Mike Carter writes: On 2 May this year, I set off to walk from Liverpool to London, a journey of 340 miles that would take me a month. I was walking in the footsteps of the People’s March for Jobs, a column of 300-odd unemployed men and women who, on the same day in 1981, exactly 35 years previously, had set off from the steps of St George’s Hall to walk to Trafalgar Square.
In the two years after Margaret Thatcher had been elected, unemployment had gone from 1 to 3 million, as her policies laid waste to Britain’s manufacturing base. In 1981, we saw Rupert Murdoch buy the Times and Sunday Times. We witnessed inner-city riots, unprecedented in their scale and violence, in Liverpool and London. The formation of the SDP split the left. The Tories lost their first assault on the coal miners, capitulating over the closure of 23 pits.
My father, Pete Carter, was one of those who organised the original walk. My journey was an attempt to work out what had happened to Britain in the intervening years. What I saw and heard gave me an alarming sense of how the immense social changes wrought by Thatcherism are still having a profound effect on communities all over England. It also meant that when I awoke last Friday to the result of the EU referendum, I wasn’t remotely surprised.
Some of those charity shops had closed down. What does it say about a town when even the charity shops are struggling?
I left Liverpool the week of the Hillsborough inquest verdict, flowers and scarves still adorning lampposts. The inquest had finally vindicated the families of the 96 killed at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final, exposing the lies and cover-ups of the police, the media and the political class, who had spent over a quarter of a century traducing not only those fans, mostly working class, but also the city and its people. In fact, that demonising had found expression in 1981, too, when Geoffrey Howe suggested to Thatcher privately that, after the Toxteth riots, Liverpool should be subject to a “managed decline”.
I walked through Widnes and Warrington, past huge out-of-town shopping centres and through the wastelands of industrial decay. In Salford, down streets where all the pubs were boarded up and local shops, if you could find them, had brick walls for windows and prison-like metal doors, I found an Airbnb. My host was selling her terraced house. I sat in her living room as the estate agent brought around potential buyers. They were all buy-to-let investors from the south of England, building property portfolios in the poverty, as if this was one giant fire sale. [Continue reading…]