Hannah Mitchell Foundation is hosting an informal discussion on how the new Corbyn-led Labour Party could embrace a democratic devolution agenda. Following the launch of his ‘Northern Futures’ discussion there’s plenty of room for optimism! Please join us on Tuesday September 29th, between 6.00pm and 8.00pm, at The Albert pub, Huddersfield town centre (just opposite the central library). All welcome – and you can sign up as a member on the night!
Almost a week has past since the General Election and the Conservative government now find the subject of Devolution is a key issue. The chancellor George Osborne recognises the problems of having a heavily over-centralised government but his plans don’t go anywhere near far enough.
The Northern regions should have similar devolution to that enjoyed by Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and indeed London.
A possible half-way house could be elected mayors for city regions like Greater Manchester but with a directly-elected assembly that would work with the mayor and provide democratic accountability.
The proposed model of a directly elected mayor with a cabinet of indirectly elected local council leaders is a recipe for chaos. At the end of the day, why should the Northern regions, with a combined population more than triple that of Scotland, settle for 3rd rate devolution?
More info available on the Hannah Mitchell Website click here
Written by Paul Salveson 14th May 2015
Dr Arianna Giovannini of Huddersfield University will speak at The Hannah Mitchell Foundation AGM on Saturday February 28th, in Huddersfield. She will cover the 2004 referendum in the North-east and also the rise of progressive regionalist movements in Italy. The AGM starts at 12.00 in Brian Jackson Centre (Yorkshire Children’s Centre) and the first session with Arianna’s talk is open to all. £10 to cover buffet lunch and room hire. Please let us know you’re coming though! Papers will go out to all paid-up members this weekend.
The venue is 5 minutes’ from the station – turn right outside and go over the railway bridge and right again into the yard where the centre is based.
I am Northumbrian
by Rod Sutcliffe
Is there such a thing as northern identity? In England politicians, journalists and news presenters often use “England’ and ‘English’ as if these words refer to a homogeneous blob. For instance, regarding the so-called English question, “England wants English Votes for English laws”. This seems to illustrate a short-sightedness that makes it difficult to see beyond the southeast of England. In other circumstances “the North” is recognised as somewhere different, including remote and desolate places suitable for fracking, and a potential powerhouse, so it will be a good thing when people can get away from it and into London 20 minutes sooner on the HS2. “The North” in these contexts never means Scotland (except occasionally in weather forecasts) as if Scotland is somewhere else again.
Identity is a very complex construct. It has many dimensions: cultural, historical, geographical, ethnic, political and religious for instance. There are many layers: individual, family, community, civic, as well as regional and national. Identity is a subjective quality: a sense of identity. It is a personal thing but usually involves a sense of belonging to a community or a place and thus can lead to a community or geographical identity.
Most people’s sense of geographical identity is very local. People may relate to their street, estate or village more than their district, town or city, but may include all of these things. Regions and nations are created by states and by nationalists. Although political and official boundaries are important, boundaries recognised and understood by people are more important in personal and community identity. Community and national identities are supported by group myths or national stories which perpetuate their own versions of history.
There have been migrations into Britain for thousands of years, and you could walk here from the continent 6000 years ago. Over the past 2000 years the Britons have been influenced culturally and genetically by the Romans, Vikings, Saxons, Angles, Normans, even before the immigration of recent times. The Humber estuary has always been a barrier to invading forces from the south,and the people north of the Humber have always been more difficult to govern from the south. The Romans, Saxons, Normans and even Henry VIII had trouble. The Angles, coming from the east, governed this land and in its greatest extent 1200 years ago the Kingdom of Northumbria covered the whole of what is now Yorkshire, Lancashire, Northumberland and south-east Scotland, with Cumbria also colonised. What is now the North of England was then an independent kingdom. We live today with the heritage of this history and these ancient cultures and languages.
