Sunday, 15 January 2012

Devolution contagion speeding south. Hannah Mitchell Foundation is founded.

On the Andrew Marr show today Ed Miliband briefly mentioned devolution in England. Those with quick minds will be pricing together a picture of determined, bright and focused Labour leader Ed Miliband who everyone seems to following at the moment. Economic and social changes that question the last 30 year consensus. From 'crony capitalism' to a 'something for something' nation. 

When Ed Miliband briefly mentioned English devolution Marr seemed to miss it, focused confusingly on what the viewer had already understood Mr Miliband was saying on spending cuts but Mr Marr hadn't. It was a simple coherent answer on spending cuts and Marr missed his a golden opportunity to press on something quite radical and quite new.

Ed Miliband is once again ahead of the curve. He realises what a good Prime Minister should realise. The West Lothian question is a can of worms; that the top down Whitehall problem persists and the regions crave for their identity and self determination. That other nations have a more decentralised approach, notably Germany.

The reality of the West Lothian question is that there isn't just one England from somewhere near Hadrians Wall to Lands End. Devolution is speeding south. Remove Scotland and it certainly isn't hey-ho, a lifetime of Conservative rule for the north from the home counties and Westminster. 

What has emerged is devolution for Northern England. A view that if Scotland and Wales can have a free NHS, free from privatisation; free prescriptions and free university tuition then so can northern england for these devolved areas are our political brethren.

That process has begun with the Hannah Mitchell Foundation. 

For those that eyed the advantage of untying the Scottish knot, they have not had the sense to realise the risk that the northern would be next in line asking for the right to self determination.

It's going to be very hard to put that genie back in the bottle. The UK now faces the break of what is 'The Westminster Union', a negative term used by the SNP but which captures the mood of a much wider audience. Parliament reduced to a federal role of  international affairs, defence and collectively acting on behalf of devolved government rolling back a millennia of British history.

I for one do not want to be ruled by the vested interests of the home counties with no hope for the remainder.
from Prof. Paul Salveson MBE PhD FCILT
The Hannah Mitchell Foundation is formed
It was exactly 119 years to the day that the Independent Labour Party was founded in nearby Bradford. So notwithstanding the fact it was Friday 13th (of January) the omens were auspicious. In a small backroom pub, redolent with radical working class undertones (there was even a real fire, qualifying it, almost, as a ‘smoke-filled room’), a dozen activists from across the North formally established ‘The Hannah Mitchell Foundation’. Avid readers of The Salvo, all five of them, will know that the Foundation was agreed at a meeting in Sowerby Bridge station refreshment rooms on November 11th. Last Friday’s meeting, in ‘The Sportsman’ pub, Huddersfield, was the first annual general meeting. We elected officers, agreed a constitution and approved a work programme for 2012. Linda Riordan, MP for Halifax, is President, supported by chair Barry Winter and General Secretary (a title redolent with slightly Stalinist overtones, but hey-ho) one Paul Salveson.

John Prescott and several MPs (including London-based parliamentarian Jon Cruddas) have signed up as patrons, as well as socialist feminist writer Sheila Rowbotham and Hannah Mitchell’s grandson Geoffrey. The aim of the foundation is to influence the debate on future regional government for the North of England, bringing a democratic and inclusive ‘centre-left’ approach to the campaign, reflecting Hannah’s own politics as an ‘ILP’ socialist, feminist and champion of working class communities in the North.

Who was Hannah Mitchell?
She was born in rural North Derbyshire in 1871 and after a time in Glossop she moved to what must have seemed like the thriving metropolis of Bolton, in the early 1890s, where she got work as a shop assistant. She became involved in the embryonic socialist movement and read Blatchford’s Clarion newspaper. One of her earliest influences was Katherine St John Conway, herself a recent recruit to ‘the cause’ but from a very different class background. She heard her speak at a packed meeting in Bolton about the new gospel of socialism. She was fascinated by this articulate young woman and went away “with an inspiration which later sent me out to the street corners with the same message.”

Hannah Mitchell went on to become an accomplished speaker and activist for the fledgling Independent Labour Party. She got involved in the women’s suffrage movement which was particularly active in the Lancashire mill towns and campaigned across the North of England. Her socialism was of the ethical, humanistic kind which became so popular across the North where the ILP was strongest. This kind of politics, in her words, “attracted a type of socialist who was not satisfied with the stark materialism of the Marxist school, desiring warmth and colour in human lives: not just bread, but bread and roses, too. Perhaps we were not quite sound on economics as our Marxian friends took care to remind us, but we realised the injustice and ugliness of the present system. We had enough imagination to visualise the greater possibility for beauty and culture in a more justly ordered state. If our conception of Socialism owed more to Morris than to Marx, we were none the less sincere, and many found their belief strengthened by the help and inspiration of the weekly meetings held in these Northern towns.” (The Hard Way Up, p 116).

This sums up Hannah’s politics, and the beliefs of thousands like her in the years before the First World War. But as well as having this romantic vision of socialism Hannah was a very practical activist. She became involved in local politics in Ashton-under-Lyne where she was elected onto the local ‘Board of Guardians’ responsible for poor relief. A further move, to Manchester, led to her adoption as a council candidate in the face of some opposition from her male Labour colleagues. She was elected for the working class ward of Newton Heath, which she served with dedication for many years. In The Hard Way Up she mentions one of her proudest achievements being the public wash house which she struggled to get built to make working class women’s lives that bit easier. Her desire for ‘beauty in civic life’ blossomed in her work on public libraries, parks and gardens. During the 1920s she became a regular correspondent for the ILP paper Labour’s Northern Voice. She wrote dialect sketches as ‘Daisy Nook’, poking fun at petty injustice and arguing the case for socialism in a light, accessible style which was quintessentially ‘Northern’. She died in 1956

To join 
Have a look at the Foundation’s website ( Individual membership is available. The Foundation also welcomes organisations from local branches to national bodies. Invitations to speak at meetings and conferences.
Cheques please to ‘The Hannah Mitchell Foundation’. Postal address is HMF, Bank Top, 90a Radcliffe Road, Golcar, Huddersfield HD7 4EZ
Next steps for the Foundation
We are planning a public launch in Bradford on March 9th. This will be followed by a parliamentary reception in June. We hope to have a presence at major events including the Durham Miners’ Gala and South Yorkshire Festival, as well as regional political conferences. Suggestions for other events?