Saturday 8th October
Durham Town Hall (Burlison Gallery)
‘Who Runs the North East’ was my second event for the Durham Book Festival. After spending the day zine-making at Empty Shop, I whizzed over to the Town Hall for a talk with Professor Fred Robinson of Durham University and Professor Keith Shaw of Northumbria University. The subject was democracy and accountability in the North East. The platform in which these ideas were presented was very open. The conversation was intimate, taking place in the Burlison Gallery of Durham Town Hall.
The talk opened with a general overview of who runs the North East: Politicians? Mayors? Businesses? Us, the people? Robinson and Shaw focused their ideas on a research paper they had conducted back in 2000. There was lively debate upon issues such as the current electoral system, direct democracy and the function of social media in the struggle for a more democratic region. There was also discussion of issues effecting the local community such as the loss of the Newcastle ‘green belt’. Audience members interjected throughout which enriched the conversation and showcased a whole range of complex perspectives.
The event did focus on some positive points, however. Although there are still few people of colour holding positions of power in the North East, 45% of local MPs are now female. There is more information available online, and it is easier to hold authority figures accountable for their actions. However general consensus from the event was that there is still a long way to go with regard to making the North East diverse and democratic, most of the top figures still being ‘pale, male and stale,’ in the words of Shaw and Robinson.
The answer to who runs the North East is, in the words of Robinson and Shaw, ‘messy, complex and undemocratic.’ One thing that is for sure however, is that there are very few young people involved. While Shaw and Robinson did touch upon this issue, I did feel that this was the one point that this event fell short of addressing. I often feel that discussions such as this should be more open to young people. A lot of members of the audience had a real problem with the uses of social media in today’s political climate. Points were made about fear mongering and ‘click bait,’ which are all topics a young audience could find particularly enthusing.
It would have been nice to see more young people at the event, alongside a real effort to engage with the youth of the North East who often feel alienated from these discussions and therefore disempowered and frustrated. This aside, the event was extremely interesting and informative. I will definitely be thinking more carefully in the future about the people I see around me and what authority they hold.