then you haven’t got a lot of power.
I have a public poetic voice which probably doesn’t really count, though I’ve been drip feeding left wing, pro Northern English equality messages into my poems for years now. Subverting the Southern media hegemony one flat vowel at a time…
It’s the politicians and the commentariat who might be able to shape policy or nudge public opinion. Well, it was. The Scottish referendum campaign has shown us that there’s a much, much bigger pool of people who could have a voice who started to use it. Younger people, women, working people… Jeremy Corbyn’s gesturing towards opening up these platforms, his first Prime Minister’s Questions was proof of that but I’d argue he needs to go much further.
Mainstream media, politics and the arts have spent years becoming ever more middle class. To join them, a Northern lad or lass has had to make the great exodus to London, depriving us of lots of crucial, younger Northern voices.
Along with many of my friends in journalism and the arts, I’m a rarer breed who didn’t want to do the London thing and has chosen lifestyle over prestige, smaller organisations over giant institutions, cheaper pints, houses and chips. Sometimes it’s left me with a chip on my shoulder, mostly it’s left me as a forty year old who has to travel quite a bit to get work, lives with a lot of career insecurity and still can’t buy a house.
On the other hand, I do interesting work, am near beaches, moors and cities and rarely sit in traffic jams. I suppose I’m a voice of a newer, less rooted North who finds belonging and security in a wider sense of Northern identity. There are many more like me and there are of course, many younger than me who’ve had even more acute decisions to make about whether to leave where they grew up or attempt to make it in an increasingly unaffordable London. No wonder even more voices of the North are being silenced at a time when we need them to speak up about devolution and power.
I’m sad that local newspapers have less room for diverse voices in terms of class and gender now and blogs can be a great way forward. The broadest possible choir of voices can help the North sing a complex, multi layered oratorio of itself again and remind us just what it is we’re actually trying to voice and why it’s important.