Towards a Northern Economic Justice campaign?
The North of England, defined as the Yorkshire and the Humber, North East and North West regions, have a lot to complain about. Unlike Wales and Scotland, with whom they share many grievances, they lack any real coherent voice in doing so. Isn’t it time such a voice was developed?
The North subsidises the South of England in many different ways. We pay for the education of children who are forced to move to London in search of work. The effects of the missing generation are starting to bite in many different ways. A lack of enthusiasm for northern cities means many are numerically shrinking.
We watch thousands of pounds poured in to CrossRail and down the tubes, with just a handful of infrastructure projects heading our way. Even with Northern Hub and (whisper it) HS2 coming to our region, we’re still chronically underfunded. Our councils subsidise many non-London Southern Councils. We live with an economy twisted and distorted by the presence of a tiny pair of tax havens, perched like cuckoos in our nest – the City and the Docklands. Its not that manufacturing and mining are the way forwards, its that the industries that replaced them have largely skipped over us.
This isn’t entirely true – Leeds is England’s 2nd financial centre and Manchester has the pleasure of hosting much of the BBC. But the North, and its potential as a political project, is largely untapped. Movements focused at building up the Yorkshire spirit suffer a bit too much rear-view mirror vision, and leave the North East and North West in the cold. Numerically, the three regions out number Wales and Scotland combined.
Add to this the incredible tilting of the third sector and political landscapes towards the South East. Self-fulfilling prophecies pile on each other that justify spending more to be in London and to have staff in London. If it just skewed the jobs market, that would be one thing, but I’m starting to realise just how much it skews the whole political conversation and nature of goodwill in our society. No wonder there is political disengagement if ‘everything’ happens in a city most cannot afford to get to. Indeed, with travel costs spiralling, its possible to argue that Britain is getting bigger and the distances less achievable.
The dangers to focusing on the North should be obvious: every geographically defined project has its peripheries and those excluded from it. Making a case for North-focused policy making, or even letting the North decide its own fate, can become an exercise in judging our Southern neighbours, many of whom do not see the benefits of London and the South East. Solidarity must be extended both to those excluded from London by cost but still stuck within it, and those for whom injustice travels East-West and who are often the victims of other London-based injustices – take the villages of holiday homes in the West Country for a starting point.
For the advantages, we need only look at the benefits to Scotland and Wales that having an identity and building political demands around it has bought. Indeed, attitudes to racial inclusion are better in Scotland, or so we’re told. A rich vein of potential for framing issues and promoting them exists and failure to tap it leaves the rifts between North and South growing ever wider. Perhaps its time to create some kind of framework within which to explore that potential.