06 December 2018, The Tablet

Douglas Alexander, a son of the manse, investigates the dissolution of traditional communal ties

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A son of the manse searches for the lost souls of local communities

Douglas Alexander, a son of the manse, investigates the dissolution of traditional communal ties

‘Many of the younger respondents couldn’t divine why this class business had loomed so large in their grandparents’ lives…’
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The former Labour Cabinet minister Douglas Alexander (inset) is a son of the manse whose career has taken him to Canada, the United States and an 18-year stint at Westminster – but he still regards Bishopton, the Renfrewshire village where he spent much of his childhood, as home. All of which has positioned him perfectly to conduct a three-part inquiry by for the BBC into the dissolution of old-style communal ties that so many believe lies at the heart of our twenty-first- century malaise.

The vox pops that pepper Belonging (BBC Radio 4, 3-19 December) tell a very familiar story. Shop assistants in northern towns who believe hardly any of the customers they served these days were “English”; twenty-something techno workers, many of them employed in industries that most listeners would have struggled to identify, explaining that the idea of social class was no longer relevant to them or that they “didn’t have a family home anymore”. Welsh Somalis discuss their double-strength heritage, while bluff-sounding middle-aged men, charged with the task of conceptualising themselves, declared that they were atheists, social democrats or Scorpios.

Significantly, this confusion – or perhaps it was only an understandable refusal to be drawn – applies also to Alexander himself. Bishopton, to which he returns in part one of the series, now has three times the number of houses and can be more properly described as a commuter town than a village.

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