Witchsmeller Pursuivant

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Nothing has ever happened here, and nothing ever will*

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Never heard of New Towns Polly?

asks Tim Worstall, in response to Polly Toynbee who said

Rent was always the glitch in the benefit system, and Beveridge never found a logical answer. Well, here at last is a final solution he never considered: put all poor people in distant dumping grounds where nobody wants to live because there is no work, then call them workless scroungers, lacking in aspiration for the children they have taken out of class to throw together in schools where nobody’s parents work.

I’m surprised (not really) that Polly ignores the experience of the New Towns. I was born in Harlow in 1966 and grew up there in the Seventies at the same time as Jason Cowley (former editor of the New Statesman). He had this to say, with which I agree;

When I lived in Harlow, in the 1970s, a trip to the town centre – known locally as The High – was always something to cherish. Built on the highest part of the town, it seemed to offer everything an energetic young boy could want in those days: department stores, an Olympic-size swimming pool, a hi-tech sports centre, a dry-ski slope, a skating rink and a golf course set in a landscaped park through which a river meandered. It even had its own water gardens, at the gateway to which was a Henry Moore sculpture of a family – which, my father told me, symbolised all the new families that had started in the 1960s when Harlow was known as “pram town”.

In those days Harlow was a vibrant place, with utopian yearnings. It was one of the new towns built after the war, centrally planned but with its own distinct local identity. It had new model housing estates – many built using experimental materials and modish techniques – a central business district, designated green wedges, pubs named after butterflies and roads named after political heroes (Mandela Avenue, and so on). It had a leftwing council, a progressive, liberal intelligentsia, which congregated around the excellent local playhouse, eight comprehensive schools and a well-funded network of children’s playschemes and recreational sports facilities. It was a well-organised town, with a tough, resilient, wised-up local population, many of whom were aspirational former East Enders.

Indeed, my parents were two of them, and I had a fabulous education at a proud and strong Comprehensive school. Four of my sixth-form associates went to Oxbridge, and, after my sister, I became the second member of my family (tenth-generation Huegenot refugees) to attend University.

Harlow was superbly designed by the master-planner Sir Frederick Gibberd (his dream has been described as a rhapsody on the welfare state) and ushered in the ever-present now by building Britain’s first pedestrian precinct AND its first residential tower block. Harlow was the future when the future was bright.

My point, which I am leading up to, is not that Harlow’s failure was down to the overbearing dominance of England by London, although I believe it was: In the eighties, Harlow became an urban warehouse, servicing the needs of the greedy capital with goods and labour and otherwise ignored by the metropolitan elite, ceasing to be a meaningful town in its own right and becoming just a deprived district of outer London (The health of people in Harlow is generally worse than the England average. The levels of statutory homelessness, GCSE achievement and people diagnosed with diabetes are worse than the England average. The incidence of violent crime is higher than the England average – Dept of Health Profile 2009). It’s Little New Jersey to London’s Manhattan.

No, my actual (rather small) point is that when the aspirational poor were previously shunted to distant dumping grounds, the biggest error was in not sending us far enough away from people like Polly Toynbee and her metrocentric ilk; those for whom if it doesn’t happen in London, then it doesn’t really happen at all.

Written by Witchsmeller Pursuivant

October 26, 2010 at 4:51 pm

Posted in Opinions

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