John Harris

Journalist & Author

Politicians may finally be catching on: towns now hold the key to Britain’s future

Over eight years of their Anywhere but Westminster series – and eight years of austerity – John Harris and John Domokos have learned a few things about the malaise of towns – and what it means for the future of the country

“These streets were once full of spirit, and hope. A proud community, where an honest day’s work could earn you a decent day’s pay. Years of austerity have ripped the heart out of this place. But that’s just part of the story. This has been decades in the making. We lost the factories, we lost the jobs, we lost confidence in our community. We lost control.”

So runs the introduction to a short film titled Our Town, shot in places such as Mansfield and Hastings (and, somewhat confusingly, the cities of Liverpool and Glasgow) and released three weeks ago by the Labour party. In terms of political strategy, it is a clear attempt to push Labour’s message into places where it has been underperforming, and address its supposed “towns problem” (more of which in a moment). Viewed from another perspective, its three and a half minutes are a brisk and very powerful tour through the three-decade failure of what some people call neoliberalism. More than anything, it vividly evokes one of modern Britain’s starkest cultural divides: the one that separates our bigger, most successful cities from hundreds of comparatively disadvantaged towns, and which exploded so spectacularly in the vote on whether or not Britain should leave the EU.

There is something about towns – in England in particular – that often makes them difficult territory for the modern left

Related: Made in Stoke-on-Trent – Episode 6: The Mother Town

Stories are easily told in terms of extremes. But places are always much more complicated than they might first appear

Everywhere we go, people talk about the fate of their town centres with amazing passion, and frustration

In towns, austerity fuses with all those boarded-up shops to confirm people’s sense that they are still being ignored.

Young people who are not happy in towns tend to leave. It’s the older generations who stay, and feel changes more deeply

Continue reading…

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