Why Kelvin MacKenzie is wrong to diss the north

There's so much wrong with Kelvin MacKenzie's idea for a "Southern Party" that it's hard to know where to start.

Sometimes, you start a day with the best of intentions, and then someone ruins it all. I planned to spend today knitting, maybe doing some baking, planning for Christmas.

But no. Kelvin MacKenzie's been a dickhead, and so I plan to spend the next few hundred words informing him of exactly how much of a dickhead he is. 

You see, MacKenzie wants to start a "Southern Party", to help all those poor underrepresented millionaires in Kensington, Chelsea and Kent whose interests are so thoroughly ignored by the present political parties

There are so many things wrong with this article, I almost don't know where to start. Perhaps at the beginning. According to the article:

the hard-working, clever and creative people living in London and the South East who single-handedly are giving the rest of the nation a standard of living they can’t, or won’t, create for themselves.

Apparently this group is currently insufficiently represented, a source of positive growth for the economy as a whole, and in desperate need of help. Unlike these people. Obvs. 

Except, is it really obvious? Research published by the New Economics Foundation in 2009 showed that while bankers, advertising executives and accountants damage the economy, cleaners, child minders and bin-men create between £7 and £12 in the wider economy for every £1 that is spent on their services. I won't insult your intelligence by assuming you need me to cite research showing that cleaning, child minding and waste recycling are jobs that are distributed across the country, whilst banks, advertising agencies and accountants are overwhelmingly based in the south-east.

Somehow, this notion that high pay automatically correlates to a positive contribution to the wider economy just won't die. You would think that five years after the start of the great recession, the idea that those who are paid a lot of money might actually be wrecking the economy might have taken hold even a tiny little bit. Apparently not.

So much of media and governance is based in London that those of you based in the capital may not realise quite how much power and freedom you have. A start-up will find loans easier to obtain with a London address. Contacts are easier to make. Lobbying is easier. 

And there's that whole prejudice thing you don't have to deal with if you're based in the south. In the quote above, MacKenzie states that people in the south-east are creative. His obvious implication is that people elsewhere in the UK are not. Understandably, I object to his unfounded implication.

To take an example very local to me - when internet phenomenon Kickstarter launched in the UK, the first project to meet its funding goal was Sheffield-based Pimoroni. In the early years of the video games industry, Gremlin InteractiveSumo Digital and a host of smaller agencies turned Sheffield and the Don Valley into the Silicon Valley of the UK. Sheffield-based web design agency Technophobia pioneered internet banking by linking up with the Co-op to provide the UK's first internet bank,

As to MacKenzie's assertion that the south-east works harder than the rest of the country. I don't know that I can really take this seriously from someone in the middle class who is attacking a class whose very name is a testament to their hard work and dedication. 

I would love to be able to refer to a register of lobbyist and lobbying groups to show how disproportionately London-based businesses are able to influence government. Unfortunately, no such register exists.

Outside the south-east, we haven't forgotten that it was Londoners who lost Derby its train building industry. We haven't forgotten that it was London group-think that led the Coalition in it's early days to play the destruction of industrial and green technological progress for political gain with the cancellation of the Forgemasters loan.

And then he really gets his teeth in on the scroungers. Those who claim benefits. As Sarah Morrison outlined recently in the Independent, most benefit claimants are in work. In work and not being paid a living wage. Surely it doesn't take a genius to work out that if companies are using value-destroying accountants to minimise their tax bill, and paying starvation wages which must then be topped up by the government, then surely the scrounger label more properly applies to the companies, not those working for them.

The coalition and their allies are clinging to divide and rule as a central plank of their strategy. By informing us that our real enemy is our next door neighbour whose husband left her with three kids and rent arrears she didn't know were mounting, our former colleagues who didn't quite escape redundancy, the corner shop owner who couldn't afford an accountant to make sure his tax return was completed properly, they hope to distract us from the real enemy of a system past its time and a parasitic elite. 

I'm not distracted. I am angry that we have to have this fight again. But we will. 

I am not a Londoner. And for that, I am proud.

Fearless in the face of yarn, yet terrified of spiders, Charlie Hallam is a Sheffield blogger and activist. She can be found waffling about politics and yarn as @fearlessknits on Twitter.

London: not everything happens there, you know. Photograph: Getty Images

Fearless in the face of yarn, yet terrified of spiders, Charlie Hallam is a Sheffield blogger and activist. She can be found waffling about politics and yarn as @fearlessknits on Twitter.

