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.