English as spoken in the North of England has a rich social and cultural history. Northern speech has richness and variety, is part of northern culture and is strongly linked to identity. Scouse is quite different from Geordie, and the Yorkshire accent is easily distinguishable from the Lancashire as you pass over the Pennines. Within Yorkshire you can tell whether you are in Sheffield, Leeds or the Dales. But you always know you are in the north and it is home. The accents and dialects play a part in the origins of the many images and stereotypes surrounding Northerners and our speech. Of course stereotyping is an attempt to impose an identity from the outside. Paradoxically, taken with a sense of humour and our ability to laugh at ourselves (as well as the stereotypers), it may indeed contribute to our identity.
Our countryside is not only a place of great beauty but also a place where millions of people live and work. Our towns and cities are connected to their surroundings both physically and emotionally, in a way which is perhaps unique in England. People in the North have a strong affinity with the region’s natural heritage. Our national parks and the countryside on the doorstep of our major cities are part of the experience of most northern families. Our landscape and our environment are part of our identity.
One view of what contributes most to northern identity is the idea of ‘common suffering’. I would rather call it common experience. Relatively recent history has taken our families through the good and bad of the industrial revolution, the first northern industrial powerhouse, two world wars, the northern industrial decline and with these things the development and changing fortunes of the political parties. The people of the North of England have come through these times with a shared sociopolitical perspective that is closer to that of Scotland than of London and the southeast of England.
Regions are dynamic, shifting entities over time and are as much as state of mind as a place. Definitions and boundaries of ‘the north’ are various. Some of these are based on statistics of political voting patterns, income or employment rates, others are historical, and perhaps the greatest number are perceptual. The people of the North don’t need genetic testing testing or a Tebbit-type Yorkshire cricket test. We are not part of an English blob. We know who we are and to what we belong. Everyone who identifies themselves as northern is Northern. Me? I’m Northumbrian.
Devolution now? The case for a new progressive Northern politics
For Involve Yorkshire and Humber, York, November 18th 2014
So why ‘devolution’? Let’s get it clear at the start: it’s only a means to an end. It must be about greater social justice, a more balanced nation, sustainable economic growth and greater popular participation in how our communities work. It was interesting to see how the debate in Scotland in the last few weeks of the referendum focused on issues like child-care, removal of Trident, jobs and the NHS rather than ‘independence’ per se. We’ve much to learn from the Scottish experience and the continuing high levels of political engagement, reflected in the phenomenal rise in membership of the SNP and other pro-independence parties as well as support for non-aligned groups like the Radical Independence Campaign.
It’s starting to happen south of the border. The debate on democratic devolution within England is moving forward rapidly, after years of disinterest. There is a refreshing open-ness to develop a new politics which offers a progressive alternative to UKIP and the other established parties. It’s very clear that following both Clacton – but Heywood and Middleton in particular – the political situation is changing and there’s a vacant space for a radical politics in the North of England which is inclusive and popular and mirrors the radical politics that have emerged in Scotland. The voluntary sector has a potentially huge role to play in this ‘small p’ politics. Scottish devolution in the mid to late 1980s was propelled by the work of the Scottish Constitutional Convention which involved broad swathes of civil society. My central argument is that the full potential of Northern devolution will only be won if the debate extends way beyond the ‘political class’ and reaches out to the grassroots. We need an inclusive ‘Northern Citizens’ Convention’ which has strong local roots – a ‘citizens’ convention’ in every neighbourhood! It can be done. People are not apathetic or sick of ‘politics’ per se – just a particular kind of politics reflected by the way we are being governed by Westminster. Tens of thousands of people in Scotland have become involved in politics, both for and against independence, over the last few months. Can we start to get some of that energy generated in the North of England?
The ‘English problem’
It’s widely recognised that England is a highly centralised nation with power and resources increasingly concentrated on London and the south-east. The historic ‘north-south’ divide is getting bigger and virtually every index of deprivation shows the North (Yorkshire and the Humber; North-West and North-east) becoming poorer in comparison to the South-east. The Scottish referendum campaign has forced the political establishment to accept further devolution for Scotland and the ‘English Question’ – how to re-balance England itself so London and the South-east becomes less dominant – has shot up the agenda.
