Closing down: King Street, the main shopping thoroughfare of South Shields is broad and car-free – and almost devoid of shops. (Click on images for best resolution)
People in England’s northern towns and cities are scared. Their fears stoked by xenophobic right-wing media, they hate Europe, and they hate migrants. But, most of all, they hate the way they are being squeezed into poverty by a post-industrial society that has turned dreams into nightmares and replaced hope with despair. Tony Sutton returns to South Shields, a place he once called home. (First published in ColdType Issue 130, December 2016)
British Prime Minister Theresa May has committed herself to a scheme to arrest the economic decline of the north of England. However, the plan, originally proposed by George Osborne, who was axed as Chancellor of the Exchequer after the exit of David Cameron as PM following June’s Brexit vote, is still in a stage of incoherence, doubletalk and indecision.
Nothing has yet been agreed, other than the setting up of a think tank – the Northern Powerhouse Partnership – by Osborne, who raised few hopes for speedy action when he said at its mid-September launch: “Trying to turn around 100 years of relative economic decline is not going to happen overnight.” Then he hopped off to the US to take care of his own economic decline, pocketing £500,000 for a few speeches to bankers and hedge fund managers on the financial snout-troughing circuit.
“South Shields was one of the “deprived” areas that voted overwhelmingly in favour of Brexit, much to the dismay of bewildered southern-based liberal commentators…
I was in the north, at South Shields, on Tyneside, just before Osborne’s announcement, and I was shocked at the way the town had degenerated since I worked for daily and Sunday newspapers there and at Newcastle upon Tyne, 11 miles to the west. Forty years ago, South Shields was part of a regional powerhouse and didn’t yet need the transformative magical thinking that is now being spouted by May and Osborne.In the 1970s, the town of 75,000 boasted high-paying jobs in shipbuilding and coal mining. Its last-remaining slums had been demolished, major roads were being built and new factories developed. And King Street, South Shields’ main thoroughfare, reflected that prosperity. What could go possibly go wrong? Lots, as it happens.
The rot set in when Margaret Thatcher arrived in Downing Street late in the decade. Her war on unions, especially the mine workers, together with economic policies that encouraged the offshoring of jobs, saw the collapse of Tyneside’s major industries. Eleven years of Tony Blair’s neoliberalism, from 1997 to 2007, continued Thatcher’s work, the area hitting rock-bottom at the end of the 20th-century when South Shields had the highest unemployment rate in Britain.
Thatcher’s political philosophy – “There is no such thing as society,” she had famously claimed in a 1987 interview with a women’s magazine – began a process that led to the elimination of secure, well-paying jobs and their replacement by humiliating zero-hour contracts with one-step-above-poverty wages. This decades-long economic decline played an key part in the rise of the far-right political party Ukip, which took advantage of the increased social turmoil that was not being addressed by the Labour Party, traditionally the champion of Britain’s working class. Encouraged by xenophobic right-wing media, Ukip declared war on migrants, blaming them – along with the European Union – for stealing jobs and robbing British workers of income, housing and benefits. Then David Cameron, newly-relected as Prime Minister, honoured an election pledge to hold a referendum earlier this year on whether or not to stay inside the Europe Union, and the result was a narrow, unexpected, victory for the Brexiteers, a greatly divided land., and the the speedy exit of Cameron as prime minister.
South Shields was one of the “deprived” areas that voted overwhelmingly in favour of Brexit, much to the dismay of bewildered southern-based liberal commentators who couldn’t understand why, in light of all the European cash being injected into northern development zones, their residents would vote “against their best interests.”
Brendan O’Neill, writing in the Spectator, explained: “Britain’s poor and workless have risen up. And in doing so they didn’t just give the EU and its British backers the bloodiest of bloody noses. They also brought crashing down the Blairite myth of a post-class, Third Way Blighty, where the old ideological divide between rich and poor did not exist, since we were all supposed to be ‘stakeholders’ in society.
