Category Archives: News

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.

English Parliament? No thanks!

English Parliament – and city regions – no thanks! England of the regions: Yes Please!

Today’s ‘Guardian’ pushes the ‘English parliament’ argument – more London-centric rubbish (wherever it might be based!)
http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/aug/21/guardian-view-devolution-parliament-for-england

Here’s a quick response:

An ‘English parliament’ would be disastrous for the North (‘Answering the English Question’, Guardian, August 22), leaving us even more marginalised by London and the South-east. I’m puzzled by the apparent breadth of support for an all-England parliament suggested by the Edinburgh and Cardiff University study you refer to. Up here there is growing interest in having devolved government for the North – and I detect little ‘Anti-Scots’ sentiment. Quite the opposite, with some suggesting that if Scotland votes ‘yes’ they might like to consider moving the border a hundred miles further south! (sent to Guardian August 22nd)

A few more thoughts:

The idea of an English Parliament generally attracts support from right-wing cranks – no wonder UKIP has picked it up. It’s narrow nationalism which could easily turn very nasty – anti-Scots, anti-Irish and antiwhoever doesn’t fit in with the ‘quintessentially English’ stereotypes so beloved by our media.

We want an inclusive, democratic ‘England of the regions’ – The North, Midlands, South-west, East and South-East (maybe with London as it is – it already has regional government!). An ‘English Parliament’ – wherever you base it – would be heavily dominated by London and the South-East and tap into all the worst aspects of English chauvinism. Anyone on the left who thinks it could somewhow release some radical impulses is living in a dream-land. The risk is we’d get a right-wing English government, hostile to the EU, anti-immigrant, anti-welfare.

An England of the regions would open the way for a re-balanced nation at ease with itself and its neighbours, inclusive and tolerant – exemplifying some of the best traditions of ‘this England’ and not its worst. And it isn’t just the ‘regional’ dimension – it’s also about empowering lcoal government and getting power down to the lowest appropriate level. The EU calls it ‘subsidiarity’ but it’s really grassroots democracy.

We need to push regional democracy up the political agenda and not get led astray either by the right-wing chimera of an English Parliament or the Blairite notion of unelected ‘city regions’. The North needs directly-elected governance which brings together Yorkshire, the North-East and the North-West in a radical and creative alliance. A North that works with a potentially independent Scotland and devolved Wales. We are not anti-south but it’s time we got off our knees and demanded our own voice and powers!

North needs a rail revolution

18.00h August 15th 2014

To the news editor

PRESS RELEASE: (immediate)

The North needs a rail revolution, not mean-minded ‘trade-offs’

The Hannah Mitchell Foundation – a campaign and think tank supporting Northern regional government, has sent a strongly-worded response to the Government’s consultation on the future Northern and TransPennine Express franchises which start in February 2016. It has called on Ed Miliband and his transport shadow secretary Mary Creagh to commit an incoming Labour Government to major changes to the franchise if the Government persists with a cuts agenda. It wants a new fleet of trains to replace the unloved and life-expired ‘Pacers’ – and for the trains to be built in the North.

“The Government consultation talks a lot about ‘trade-offs’ between investment and cuts to on-train staff and booking offices. We completely reject that and want to see the growth we’ve seen on rail over the last 10 years encouraged more, not choked off” said Foundation chair Barry Winter. “Stations should be centres of activity, with even small stations acting as community hubs with small shops and space for community groups.”

The Foundation stresses the importance of new rolling stock for the increasingly over-crowded rail services across the North. “Many of the trains that are running around the North are well past their sell-by date,” said Foundation secretary Professor Paul Salveson. “We need a new generation of diesel as well as electric trains to replace the old ‘Pacer’ and ‘Sprinter’ trains. And crucially, these new trains should be built in the North of England, the home of railways, not in Germany or France.”