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When the world seems dark and terrifying, we shouldn’t feel ashamed to dream of Utopia

Right now, the future seems dark and frightening and it is precisely now that we must continue to imagine other worlds and then plot ways to get there.

There are many cruel and routine lies we tell to children but perhaps the most indicative is this: if you tell anyone your wish, it won’t come true. This parable was probably invented by parents trying to avoid the trauma of not being able to give their children what they want but we carry it with us to adulthood, when it is repeated to us by our leaders. Don’t tell anyone the sort of world you would like to see – at best you’ll be disappointed and at worst you’ll be arrested.

“We want more.” This week, exhausted by the news, I dragged myself out of the house to a book fair, where I came across a new collection of utopian fiction by radical women. That was the first line and it stopped my breath in my throat. When basic survival seems like a stretch goal, caught as we are between the rich and the rising seas, hope feels like an unaffordable luxury. The precise words I used to the bookseller were, “Shut up and take my money.”

There has never been a more urgent time for utopian ideas, precisely because the concept of a better world has never felt further away. Right now, world leaders are deciding how many cities are going to sink before something is done to reduce carbon emissions. They are meeting in Paris, which very recently saw the opening scene of a new act in everyone’s least favourite dramatic franchise, “War in the Middle East”. We seem to be living in a dystopian trilogy scripted by a sadistic young-adult author and I very much hope that our plucky young heroes show up to save the day soon, even if there’s a clunky love triangle involved.

Dystopias are easy to construct: to paraphrase the novelist Kim Stanley Robinson, you might as well pick five news headlines at random, make a collage and there’s your plot. Utopias are harder. Utopias require that we do the difficult, necessary work of envisioning a better world. This is why imagination is the first, best weapon of radicals and progressives.

Utopian stories existed long before the word was coined by Thomas More in the 16th century to mean an ideal society, or “no-place”. Plato’s Republic has some claim to being the first but there are as many Utopias as there are communities that dreamed of a better life. The greatest age of utopian fiction was the turn of the last century and it is no accident that the early 21st century is a great age of dystopian fiction. The ideology of late-capitalist patriarchy has become so all-encompassing that it no longer looks like ideology. Fredric Jameson observed, “It is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism” – and the reason for that is not that capitalism is the inevitable destiny of humankind but that we have spent our lives being told that even thinking about any other future makes us ridiculous.

Most leftists do have an idea of the sort of world they would prefer to see. We don’t say what we want for the same reason that we were told as children not to tell anyone else what we wished for – because it’ll be awkward and painful if we don’t get it.

When I think about Utopia, I think about my grandmother. My mother’s mother left school at 13, lived through the Maltese blockade and was obliged by religion and circumstance to marry young, suffocate all her dreams of education and adventure and spend her life taking care of a husband and six kids. Half a century later, I can choose when and whether to have children. I can choose to live independently from men. I regularly travel alone and there are no legal restrictions on getting any job I’m suited for.

The kind of independence many women my age can enjoy would have been almost unimaginable half a century ago – but somebody did imagine it and that is why we got here. A great many somebodies, over centuries of struggle and technological advancement, asked how the world could be different for women and set about making it happen.

Exactly a century ago, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s novel Herland envisioned a society of women in which production was communal, motherhood was valued, relationships were equal and rape and violence were unknown. Reading Herland today, it is striking that for every proposition that came true – women are now allowed to divorce their husbands and participate fully in political life – there are two more that seem as far-fetched now as they did in 1915. Motherhood is still not valued as work. Women are still expected to organise our lives around the threat of sexual violence. But all that can change as long as we continue to ask for more.

For as long as I have been a feminist, I have been asked – usually by grumbling men – when, exactly, we will be satisfied; when women and girls will decide we have enough. The answer is contained in the question: because the instant that we do decide that we are satisfied, that there can never be a better world than this, is the instant that the future shuts down and change becomes impossible.

Utopia is the search for Utopia. It is the no-place by whose light you plot a course through a harsh and unnavigable present. By the time you reach the horizon, it is no longer the horizon but that doesn’t mean you stop going forwards.

Right now, the future seems dark and frightening and it is precisely now that we must continue to imagine other worlds and then plot ways to get there. In the midst of multiple global crises, the only truly ridiculous proposition is that things are going to stay exactly the same.

Human societies are going to change beyond recognition and from the conference table to the streets, our best shot at surviving that change starts when we have the courage to make impossible demands – to face down ridicule and say, “We want more.”

Laurie Penny is a contributing editor to the New Statesman. She is the author of five books, most recently Unspeakable Things.

This article first appeared in the 26 November 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Terror vs the State