“This peasants’ revolt has sent shockwaves through the elite . . . and they’re now frantically trying to work out why it happened. They’ve come up with two answers – one fuelled by rage, the other by something worse: pity. The ragers say the plebs voted Leave because they’re a bit racist and got hoodwinked by the shiny, xenophobic demagoguery of the likes of Nigel Farage.
“This idea – that the poor are easy prey for demagogues – is the same claptrap the Chartists had to put up with in the 1840s. Their snooty critics frequently told them that, since the poor do not have a ‘ripened wisdom’ they are ‘more exposed than any other class . . . to be converted to the vicious ends of faction.’ Now, the metropolitan set once again accuse the little people of exactly the same thing.”
O’Neill was right. The pre-Thatcher ’60s generation knew their basic dreams would almost certainly see fruition: job-for-life security and regular pay rises would elevate their families into comfort, if not outright prosperity. That was the social contract developed after the end of World War II: Work hard and contribute to society, then society will take care of you. That contract died when Thatcher broke the miners’ union in 1984-85. After that, it was everyone for himself.
On the face of it, today’s political turmoil in Britain has little to do with Thatcher and her successors: It’s about Brexit and immigrants and the average Briton’s deep hatred of Europe, isn’t it? But dig a little deeper and the link becomes more apparent. The real fight is about dignity, security and fear. It’s about a need for lasting, well-paid careers instead of the dumbed-down servility of short-term jobs in the service industry. It’s about the right to affordable housing, instead of having to pay exorbitant rents to slumlords. But, most of all, it’s about a future that offers hope, not despair.
A quick stroll down South Shields’s King Street will give the most-jaundiced observer an indication of the troubled times in which many Britons live. Once a bustling thoroughfare that furnished the dreams of an affluent society, the broad boulevard is now a nightmare of austerity. Many storefronts are empty, their windows displaying stark “For Sale” and “To Let” notices. The businesses that remain are mainly charity outlets, betting shops and pound stores for cash-strapped customers, while those that cater for the wealthier have decamped to big-box citadels elsewhere. Welcome to the shabby new face of Main Street, Brexitland.
This scenario – a nation of distinct, economically-divided societies – is not unique to Tyneside, but is evident across the north of England. And on mainland Europe, where disillusioned residents of Greece, Spain and Italy are also witnessing the collapse of the old world order, as they slide towards poverty in a new Fourth World. Weary of the lies and false promises of their money-grubbing politicians and the hoggish corporations they serve, the people are now sending a stark warning to their political masters in London and Brussels: “If you don’t help us, we’ll suffer more. And, if that happens, we’ll take you down with us.”
CAPTIONS 1. Closing down: King Street, the main shopping thoroughfare of South Shields is broad and car-free – and almost devoid of shops. 2. Pretty as a picture? It’s all fake – Huge decals adorn the front of vacant property. 3. Charity shops, betting shops – empty store fronts. Welcome to Main Street, Brexitland!
Learn more about Tony Sutton, publisher and editor in chief of ColdType, Canada’s unique leftist journal. We present below an interview with Jason Miller, a former associate editor of Cyrano’s Journal. Note this interview was filed in 2007, long before we could see troubling signs of Counterpunch’s descent into uneven coverage and sometimes de facto collaboration with the empire in its international depredations.
Nearly asphyxiated by the fetid stench wafting from the mendacious corporate media pundits I’ve been profiling, I decided to ascend from the intellectual sewer into which I had crawled in order to observe them in their natural habitat. At last some detoxified air! It was an incredible boost to my faltering faith in humanity when I recently had the privilege to conduct a cyber-interview with Tony Sutton, the editor and publisher of ColdType, an online journal which presents “Writing Worth Reading from around the World.”As you will discover, Tony and his marvelous publication are two of the best kept secrets we political educators and agitators for social justice have in our arsenal. Domiciled in the Great White North, Tony publishes one of the finest radical journals in existence.