“It must be a ‘growth’ franchise, not the ‘steady state’ approach which has served the North so badly since 2005,” said Barry. “We want to see an expanding network with re-openings across the North, including Skipton – Colne, a new line to Skelmersdale, the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne network and York to Hull via Market Weighton. Routes such as Calder Valley desperately need electrification and a Bradford cross-rail would help transform the West Yorkshire rail network, as part of a wider strategy lining regional rail with the proposed ‘HS3’ route across the Pennines.”

The Foundation rejects the current franchising system which will see ‘the usual suspects’ of major private companies and foreign-state owned railways bidding. “We have seen enough profit exported from our under-funded railways to private shareholders or foreign state-owned railways,” argued Paul Salveson. “Our railways in the North should be accountable to people in the North, run by a not-for-profit company which involves employees and passengers and re-invests any surplus back into the railway”.

The Foundation supports union efforts to keep staff on trains. “Having a conductor on trains isn’t just about collecting revenue and opening and shutting doors, it’s about having a visible presence to help and assist passengers and provide a sense of security – as well as vital support in the case of emergencies. We want to see trains that are properly staffed with a stronger focus on passengers and their needs”, said Professor Salveson, himself a former railway guard who became a senior manager with Northern Rail.

HMF suggests that the consortium of 30 local authorities called Rail North, – “very much a ‘junior partner’ in the partnership with the Government which is letting the new franchises”, should be strengthened and given full responsibility – and the funding to go with it – to manage and develop the rail network. Ultimately, Rail North should be accountable to a directly-elected assembly for the North as a whole, ensuring real accountability and a fully joined-up approach to transport and wider development.”

The Foundation wants to see transport integration taken much more seriously, with improved bus links and safe cycling and walking routes to stations. Trains should have more space for bikes and luggage, with the option of safe cycle storage at stations.

The franchises do not start until February 2016. “There is every possibility of Labour sweeping to power in May 2015, said Barry. “It would be absurd for an incoming Labour Government to preside over a new Northern franchise which fails to meet the needs of passengers, staff and the wider community,” he stressed. Ed Miliband and his transport shadow secretary Mary Creagh would win huge support if they committed a Labour Government to major changes to the Northern franchise proposition, putting the needs of people and not profit first.”

The full response is here: http://www.hannahmitchell.org.uk/2014/08/15/railways-a-better-network-for-the-north-accountable-to-the-north/

More information: Paul Salveson 07795 008691

Scotland and The North: strengthening bonds of citizenship and solidarity

Building new bonds of citizenship: Scotland and the North

Paul Salveson

Based on speech to Red Pepper/Hannah Mitchell Foundation/Reid Foundation event in Preston, August 12th 2014

The Hannah Mitchell Foundation is about generating interest in democratic and inclusive regional government for the North. We have a very strong interest in what is happening in Scotland and we’re immensely excited by the flowering of ideas and debate. As a body we are neutral between the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ campaign: it is for the people of Scotland to decide on their future, and whichever way the vote goes, we want to strengthen our links with radical campaigners north of the border. Hannah Mitchell herself – an outstanding democratic socialist, feminist and co-operator – would have been excited by events taking place in Scotland. She said “We must work as though we live in the early days of a better nation.” And that is what Scotland is going through at the moment. The ferment of ideas goes way beyond the SNP, embracing a wide cross-section of society and involving the Greens, Scottish Socialist Party, many Labour Party members and a huge number of people who have not been involved in ‘politics’ before. The following comments are my own personal views: within HMF we encourage different ideas and approaches: I am for Scottish independence, for reasons I’ll explain. Other colleagues want Scotland to stay within the UK.

Here in the North of England there is a growing sense of grievance about the widening gap with London and the South-East. It is economic and social: as yet it hasn’t really developed a political expression but it’s going that way. The newly-formed ‘Yorkshire First’ party won nearly 20,000 votes in the European elections, after only being in existence a matter of weeks, with a tiny budget. Similar moves are afoot in the North-east and there are signs of interest in a pan-Northern political movement. As a member of the Labour Party I want to see my own party embrace the idea of directly-elected regional government on a similar basis to the governance enjoyed by Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London. Hanging some money over to unaccountable ‘combined authorities in the city regions is not an adequate response. We need a real vision for the English regions within an over-arching Federal Britain.

