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time for a new regional politics

Devolution now? The case for a new progressive Northern politics

For Involve Yorkshire and Humber, York, November 18th 2014

Paul Salveson

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
  • Skills
  • Economic development
  • Creative industries/culture
  • Tourism
  • Energy
  • Police
  • Health
  • 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: paul@paulsalveson.com  www.paulsalveson.org.uk

 

HMF welcomes Labour plans for Lords reform

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.”

Ends

More: Paul Salveson 07795 008691

HS3 should benefit all of The North

PRESS RELEASE

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.

Ends

More: Paul Salveson 07795 008691

Re-forming the British State

New paper by Jeff Henderson and Ying Ho published in Renewal:

RE-FORMING THE
STATE
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

Select Committee on Devolution: Time for a Northern Citizens’ Convention

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:

HMF response to PCRC October 22 2014

Liverpool Meeting to discuss Northern devolution

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?

Speakers:

  • 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).

www.hannahmitchell.org.uk

twitter: @HannahMFdn

facebook: Hannah Mitchell Foundation

 

Daily Mirror poll on powers for the North

The Daily Mirror is running a slightly mad piece on devo-max for North of England today (October 1st). It includes an on-line referendum on ‘should the North have more powers’?

Please help us by taking part in the on-line poll and say ‘yes’ to more powers for the North!

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/viking-referendum-demands-northern-state-4360115

Thanks! (and re-tweet once you’ve voted)

Paul (Hannah Mitchell Foundation)

Leeds meeting debates Scotland and the North

September 8th 2015 15.15hrs

To the news editor

PRESS RELEASE: (immediate)

Scotland, the Referendum and the North: open meeting in Leeds

An open meeting is being held in Leeds on Thursday September 11th to discuss the impact of the Scottish referendum on the North of England. It starts at 7.30pm in The Civic Hall, Calverley Street, Leeds LS1 1UR. Speakers are Prof. Paul Salveson Director, Hannah Mitchell Foundation www.hannahmitchell.org.uk Professor Jeffrey Henderson, and Dr Ying Ho of Leeds and University of Bristol

On 18th September, Scotland votes on whether to become independent. Scotland this summer is alive with civic debate on this momentous decision. Here in the North of England, the Hannah Mitchell Foundation has been formed to campaign for devolution in the North. The big question is:  What are the implications of a ‘yes’ vote for the North of England? The event in LEEDS will explore the issues and is open to everyone. There is no charge for admission.

Paul Salveson of the Hannah Mitchell Foundation said “We are delighted to be leading in this important debate. More and more people in the North of England recognise that we are being marginalised in British politics and we need some of the powers which Scotland, Wales and even London already have. Whatever the outcome of the referendum, the North needs to get its act together and unite behind a vision of a new, dynamic and inclusive North which has friendly and mutually beneficial relationships with Scotland and the rest of the UK. We don’t want a few crumbs but strong, directly-elected regional government working with empowered local government which gives the North the leadership and direction it desperately needs”.

Barry Winter, chair of the Hannah Mitchell Foundation (and chair for Thursday’s meeting) said:  “Independence means the potential to move beyond the politics of austerity, neo-liberalism and empire. The prospect of having a radical neighbour trying new ways of doing politics is a very inspiring possibility for many of us in England.”

Ends/

For more information on above event ring Paul Salveson 07795 008691

Call for an ‘England of the Regions’

21.15 September 1st 2014: embargoed to 07.30 Tuesday September 2nd

PRESS RELEASE: (immediate)

Time for an ‘England of the Regions’

As the Scottish referendum approaches, the North of England lobby for devolution is calling for an ‘England of the regions’. Professor Paul Salveson, general secretary of the Hannah Mitchell Foundation, publishes a paper today titled One Nation – Many Rivers which explores England’s radical traditions which could form the building blocks of a new, democratic English politics.

Barry Winter, chair of the Hannah Mitchell Foundation, says: “Paul Salveson calls for a genuine devolution of power to England’s regions in line with the changes taking place in both Scotland and Wales. His argument could not be more relevant in these fluid times. He recognises we have an opportunity to break with our over-centralised system and with the political cynicism it encourages. An England of the regions, he argues, drawing on our democratic traditions, should ensure that power is then widely dispersed. This is a message of hope in the possibility of positive change for a better future.”

The paper was strongly influenced by Jon Cruddas’s George Lansbury Memorial Lecture presented by the London Labour MP to an audience at the London School of Economics last year. Lansbury was a leading figure on the left of the Labour Party in the inter-war years, and Cruddas draws inspiration from Lansbury’s democratic socialist beliefs.

Paul Salveson said “many of Cruddas’s ideas, whilst based on an important political activist of the past, are highly relevant for us today. In particular, his arguments for an open and inclusive left which is willing to ‘give power away’ is incredibly important in the context of growing interest in devolution with England”.