In terms of content, contributing writers, and presentation, ColdType’s quality is unparalleled.
To learn more about ColdType, Tony Sutton, and Tony’s highly refined insight on the dynamics of oppression (which was forged in the crucible of his involvement in the struggle against South African Apartheid), let’s move on to the interview:
1. Your publication has been characterized as the “Counterpunch of Canada,” yet many US Americans are unfamiliar with it. How would you describe ColdType?
“I’m flattered by the comparison; I’ve been a fan of Counterpunch for years. But it’s a bit like comparing a newspaper with a magazine. As a monthly service, ColdType can never provide the quantity of information put out by the daily Counterpunch, nor do we want to. The acid test for ColdType content is: Will it still be relevant in six months’ or two years’ time? We’re interested in journalism that has legs as well as style.
“On a philosophical level, however, there is a similarity: both CP and CT are as interested in the quality of the writing as the subject being discussed, and both want to help foster a fairer, more equitable, society.”
2. What is ColdType’s mission?
“In its original tabloid format ColdType promised to provide readers with “Writing Worth Reading From Around The World.” That’s still our basic mission – I’m constantly seeking writing that has something to say – and says it in an intelligent, well-reasoned way.
“ColdType is dedicated to excellence in progressive thought: the site is full of powerful book excerpts, wonderful essays and some of the finest columnists in the online world. Great thinking. Great writing. Great design. That’s what we try to achieve in each monthly package.”
3. What is the approximate readership of your publication?
“The ColdType web site gets between 150,000-250,000 hits a month, depending on the amount of cross-postings we get. Most of the hits come in the first two weeks of publication, which is why I’d like to publish more often. But, right now, there’s no time for that . . .
The ColdType Reader, just one part of coldtype.net, has been lifted by other web sites around the world, so we know it gets lots more downloads than our web counter tells us but, as the other sites don’t supply figures, it’s hard to find out the precise circulation. One of the good about being an Internet-based magazine is that there’s a completely different circulation model than that of mainstream publishing; the numbers don’t grind to a halt when a new issue is published – we’re still getting hundreds of downloads each month of issues published 18 months ago.”
4. How long have you been publishing Cold Type?
“ColdType began as a tabloid magazine 13 years ago in 1994. I launched it while corporate design consultant for Thomson Newspapers’ North American operation. My ambition was to publish a weekly tabloid highlighting great newspaper journalism from around the world, but I didn’t have enough cash (or, if truth be told, the courage) to do my own prototype. So I used corporate cash to do it, as a publication for the group’s journalists. In hindsight, I realise I should have gathered the cash and published it myself – that first issue was a runner up in the Canadian National Magazine Awards contest for an 8-page photo essay by Toronto photographer Russell Monk on the genocide in Uganda; and the response to those first 2,000 copies was amazing.
“When I left Thomsons in 1996, ColdType ceased publication. Thomsons gave me the title when they got out of the newspaper business in 2000 after which it sat gathering dust for a couple of years until I had a brainwave and registered ColdType.net to publish the magazine – still as a tabloid – in pdf format. After one issue, I realized that the newspaper format was not ideal for an online publication, so turned it into the format you see it today, with long, essay-length articles produced as downloadable pdfs.
“The ColdType Reader followed a couple of years ago. Its genesis was in a collection of essays titled OtherVoices http://www.coldtype.net/voices.04.html that I had introduced to coldtype.net in 2004, and later abandoned as too time-consuming. (Look out for a separate e-book of the Best of OtherVoices later this year). I realized there was a place for shorter magazine-length articles a couple of years ago and ColdType/2 was born; I renamed it The ColdType Reader an issue later as the title was confusing readers.”