As things stand, people in the North are watching events in the North of England with mixed feelings. I don’t detect any ‘anti-Scots’ sentiment despite the intense London media hostility to Salmond and the nationalists. Quite a few people I speak to in the North say ‘good luck to ‘em’ and a few even express the idea of moving the border a hundred miles further south! Within the Labour Party there are quite a few of us at the grassroots who support independence, and I’ll explain why in a moment. Most are against, for two main reasons. One is the electoral maths: an independent Scotland would mean fewer Labour MPs and the possibility of a permanent Tory majority. In fact the experience since the war has shown that in most general elections when Labour won, it would still have had a majority without its Scottish MPs. The second reason has perhaps more resonance: a Scot-free England would become even more unbalanced with the North being abandoned as the south-east ‘powerhouse’ steams ahead. There is a very real risk here, regardless of who wins the election next year. Labour seems concerned to demonstrate it is not just ‘the party of the North’ even though it’s where most of its support lies. It wants to win votes in the south – and there’s a certain irony that while the Tories (who need to win seats in the North) are coming up with suggestions for major investment  – such as the HS3 high-speed line from east to west – Labour is silent or cynical. The issue of an unbalanced England, with an increasingly rebellious Wales, will become more and more pronounced driving demands for real devolution within England. A highly centralised England with only London enjoying its own regional government will be unsustainable. Change will have to come and it will be driven by a new coalition of political forces. We can learn much from the tactics of the radical independence campaigners in Scotland who have mobilised new forces and adopted very different tactics which Robin McAlpine will be telling you about in his speech. There are thousands of people out there who want change but feel dis-empowered by politics south of the border.

Let’s look at some more arguments against independence, from a ‘Northern English’ perspective. The recent ‘love bomb’ from 200 ‘celebrities’ organised by Dan Snow was, on one level, laughable. In fact quite a few comedians, ranging from Bruce Forsyth and Ronnie Corbett to George Galloway figured strongly. I wouldn’t take guidance from any of them – would you? But one of the things Snow said did make sense. He wanted to retain the ‘bonds of citizenship’ which unite us. However, in reality the ‘bonds of citizenship’ between Scotland and England are invariably mediated via London and its Westminster bubble. Citizenship is not an abstract idea, it is about real, living links between people. These can, and do, cross national borders. I have more friends in the Irish Republic than Northern Ireland: the border is irrelevant. I very much hope over the coming months we can strengthen our ‘bonds of citizenship’ with the people of Scotland, whatever the outcome of the vote. The same goes for class solidarity. Some on the left have argued that independence is either irrelevant or an obstacle to ‘class solidarity’. Why? We’ve seen precious little of this class solidarity in recent years; I’d welcome more collaboration between trades unionists across the UK. But again, the border is irrelevant. It’s interesting that a growing number of union activists have embraced the ‘yes’ campaign even if the London-based- leaderships are against. And it’s a reflection on how our political elites generally – in all the unionist parties from Tory, Liberal Democrat to Labour – plus the media and the political commentariat – are largely, and often hysterically, anti-independence. No wonder – they stand to lose power and status. That can only be a good reason to vote ‘yes’.

A ‘yes’ vote will have a major impact on the British state, showing that ‘another world is possible’. Yes, it is a leap in the dark. Nobody really knows how an independent Scotland will perform, though the experience of other emergent nations is that after a possibly bumpy start they will blossom. The alternative is to continue with the status quo, perhaps a bit more devolution, but continuing with the shared neo-liberal agenda embraced by the main parties. I think Scotland really would ‘blossom’ politically, economically and culturally – and encourage some shoots of radical growth in England.  We need to develop a debate with our friends in Scotland and Wales – and Ireland – about what a future democratised British Isles would look like. That debate needs to take place outside and beyond the London-based elite.

