Writer Lee Hall’s address to the People’s Assembly


This is the address especially written for the North East Peoples Assembly by the writer of Billy Elliot, Cooking with Elvis and The Pitmen Painters, Lee Hall. The speech was read out on stage at the Northern Stage in Newcastle Upon Tyne during the evening entertainment event by Wallsend-born actor Joe Caffrey.

I am Joe Caffrey. I am not Lee Hall. But Lee Hall has written this for me to read out because he can’t be here but still wanted to stick his oar in. Typical. So here goes:

I – that’s Lee not me – grew up at a time when you could go to the dentist and have your teeth done, go to university, watch the football on the telly – all for nowt.

Now I pay for prescriptions, I have a son with an inordinate debt before he’s even done a days work, and have a Sky box, an internet service contract and Netflix account – and pay more in the typical month than I used to pay on entertainment for the whole year.

I grew up at a time when I would look out of my bedroom window and see a forest of cranes on the river.

I was there when they sailed the last one to China.

I grew up at a time when I’d go and watch blokes running out of work in Swan Hunters – thousands and thousands of them. All in a union.

Now there are none.

I drank in a pub where those people went to gather and talk.

It is gone.

I used to go round the corner to the library to borrow books. That’s gone.

I used to go to another library in Heaton to see me Mam who worked there part time. That’s gone.

At school, once a year, the kids were taken up to Carrshields where the Local Education Authority kept an outward bounds centre and we’d go hill walking, mountaineering and pot holing. It’s now two luxury ‘conversions’.

After school I used to go to a Drama Centre where there were directors and playwrights who were paid to make plays with kids like me and Joe. Gone.

I used to go and buy cheap secondhand books from the shop in the Handyside Arcade. That went. Then I used to buy books from the one on Westgate Road. And when that went I used to down to the shop on the Side. Gone. Now I buy them from the internet, from a site owned by Amazon. Who doesn’t pay UK taxes.

We used to have one phone in our house. Now we all have a phone in our pocket, and the old phone still in the hall. Collectively we pay in one month what we used to pay in a year.

We don’t say anything more significant.

I used to go to watch the football where they’d wear a strip that “belonged to everyone”. Now it belongs to Wonga.

We have been sold a lie. The market did not make things cheaper. Life got more expensive. In the meantime we did not suddenly earn more, we just got ourselves further and further into debt.

This did not happen to everyone of course. The people who deal in debt (bankers), and the people who profit from us getting in to it (Apple and Google and Amazon, add your own name here) all got much, much, much richer.

Look at the graphs – things are changing exponentially.

At least in dark days of Victorian England the Industrialists who ripped off the working class put up the odd museum or financed a public park or two to mitigate their exploitation. I don’t see Amazon or Google funding libraries. They are too busy making sure everything is funneled through a tax free loophole in Sark.

What was held in common has been taken away and privatized. The phone system, the railways, the airwaves: we have a hundred channels of shit that now we have to pay through the nose for.

The places where people assembled – pubs, clubs, churches, workplaces, local shops, day care centers, etc etc are all vanishing.

Most shopping precincts are privately owned. You try filming a documentary there and see what happens. A burly bloke on a zero-hour contract and minimum wage comes up to you and threatens to phone the police and take away your camera.

We have sleepwalked through a wholesale redistribution of wealth from the poor to the rich. Our collective lives have been depleted : what was ours has been taken away then rented back to us. And when the market couldn’t manage it on it’s own account governments stepped in and did it on our behalf. Literally giving them OUR money.

It’s really simple: we have all been robbed and we did nothing about it. We continue to act like a nation of zombies = perhaps because we are in disbelief that this could have actually happened underneath our noses.

Obviously it started with Thatcher but PFI schemes really came into their own under Labour. The political parties are all the same: mouth pieces for the same thinking as those out to nakedly exploit us.

Just a few months ago our own Labour administration closed down libraries, pools and daycare centers, and yet at the very same time committed to spend £413m in private sector building; to make more offices and do up shop fronts. What were they thinking? Have you been round town and seen the signs of offices to rent?

The whole episode was a farcical disgrace: the cooked up figures, the deliberate attempts at misinformation. It was a travesty of the political process. The cynicism and the complete intellectual bankruptcy of what remains of the local Labour Party couldn’t have been more clearly exposed. But yet they got away with it. Still peddling the same idea – cut things which enrich people’s lives and pour public money into the hands of business.

It’s ludicrous. It’s robbery.

The market is not the answer. The market was never the answer.

If we were unsure about it – it conveniently blew up in our faces : yet we did nothing.

The commercial and financial elite weren’t so slow. No, via their political cronies (left and right) they used the opportunity to ramp the gears up and really shaft us. And still we did nothing.

It doesn’t make sense.

But maybe we have entered this age of Zombie Capitalism because we don’t assemble together – we don’t regularly go to union meetings or the pub or the church or the chapel – the most usual place to bump into someone is in the aisles of a supermarket – not the best place to ferment resistance.

Maybe we are supine to these rampaging forces because our common life, our civic life, the bit that we are enriched with for free, the bit through which we can enrich the lives of others, has been snatched away.

That is why this forum is important.

In order to fight back we need to start talking to each other. Just like we used to. Just like everybody used to. All those people who demanded a living wage, an education, the NHS,, a safe place to work, theaters.

We are slipping quickly into a world that is going to resemble

Dickensian London rather than anything we knew in the Twentieth Century. It’s not the end of civilization. There’ll still be schools, there’ll still be hospitals, there will still be football, but there will be a mass of misery, injustice and exploitation for the majority and a gilded elite that will live in another world.

That is why the People’s Assembly is important. It is a place where we must conspire to demand something better. To make sure the redistribution starts going the other way.