The paper argues that the way forward for a modern left-of-centre English politics is to embrace real political devolution and build new alliances between different parts of the centre-left. Salveson says:

“I’ve written this as an English Labour political activist, stressing a specifically English radical tradition that we need to re-energise, based on progressive regionalism. Strong radical movements in Scotland and Wales can only help propel that forward. The campaign for ‘radical independence’ in Scotland has been at the forefront of creating a new radical politics. A new English politics is about moving away from the spurious ‘unity’ of Great Britain which only served to hide the reality of English – or more accurately London – domination. The future must be a federation of free nations and – within England itself – regions.”

The paper is available HERE: http://www.hannahmitchell.org.uk/2014/08/31/one-nation-many-rivers/

More information: Paul Salveson on 07795 008691

Will the North follow Scotland…?

What sort of North? (August 31 2014)

a few thoughts from Paul Salveson

The Scottish referendum is starting to have an impact south of the border. About time too! The media has woken up to the possibility that a ‘yes’  – or even a close ‘no’ – will stimulate debate in the North, and perhaps other English regions, about regional devolution. Today’s Observer (August 31st) carries a double page spread by Robert Yates, headed ‘Will the north follow Scotland and search for greater power?’  It’s here: http://www.theguardian.com/cities/2014/aug/31/one-north-regeneration-railways-jobs-cities .The logic of the article leads inexorably towards a ‘yes’ response and the need for a Northern government. Yet the author raises the idea of ‘new regional structures, a council of the North for instance?’ only to say ‘there’s not much appetite for such a notion. …there’s not much appetite, in truth, for any huge shifts in governance structure (apart, that is, from the combined authorities embracing smaller towns that feed into a city, following the example of Greater Manchester). Oh really? Is there any appetite for ‘combined authorities’ beyond local authority leaders? I don’t think so. The Observer article didn’t go beyond the rather narrow horizons of a small number of local government leaders, whose agenda is to look after their own. Most people outside those narrow confines have any idea about ‘combined authorities’ which are being established with precious little public consultation and even less democratic accountability. West Yorkshire now has a ‘combined authority’ with considerable powers and a large budget. Unlike the former West Yorkshire Metropolitan County Council, it isn’t directly elected and for an ordinary member of the public trying to influence its decisions, forget it. This is all wrong but there seems to be a conspiracy of silence over it. Over the next few years more and power will be ceded to combined authorities across the North and expect a further decline in voter turn-out.

The Observer article was accompanied by a commentary from Ed Cox, director of IPPR North. This think-tank has produced some excellent material on the need for greater powers for the North, but still steps short of advocating real democratic accountability. The talk, reflecting the views of some Northern city leaders, is about ‘city regions’ made up of combined local authorities, getting further power devolved from the centre. He says “By 2020 we need to see a proper constitutional settlement for England giving local government the kind of autonomy afforded in almost every other mature European democracy.” Yes, agreed, but what about regional government? You can’t construct an effective regional ‘powerhouse’ to rival London and the south-east through an amalgam of local authorities who will inevitably pursue their own ‘local’ agenda. And pretty much every other ‘mature democracy’ manages to combine vibrant local government with devolved, directly-elected, regional government – Germany, France, Spain, Italy, the USA to name just a few. IPPR North’s reluctance to utter the ‘R’ word is reflected in the Labour front bench shyness of advocating regional government. “We don’t want to create any more politicians” was the response from Ed Miliband when the question I put to him some time back at a Labour gathering. What a very odd answer. Hilary Benn said much the same thing when I raised the issue with him. He didn’t have any intellectual arguments against ‘regional government’ as such, but was worried about the effect of Labour advocating ‘another tier of bureaucracy’. This timidity is not shared by every Labour MP, but the devolutionists tend to be back benchers like our excellent Linda Riordan.

Why so timid? Any reasonable person looking at the political map of the UK would see devolved government – directly elected through PR – working well in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland – and even London. So the conclusion for England should be glaringly obvious – directly elected regions which take substantial power out of Whitehall. The counter argument to ’additional cost and bureaucracy’ is that you have a much smaller civil service, hence less cost, with ultimately most functions devolved apart from defence and foreign policy. A small number of functions, such as police, could be merged into a regional structure, with obvious economies of scale and real accountability, instead of the laughably inadequate ‘police and crime commissioners’.

Finally, the clinching argument for an all-Northern government to me is the railways. The franchises for Northern and TransPennine Express are currently being re-let by civil servants in London, assisted by officers from ‘Rail North’. This is a joint body of no less than 30 Northern local authorities. You can imagine how accountable this ‘combined authority’ is. And, let’s be honest (if not popular) Rail North’s current role seems to be that of a fig leaf for decisions being made by well-meaning, but remote, civil servants in London. A powerful and well-resourced Northern regional government is the obvious body to oversee ‘Rail North’ which should have complete responsibility for local and regional rail in its area.