I HAVE a question for Dewsbury and Mirfield MP Paula Sherriff. Where do you buy your knickers, Paula?
I’m not meaning to be deliberately rude, impertinent or even mischievous.
You prefer not to say? None of my nosey-parker business? I can’t say I blame you.
So let’s try another. If you need some decorative knick-knacks for the constituency office, a nice hanging for the wall, where do you go to buy it?
Where do you buy your meat and veg for the Sunday lunch, or purchase your favourite perfume? If you’re wanting a nice constituency lunch with a colleague, where do you favour?
If it’s a nephew who likes to build model airplanes, a horse-riding niece who needs a new riding crop, where can you get them birthday presents? The same question can equally be applied to her Batley & Spen colleague Tracy Brabin, because I suspect you lot have already guessed where I’m going here.
It’s not about what the Honourable Members of Parliament buy or prefer, it’s about where they get them. More importantly, it’s about where they physically can get what they want.
How much money do they put through the pockets of the traders of Dewsbury and Mirfield, Batley and Cleckheaton? And what compromises do they have to make in terms of what they’d like to buy locally, but simply isn’t available?
Maybe their answers would surprise me. Maybe Paula does get three pairs for a fiver from a stall on Dewsbury Market. Or maybe not.
The same question applies to us all: When was the last time you went to do the weekly shopping – or a proportion of it – in Dewsbury or Batley town centre?
You don’t have to work for the pollster company Gallup to guess that the answers would show a marked decline on a similar exercise 10 or 20 years ago.
Last week I gave Miss Sherriff’s shins a pretty brutal kicking over her far-fetched assertion that ‘Tory austerity’ bore some responsibility for the parlous state of Dewsbury town centre.
The fact that the last major financial commitment came from Conservative, while the accelerating decline took place under 13 years of Labour government and a predominantly generational Labour Kirklees, kind of blew that out of the water.
But this really isn’t about party politics, just simple economics and demographics.
You might not believe this Paula, but everyone who voted for you in 2015 remembers when you had a handy choice of quality underwear from Marks and Spencer.
Spectrum was an absolute delight of a shop, with a veritable cornucopia of items packing its nooks and crannies, festooning its windows, on the corner of Union Street and Market Street.
Paula Sherriff should get on the phone and demand a conflab with the nine Dewsbury Labour councillors in the town centre outside what was Spectrum, chief amongst them the Dewsbury East pair Eric Firth and Paul Kane, the longest serving.
Go on Paula, do it. Stand there and look at the complete dereliction blighting that part of town.
I’ll be interested to see if you detect any shame on the faces of Eric and Paul, because they particularly have sat on their council laurels, presided over various invocations of civic planning, development and ‘regeneration’ (there’s a laugh) groups and committees and watched the town gradually go down the toilet.
The best the lot of them can conjure these days is some grants to put half-decent shop signs on the properties in Northgate.
Ask them why those buildings have been allowed by the local authority to fall into states of absolute, dismal decay. Ask them why there haven’t been Compulsory Purchase Orders issued on those dangerously decrepit structures – Kirklees managed it with Pioneer House, although it’s been 10 years in the turn-around and still looks a long way off.
Mention the name ‘Robert Stayton’ to them while you’re at it. That should elicit an interesting anecdote or too.
And finally ask them why Spectrum closed, plus all of Dewsbury’s other terrific independent shops, the sort you might still see in Harrogate or York; why Marks and Sparks left town, why the great Baileys Cafe failed, why what was the best open air market in the north is now a tatty, half-empty shadow of its former self.
Ask those Labour stalwarts to justify your ‘Tory cuts’ narrative if they dare. And if you want to digest things over lunch, can I suggest the Sea Urchin (still the Mermaid or Snack Bar for a lot of us old-timers) because the Kingsway Cafe, Bickers, Monte Carlo Steakhouse and others are dim and distant memories. Ask them why even McDonald’s jumped ship.
There are some blindingly obvious reasons for all of this, with out of town shopping centres like the White Rose centre and Meadowhall being examples. The M&S store just wasn’t big enough to sustain the company’s business model.
But that’s only scratching the surface. Dewsbury changed. The shoppers and people who inhabit the town centre changed most of all.
The social and cultural profile of local residents is unrecognisable from the generation of my mum, aunties, their friends and neighbours, for whom Saturday morning in Dewsbury was not just the weekly shop, but a social event. Heck, it was almost a day out for we kids.
Don’t even get me going on Caddy’s, Wigfall’s, Bunnies, the Bon Bon … more pubs than Oliver Reed could get round in a hard-drinking weekend.
And that’s the bottom line. Any retail area will ultimately evolve to reflect the people who use it, and Dewsbury has.
Those independent shops closed because their customers left town, to be replaced by people who don’t frequent or patronise them, who have completely different retail needs and shopping habits – who keep their money by and large within their own community.
The pubs and clubs have almost all shut because the town is a virtual no-go area after dark. The people found skulking in the early hours darkness aren’t wobbling home worse for wear, they’re looking for a door or window to kick in, a place to rob – because the police gave up on Dewsbury a long time ago.
So good luck finding the answer Paula, because I’m a bit short on ideas.
The thing is, throwing taxpayers’ money at the place doesn’t even come close to providing an answer.
Here endeth the lesson, and the nostalgia session.
MENTION of some great Dewsbury institutions and surely one of the most sadly missed – and possibly home to the greatest pint of hand-pulled Tetley bitter ever – was the Market House.
I only just remember its legendary long-time landlord Jim Lyman, a man who was reputedly once seen smiling (although that might just have been me as a young drinker, naturally terrified).
I seem to recall that for long enough they didn’t even serve lager. It was mild and bitter, and even asking for a pint of mixed could have got a blank look and the reply “sorry, we don’t do cocktails”.
Of much more recent and regular memory was one of Dewsbury’s enduringly popular characters, Paul Fahey and his wife Janet.
Paul was sadly taken before his time, but Janet is still see regularly kicking her heels around town (and farther afield) and no doubt she’ll be front and centre at a reunion of Market House regulars from down the years.
It’s at Legends Bar on Bradford Road, from 2pm, next Sunday (July 1), with old friends welcomed to bring their old photos and their memories. Should be a great craic.
I’M NOT sure what to think of the call to legalise cannabis other than the taxes it would raise might pay for the extra investment the NHS needs.
Certainly enforcement (such as it exists) hasn’t worked.
But the reluctance to legalise medicinal cannabis isn’t just bureaucratic BS, it’s both cruel and perverse.
News is breaking of a scandalous cover-up of a middle-aged female GP possibly “shortening the lives” of hundreds of hospital patients. Sorry, isn’t that what Hitler did, let alone Harold Shipman? Let’s just call it by name, can we – “killing” – and consider for a moment the staple diet of critical health care.
It’s called morphine, which is an opioid. Medical heroin – and that kind of kicks a puff on a spliff into the long grass, so to speak.
Sadly our politicians haven’t the guts to stick their heads over that parapet yet.