Us (us us us us) and Them (them them them them)
As I followed the line across England on the map drawn up by Prof. Danny Dorling of Sheffield University, I became convinced that the divide, unsurpisingly really, has some substance. Mostly, though, I was struck by the fact that many of these divisions have roots deep in time. The line seperates upland from lowland, arable fields and nucleated villages from pastoral farming and scattered homesteads. In the feudal period, for example, the North tended to pay its rent in cash, and the South in service to their Lords. Pastoral farming takes place all year round, whilst arable farming depends on seasonal employment. If Southerners seem polite to the point of deferential it’s because they had to be. Rude mechanicals wouldn’t get so much work from the aristocracy as servile ones. The South was traditionally far more reliant on Poor Relief than the independent North. And so on. Lots of stuff in the show.
It struck me how deeply both culture and socio-economic status are still related to land ownership. There are roughly 60 million people in the UK. 59,800,000 of us own one third of the land. About 198,000 people own the next third. About 2000 people own the last third, which coincidentally contains lots of the best bits. These 2000 people live, on the whole, in the South, where they can still rely on a traditionally jumpy workforce. The biggest gulf is between the merely well-to-do and the super-rich.
I have a modest proposal. There is a ‘legal fiction’ whereby all land is actually owned by the Crown. All of the rest of us own certain rights, but really, it all belongs to the Crown. (NOT HM The Queen, but The Crown in Parliament, ie the State, ie not you). We are ‘tenants in chief’. There must be some point still to this legal fiction, so why couldn’t we rewrite it slightly? Hand over ownership, in this legally fictional sense only, from the Crown to a Land Trust, a Real National Trust to which all British citzens were joined at birth. Landowners of whatever size, would still be ‘tenants-in-chief’, but of a Trust with a true stake in the future of all of us, north and south. It would then be for the members of the Trust to decide which way to write the story of their land.