Saturday, 30 June 2012
Northern Future debated at Westminster
Over fifty people, including a large number of MPs and peers, attended the Hannah Mitchell Foundation’s first meeting at the House of Commons on Tuesday June 26th.
The Foundation’s president, Linda Riordan, MP for Halifax, opened the meeting and stressed that now was an ideal time to look at new forms of governance for The North of England, as the gap between North and South widens and the debate about Scottish independence gathers momentum.
“It’s vital that the North of England has its own voice to promote a strategic approach to regeneration, building on the good work of the now-abolished regional development agencies,” said Linda.
Professor Paul Salveson MBE, the Foundation’s General Secretary, highlighted the importance of having control over regional transport networks particularly rail. “The Government is consulting on devolving powers over rail to a more regional level, but there is no regional body to devolve to; it’s just one example where we really need a regional tier of government which takes powers and resources from London without adding to costs.”
Dave Anderson, MP for Blaydon, welcomed the initiative but highlighted the need to learn lessons from the failed 2004 referendum on regional government in the North-East. We really need to capture the hearts and minds of ordinary people. If it’s seen as ‘jobs for the boys’ it will fail.”
Grimsby MP Austin Mitchell hit out at the way London is a huge drain on England’s skills and talent, creating a dependency culture in the rest of the country. “We must decide our own destiny and not become more and more subject to a London-based oligarchy.”
Cat Smith, chair of young people’s campaign group ‘Next Generation Labour’, strongly supported devolution to the North of England as a whole, with powers similar to those of the Labour-controlled Welsh Government. “It’s wrong that so many talented young people have no option other than to move to London to build their careers; there should be many more opportunities in our great Northern cities to nurture local talent and attract people in.”
Louise Ellman, MP for Liverpool Riverside, welcomed the re-emergence of a serious debate on English regional devolution. “Regionalism seems to have become almost a dirty word!” she told guests. “It’s great that it is back on the agenda but there is still a lot of opposition which we need to address if we’re serious about addressing growing disparities between north and South – as well as the democratic deficit we have in the English regions.” Louise highlighted the importance of a strategic approach to research and development in the North, playing on its historic strengths as a centre of enterprise and innovation. “The local enterprise partnerships which replaced the regional development agencies are totally inadequate and the regional growth fund which replaced RDA funding is controlled from London. It’s a laughable.”
There was a positive and animated discussion, with themes ranging from forms of regional governance to what powers a Northern government should have. Tosh McDonald of train drivers’ union Aslef welcomed the idea of a regional government running local and regional services on behalf of the people, not far-removed shareholders.
Bolton North East MP Dave Crausby stressed the need for the North as a whole to work together and present a strong united voice. “We need to build up a momentum gradually, demonstrating the benefits of devolution to the North; it needs a mature and inclusive approach.”
Many speakers talked about the need to develop a more popular and inclusive form of politics which could overcome the prevailing cynicism. “We need to make sure the foundation itself represents the diversity of the North,” agreed Paul Salveson. “We will be addressing ways of involving young people over the coming weeks and we want to make sure – in the spirit of Hannah Mitchell - that we are genuinely inclusive.”
Linda Riordan ended the meeting echoing Dave Anderson’s call to really engage with people and put the case for a strong Northern voice. “We’ve come a long way just in the last few months and we’ve been delighted by the support we’ve been getting. We’re broad church and we want to work with all sections of the community in the North of England”.
Note to Editors
The Foundation is named in honour of Hannah Mitchell, born in North Derbyshire in 1871. She was a grassroots activist in the early socialist movement in Bolton and then Ashton-under-Lyne and for many years a Labour councillor in the Newton Heath ward of Manchester. She wrote short stories for Labour’s Northern Voice and The Manchester Guardian, often using local dialect. “She was a great working class socialist and passionate advocate of women’s suffrage,” said Linda Riordan. “She epitomises all that was best in the North of England’s radical traditions – who better to name the Foundation after?”
The Foundation has a website at www.hannahmitchell.org.uk and membership is open to individuals and organisations, both large and small.
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