Scouse not English
Why I refused to celebrate the Queen's Jubilee and why the Tories will never be welcome in the ‘Scouse Republic”.
In recent events, the sense of a scouse patriotism has amplified, which many people will have seen through the controversy surrounding the FA Cup Final where Liverpool fans booed the national anthem or following the viral video from Keir Starmer’s recent visit to Liverpool. Since the 1800s the sense of an independent Liverpool identity has been extremely apparent, and in the past 30 years this collective notion of being an outsider group has become even more pronounced. From the Churchill administration to the Toxteth Riots and the Thatcherite era, there has been a growing sense of disaffiliation with the ‘English’ identity. These legacies play out in real time today.
If we’re going to talk about scouse identity, we must begin with the mass Irish immigration that began in 1847 following the Great Irish Famine. Since this moment, Liverpool has been intrinsically tied to the Emerald Isle and today, it is estimated that around 75% of people in Liverpool have connections to Ireland. As a city where Irishness was once highly controversial, Liverpool now has a strong historical and genealogical bond to its Irish heritage which continues to feed into the very distinctive contemporary Scouse culture. Today, a lot of people in Liverpool with Irish heritage find it almost impossible to separate themselves from their Irish roots, and so it’s no longer a case of being scouse or Irish, but both at the same time. For this reason, it is understandable why Liverpool is often coined as the second capital of Ireland, and why its people often embody an anti-authoritarian sentiment towards ‘Englishness’ due to the history of violence, discrimmination and oppression that has been employed by England against Ireland dating back to the British Empire.
Post migration, 1911 saw Liverpool’s Bloody Sunday. 100,000 union strikers gathered at a peaceful protest at St George’s Hall. The protest soon turned violent after Home Secretary Winston Churchill sent in army troops and police officers to ‘control’ the strikers. As a result, two men, Michael Prendergast and John Sutcliffe were shot dead, an event we now remember as Liverpool’s Bloody Sunday. Days later, the strikes continued and so Churchill sent up the HMS Antrim to patrol the River Mersey to intimidate strikers. The gunboats represented the willingness of the Conservative Government to not only threaten the protestors, but to violently mortar the city, if strikers refused to stand down. Churchill’s legacy in Liverpool, however, did not end here. The Liverpool Blitz of 1941 was the heaviest sustained period of bombing and loss of life that the city ever experienced, notably leaving behind monuments such as the Bombed Out Church. When visiting Liverpool to evaluate the damage, however, Churchill took a different tone expressing blatant hypocrisy and ignorance by the following statement:
"I see the damage done by the enemy, but I also see the spirit of an unconquered people"
This narrative of an ‘unconquered people’ is particularly sinister, considering 30 years earlier Churchill himself had threatened the city with a very similar fate. However, despite the bomb sites and damage, the people of Liverpool continued to persevere in the conditions they were forced into. This arguably planted the seeds of great hostility towards the Conservative party, which were soon to grow. Former Labour Shadow Chancellor, John McDonald wholly expressed this sentiment by calling Churchill a ‘villain’ with regards to Liverpool, stating that for many of the working class, Churchill was not “not someone who they looked up to as a result of the actions when he was home secretary.”
