In 1984, in the midst of her battle with the British miners, Margaret Thatcher warned that their opponents were trying to turn the country into a “museum society”. If Britain were to renew its power and importance, its “old” and “uneconomical” heavy industries would have to be thrown overboard, regardless of their value to the communities and cultures that supported them.
This forced vision of “modernization” has anchored Conservative unpopularity only in much of the Midlands and northern England; and in some ways a “museum society” has indeed emerged there, not only through efforts to preserve and commemorate industrial heritage, but also through the continued persistence of industrial loyalties and beliefs, including support for the Labor Party. When Thatcher died in 2013, at least one de-industrialized town, Goldthorpe, South Yorkshire, was holding a ceremonial procession with miners’ banners and burning effigies.
Things are starting to change. Elections to decentralized legislatures were held in Scotland, Wales and London on May 6, as well as local and mayoral elections across the UK. In many of the former Labor Party core countries in England, Conservatives managed to consolidate or expand the surprising gains they had made in the 2019 general election. In Hartlepool, a steel town in northern England devastated by unemployment in the 1980s, the Conservatives overturned the Labor Party in a by-election to the British Parliament for the first time since 1959.
Peter Mandelson, the city’s former Labor MP and architect of Tony Blair’s modernizing New Labor project, provided in an interview with the. an explanation for the success of the Conservatives New statesman on May 11th, during his election campaign in the “old social housing estates” he was “noticed” “what personal use and new private housing construction have achieved; These houses and their gardens are elegant and neat. … I can see that people are proud of what they have achieved, they are ambitious, and they are no longer so sure that they have achieved that with Labor. ”
True to center-left politics
When places like Hartlepool finally leave the museum, they do so via the gift shop. Boris Johnson’s failure in the pandemic was overshadowed by the glamor of a successful NHS vaccination program. His government has promised regional investments to “even out” the UK’s geographic disparities. Labor was punished for its ambivalence towards Brexit, even a kind of nostalgic compensation for a national community stripped of its industrial independence.
In Scotland, however, another type of museum society has emerged and even flourished. Established in 1999, the Scottish Parliament was called for by trade unions, Scottish nationalists and the Labor and Communist parties as a means of defending Scottish industry in the 1980s and 90s. By the time it arrived, much of that industry was gone. In its place came – and is – residual loyalty to center-left politics, broad cross-class hostility towards conservatives, and widespread trust in the “ethos of the public sector,” which still legitimizes Scotland’s mostly state-run public services. Deindustrialized England, with no separate English parliament or regional assemblies, was forced to leave behind its memories of a more benevolent welfare state under Labor. In Scotland, these memories were kept – and institutionalized – in the Scottish Parliament. The ashes of the Scottish miners’ leader and communist Mick McGahey, one of the leading advocates of this Parliament, are buried in the foundations of the building.