The response from the political establishment has been to avoid creating any new directly-elected bodies but instead to devolve some powers and resources to ‘combined authorities’ in Northern city regions and impose elected mayors on city regions. Some of these ‘combined authorities’ already exist, for example in Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire. They bring together the local authorities in their respective areas, with the council leaders forming a leadership group. They have growing budgets covering a range of sectors, including transport and economic development. While it could be argued these are a pragmatic response to existing needs, their big problem is their lack of accountability. Indirectly-elected bodies such as these give greater powers to officers and effectively remove any semblance of popular participation. Further, almost by definition, ‘city regions’ have an excessive focus on the main city conurbations and less emphasis on the more peripheral urban centres and rural areas. The imposition of directly-elected mayors who will work alongside indirectly-elected combined authorities seems to me a recipe for confusion and conflict.
The alternative is ‘democratic devolution’ to the regions, with elected assemblies having similar powers to Wales and Scotland. It works in those places, why not in the North? It would solve the so-called ‘West Lothian’ questuion immediately. Devolution all round! Directly-elected regional assemblies are clear, easily understandable political units. They should be elected by PR to allow a better balance between town, city and rural hinterland. It has been suggested that this merely creates ‘another tier of bureaucracy’ but surely regionalisation should be an opportunity to radically reduce the size of the central civil service, with fewer MPs at Westminster. Further, it should involve a fundamental re-organisation of the dogs’ dinner that is English local government, with smaller and more accountable local authorities which reflect people’s local identities. We should look at new forms of local democracy based on co-operative structures that are accountable, enterprising and creative.
Critics have said that there is no ‘public appetite’ for regional assemblies and cite the 2004 referendum in the North-East as proof. Yet ten years is a very long time and we’ve since seen the success of devolution in the UK. And the original ‘offer’ in 2004 was not only a top-down fix but offered little concrete advantages.
A ‘bottom-up’ approach to regional democracy offers an opportunity to create new forms of governance. There should, from day one of a regional assembly, be a requirement to have gender equality and a proportion of seats for young people under the age of 30. Regional assemblies should be about encouraging democracy and participation at more local levels, working with councils and neighbourhood organisations: it’s about opening up how we do politics.
Devolve to where? Yorkshire, North-West and the North
Popular regionalism needs to reflect strong historic identities and be of a manageable size. In the North of England, it means accepting that there are three ‘regions’ – Yorkshire, the North-east and North-West (at least). They have many things in common and need stronger physical links – through improved transport infrastructure and telecommunications – but also economic and other forms of co-operation. The political implications of this are assemblies for Yorkshire, the North-East and North-West who co-operate with each other on a number of issues. The areas where regional assemblies could focus on include:
- Infrastructure and transport
- Economic development
- Creative industries/culture
- Higher education
There are some areas where pan-Northern co-operation is crucial, notably in transport and economic development. In the case of rail, for example, there is already a ‘Rail North’ executive which is overseen by 30 local authorities. Instead of 30, why not just have three? Whilst the focus of devolution should be to the assemblies, joint co-operation can be progressed through a virtual ‘Council of the North’ which shares resources and services as appropriate. It isn’t about having a huge bureaucracy somewhere in the Pennines – it’s about practical collaboration and highly flexible and innovative ways of working which don’t involve endless unproductive meetings.
A new Northern politics?
A new and distinctly ‘Northern’ regionalism is starting to emerge. There is already a North-east Party, Yorkshire First and ‘The Free North Campaign’. Recently, a revived ‘Campaign for the North’ was launched to promote pan-Northern approaches. The Hannah Mitchell Foundation was set up three years ago as a cross-party/non-aligned lobby and think tank group for Northern devolution. Within the Labour Party and Liberal Democrats there is growing interest in regionalism though this isn’t yet reflected in leadership support. Only the Greens have a clear pro-regionalist stance.
