Monday, August 06, 2018

Jeremy Seabrook returns to Blackburn

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Along with Alan Moore and Ray Gosling, Jeremy Seabrook makes up a school of literature: working-class Northampton grammar school boys who found national fame.

Seabrook is a beautiful writer who was first known for his Hoggartian analysis of working-class culture and its decline. He later moved on to write about poverty in developing countries.

In 1971 Seabrook wrote a book about Blackburn - City Close-Up. He has been back there for the New Statesman, and here is his conclusion:
Arbitrary withdrawal of benefits has driven people to food banks, evicted families and forced many young people to sleep on other people’s sofas and floors, while casual labour and zero-hours contracts have made semi-dependants of mature adults. In the 1960s vulnerable people could expect the attention of social workers; now the best they can expect is “debt counsellors”. 
The Labour council has conspicuously improved the physical aspect of the town and sought to safeguard services against government cuts; and is even-handed in dealing with majority and minority communities. But the town – like so many others – is still a place in transition to a future frequently foretold but never realised. 
The question remains: what happens to human settlements that lose their reason for being? In these places scars linger, both in the psyche of people brought six generations ago from the countryside, and in the memory of those fetched, three generations later, from the villages of south Asia to service mills, many of which have now relocated to the very places from which they were recruited. 
The suggestion that robotics and artificial intelligence will enable the making of garments to be “reshored” to Lancashire is a slender consolation when vital threads have been broken and fabric has frayed in a sometime cotton town, no longer at the centre of the British economy, but on the periphery of an indifferent globalism.

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