25 July 2008

The Green Green Grass of Home……

I don’t think so. Not for me, not for Gordon Brown although I’m stretching it a bit to align GB with Glasgow East. Especially now !

I went to bed last night knowing that a thousand miles away in distance and a million miles away in deprivation and culture, my old stamping ground, the constituency of Glasgow East was counting the votes of the latest UK by-election. I didn’t think for a moment I would wake up to the astonishing news that Labour would lose the seat. It doesn’t matter a jot that it was the SNP which won, the significant thing is that probably one of the most staunchly labour areas in the UK had issued its damning verdict on Gordon Brown, one of its own. This wasn’t a vote about a ruling government. This was a vote about a fellow Scot who, they believe, has ruined their already blighted lives. Let me explain.

Glasgow East includes an area called Shettleston. I was born there. It is officially the most deprived area in the UK. Average male life expectancy is 54 – yes 54 years. In theory if I’d stayed there I would be dead by now – a sobering thought. The constituency as a whole has a 25 per cent unemployment rate, 40% of children are being raised in a workless home and the teenage pregnancy rate is 40% above the national average. These statistics and others put this area of the UK in the same deprivation category as many developing countries but this is the big picture, it’s the microcosm of life in the east end which has been affected and turned them against GB.

Although I left Shettleston when I was about two years old, I only moved about 3 miles to another part of the constituency, Bridgeton where I spent the next 9 years before moving to Easterhouse, the gun-totting, sword-wielding, overspill housing estate which also forms part of this sprawling, deprived land mass. I lived there until I was about 18 and although, housing has been improved, transport and communication has moved ahead, the culture of the people will forever stay the same. It’s a comedy and a tragedy wrapped up in deprivation and despair.

At one stage when I was about 14 I had the largest paper round in Easterhouse both during the week and at the weekend – it was a 7-day a week slog. On Friday night’s I would collect the week’s paper money and would have ‘safe houses’ where I could seek shelter if one of the gangs had tried to rob me of the considerable amount of money I was carrying, particularly towards the end of my round. At many doors I knocked on on those tricky Friday nights I would be met by a child who looked as if they were straight from the pages of a Dickens novel. I would say ‘Paper Money please’. Without a second thought the child would shout from the open door, ‘Daddy – it’s the paper boy’, to which the reply came, ‘Tell him I’m not in and I’ll pay it next Friday’.

This was the comedy element. The grim reality was that most of these people were long-term unemployed but still drank, smoked, gambled and had cars, oh and took between 7 and 9 papers per week ! Drinking, smoking and gambling were their escape routes from the daily grind. When he came along, they thought Gordon Brown was some sort of messiah – a good working class guy, ok from the Edinburgh side, but one of their own, one who would look after them……whatever that meant. Now they cannot smoke in their favourite pubs and when they buy cigarettes, the tax has raised the price to the point where the wife has to do without hers, which makes her nag incessantly. The price of their favourite tipple (10 pints and 6 Bacardi Breezers) now takes about 25% of their weekly income support, and the price of fuel is now so high that they have to car-pool on the way to the dog track. Life’s a bitch and so is GB !

Now I have to say that not all of these things are the direct result of GB, Scotland after all has it’s own parliament which has direct influence over many aspects of a Scot’s daily life (e.g. smoking ban in pubs) but to your average punter in the east end of Glasgow, it’s GB which has gone and done it.

The political analysis has only just begun into last night’s ‘earthquake’ result. The after-shocks will last for many months. Probably one of the most amusing comments following last night's shock was the quote from a Labour 'insider' who said about Gordon Brown's unpopularity that 'if Gordon ran an undertakers business people would stop dying'. That says it all !
Picture at top of blog courtesy of The Sun newspaper.

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