Desolation Row

So there is a week to go to until Newcastle United kick off their 2013-14 Premier League LindisfarneCastlecampaign and so far we have signed a 16-year old prospect and a centre forward on a season’s long loan, who may or may not be available after September. One can only hope that more is done to strengthen a squad that last season demonstrated did not have enough real depth to it and may well still be weakened further by the loss of Yohan Cabaye. The pre-season friendlies, whilst they have to be seen for what they are, have hardly raised hopes amongst fans that the new season is one to really look forward to.  It is all looking a little bleak, if not completely desolate.

But then of course desolate is exactly how this region is supposed to look isn’t it, according to Lord Howell a former energy secretary under Thatcher, Tory peer and father-in-law of the Chancellor George Osborne. At the end of June I enjoyed a few days away on Lindisfarne otherwise known as Holy Island. I saw a colony of about 60 seals, a beautiful sunset on the stretch of sea between the island and the coast near Beal, two castles, large sandy beaches, then there was all the history, the sense of spirituality and so on….Desolate it wasn’t.

I think it can be fairly argued that Lord Howell’s ill-informed, ignorant comments about our region really do sum up a lot of the attitude of the Tory party and indeed the Westminster establishment towards North East England. I have also recently returned from Prague and on reflection Howell’s remarks do seem to have a Chamberlainesque quality to them. Let’s face it. To many in the Tory party, the North East England is indeed, “a far away country…(with) people of whom we know nothing” – and one may add care about just as much.

We can never expect a fair deal from the Conservatives. They don’t understand us and possibly never will. What is perhaps even more disappointing is how the Labour Party is offering so little in terms of opposition. Even in just the last few weeks, traditionally the quiet time, the silly season, so many issues, from payday loan companies, to zero-hour contracts to the depressing re-emergence of raw sexism against intelligent bright women, have all come on the news agenda. Yet the Labour Party seems to have so little to say about these and a myriad of other issues. Just as I hope Newcastle United can add to their squad between now and the end of August, as the only plausible opposition to this dreadful coalition government one can only hope that Ed Miliband and co. can add a few worthwhile policies to their manifesto before May 2015.

There is one useful thing the Labour Party has done. They have requested information about what has happened to the value of the wages of British workers since mid-2010, in other words since about the time that the coalition government came to power. They make revealing reading:

The figures, “collated by the House of Commons library, show average hourly wages have fallen 5.5% since mid-2010, adjusted for inflation.” ( 11th August 2013)

In other words they confirm what many of us have been saying for some time now; that this government has presided over an almost unprecedented decline in the living standards of the British people.

But isn’t that just due to the economic crisis bequeathed to them in 2010? Well, no. The story goes on to relate that, “By contrast, German hourly wages rose by 2.7% over the same period. Across the European Union as a whole, average wages fell 0.7%.Only Greek, Portuguese and Dutch workers have had a steeper decline in hourly wages, the figures showed. Other countries that have suffered during the eurozone debt crisis also fared better than the UK. Spain had a 3.3% drop over the same period and salaries in Cyprus fell by 3%.French workers saw a 0.4% increase, while the 18 countries in the eurozone saw a 0.1% drop during that period.” (ibid.)

In other words, the government’s misjudged uncaring austerity policies, which have also seen tax cuts for the very rich,  really would appear to be to blame for the the cut in living standards of millions of British people. Let’s hope that the Labour Party is brave enough to do something with this information.

The North East is not a desolate region.  It is a beautiful region, full of tremendous human potential and wonderful scenery. It is a place I am proud to call home. We deserve better than ill-informed, ignorant remarks about our land from Tory grandees. Similarly, the British people need a better government, one which will look after their real interests, rather than just those of a tiny minority at the top, many of whom including the bankers put us in the economic crisis in the first place.

And Newcastle United? Well, we are apparently 1500-1 for the Premier League. Given thePAss state of the club at the moment, that sounds about right. But it shouldn’t. We should never forget that Newcastle United’s average attendances are consistently the third highest in the league and among the highest in the whole of Europe. Newcastle United is not a desolate football club. It one of huge potential. It is high time it was fulfilled.

© Peter Sagar August 2013