The first step for a new Federal Britain is a ‘yes’ vote on September 18th. Some of you may have seen the excellent ‘Radical Lives’ programmes recently presented by Melvyn Bragg. On Saturday he featured that great English radical, Tom Paine, who played a key role in an earlier ‘independence’ struggle for what became the United States of America. He said “We have it in power to begin the world over again”. Over two centuries later those words still ring true. We should reject the politics of fear and conservatism and embrace radical change in these isles.

Long Term Rail Strategy for the North – HMF Response

The Hannah Mitchell Foundation has submitted a detailed response to Rail North’s consultation on Long Term Rail Strategy.

It is supportive of the overall approach but argues for a stronger vision for rail in the North with a directly-elected Northern Assembly overseeing rail, instead of the joint arrangements between 33 local authorities. It wants to see a not for dividend social enterprise running the North’s rail services, with profits recycled back into the business, providing improved facilities.

 

To read the full response, click here  LTRS Rail North HMF Response

Give rail powers to The North

 

21.45 Sunday October 20th 2013

PRESS RELEASE: (immediate)

The North needs a better, publicly-owned and accountable, railway

The Hannah Mitchell Foundation – the North’s campaign for regional devolution – has called for a major enhancement of the North’s rail network with rail services managed by a directly-elected Northern Assembly and run on a not-for-dividend basis.

In its response to the Rail North consultation on its ‘Long Term Rail Strategy’ the Foundation has called for “a compelling vision which puts a publicly-owned railway at the heart of a new North”. It argues for a programme of electrification and line re-openings which would provide the capacity and jobs the North urgently needs and could be delivered more quickly than HS2 – and bring greater benefits.

Prof. Paul Salveson, General Secretary of the Foundation, said “We would like to see the re-opening of the Ashington Blyth and Tyne and Leamside Lines in the North-East , Skipton-Colne, Penrith – Keswick, Bradford Cross-Rail, re-opening of the  Woodhead Route (Manchester – Sheffield) and new  lines to Fleetwood and Skelmersdale. Many locations could benefit from new stations and a Northern-wide ‘new stations strategy’ is needed.” He added that “we need to be more creative in our vision for stations which should become social, business and cultural centres as well as transport interchanges”.

His views were echoed by Foundation chair Barry Winter who said that rail in The North should be democratically accountable. “Our strong view is that Rail North should, in future, be answerable to a directly-elected Northern Assembly with a transport committee comprising elected members working closely with an experienced executive team. Rail North, with its 33 member authorities, each with their own agenda, demonstrates the need for a single pan-Northern elected body. Scotland has responsibility for its rail network and it has worked very well; so has Merseyside- the North as a whole should have the same.”

The Foundation argues that a new approach to rail in the North should put people before profit and point to the £108m profit made by the two Northern franchises last year, despite public subsidies totalling over £600m. “We want to see a future Northern Railways which is owned by the people of the North of England – passengers and employees – and not private shareholders whose prime concern is short-term profit, said Paul Salveson. “We think this could be achievable relatively quickly, when the current franchise ends in 2016 – and we invite interested organisations and individuals to work with us to achieve it.”  Ends/ For more information ring Paul Salveson 07795 008691

Note for editors

The Hannah Mitchell Foundation is a broadly-based campaign for Northern devolution, supported by many Northern MPs and peers. Linda Riordan (MP for Halifax) is president of the Foundation. The Foundation was founded in March 2012 to lobby for devolution to the North of England and is rapidly building up support across the North of England. Its patrons include Lord Prescott, several MPs and the grandson of Hannah Mitchell. Hannah (1871-1946) was a radical activist who was imprisoned during the agitation for women’s votes. She went on to become a popular councillor in the Newton Heath ward of Manchester. Although she had just two weeks of formal schooling she was a talented writer.