On top of the former Lower Tyne Colliery in Gateshead stands the Angel of the North. Her arms span some 53 metres, but her reach is far greater. In fact, she touches almost everyone in the northeast, as her creator intended. “I wanted to make an object that would be a focus of hope at a painful time of transition,” said Antony Gormley in 1998.
I wonder how many look up to her today and feel that hope?
The family travelling along the adjacent A1, the mum and dad worried about their jobs under threat at Nissan in nearby Sunderland, their mortgage repayments, the cost of new school uniforms. The nurse on her way to work, hearing reports of more staffing shortages making it nearly impossible to provide the level of care she knows is required on her ward. The dad, who may look up to the Angel of the North, but knows his son looks up to him, as he makes his way to the foodbank for an emergency food parcel to get them through the next week.
And as we stand in the middle of the biggest political and democratic crisis of our lives; as we move towards a disastrous no deal with government reports warning of food, fuel and medicine shortages, I think of Gormley’s phrase “painful period of transition”, but the hope feels absent.
Hope takes many forms. There is the kind that motivates and unites people to strive for a possible future because work has been put in to prove it can be so. Then there is hope that sets people against each other, in pursuit of a promised future, with no grounding in reality. A cruel and manipulative hope, reliant on belief rather than evidence, tormenting good people in pursuit of what may never be.
It would be wrong to fuel this belief. It would be even worse to create it. Unless you are Nigel Farage. “Believe in Britain,” he says. “Brexit is the greatest opportunity any of us will ever see in our lifetimes.” No facts. No reports by independent experts. Just a vacuous statement in the style of his mate Donald Trump – “Believe in Britain”.
The Confederation of British Industry believes in Britain too. Yet its patriotism manifests itself in wanting the best for the hundreds of thousands of businesses it represents. This is why it hires experts to undertake research and analysis that shows no deal will eventually lead to an annual loss of £7bn a year in the northeast. The equivalent of twice the public spending on schools and education in the region. The local northeast Chamber of Commerce has called no deal an absolute disaster too.
So, what about the liar and buffoon Boris Johnson? Selected not by 10 per cent or 1 per cent but by 0.1 per cent of the population. “The people who bet against Britain are going to lose their shirts,” he said upon entering Downing Street. He labelled those who questioned his belief as “doubters, doomsters, and gloomsters”.
Did the majority of the civil service lose their shirts when their reports highlighted the disastrous impact of a no deal? Did they bet against Britain when their expertise found a crushing 16 per cent of GDP will eventually be lost in the northeast – some £3,000 per person? Of course not. Because civil servants know true patriotism is doing what they can to provide a basis from which the government they serve, our government, can provide hope for a possible future.
Yet this goes to the very core of why Farage and Johnson make false promises and offer a cruel and manipulative hope. Why they lie and are happy to promise you what they know can never be delivered. Civil servants have a sense of duty. Farage and Johnson have a sense of entitlement.
Eton-boy Johnson and the former city trader Farage do not want to help the people of the northeast; they want you to help them. They and their mates, who truly know what it means to bet against Britain by riding the financial markets and betting against the pound.
They want you to support the biggest act of harm to our region since the closure of the pits, the shutdown of our shipbuilding. And will offer you anything to ensure you do.
So, while it is ok to look to the Angel of the North for hope and inspiration, the truth is, we have got to turn to each other. We have got to trust each other to solve the Brexit crisis and send a message to Farage and Johnson – not in our name.
What began with the people – must end with the people.
What started with their message of taking back control, must end with the people taking back control. What began with democracy must end with more democracy, not less. Brexit must go back into your hands to decide our future, to defend the jobs and rights of the people of the northeast, and to build a fairer and more equal Britain.
Which is why there must be a people’s vote.
Anna Turley, the MP for Redcar and a leading supporter of People’s Vote North, will be speaking in Newcastle at a Let It Be Heard event on Sunday
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