Below is a letter from the Free North Campaign published in the Liverpool Echo today (15/05/2015).
The Free North Campaign welcomes the arrival of the Northern Party onto the political scene. A previous article on the FNC website called for the formation of a pro-North party (see An alliance for the North http://wp.me/p3TSFB-5n). It is worth repeating an important point from that article: “The FNC believes there should be a broad coalition focussed on advancing the interests of the North. This coalition should exclude reactionary forces such as UKIP and the various Far Right groups that attempt to co-opt themselves onto campaigns as a means of advancing their own divisive, supremacist agendas.”
It is our hope that the new party can work in solidarity and co-operation with Yorkshire First and the North East Party. We need vibrant regional politics in addition to a pan-Northern campaign to take decision-making power away from London.
In its manifesto, the Northern Party says: “We believe the current political system in Britain is no longer fit for purpose and that, instead of the present centralised system in which unfairness, corruption, inefficiency and waste are institutionalised, Britain urgently needs radical devolution and a new political system in which the regions, rather than London, hold the balance of power.” The FNC could not agree more and we hope every Northerner who feels disillusioned with the Westminster elite and the political status quo will join the Northern rebellion and support the Northern Party.
Read the party manifesto here.
Below is a letter from a Free North Campaign supporter printed in the latest issue of the Weekly Worker.
The below quote from the Irish republican socialist James Connolly (1868 – 1916) sums up the core values of the Free North Campaign. The struggle for self-government is virtually worthless unless it based on a clear commitment to radically extending democracy and maximising social and economic justice for the majority of citizens.
UK’s north-south divide has widened, says thinktank (The Guardian) http://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/jan/19/north-south-divide-widen-thinktank-data
Empty shops show North-South divide (BBC News) http://www.bbc.com/news/business-31124506
Divided UK: for every 12 jobs created in the South, one is lost in the North (The Independent) http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/divided-uk-for-every-12-jobs-created-in-the-south-one-is-lost-in-the-north-9986656.html
Number of homeless soars by 20 per cent as campaigners blame ‘callous’ government policies (Manchester Evening News) http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/number-homeless-soars-20-per-8491468
The hi-tech trains Londoners will ride on while we make do with second-hand carriages (Liverpool Echo) http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/revealed—hi-tech-trains-londoners-8445710
Thousands of homes across the North were already waiting to downsize before Bedroom Tax came into force (The Chronicle) http://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/north-east-news/thousands-homes-across-north-were-8418310
Labour MP claims ‘Westminster elite’ of politicians think northerners are thick (The Mirror) http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/labour-mp-claims-westminster-elite-4900631
Tory candidate: calling yourself a northerner ‘can lead to social apartheid’ (Political Scrapbook) http://politicalscrapbook.net/2015/01/tory-candidate-defining-as-a-northerner-can-lead-to-social-apartheid-rebecca-coulson/
Yorkshire First selects retired GP as general election candidate for Calder Valley (The Huddersfield Daily Examiner) http://www.examiner.co.uk/news/west-yorkshire-news/yorkshire-first-selects-retired-gp-8540276
‘Enough is enough’ – rebel councillor resigns from Labour party (Warrington Guardian) http://www.warringtonguardian.co.uk/news/11751282._Enough_is_enough____rebel_councillor_resigns_from_Labour_party/
Frank Atkinson obituary – Inspirational creator of Beamish, an open-air museum devoted to the social and industrial history of the north of England (The Guardian) http://www.theguardian.com/culture/2015/jan/02/frank-atkinson
It will come as no surprise to most that the political class has little affection for the North of England. The contempt the Westminster elite has for Northerners was underlined by recent comments from Ian Lavery, Labour MP for Wansbeck in Northumberland and a former president of the National Union of Mineworkers.
Speaking at a conference organised by the left-wing thinktank Class, Lavery said:
“Sadly, there’s not enough MPs who’ve actually worked on the coalface, on the factory floor.
“We haven’t got enough ethnic minorities, we haven’t got enough disabled people.
“We’ve got an elite in… Westminster, which quite frankly frightens me.