There is a very strong likelihood that the general election next May will see regionalist candidates standing in many constituencies across the North, fighting on a progressive, democratic programme and offering a popular alternative to UKIP to disillusioned voters. Yorkshire First was formed as recently as March this year but managed to pick up 20,000 votes in the European elections a few weeks later, with hardly any campaigning and no resources. Its ‘Yorkshire Pledge’ for an elected assembly is gaining over a hundred on-line ‘pledges’ each week. Can that be translated into votes at what will be a crucial general election? And where, if it does, will they come from? Both Yorkshire First and The North-East Party are wary of ‘left’ and ‘right’ labels, stressing their democratic and socially progressive values but appealing to what, in traditional terms, is a broadly centre left to centre right spectrum. Neither is narrowly ‘anti-South’, representing an inclusive ‘civic regionalism’ which welcomes all who have made Yorkshire or the North East their home. Both are broadly pro-European.
A key objective of groups like Yorkshire First is to prove that there is popular support for regional democracy. This will – the argument runs – nudge parties such as Labour and the Liberal Democrats to embrace the idea of directly-elected assemblies. There are precedents for the idea: Labour’s commitment to devolution in Scotland and Wales was as much driven by concerns about the SNP and Plaid Cymru stealing their votes so much as a genuine desire to devolve power. Today, if anything, the stakes are even higher with Labour facing the real possibility that it will be squeezed between right-wing populist nationalism and a new progressive Northern regionalism.
But the debate must go way beyond the political parties – established and new. There is no simple answer to ‘the Northern Question’. It’s easy to come up with blueprints from on high which lack popular engagement and support. That’s why the Hannah Mitchell Foundation and Unlock Democracy are calling for an inclusive ‘Northern Citizens’ Convention’ that can be the beginning – and not the end – of a debate on how best to extend democracy to the North. Within organisations like Involve Yorkshire and the Humber there’s huge expertise in how we could develop a more inclusive approach to changing the world we live in. We need your help, advice and involvement to make the Citizens’ Convention take off across the North. I’d like to see ‘mini’ citizens’ conventions in every town and village across the North.
Finally – politics is too important to be left to the politicians. The world – and our bit of it here in Yorkshire – is changing rapidly. We can influence that change or sit back and let change be forced upon us. I’ve little doubt as to where your preferences lie!
Paul Salveson is general secretary of the Hannah Mitchell Foundation. He can be contacted at: email@example.com www.paulsalveson.org.uk
November 1st 1400h
To the news editor
PRESS RELEASE: (immediate)
Northern think tank welcomes Miliband commitment to Lords reform with regions at its heart
The Hannah Mitchell Foundation has warmly welcomed Ed Miliband’s proposals for Lords reform, which will involve creating a new senate which represents England’s regions and the nations of Britain. The foundation has previously criticised Labour’s plans for combined authorities in city regions as undemocratic and taking power further away from people.
The cross-party think-tank suggests using Lords reform to widen participation in politics generally. HMF steering group member Anne Baldwin said “This must be an opportunity to design a politics that is far more representative in lots of ways. The details should be debated within a northern citizens’ convention which is also replicated in other regions, not in another centralist body dominated by establishment politicians. We hope to see an elected House of Lords with a built-in gender balance, with reserved quotas for younger people and with means of encouraging candidates from a wide range of faiths and cultures. We would also want to see mechanisms that ensure those elected have real life experience, perhaps by making them term limited appointments rather than jobs for life. We would also want to avoid the image of the current House of Lords by building in a retirement age”.
Barry Winter, chair of the Hannah Mitchell Foundation, added “At a time when trust in politicians is at an all-time low, this represents a welcome radical element in Labour’s devolution agenda which offers a way of creating a new kind of politics. In the past, Northern women have led the way in the fight for democracy, above all in the women’s suffrage movement. Since then they have battled for generations within male-orientated political structures and are particularly well placed to contribute to this debate on the future of the UK.”