5. You have published some iconic figures from the Left. How do you draw such intellectual talent?
“I hope they’re attracted by the philosophy and quality of the publication. Right from its first printed issue, ColdType has carried the work of great writers and photographers, and I believe that quality attracts quality – our contributors certainly aren’t lured into ColdType by money, because there isn’t any. I’m proud to have fine contributors such as George Monbiot, John Pilger, Greg Palast, Edward S. Herman, Uri Avnery, Michael Parenti, Noam Chomsky, Loretta Napoleoni, Robert Fisk (who has been with us since the first printed issue) and many others, and I hope they feel the same way about ColdType.”
6. Your PDF format is unique; I am not aware of another sociopolitical or news site that employs it. What led you to employ PDF?
“Although I appreciate the reach of the Internet, I’m not too keen on its limited formatting. And, like many other internet readers, I still like to print out stuff, read it and file it – holding a publication in your hands and turning pages is so much more fun than reading on a computer monitor. The great thing about the pdf format is that it allows me to publish without having the hassles of advertising or subscriptions or print runs or returns or paying printing bills and postage – or making a profit! And I think there’s something respectful in presenting great journalism in a manner that avoids the generic blandness of html, making it instead enticing, unique readable. Just look at our collection of 50 of Joe Bageant’s essays – http://www.coldtype.net/joe.html – as an example of what I mean.”
7. ColdType provides peerless quality in its visual presentation of its fine content. How are you able to maintain such a high standard when you charge no subscription fees?
“It’s as easy to produce quality, as it is to produce crap – and I’ve had enough experience working in publishing over the last 30 years to tell the difference. I don’t have to charge because ColdType is not my day job – I travel around the world consulting on editorial and design for newspapers and magazines. I think of ColdType as therapy – working for commercial publishers imposes intellectual demands that I’m not always happy with; editing ColdType allows me to publish what I (italic) believe is relevant. I hope we’ll be able to survive without accepting paid-for ads, begging for money or charging subscribers.”
8. Please give us a quick biographical sketch of Mr. Tony Sutton.
“I’m English, spent the early part of my career on weekly, evening, Sunday and national newspapers in Britain. Then I became assistant London editor of the East and West African editions of Drum magazine, transferring to South Africa where I became executive editor of the magazine – which was aimed at Black readers – a couple of months before the June 1976 Soweto schoolkid riots (see more on my years at Drum at http://www.coldtype.net/photo.html). After that I became a consultant, working for the black alternative media as well as mainstream newspapers and magazines. I moved to Canada in 1990 to redesign the Globe and Mail newspaper in Toronto, transferred to the corporate office as head of design for North America and then became an independent consultant 12 years ago. I also spent five years as part time editor of Design, the magazine of the US-based Society for News Design.”
9. Also, please tell us about your wife and her contributions to your endeavors.
“Jools has kept me sane and out of prison for the past 40 years.”
10. After the years you spent editing Drum and opposing Apartheid in South Africa, what are your thoughts on the conditions that black South Africans face today?
“I still consult for newspaper clients in South Africa and am amazed how, despite the obvious signs of wealth in the cities; things haven’t really improved for the majority of the people. There have been positive changes, of course: Apartheid ended and everyone got the vote but, after taking power, the ANC quickly abandoned its socialist ideals and its leaders saw no problem in adapting to the ‘benefits’ of free market capitalism. The result is a small class of elite citizens – both black and white – who have to barricade themselves into homes surrounded by electrified fencing and patrolled by armed security guards while the masses still live in squalor.”
11. What do you think of the continued oppression of blacks in the United States via a deeply entrenched system of institutionalized racism, including the prison industrial complex, de facto segregation, structural barriers virtually guaranteeing widespread impoverishment, and a grossly inequitable educational system?
“I remember my trips to the United States in the 1980s when black leaders were demonstrating for the introduction of sanctions against South Africa. It seemed strange that so much energy was spent in decrying the lot of their oppressed brothers in South Africa while ignoring the inequality that was so obvious in their own country. Apartheid doesn’t have to be institutionalized to be effective – much of South Africa has learned that lesson since the ANC came to power. The fight for economic and social freedom for blacks in both countries still has to be won.”
