Northern England spawned the industrial revolution as well as a powerful workers’ movement and a lively culture of popular modernism. But the dysfunctions of Britain’s economic and political system have reduced it to a shadow of its former self.
John Merrick is a London-based writer. He is currently working on his first book on class in contemporary Britain.
During Queen Elizabeth II’s 70-year reign, the UK witnessed immense social transformation. Throughout this tumultuous period, the monarchy served one purpose: suppressing Britain’s political divisions in the name of unity and deference to the Crown.
Working-class authors often write of alienation from hometown life after going to university and becoming professionals. Alberto Prunetti’s autobiographical novel instead tells us what it’s like to leave an Italian steel town only to find low-paid kitchen jobs in England.
Labour’s dismal polling for today’s Hartlepool by-election show its awkward, flag-waving nationalism isn’t convincing anyone. Too bad Keir Starmer won’t stop playing on the Right’s terrain and start offering working-class voters real economic populism.
The last week has seen wall-to-wall praise for the royals across the British press, with Prince Philip painted as everything from a military genius to a trailblazing feminist. But the compulsory cap-doffing isn’t just a bit of ceremony inherited from the past — it’s part of a very modern deference to the wealthy and privileged.
The 1964 film Seven Up! asked 14 British seven-year-olds about their hopes of being the “shop steward and the executive of the year 2000.” Revisiting them every seven years for more than half a century, director Michael Apted made his interviewees into familiar faces — and shone a light on changing notions of class in Britain.
Historian Mike Davis wrote a book fifteen years ago warning of the coming global pandemic. The “monster at our door” has finally stepped through that door in COVID-19, and unfortunately, Davis was proven correct.