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Trip to the North West of England

Over the last couple of days in days I have in the North West of England. Or rather two bits of it – Bolton and Manchester.

Bolton did not seem to be the hell-on-Earth that it is normally presented as. The people did not seem very poor (although the local ‘everything for a pound’ shop was crowded) and the local Muslim (mostly brown) folk did not seem to be about to fight to the death with the local non Muslim (mostly pinkish-gray “white”) folk.

The town seemed fairly clean and the town hall, art gallery and museum were quite nice.

One thing that sticks in my mind was a church in Bolton (St George’s I think) that has been turned into some shops. As an Anglican (one of the few left) and a cultural conservative I should have been offended by this – but I was not. It “worked” – seeing the pulpit and stained glass windows (and so on) all still there, next to stores selling various nice things was actually quite nice (perhaps the decline of the Church of England can, in part, be blamed on too many Anglicans being like me).

As for Manchester.

Well first a word of explanation. Manchester in Britain is not famous for the old “Manchester School” of Free Trade (as it is overseas), although one can still find statues of Cobden and Bright and even the Conservative Peel who repealed the Corn Laws (there is also a statue of the Duke of Wellington – but that is another matter).

However, the Manchester of free markets is long gone (even the Free Trade Hall is now gone). Since the late 19th century Manchester has become famous for “social reform” (statism) – the same passion to help the poor and weak, but seeing the state (or “the community” in a sense that includes the public authority) rather than voluntarism as the way to do it. Many conservative minded people (such as Lord Melbourne) warned that when free trade did not produce Paradise (the end of poverty and so on) radical people would turn to collectivism.

Manchester became known (in Britain) for not just local statism, but for a strong socialist tradition seeking to create a new society in the United Kingdom and, indeed, the world.

Birmingham may have just as much of an active local council as Manchester – but Birmingham did not seek to build the New Jerusalem.

Manchester was the city of Christian “social reformers” such as Archbishop Temple, and non Christian ones like Karl Marx (among many others), had strong connections to the city. And the Labour party has controlled Manchester for time out of mind – whereas many other English cities had Conservative party councils only a few years ago.

So what is the place like now?

Well it is not that bad.

In some nations (such as the United States) local leftism manifests itself in such things as high taxes and lots of regulations.

It used to be that way in England. I can remember in the 1970’s when Conservative Leeds and Labour Manchester faced each other, in mutual hatred, on the two sides of the Pennines (the range of hills separating Yorkshire and Lancashire) and I can remember talking to Yorkshire people who said things like “it is not true that Yorkshire people hate Lancastrians – I just hate Manchester”.

Of course the days of Conservative strength in parts of Yorkshire have been gone for some years, but that is not the main point.

In England almost all taxes, council spending and regulations are now decided at central level (as the people of my town of Kettering, in Northamptonshire, are finding to their cost), now this may mean that voting Consevative at the local level does not make much difference – but it also means that local radicalism can do only limited harm.

Manchester seems fairly prosperious and only partly because of the vast subsidies it gets from central government. The local authorities just do not have the power to turn the city into a total economic wasteland.

So how does Manchester’s collectivist traditition manifest itself?

Well there are some silly things at the art gallery – but most of the gallery is nice.

The town hall makes a big thing of Manchester being the first city to become a ‘nuclear free zone’ back in 1980 (I rather doubt that this would have impressed anyone planning a nuclear attack on Britain) – but the staff of the town hall treat the memorial as a joke, and the hall is a nice building full of interesting information about the history of Manchester.

The city library has lots of Marxist (and other socialist) books in it – perhaps slightly more than in other cities’ public libaries, but there were still a few pro freedom books (if one looks hard for them). Sadly the layout and entrance was poor – a nice building spoilt by badly thought out changes. But it could be worse. (The building could have been torn down and replaced by something vile.)

The local cathedral did have lots of stuff on South Africa (and local multiculturalism). But the old banners of units of the British army with local connections were still flying (yes, sorry, I am sucker for the warfare part of the ‘warfare-welfare state’ my libertarian doctrines have not managed to crush the romantic conservative in me). And the quiet dignity of the place was not destroyed by the new stained glass. The blackened walls of the repaired building were caused by German bombing in World War II and by an I.R.A. bombing some years ago – and, in a way, the damage actually helps the building’s dignity. Old tattered banners with records of battle after battle, set against the bomb blackened walls …

And (of course) J.S. Bach was being played as I entered the cathedral. Indeed the centuries-old school of music (a fine building, with free public concerts every week day at 1330) is only a few feet away.

I do not know what the ‘People’s Museum’ is like as I did not visit it. But the only obvious communists I spotted were five people (wearing the standard signs) near one of the railway stations – they were shouting about something or other, but seemed to quiet down when I looked at them (I was not aggressive in any way). I looked about and I was the only person who had stopped to look at the communists. Perhaps they were just shocked that anybody would notice them.

3 comments to Trip to the North West of England

  • Tom

    Nice post. You mentioned Northampton and the setting of its taxes from afar. My girlfriend, who recently moved back to London from that town, found to her disgust that council taxes paid in central London were no higher than in Northampton. That town also has more road speed cameras than any other town in England, as far as I know.

    Manchester is ugly in parts but some of its old buildings are impressive and it also has a fairly vibrant nightlife, collection of museums and galleries. Of course the place tends to be known to most folk these days for its football teams, especially ManU.

    Sadly Manchester also has a serious problem with drug gangs and violent crime. I would not recommend going into the poorer areas late at night.

  • The latter point is somewhat overblown: unless you’re actually trying to sell drugs to their clients yourself, your risk of harm at the hands of Mancy drug dealers is near-zero.

    & of course council tax is higher in Northampton than London: house prices in London are higher, so the tax level for any particular house price band will be lower for the same total tax revenue.

  • Cydonia


    “Of course the place tends to be known to most folk these days for its football teams, especially ManU.”

    Sorry to be pedantic, but the correct spellings are Manure or Moan U.