12. Living in a nation which provides guaranteed health care to its citizens, what do you think of the fact that the US plutocracy has worked furiously for years to block “socialized medicine” in the wealthiest nation on the planet, despite numerous polls indicating that 70-80% of US Americans favor a system of national health care?
“Healthcare in the US is a disgrace. Until something is done about a system that allows drug companies and other corporations to throw so much cash into the electoral system the majority of working class people will continue to be shafted. Change will only come when people open their eyes, see what’s happening, rise from the comfort of their sofas, take to the streets and do something about it.”
13. Many have drawn parallels between the plight of the Palestinians and the black South Africans who suffered under Apartheid. What is your view?
“The suffering of the Palestinians under the oppression of Israel and, by extension, the United States is as bad, if not worse, than that of black South Africans under the evils of apartheid. Why is it so too easy to forget the lessons of recent history – Israel, the United States and the world should be ashamed of what is happening in the West Bank and, more recently, in Gaza. Israel, perhaps more than any other nation, should know better . . .”
14. How did you wind up in Canada?
“The main reason we left South Africa was because my son Oliver was about to be drafted into the South African Defence Force, and there no way Jools and I would allow him to fight for apartheid. But I was also ready for change – we went to South Africa on a year-long contract in 1975 and stayed for 14 – I was a newspaper and magazine consultant at the time and had done everything I needed to do there; even my unpaid work with the alternative media was becoming stale, especially as the end of apartheid was on the horizon. At this time – late in 1989 – I was invited to Toronto to lead the Globe and Mail newspaper through a major redesign, so off we went. It was strange to find myself in a hotel room in Toronto watching Nelson Mandela’s release from jail – at that moment I thought I’d made a serious mistake, a feeling not helped by the fact that we’d moved from an African summer to winter in Canada . . .”
15. In what ways, and to what extent, do you see the Stephen Harper administration moving Canada into the realms of imperialism, militarism, neocolonialism and fascism?
“I hope Harper won’t be in power long enough to take us too far down those paths. But I’m not sure the people of Canada will make the right choice at the next election, whenever it happens. It’s amazing how the promise of tax cuts and a bit of extra spending money so easily persuades voters to elect a government that does not represent their interests. And there’s no doubt that the propaganda machine will be focused on the previous Liberal government’s insanely corrupt handling of advertising contracts. There’s no excuse for corruption, but it probably won’t be pointed out that at least Jean Chrétien’s lot didn’t waste billions of dollars and hundreds of lives by signing on to Bush’s war in Iraq, which Harper likely would have done. Harper’s keenness to resupply the military and to commit Canada to the futile war in Afghanistan is sign enough of his belligerence – if he can be so dangerous running a minority government, I dread to imagine the havoc and misery he might wreak with a clear majority.”
16. What are your thoughts on Canada’s participation in the imperial war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan?
“Simple. We shouldn’t be there. It’s time to return to our traditional peacekeeping role. Canada shouldn’t be fighting Bush’s wars. Nor should America.”
17. How do you feel about Canada aligning itself more and more closely with the United States?
“Canada will always be linked with the United States due to the proximity of its main centres to the border, but that doesn’t mean the country has to become servile to whatever US interest is dominant at any particular time. Right now Canada is about to implement its own no-fly list on air travelers and seems likely to sign up for America’s idiotic and paranoid missile defense system. I dread to think where Bush and Harper will take us next.”
18. As a final question, what strategies do you think radical writers, publishers, and political educators need to employ to better penetrate the incredibly tenacious false consciousness constructed and maintained by the ruling class?
“We have to keep telling the truth, we have to continue the fight for social justice, and we have to spread the message to more and more people that global capitalism and corporate greed are not in the best interest of them, the nation or the world.”
For once I have little to add excepting my assertion that if we had a legion of Tony Suttons, our world would be a much better place. He truly is a “Northern Light.”
Many thanks to Tony for participating in the interview and for his substantial contributions to the cause of social justice.