All of us are suffering – whether we’ve realized it or not. We’ve all been sold a lemon – we just don’t know what to do about it. Well, the first thing is to join up with everybody else who’s been sold the lemon and start knocking on some fruit sellers doors.

That’s why I believe in the People’s Assembly. It is a very real opportunity. But it’s a very easy opportunity to blow.

Yes, it’s an enormous task, but we’ve to start somewhere.

So I send my support and say to you: Be brave. Get organised.

Every single one of you can make a difference.


About farmerg13

22, Media Production Graduate (Sunderland Uni) from Hebburn, South Tyneside. North East Peoples Assembly and Coalition of Resistance Media & Communications Officer. Active in Hebburn South Labour Party. Admin of this blog, opinionated is putting it mildly. NUFC fan. Follow me @farmerg13
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6 Responses to Writer Lee Hall’s address to the People’s Assembly

  1. David Ettie says:

    Very proud of Lee, he’s my cousin, but do think at times he has a blinkered view of society. I dealt with the printing unions when they had power to disrupt and limit a company’s potential to benefit both its owners and workforce (The official who called me “immoral” for resisting increased wages during statutory holidays was imprisoned for stealing union funds!). Capitalism is as unavoidable as breathing (even in a community based on barter someone would look to profit from exchanging chickens!). What we have so far failed to do is make sure that the benefits of capitalism are distributed to the advantage of society as a whole rather than a limited few. Curtail the opportunity to make profit and there will be no people (like me) who are prepared to take the risk of starting the businesses on which the country’s future well being will depend.

    • david hargreaves says:

      Capitalism’s only been around for 300 years. What have chickens got to do with it

      • Dave Ettie says:

        If you think Capitalism has only existed for 300 years then what were the trades routes doing in the preceding centuries?, as I suggested it probably dates back to exchanging flint tools (for extra chickens?). It might have been labelled 300 years ago with socialism following shortly after but as the father of a mentally handicapped child I know how people love a good label and how dangerous these can be!

  2. It’s not as black and white as you have suggested David (Ettie) No one is suggesting curtailing all profit. It is about how much profit is channeled to shareholders and business owners rather than back into the employees that make the company work. The emphasis has changed. It used to be that owners and shareholders were happy with meagre profits as long as the business grew and the workforce were happy. Now, there’s an unholy alliance between making profitability and shareholder interest to the point that companies need to protect shareholder dividends at the expense of their employees – for fear those shareholders will jump ship. But jumping ship is their game – made far too easy and responsibility free in the name of “fluidity” and deregulation. And while you have company directors being paid in shares, their motivation is not to make the company successful (The two are, too often, mutually exclusive.) but simply to raise the value of their shares – for their own personal gain – and usually at the expense of the workforce.
    The trouble is that these people seem to think that they are generating wealth when in fact they are asset stripping for their own ends.
    At the high end, personal wealth generation has become it’s own ambition. To make more money. There is no other motivation… Not to make the company more successful. But such wealth cannot possibly be spent in a manner that is not simply indecent.
    Capitalism has turned purely to greed and consumerism and it is consuming itself. Revolution has to come in order to reverse this trend. You cannot have the majority of the population hungry and stretched to breaking point while the few are eating caviar. It’s not morally correct. It goes against “society”… – but this, of course is exactly what Thatcher believed in… That “there is no such thing as society…”
    Contrary to your implication, Capitlalism should not be driven by financial greed. Look at what is happening when you create rules that permit this. It should be driven by personal ambition tied to creating wealth for every member of the company – after all, that is what the word “company” means. As the owner, you are entitled to take some of the cream… just not all of it. That is rape… and if you rape your workforce for your own ends, they will have to fight you.
    Moderation is hard to regulate, but clearly regulation has to be implemented in order to curb our rampant consumer driven greed. The idea of it goes against all that right wing capitalists believe in… of course it does… but how else can redistribution happen in a fairer way? Taxation is not the way. This merely causes huge resentment.
    Regulate who can own shares and the regularity with which they can be traded. Don’t overtax, but regulate the top rate of earnings while forcing those people to maintain and spend those earnings predominantly in the country in which they were generated. Tax their capital gains as normal. If they feel they need to earn more, let them go elsewhere. They are greedy and obviously have little need of the society in which they live and earn. If the profits are not siphoned off the top of businesses, those businesses can employ more people and even more profit will be generated. More people will be in work. More money will be circulated. More tax revenues. A nicer place to live for everyone… not just the few…
    This questions what greed is… but is also doesn’t suggest taking from the rich. Merely regulating how much they can earn. Their personal wealth should not be measure simply by how much they have.

  3. David Ettie says:

    Based on what?, I currently work for a ( admittedly Swedish owned) company which is struggling to make profits in the face of fierce market conditions. Despite this the ownership have poured thousands into the business in the hope of a long term return and the desire to secure the future of those employed in the business. In terms of “Black and White” I think the tendency to live in a world where those with views that differ from ourselves are viewed as totally corrupt and wicked and must be opposed at every turn rather then supported on those occasions when (unbelievably) they are right.

    I think most people form their opinions of the world based on the life experience of themselves and their parents with rare opportunity for objectivity and open mindedness. This fires the sort of bigotry that causes many of the worlds problems such as (to quote another cousins husband) “all Irish Catholics are wicked people”

    I struggle with the perception that the wealth of the rich sits locked away in bank vaults, every product bought (yacht, Ferrari, whatever) potentially generates employment and distributes wealth.

    Nothing will do more for this country than increased output of sale-able product, uneven distribution of wealth from a large pot is likely to do more for us than equitable distribution of a decreasing and ever smaller one.

  4. Pingback: What I’m Doing in South Tyneside | No One Left Behind

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