The Hannah Mitchell Foundation is working with Unlock Democracy on ideas for a ‘Northern Citizens’ Convention’ that can involve a wide cross-section of civil society in developing radical ideas for democratic devolution to the North of England. Professor Paul Salveson, secretary of the Hannah Mitchell Foundation, said “at this stage we should be open to exploring a range of ideas on how devolution within England can result in a more balanced, socially just and economically successful North. As the great northern Chartist leader Joseph Rayner Stevens said of the People’s Charter in the 1840s: democracy is a ‘knife and fork question’ – about improving people’s lives, not playing with constitutional change for its own sake.”
More: Paul Salveson 07795 008691
October 27th 09.00
To the news editor
PRESS RELEASE: (immediate)
The Hannah Mitchell Foundation has welcomed the report by Sir David Higgins on improved rail links across the North of England, with some major caveats.
Prof. Paul Salveson, secretary of the Foundation and a well-respected transport academic, said: “The proposed ‘HS3’ east-west high-speed line will be good for the North of England providing it is carried out in a way that gives maximum benefit to all of the North and not just the major cities. This has to be more than a pre-election gimmick and the project needs to involve all the relevant local authorities, not just the major cities. The lack of regional government for the North highlights the need for strategic governance of this project. The proposed ‘Transport for the North’ body is exactly the sort of agency we are saying should be democratically accountable.”
The Foundation stresses:
- The route of the new high-speed line needs to take into account of the local communities and the environment, and minimise disruption. Using the former Woodhead line across the Pennines deserves serious consideration
- There must be proper connectivity between the proposed HS2 high-speed line and the HS3 route, with direct links at Manchester and Leeds between the two networks
- The high-speed line must be developed as part of an expanding Northern network which means a major improvement on the poor quality rolling stock passengers currently have to put up with. The North needs an integrated, joined-up transport network; HS3 should not be an excuse for the Government to ignore the urgent need for the upgrade of existing services and other route re-openings e.g. Skipton-Colne
- The construction phase should benefit Northern companies and it should be used to as a boost to high-tech manufacturing in the region by a firm commitment to ensure local companies are encouraged to compete for tenders for everything from infrastructure to rolling stock
- A high-speed rail link should not be a distraction from the need to focus on an
- Ultimately, however, the North’s transport needs are best considered by the people of the North. We should have the tax-raising powers to be able invest in our own transport and the ability to use our own assets to raise finance to fund the projects we need.
More: Paul Salveson 07795 008691
New paper by Jeff Henderson and Ying Ho published in Renewal:
The upas tree: the overdevelopment
of London and the
under-development of Britain
Jeffrey Henderson and Suet Ying Ho
If there is to be any economic rejuvenation of
Britain’s nations and regions, then Britain must
become a federal state.
Read it here: Upas Tree – Renewal published version
The Hannah Mitchell Foundation has submitted its comments on devolution to the House of Commons Select Committee on Constitutional and Political Reform. We call for a clear commitment to directly-elected regional assemblies. Not an ‘English Parliament’ and not unaccountable and indirectly-elected ‘combined authorities’. We argue that there needs to be full and inclusive debate across the North, building up to a Northern Citizens’ Convention. This would complement proposals for a UK-wide constituional convention.
The full response is here:
Hannah Mitchell Foundation
After the Scottish Referendum: Devolution for the North?
Thursday October 30th 7.00pm
Quaker Meeting House, 22 School Lane, Liverpool L1 3BT (close to Central Station)
The Scottish referendum has changed the face of British politics. Further devolution is promised for Scotland – but what are the implications for England – and the North in particular? Can a new progressive politics develop in the North of England based around democratic devolution to regional assemblies?
- Cllr Liam Robinson, chair of Merseytravel, Liverpool city councillor, Labour Party
- Cllr Paulette Lappin, Sefton Labour Party
- Cllr John Coyne, Liverpool Green Party
- Paul Salveson, secretary Hannah Mitchell Foundation
- Mike Dawson, Campaign for the North
- Chair: Jenny Cronin, Hannah Mitchell Foundation
The Hannah Mitchell Foundation is a cross party think tank and lobby group promoting radical devolution for the North of England. Its president is Linda Riordan MP (Halifax).
facebook: Hannah Mitchell Foundation