“They haven’t been anywhere or done anything, and when you’ve got an accent like mine they think, ‘Well that man doesn’t really know too much’.”
The Tory press has represented these remarks as an attack on Ed Miliband and the Labour leadership. Although it is clear Lavery was being critical of Westminster as a whole, it is undoubtedly the Labour Party, historically the political wing of the trade union movement, that has the most soul-searching to do.
It has been many decades since Labour could be considered a party of the working-class. The modern party is dominated by the middle-class and is irreversibly detached from its traditional roots and ideological foundations. Labour has long taken support from working-class and Northern voters for granted. Thoroughly disillusioned by the bland, Tory-lite approach of the party, many of those voters are now questioning their loyalty to Labour.
It is regrettable that the absence of a viable left-wing alternative has led many people to look to Ukip as the anti-establishment party. Election data analyst Ian Warren said: “While many retain their loyalty to Labour, a sizeable proportion is moving to Ukip […] These are core voters with repulsion for both the Conservatives and the Lib Dems. They are using Ukip as a means to exercise their anger.”
In 2015, the key question for those of us on the Left in the North is: how do we build an anti-austerity alternative to Ukip and the Establishment parties?
The Greens are currently the only mainstream political party to oppose austerity with a clear centre-left agenda, however their appeal to working-class voters is limited.
Both Yorkshire First and the North East Party should be commended for advancing progressive policies on a regionalist basis. The approach of both of these parties could be broadened out into a pan-Northern platform, incorporating the Campaign for the North, the Hannah Mitchell Foundation and the countless trade unionists and non-aligned Northerners who have become disillusioned with Labour and have no faith in the failed parties of the orthodox Left.
2014 was the year that Ukip truly broke into the mainstream of British politics. We cannot allow 2015 to be the year they consolidate their stranglehold.
One of the most interesting aspects of the Scottish referendum campaign was the way that political parties and organisations of various persuasions came together to fight for a common cause. It was no suprise to see Labour, the Tories, the LibDems, the Orange Lodge, big business and most of the British media unite to save the Union. Meanwhile, the pro-independence movement saw the SNP, the Greens, the Scottish Socialist Party and various grassroots organisations, such as the Radical Independence Campaign, come together to promote the progressive case for self-determination.
South of the border, there are various organisations attempting to push greater regional autonomy and devolution for the North of England onto the political agenda.
• The Hannah Mitchell Foundation is named after a socialist suffragette and campaigns for “democratic government in the North of England” within a federal United Kingdom. It has members from Labour, the Lib Dems, the Greens and independents (and apparently a couple of Tories as well).
• The Campaign for the North calls for a devo-max Northern government, an aim we would support on the journey to full independence.
• The Free North Campaign – we go further in calling for complete Northern independence. Our political outlook is socialist and republican. We believe there is always a danger of nationalism becoming narrow-minded and reactionary unless it has a clear progressive agenda based on Left principles.
Various political parties have also paid lip service to the idea of devolving power to the North and other regions. How seriously they actually take the idea is questionable and obviously dependant on party political interests.
The FNC believes there should be a broad coalition focussed on advancing the interests of the North. This coalition should exclude reactionary forces such as UKIP and the various Far Right groups that attempt to co-opt themselves onto campaigns as a means of advancing their own divisive, supremacist agendas.
We think it makes sense for a new political party to be formed that would campaign for greater devolution and autonomy for the North of England and stand up for Northerners against the London-centric Westminster elite. We wouldn’t expect such a party to fully embrace our socialist, republican and pro-independence ideals, but it should – at the very least – advance a regionalist agenda based on the values of social justice and economic prosperity for all, not just the few. Many European countries, notably Spain, have parties based on this model, while Britain has the likes of Plaid Cymru, the Scottish National Party and Mebyon Kernow in Cornwall.
We live in interesting times. If Northern devolution/autonomy is going to gain widespread grassroots support, we need to capture the imaginations of Northerners and not allow the debate to get lost in bland, bureaucratic jargon spouted by career politicians.