Rochdale deserves better

In a recent edition of the Sun, the newspaper’s ex-editor Kelvin MacKenzie boasts of a new spoof property TV programme he has planned called ‘Rochdale: A Place in the Slum’.

It’s not a serious TV proposal and is unlikely to ever be commissioned. But I hear it’s become part of MacKenzie’s stand-up comedy routine. I’m sure he thinks it’s a fairly harmless jibe about a town that’s seen better days.

And it might have even earned a few cheap laughs in East London’s Comedy Cafe last month. But not many. One review reported that MacKenzie didn’t get heckled. Much worse than that. He got ignored. The point is we’re in the middle of a global recession and mocking a town’s struggle to keep jobs and stave off poverty is not funny.

It’s just boorish sneering of the worst kind. It’s true to say that Rochdale has big social problems. Unemployment is rising, poor quality housing and run-down estates are creating deteriorating social conditions and many are locked in a vicious cycle of deprivation. There are many challenges that we as politicians are working hard to address.

But this cursory snapshot misses the dignified struggle of thousands of people trying to find work, carrying out voluntary work in their community and struggling to do their best for their children. They need encouragement. Of course, they’d be the first to shrug and dismiss comments like MacKenzie’s as ignorant rubbish.

But I know that deep down this continual drip-drip of media mockery – because MacKenzie’s not the only one to make fun of Rochdale – does get to them. Back in the 1980s I used to cringe at the awful football songs that were sung on the terraces mocking an area for high unemployment. The people of Britain have come a long way since then. But some remain stuck in the past.


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