Melissa vs Matthew: DFLs and DFAs – benefiting Thanet or not?

Matthew and Melissa

Last week Matthew and Melissa debated the merits of the grammar school system. Melissa was firmly against, Matthew in favour.

Our poll shows that just under 52% of you agreed with Melissa, 46% with Matthew and the remainder undecided.

This week’s debate looks at the migration of people to Thanet, from London (DFL – Down from London) and further afield (DFA – Down from Anywhere).

Melissa says:

Recently I met a chap who’d moved from London to Ramsgate a few years back. “Wonderful area, wonderful views”, he said; “but God, the locals would totally spoil it for you if you let them. Inbred half-wits, one and all. I’ve yet to meet one I can talk to, or even tolerate. Such a shame. But luckily more and more interesting people are arriving here all the time.” I excused myself to vomit quietly behind his nutribullet.

I don’t care where you’re from. Wherever you’re from, I’d probably hate you. I’m powerfully anti-social.

I’m from East Herts, for the record; born in a town so far up its own behind it could wear its tonsils for a tiara.

Thanet’s shabby, shambolic seaside sauce suits me. I like pound shops, charity shops, slightly unkempt front gardens, cars that aren’t washed every Sunday: screaming rows in the street, men whose muscles are the result of hard graft, rather than kale smoothies and £80 a month gyms.

But during the decade I’ve lived here, the rot has truly set in. It’s my fault, I realise, or at least the fault of those like me. We saw a working-class wonderland and decided to bend it to our will and desires, as Columbus did the Americas, without thought for the people who’d been living here for generations: their quiet home has now been stolen and colonised.

Where once there was Dreamland – naff rides and a cheap day out – now we have a kitsch monstrosity. The middle classes have taken it over, made it fey, knowing, unprofitable and intolerable. Leave it alone! If its day has passed, let it sink quietly into the mire, sun-faded keeper of a myriad golden memories. Don’t attempt to revive its corpse by pumping it full of ironic twists and genteel, misty-eyed nostalgia. It’s just embarrassing.

And the Turner! Now, I like the Turner. I’ve learnt a lot there and seem some incredible, life-affirming stuff within its walls. But I would, wouldn’t I? I’ve got an arts degree. The Turner came here with the express purpose of educating and civilising the natives, bringing them up to an acceptable level of noncy. They didn’t want it, God knows. They railed and raged against it. The middle-class interlopers did. It made for some plausible explanation as to why they’d plonked themselves down by the sea, other than property prices. Oh, but look, Margate’s up and coming, they’d say, meaning it’s a total hell-hole now, but it’s OK, we’re busy turning it into something we can boast about. A quaint little catch, really not in the least vulgar, and just look how many bedrooms we could afford!

But it was fine before, actually. It was already up, and it’s definitely come. Working class culture is perfectly valid and acceptable, kind, inclusive, and how extraordinary this point has to be made in 2018. An acquaintance of mine just got back from Australia, and told me “Oh, the Aborigines just get drunk all day long! They’ve been given everything, lovely homes and community centres, all free, but they don’t use them. They only want to sleep in the mud. They don’t want to be civilised.” And it reminded me of the tone taken when people discuss why locals do not make more use of the Turner centre. But it’s not their culture. It’s their land and built with their council tax, but it’s nothing to do with them. It’s been erected as a huge monument to all that’s wrong with working class Thanet, and how our new bourgeois overlords will strive to improve it, and them, or else.

After the Turner, a whole host of quirky, hilarious, authentic arty shops and bars opened in its wake, to further establish bourgeois cultural hegemony. Well, who cares, you might ask? The money’s flooding in, the tourists are back, property prices are on the rise. But are they?

For a select few that might be true. Property prices are certainly rising in Thanet, up 3.69% this last year, 6.14% in Ramsgate, compared to 2.7% on the average British home, so that locals are priced out of their own area. Hurrah! But Thanet remains the poorest and most deprived area in Kent, with high rates of unemployment and crime, low rates of health and educational achievement, the 35th most deprived area in the country, with Cliftonville West the fourth most deprived.

All that’s truly happened is that a handful of middle class intruders have given a sparkly, glossy new look to the centre of a working class town, set down a load of restaurants no native could afford to step into, and set up shops which make you feel inadequate, uncouth and out of the loop even as you walk past them. The poor are still as poor as ever; now they are poor and also aware their culture and heritage is something to be crushed and eviscerated, mocked and destroyed, to make way for the new and acceptable. Thanet and its people have become little more than a punchline, as if there were something richly, invariably comic about being from a part of the world that isn’t London.

Erasing local culture and tradition is nothing less than cultural imperialism.

Matthew says:

Being outside the area you were born in often excites a lot of comments; “Where are you from? What was it like? Did you like it there? Why on earth did you move here?”

I find myself asking those questions of people, because I’m fascinated why people migrate – is it for love, for work, for curiosity? So many potential reasons, and there are as many stories as there are people who migrate.

We do like an acronym, and so these internal movements around the country have received just that; you movers are called DFLs (if you come from anywhere even vaguely associated with London) or DFA (Down From Anywhere) – I only learnt that second acronym the other day, and it feels good to share.

But being a DFL excites attention; they come down here, taking our jobs, taking our potential partners, clogging up our beaches and parks … and so on and so on. But still people move; some people (whisper it) even leave Thanet from time to time to live somewhere else; why would you ever want to do that?

But the prospect of DFAs moving to the coast does excite commentary and it really intrigues me. I didn’t realise that it caused such passion (particularly anti), but it does; this pattern of movement pushes up house prices, reduces the number of jobs for locals, and artificially raises prices – so let’s ban the DFLs and see everything return to a natural equilibrium. Right?

Well, it’s not that simple, of course, and I suspect – I hope – that even the most ardent anti-DFL resident would agree with that. Banning freedom of movement across the country is practically impossible, and does anyone really want us to remain within the confines of our ceremonial boundaries for our entire lives? No, that would be entirely nonsensical, and no-one would argue for that – well, I can’t imagine it, anyway.

So, what’s the answer to DFAs helping house prices to rise? First, it’s about recognising that it’s only contributing to a rise in prices; newcomers can’t do it alone and supply and demand is contributed to by local need and wants as well. The housing market is a complex beast, far more difficult to understand than I could ever hope, but it’s something to be conscious of; it is complex, so let’s not reduce its fluctuations to one issue without understanding everything first.

Part of the solution is to stop price gouging; prevent house prices from being artificially increased far beyond what’s reasonable and build more affordable homes for people to get onto the ladder. Notice in those two points the thing I didn’t mention; DFAs. The problem isn’t DFAs; the problem is the market sensing an opportunity and hoovering up the profit margins. That’s what we should be getting annoyed at and be dealing with, not the people wanting to settle in the area and call this place home.

Movement also changes the demographic of an area; yes, that’s absolutely true. It often decreases the average age of people in the area and it means that there’s sometimes more competition for jobs. Undeniable – I’ve seen it happen. But again, let’s not play a blame game; let’s question why there isn’t the investment into the area that will allow more jobs to be created? Isn’t that what we want from a free and fair jobs market? If we’re going to get annoyed at something, let’s get annoyed at the right thing.

Having people move into the area is a good thing; it’s lovely to have infusions of new ideas and fresh pairs of eyes. Yes, it means that the area might change, but change happens anyway,

So, do we grasp it with both hands and greet it head on, to take some measure of ownership, or do we shy away? I welcome the DFAs, and always enjoy seeing where new ideas will take us.