Never mind Bodyguard and Wanderlust. The best – and most thought provoking – programme on television is The Mighty Redcar.
I’m not just saying that because I was brought up a few miles away, in Middlesbrough.
The region’s blast furnaces, which once employed armies of local people to produce the steel for the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the ceiling girders for Churchill’s wartime bunker, now lie cold and dead.
Ruth Sunderland says ‘never mind Bodyguard and Wanderlust. The best – and most thought provoking – programme on television is The Mighty Redcar’. Above, Kat Kempen and daughter Kaitlyn, who feature prominently in the show
A real-life soap opera about people in a deprived seaside town in the North East, struggling with the shutdown of the steel plant three years ago might seem too bleak to make good telly, but not so – it’s heart-breaking and heart-warming in equal doses.
One of the great successes of the UK economy in recent years is that unemployment is very low – lower in fact than it has been for decades.
It’s just that it doesn’t feel like that in Redcar, where more than 3,000 jobs were lost in the steel closure, and where youth unemployment is around twice the national average.
The effect on James, an engaging nineteen-year-old lad with a cheeky smile, is all too plain. Most of his family either are or have been in prison and he is torn between trying to find work and the temptations of crime.
When Ray, a local businessman who has become his mentor, tells him ‘the only thing stopping you doing anything is you,’ unfortunately it is not true.
The B-word wasn’t mentioned once in the programme but in Redcar there was a thumping 66 per cent vote for Brexit.
Ruth says the B-word wasn’t mentioned once in the programme but in Redcar there was a thumping 66 per cent vote for Brexit
Communities like these are what the Archbishop of Canterbury meant when he talked about the urgent need for a more just and equal economy that does not leave so many people behind.
Apart from an earlier generation of politicians like Lord Heseltine, who led a mission in 2016 to revive the Tees Valley, few in Westminster seem to be giving much thought to places like Redcar, though there are lots of them around the country.
No-one is talking about industrial strategy – we do have one, but you might never guess – and George Osborne’s Northern Powerhouse seems largely forgotten.
The Tories are too obsessed by Brexit to think properly about the lost, left-behind communities.
Labour is so busy allowing itself to be poisoned from within by anti-semitism that it is betraying its traditional voters.
So the inhabitants of Redcar try to help themselves. Outsiders may ignore them or write them off as feckless, but there are heroes here. Ray, the fatherly mentor.
Lynne, the council worker who coaches James and drives him to job interviews.
Kat, a middle-aged single mum, who works marathon hours at multiple part-time jobs, but still volunteers at a food bank she was once forced to use herself.
She’s driven by a yearning to give her daughter Kaitlyn, who wants to be an actress, the chance of a better life.
Some will think Kat wasteful for spending £600, somehow eked out at £10 a week from her low earnings, on a prom dress for Kaitlyn, but to her, it was seed-capital, an investment of faith in her daughter’s future.
And that’s what economics really is. Not just dry statistics and models, but the stuff of people’s lives: their aspirations, their unquenchable will to create a better life for themselves and their children, the despair and sense of injustice when these natural human impulses are quashed.
Whatever brand of Brexit we have, politicians must remember this: No economy, no nation can claim to be successful when the plight of towns like Redcar is ignored. These mighty people deserve better.