Five of the Best

The top five comment pieces from today's papers

The Guardian's Seumas Milne writes that Gordon Brown's belated assault on neoliberalism may have come too late to save his premiership:

If Labour goes down to defeat next year, it will not be the result of the slow, cautious social democratic moves the government has finally taken in the aftermath of the crisis. It will be because it failed to take so many of them in the previous 11 years - preferring instead the Faustian pact New Labour made with the Murdochs of the financial and corporate ascendancy.

In the Times, Tristram Hunt says that the Supreme Court is not an American import but an original English ideal:

[I]t marks the welcome return of an idea that first emerged in Britain in the mid-18th century: the separation of powers. And it was the Americans who stole the idea from us, thanks to the writings of an inquisitive French philosopher ... what really impressed Montesquieu was English freedom. In contrast to the fearful royal absolutism of Louis XV's France, the English enjoyed the right to worship, trade and speak their minds. And this was the direct product, Montesquieu thought, of the English constitution's separation of powers.

In the American Prospect, Tim Fernholz says that the Democrats won't suffer a repeat of their disastrous 1994 midterm election results:

[C]ongressional Republicans are still less popular than Democrats and have yet to offer any kind of platform for another shot at running the show. Worse, they are leaderless: By the end of 1993, Republican Whip Newt Gingrich and his team had already brought ethics charges against a speaker of the House that lead to his resignation, and widely publicized the House banking scandal. Today, the Republican Party remains divided and lacks the ability to attract centrist voters, while the Democrats continue to be a relatively unified majority party, with the capacity to stay that way.

In the Independent, Mark Donne calls on David Miliband to halt secretive military aid to Colombia:

The Labour government has long supported the Uribe administration, both diplomatically and militarily, and personal ties are strong. Colombia's former defence minister Juan Manuel Santos - who resigned in May and whose arrest has been ordered by an Ecuadorian court after air strikes on Ecuador - co-authored a book called The Third Way For Colombia with one Tony Blair. Under Santos'swatch, the killings of civilians and trade unionists by the security forces increased.

In the Times, Bill Emmott argues that if the Irish approve the Lisbon Treaty the Conservatives must not seek to renegotiate it:

[T}o provoke a row over a boring institutional treaty, which virtually everyone else has already agreed to, would be folly, grand scale. Indeed, if Messrs Cameron and Hague do hang on to Lisbon as one of their battles, it would raise serious doubts about their fitness for government.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Felipe Araujo
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Hull revisited: What happens when a Brexit stronghold becomes City of Culture?

We report from Hull, to find out if you can replace the kind of nostalgia that led to a Leave vote with cultural investment.

At 75 metres long, the offshore wind turbine blade erected across Queen Victoria Square, in the heart of Hull, is a sculpture intended to mark a new chapter in the city’s history. For the next 12 months, Hull, a city of more than a quarter of a million people in the northeast of England, will be the UK’s City of Culture.

The 28-tonne blade hails from the local Siemens plant. The German technology company employs around 1,000 people in the area, making it Hull’s biggest single employer.

Seen up close in this context – laid dormant in the middle of a town square instead of spinning up in the air generating energy – the structure is meant to remind passersby of a giant sea creature. It is also, I’m told, an allusion to Hull’s rich maritime history.


All photos: Felipe Araujo

Nostalgia is a big thing in this part of the country. At one point, Hull was the UK’s third largest port but technology and privatisation drastically changed that. The battle over cod fishing with Iceland in the waters of the North Sea 40 years ago has also dealt a major blow to a region with a long and proud trawling tradition.

People here still talk about a bygone era when the fishing industry provided jobs for everyone and there was enough money to go around.

Fast forward to 2017, and the country’s new capital of culture is the same city that voted 67 per cent in favour of leaving the EU last June. Its new-found prestige, it seems, is not enough to erase years of neglect by a political class “too busy for commoners like us”, as one resident puts it.

“More than a message to Brussels, it [the Brexit vote] was a message to Westminster,” Paul Leeson-Taylor, a filmmaker born and bred in Hull, tells me. “For the first time in a long time people in Hull felt like they had the chance to change something, and they took it.”

But while speaking to people on the high street and hanging out with locals at the Community Boxing Club in Orchard Park, one of the city’s most deprived areas, there is one word that consistently popped up in conversation – more than any specific policy from Westminster or the much-hated rules “dictated” by Brussels. Foreigners.

According to official figures, Hull’s population is 89.1 per cent white British. Still, immigration is big on people’s minds here.

During my two-day stay in the city, I find myself being the only black person in most places I visit – I’m certainly the only black guy at the boxing club. So when someone begins a sentence with “I’m not racist but…”, I know a tirade on immigrants is about to ensue.

“There are just too many of them,” Nick Beach, an estate agent whose Polish clientele is a big part of his business, tells me as he is about to teach a boxing class to local children. Beach was born in Shepherd’s Bush, in West London, but has been living in Hull for the last 20 years.

“When I go down there these days and go into Westfield shopping centre, it is very rare you get an English person serving you now,” he says. “I just find it disappointing that you go into your capital city and you are a minority there.”

These are the much-discussed “left behind”, a white working-class community that has gained particular prominence in a time of Brexit and Donald Trump. Under economic pressure and facing social change, they want to have their say in running a country they claim to no longer recognise.

For Professor Simon Lee, a senior politics lecturer at the University of Hull, immigration is only a superficial layer when it comes to explaining the resentment I witness here. For him, the loss of the empire 70 years ago is still something that as a country Britain hasn’t come to terms with.

“The reason for us to be together as a United Kingdom has gone, so what is the project?”

As destiny would have it, a foreign company will now play a major role on Hull’s economic future, at least in the short term. In the wake of the Brexit vote, there were widespread fears Siemens would pull out of the region and take its factory elsewhere. With the massive blade looming large in the background, Jason Speedy, director of the blade factory in Hull, assures me that isn’t the case.

“The Brexit decision has made no difference. We have made our investment decision, so Siemens, together with the Association of British Ports, has put in £310m. It’s all full steam ahead.”

As Hull becomes the country’s cultural hub for the next few months, the hope is that its residents stop looking back and start looking forward.

For Professor Lee, though, until there is a complete change in the power structures that run the country, the north-south divide will remain – with or without the EU. “The way you kill nostalgia is to have something new,” he said. “The reason why people here are nostalgic is because there is nothing to replace it with.”

Felipe Araujo is a freelance journalist based in London. He writes about race, culture and sports. He covered the Rio Olympics and Paralympics on the ground for the New Statesman. He tweets @felipethejourno.