The next period of growing hostility, and arguably the most significant, is the Thatcherite period which began in the 1970s following the major decline in Liverpool’s Manufacturing sector and docks closure. Margaret Thatcher was elected in 1979, and she wasted no time in introducing her policy of austerity and managed decline in places like Liverpool. After being hit hard by reductions in public expenditure, Liverpool began to edge closer to the political border of Britain, falling into a period of extreme unemployment and industrial unrest. The rapid decline of working class jobs, the closure of the docks and severe cuts to public services led to rising unemployment throughout Liverpool, which further exacerbated the already extremely hostile environment towards both the British establishment and Conservative Government. It is this Thatcherite ethos of monetarism and austerity that gave rise to profound negative cultural, social, and economic changes in Liverpool, that I believe we still continue to suffer from today. Even today, we continue to see Thatcher’s legacy living on in the current Tory government, who still devalue Liverpool and its people, neglecting the city as a ‘lost cause’. In the words of the Iron Lady herself:
"There is no such thing as a society, everyone is responsible for themselves"
It was the Toxteth Riots of 1981, however, that drew the managed decline of Liverpool to its breaking point. Tensions regarding police mistreatment, spending cuts, poor housing, sus laws, racial assault, and harassment erupted in the inner city area of Toxteth in 1981, following the arrest of Leeroy Cooper. The already hostile environment was then propelled into a period of nine consecutive nights of violence and riots, displaying some of the most extreme examples of urban disorder in British history. However, rather than responding to the uprisings and listening to the voices of the people of Liverpool, the government decided to tactically retreat from any form of regeneration for the city at all. The Thatcher government employed a set of policies designed to abandon the ‘damaged’ areas of Liverpool in an attempt to preserve the cities not yet ‘corrupted’ by such political unrest. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Geoffrey Howe led the managed decline of the ‘damaged’ city, by pursuing policies of tactical retreat, economic erosion and encouraged evacuation. Liverpool was by this point invisible in the eyes of the Conservative government, and we were left to economically decline. In the words of Howe:
"I cannot help the feeling that the option of managed decline is not one we should forget altogether...we must not expand all our limited resources in trying to make water uphill"
Then in 1989, the most disastrous event in Liverpool’s history, Hillsborough. On the 15th of April 1989, 97 Liverpool fans were tragically crushed to death at the FA Cup semi-final in Sheffield. Most troublingly, 33 years on, no one has been held accountable for the lives lost. The legal battle for justice has been long, tiring, and unsuccessful. An inquest found David Duckinfield (Police Chief Superintendent at the time) not guilty of manslaughter. Policing aside, we cannot discuss Hillsborough without talking about the role in which the media, and in particular, The Sun, played in vilifying the people of Liverpool following the tragedy. If you have ever been to Liverpool, you will be aware of the billboards, street art and Black cabs reading “Don’t read the Sun”. This is because The Sun printed on its own front page that Liverpool fans had "urinated on police officers" and "picked the pockets of the dead", whilst pointing the finger at “drunk and ticketless” fans for causing the death of their own people. Despite the government staying particularly quiet on the issue, Thatcher’s press secretary, Bernard Ingham did express his feelings towards the incident in a letter sent to a Liverpool fan in 1996 which I think summarises their general attitude, where he wrote:
In 2012, the former Sun editor, Kelvin Mackenzie publicly apologised to the people of Liverpool for blaming the fans for the Hillsborough tragedy. In his statement, MacKenzie said "I published in good faith, and I am sorry that it was so wrong”, however, this was all too little too late. Inquests later found that the lives lost at Hillsborough were a result of police failures, stadium design faults and delayed responses from ambulance services. However, despite this conclusion, there is yet to be anyone held accountable for the 97 lives lost. In more recent news, last week a video of Keir Starmer, the leader of the Labour Party went viral after his visit to Liverpool announcing his pledge to continue Boris Johnsons ‘levelling up’ agenda. The video showed Starmer being confronted by a Labour voter for his involvement with The Sun Newspaper saying, “I don’t know how you’ve got the guts to come to this city”. Historically, Liverpool has been considered a Labour red wall when it comes to politics. Therefore, once light was shed on the Labour leader’s affiliation with the same newspaper that abused Liverpool as a city and the victims of Hillsborough, tensions certainly arose. Alongside this, the Labour voter also confronted Starmer for his position on workers strikes, the privatisation of the NHS and for failing to unite the party.
The critique of the state in all its forms is why you won’t have found many Diamond Jubilee celebrations taking place around Liverpool, or Union Jacks hung up for that matter. There still remains a lot of scepticism in Liverpool regarding the governing of our country, and we are the only city in the whole of the UK that only supports the red seats of Labour. Despite being a proud Blue sporting Evertonian myself, I can safely say that my political soul will never turn blue.
Article written by Ellie McQueen
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