Friday, 9 October 2020

Collateral damage

In the news today: Northern “lockdowns” to cause massive economic damage.

Unfortunately I think it could be argued that it is a bit too late for that.

2020 has so far been a rather unusual year for me, as it has for many people. Like many people, I have seen my income plummet (from March to now, just over 20% of my three year average), and now I’ve got Sunak telling me (and every other arts professional in the country) I ought to re-train as something else.

On the plus side, massive amounts of empty diary space have allowed me to spend time helping out on a farm (which has been absolutely fantastic, and something I’m very glad to have had the opportunity to do), and I have also been doing quite a bit of volunteer driving, taking people to hospital appointments etc. I’ve been doing that for quite a few years now, but in the last six months I have been doing quite a bit more, as I have had more free time, and many other drivers have not wanted to drive anymore (busy “staying safe” etc).

So I found myself wandering around Darlington today after dropping somebody at the hospital. Darlington has never been a very attractive place, but in the few years since I last wandered there, it has degenerated even more. Pedestrianisation of the centre and some regeneration (a soon to be disused cinema and restaurant complex) has not helped, and more and more shops are closing, and derelict buildings encroach on the town centre’s perimeter. What few shops are left are increasingly of the pound shop, vape shop, charity shop, or betting shop variety. If you use the time warp feature of Google Street View you can literally see this decay happening before your eyes.

Last year I took a visit to Dewsbury in West Yorkshire and was shocked by the decay and deprivation visible in the town. Darlington is heading down a similar road and is probably just a few years behind.

It could be argued that the effects of COVID19 and a no deal Brexit are just going to hasten the inevitable in places like Darlington. The graffiti has certainly been on the wall for quite some time. But I feel now that places like Darlington are going to be viewed increasingly as economically expendable, as the government does a triage in the coming economic bloodbath. The welfare state that has been hacked to pieces since 2010 in a deliberately targeted ideological attack is going to shrivel away to nothing, and I can see a return to widespread and real poverty in the UK within the next five years. It will be a dog eat dog world.

The current UK government might just be the worst in British history, presiding over a no deal Brexit and a hugely damaging response to a virus, that significant numbers of scientists are now pleading with them to re-consider.

So with a little pessimism in hand, I am predicting 2020 as the year that broke the world.

As the saying goes: may you live in interesting times.