Tuesday 25 June 2024

Itches, Words, Bots, Negativity and Dangerous Spaces for "The Good At Heart"


I don't know when the itch this idea developed, I do however know why. I'm a member of a small number of groups on Facebook, ones where contemporary and historical photographs are shared and within the area of rich industrial heritage, there are, as you might expect, plenty of opportunities to create posts that allow us to view the past, present and the future possibilities. All good, all innocent and well intentioned.  An unfortunate trend has however emerged: one that seems to have been nurtured in a petri dish of anger, false despair and bitterness. It goes a bit like this:

"Back in the good old days when you could walk around without being stabbed"
"It doesn't look like the Birmingham I knew, and we all know why"
" Merry Hill destroyed our town"
"The Trams are useless-what's the point of connecting empty towns?"
"Councillors are too busy looking after themselves..."
"Immigrants get everything, we get nothing"

You get my drift..

It Depends Where You Point the Lens

I have no pretentions of being a photographer, that skill set resides elsewhere in my family. I do know though, that a visual narrative is pretty much shaped by where you point the lens: in short, you'll see what you are looking for. I feel a similar premise applies to how images are portrayed, purposed, interpreted and assisted by a handful of cleverly clich├ęd, smart statements that are an "in the know" nudge and a wink in the direction of those who seek to disparage and sneer, sowing and nurturing uncertainty and mistrust in so doing.

A Product of History, Politics and Decisions?

There's an interesting view that the demise of Birmingham began shortly after the end of WW11. With the exception of London, Birmingham was the UK's most bombed city: it's vibrant engineering and manufacturing industries made it a natural target. It made was planes (notably the Spitfire, vehicles, armaments and munitions From the first raid (Erdington 1941), 4,600 homes were blown up, more than 13,000 were badly damaged, some 2,200 people were killed and around 13,000 seriously injured (Carl Chinn, "Brum Undaunted"). Nonetheless, Birmingham's immediate and emergent post-war prosperity was the nation's highest outside of London. Businesses were attracted to the West Midlands and this didn't sit well with Whitehall, the general feeling being that the draw of bigger cities drew investment away form other areas.

The Distribution of Industry Act 1945 provided money for factories in deprived areas, while demanding that all large industrial developments be approved by the Board of Trade. The effect was to prevent industrial growth in Birmingham and prevent new industries from going there. There was an emergent ideological issue too: that growth should occur in new towns and in order to live there, jobs were needed. To support this, new manufacturing sites required an Industrial Development Certificate, ((IDC), and the IDC prevented any company expanding or building without one. new manufacturing sites required an Industrial Development Certificate, ((IDC): IDCs were refused in the old industrial areas, but granted in the new. By 1974 it was estimated that the West Midlands had ‘exported’ 82,000 jobs.

How do we make a bad time worse?

As part of an intentional strategy to prevent the City's expansion, "The Control of Office and Industrial Development Act 1965," was extended to Birmingham by Harold Wilson’s Labour government, the result of this was that the City was effectively unavailable to service the area's wealth generating manufacturing industries via a vibrant and aspirational financial sector: there were severe restrictions on the development of offices within the City, thus further restricting job diversity and aspirational growth at the same time increasing dependence on the existing automotive industry and its associated trades: when it came undone, it came undone quickly. The region suffered on a well trodden path. With its wealth and prosperity (the very attraction to large migrant communities) diminishing, so did its tolerance of "incomers" and their first and second generation families. Existing internal divisions were, I suggest, re-awakened by increased social and economic pressures.


The "nudge wink, we know," group and its toxic impacts? There's a focus on race, cultural identity, social change and some groups receiving more favourable treatment than others. I would, with reservations, suggest that it has been forever thus: events leading up to The Murphy Riots in Birmingham (18670), exploited and built on growing anti-Catholic/Irish feelings that fed into the diatribe of a skilled and gifted mob orator. If we substitute ethnicity, nationality and culture with contemporary groups, it seems fair to suggest that a powder keg of equally destructive potential awaits its spark, one that is generated in the dialogue of "Theyism," examples of which are:

"They are a law unto themselves!"                
"They think they own the place!"
"They hate us!"
"They have taken our jobs, our houses and have lowered our wages!"
"They are criminals!"
"They don't belong here"

It was in alive and kicking then and continues now, the difference being that there is a different and further reaching applications of the "they" word: an application that has thrived in the previously mentioned petri-dish and, that they are accelerated and amplified by social media's purposeful and vampiric bias toward contributions that increase anxiety, anger, division and Theyism

Doing Things Differently: "If you always do what you always did...etc"

It seems that there's a long-standing disconnect between Birmingham and the Black Country and I'm not too sure how helpful this is when attempts are made to elevate the region, particularly in the contexts of its economic interdependence, cultural similarities and an ongoing, challenging, continuing evolution. Perhaps a better definition of the challenge might help and without this being a prescription, here's a suggestion:

We can not stay here, socially, culturally and economically, it makes no sense not only to stagnate but to regress. There is no point in externalising the problem, and no value in over internalising it. We need to develop, deliver and talk about a Skills Strategy, A Jobs Strategy, A Learning Strategy, A Housing Programme and A Health and Well Being Strategy. We need to invest in new futures, exploring new economic activities that support our communities, our homes and our precious environment. We need to be a "we", not a potentially divided map of "they". We should strive be "The Good at Heart"

Itch scratched: for now!