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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Saturday, February 21, 2004
    Dark Heart revisited
    While dumping a load of files to back-up I rediscovered some old articles, written during the past decade, some of them published, some of them not. Proto-blogs, you might call them. One especially struck me as worth recording here. Originally written 12 November 1998 it is a review of the 1996 (still available, still very relevant) paperback, Nick Davies' Dark Heart: The Shocking Truth About Hidden Britain.....

    Nick Davies has entered the world of the very poor - the very desperate, those driven by poverty into prostitution, drug dependence and drug-running, crimes of all sorts. On his odyssey through the streets of Britain he has met with people driven insane and rendered inhumane by the brutality of the world which they find themselves living in.

    Nick Davies introduces us to Jamie and Liam, two children selling their tiny bodies in Nottingham lavatories. He takes us to Hyde Park, Leeds, and charts its decline from a settled residential area to a collapsed community abandoned by employers, bereft of amenities, racked with crumbling housing and at war with itself in an orgy of burglary, vandalism, violence.

    Nick Davies reminds us of Natalie Pearman, 'a walking portrait of an ordinary girl' who at age 14 became Maria, a whore, and who at 16 was found dead in a Norwich layby, stripped from the waist down, scarlet bruises on her neck.

    And he lets us into the twilight world of the drugs gangs and organised prostitution rings which dominate life in Hidden Britain, tells us again and again of people broken so much by the circumstances of their lives that they lose all sense of right and wrong, all measure of decency, any drop of self-respect or communality.

    The story of Hidden Britain is stark and terrible. It is played out in gin palaces and brothels and boarded-up shopping arcades and crumbling Victorian terraces across the land. It features the poorest of the poor - those who find themselves outside of wider society and faced with the choice between either living on state benefits at less than subsistence levels, or entering a life of crime as a means of survival and some self-esteem. Crack cocaine, guns, cheap make-up and the Netto shopping bag feature prominently in this shadow world. Hidden Britain, revealed by this bold and thorough investigation, is a very real, shockingly large and awfully depraved place.

    Nick Davies' analysis of all this is brilliantly clear. "It is not that poor people are bad - that is simply the self-serving story of those who are responsible. The truth profoundly is that poverty is bad for people. It brutalises them. It has produced a mutant society in which, after all the physical and emotional and social damage which has been inflicted on the poor, it becomes clear that there is also a deeper damage - something that strikes them in the core, robbing them of their humanity. For want of a better way of describing it, they have also suffered a spiritual damage."

    Nick Davies is clear about who is responsible. He is clear because he has observed that Hidden Britain is not such an unknown country - there are places of connection, he writes, such as London's brothels and high street shop doorways, where the affluent meet the poor. On high streets, affluent people may feel frightened or disgusted or sorry or sad about the poor people they step around, but in brothels, Davies asserts, "the affluent not only see the poor, they directly and physically exploit them and, furthermore, they do so entirely for their own pleasure."

    This is a reality which serves also as a suitable metaphor for the political programmes of the past twenty years which have created a society of increasing wealth and increasing poverty - the losses of the poor directly contributing to the gains of the rich through the tax system. Davies supports this argument with a statistic from the 'maids' of London’s Gloucester Terrace, that, "in the last decade or so, the price of thrashing a young girl in London has fallen dramatically. Where once the men who visited the flats had to pay £100 for each stroke of the cane they inflicted on a young woman's back, they can now indulge themselves for only £10 a stroke. Supply and demand. There is a market surplus of desperate young women."

    Nick Davies describes the terrible inequality in our society as a consequence of deliberate policy, as a form of exploitation and greed which has become systematised and which the present government is perpetuating with its refusal to address unemployment and its continuing policies of low taxation. Davies demonstrates how the poor are numbed by the spiritual damage of which he writes, which is why they can do the awful things they do to themselves and to each other. His analysis proposes that this spiritual damage actually afflicts the whole of society. For those who want to understand what this means, Davies' bold and startling investigation is required reading.