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Issue #1710      November 11, 2015

Advances amid the degradation

Notes on a visit to northern England during autumn 2015

In early September 2015, I was asked if I wished to accompany my partner on a family visit to Bradford in northern England for two weeks as well as a trip to the Lakes District. With some foreboding I was on a flight to England via Dubai as I had heard that it had rained all summer there and after landing in Manchester on a cloudy though rain-free afternoon we were collected and taken to East Bierley, an outer suburb of the former wool milling and coal mining city of Bradford.

Low water levels at Keswick on Lake Windemere in northern England.

In and around Bradford there are lots of former woollen mills. We still saw many sheep in the countryside around Bradford and in a drive to the Lakes District through the Yorkshire Dales via The Pennines. My host advised me that there are now only two mills in the whole of England which process English wool while the rest is exported for processing.

All the bus and train services have long been privatised and at least ten different bus companies operate out of the Bradford Interchange in the centre of the city. The trains which operate out of the adjacent train station are also privatised and one train was operated by a company owned by Deustches Bundesband, the rail company of the German government. Public transport is not cheap in Bradford and the shortest bus ride costs £2.50 or about A$5.00.

As we travelled around Bradford and surrounding countryside we could see a lot of the public housing and other public infrastructure, especially in the inner city, was in need of repair as were private housing, shops and factories. It was evident there was a housing crisis and a need for new quality yet affordable housing to meet the housing needs of all, not just those who could afford to buy their dwelling.

Some roads and bridges were also quite bumpy and in need of repair as was the occasional canal with its system of locks.

Public hospitals which are part of the National Health Service (NHS) have been under-funded and run down by the Conservative government of Prime Minister David Cameron. The situation is very similar to that in Australia.

Major parties

While we were there the two major parties held their national conferences in successive weeks. The British Labour Party was first, from September 27-30 in Brighton on the south coast of England.

Their new leader Jeremy Corbyn caught the public imagination with pledges to fix the NHS and to abolish university tuition fees which are currently running at £9,000 (close to A$20,000) per annum for undergraduate courses. He also pledged to scrap the Trident Submarine defence program which involves nuclear warheads, and to re-nationalise public transport.

The increase in government expenditure would be funded by increases in corporate taxation and a system of national insurance for those who earn more £50,000.

The Conservative Party chose the northern industrial city of Manchester for their National Conference from October 4-7. The Trade Union Congress organised a mass rally and march at the opening. It attracted tens of thousands of people from diverse backgrounds, yet all united in their opposition to Tory austerity measures.

The announcement from the Tory Conference of the abolition of tax credits for working families received widespread condemnation, even from amongst the ranks of fellow Tories. So too did Cameron’s plan to build houses which people can buy rather than rent, which favours the rich rather than the working class. The Conservatives do not have a plan to combat climate change and are seen as climate change saboteurs. They have drastically cut subsidies for wind and solar power and ceased support for energy efficiencies in homes.

When formally influential economically developed nations such as England and Australia turn their backs on climate action it discourages less developed nations from committing to strong and effective targets and policies to reduce the effects of climate change.

Perhaps the British Conservatives don’t believe the effects of climate change will affect their temperate shores. They need to get out more in the English countryside.

Unseasonably dry

On a four-day visit to the Lakes District there was no rain and barely a cloud in the sky when normally a day would not pass in the English autumn without some form of rain.

A strong persistent high pressure cell over England was causing not only unseasonably dry conditions but it was also quite warm. When we climbed England’s highest peak, Scafell Pike, we were warned to dress with coats and not to be disappointed if cloud closed in on the summit in the afternoon.

The only clouds we encountered as we strolled up in t-shirts and shorts were the vapour trails of the many jet planes that criss-crossed the blue sky overhead. Down below on Lake Windemere, England’s largest lake, a ferry boat operator remarked that he had not seen the water level, which was down “two and half feet” or more than 70 cm, so low it exposed darkened rocks and black mud.

On the return to the Yorkshire city of Bradford we noticed the rain had not returned either and we continued to enjoy sunny and even warmer temperatures for England in the lead-up to winter. The British Met Office is forecasting a warmer than usual winter and is not optimistic about sufficient snow falling for any lasting duration.

The English were fighting back under the new Labour Party leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, who was being openly recognised as a socialist and unnerving the Tories and the ruling class that props them up.

Everywhere in England people are either joining the Labour Party or cautiously considering it after many years. There is very little one could commend of our own Labor Party and its current leader Bill “Bi- partisan” Shorten.

The English people know what an a more egalitarian looks and feels like and they haven’t had one since the leadership of vicious anti-worker Conservative PM Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s. Since then successive Conservative and Labour governments have let them down badly.

In the next 12 months Australians will go to the polls to choose a new government. In the mean time we must take up the struggle in all areas of social, economic and political endeavour.

Postscript: The unseasonable warm and dry weather in England, saw the warmest November day on record on November 1, 2015 when the temperature hit 22.4C at Trawsgoed, Ceredigion in mid Wales – not too far from the Lakes District in north western England.

Next article – Dingo

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