Someone as blessed as myself for being in constant contact with students and activists, I have the pleasure of talking about the legacy of Margaret Thatcher on a regular basis. To save some time, here's how the chat mostly goes.
'Oh, the milk snatcher! What a horrid woman who closed down our dear coal mines and thus destroyed communities'. I then always tempted to ask, 'so what about fracking? Wouldn't that help to rebuild the North?' The answer is always a definite 'no!' followed by some white noise about flames from the tap and evil predatory corporations.
This begs a very serious question: who actually hates the North? Is it the Conservatives, who are trying to build the Northern Powerhouse on modern terms and revive the wasteland that is known as the North of Britain, or is it the modern Puritan mob filled with rage against fracking, which is the greatest chance the North has for any sense of resurgence?
Until very recently, it used to be normal to debate such point. But then the Lancashire County Council happened. The county, just to remind you, has been based almost solely on coal exploitation and the cotton industry. But the declining state of the British economy throughout the 70s and 80s has evaporated any signs of competitive edge in the world markets and naturally had to close down. Despite all this, the Lancashire County council has rejected the application to drill shale gas, thus effectively depriving the residents an opportunity to rebuild the area and putting the county back on the map of prosperity.
To exemplify the perversity of the decision, bear in mind that the council is absolutely fine with bringing back coal industry back from the 1980s - if not the 1920s when the area experienced total dominance, even though coal exploitation is significantly less rewarding and way more polluting compared to fracking. It seems that for Lancashire County council, sending men down the pit on a scavenger hunt for coal makes more sense than allowing high-tech operatives to extract natural gas. 'A true community-bonding experience', they would probably say.
Lancashire County isn't much different from other parts of the North. The poverty and unemployment level are either below or sometimes well below the national average. Dried up public finances means that there's less public cash to spend on rejuvenating the local economy and tackling such issues. Innately, encouraging enduring private sector initiatives ought to be a top priority. But the supposed strength of the situation is smeared and shirked away instead of embracing it and actually helping to build the Northern Powerhouse.
More importantly, a part of the much-mentioned 'the cost of living crisis' is energy bills, which are primarily driven by the fact that Britain isn't energy self-sufficient and has to import energy from all the dodgy places around the world. The United States, previously a mammoth when it came to energy import, is on the course of becoming energy independent, thanks to the shale gas revolution. Why then fracking is frowned upon as a solution to still high energy bills?
The anti-austerity (also known under the name of 'I wanted Labour to win') demonstrations that swept London and other parts of the country weeks ago objected to the proposed cuts in government spending. Sadly, what the protesters seem to miss is that, unlike cuts in welfare and tax rates that spurred the growth of the British economy, there's actual austerity of private initiative happening in Northern areas.
It's perfectly understandable that the North would love to have an economic revival based on high-tech companies, startups, and burgeoning R&D centres. While the City of Manchester is under way of establishing itself as a hub of high-tech in the country, often beating London, it would be an awfully bad judgment of capabilities to assume the same can be replicated across other Northern regions of Britain. There are neither skills nor enough talents to produce Silicon Valleys of Scarborough and Rochdale.
So there you have it. It's not the Conservatives that have a weird abusive relationship with the North and secretly wishes the sea would swallow it, but it's rather the North itself which stifles any attempt of economic revival. But of course, losing an opportunity to talk bad about Lady Thatcher and her Conservative acolytes is a price too high to pay.