Labour must rediscover its working-class foundations in the North

A fire is burning. It’s the angry flame of the injustice that we feel about the way the North has been treated. Last year, the two of us along with then-MP for Crewe and Nantwich, Laura Smith, drafted the report Northern Discomfort. For a variety of reasons, it went unpublished. In the wake of a disastrous general election and the gross inequalities being suffered by so many, we are now releasing the report with a brief update.

How can anyone who lives in the North feel? Last week – ten years after its first publication – an update to the Marmot report laid bare a decade of Tory failure in England that has been most acutely felt in left behind communities. Unsurprisingly, the areas that have been hit hardest are those in the Midlands and the North. By almost every metric, it was communities in these regions that bore the brunt of Tory cruelty.

Life expectancy in the North East is the lowest in the country. The North East, Yorkshire and the Humber had the lowest employment levels. The North East, Yorkshire and the Humber were revealed to have the highest rates of male suicide. The North East, North West and East Midlands have the lowest levels of attainment at age 16. Strikingly, the average wealth of households in the South East is 2.6 times higher than in the North East.

The last ten years have led to an intolerable situation – but the reality is that our areas have suffered decline for decades. This disgrace must stop, and yet it’s getting worse. Of course, it is Conservative policies that are to blame. But Labour failed to win the argument. The discussion around Brexit played a huge role in the last election. Of the seats we lost in England, all but two had voted to leave the EU. And most were in the North and the Midlands. For too many, the comments of Labour’s leading Remain-facing spokespersons confirmed their suspicion that we no longer spoke for them.

But the truth is that Brexit has merely served to speed up a decline in our political base in the heartlands that had been decades in the making. In many communities that heavily relied on an industry long gone, Labour had been seen as a distant and alien presence. To some, our party had become that of an intolerant and authoritarian liberalism more interested in representing than being representative of working people.

Northern Discomfort shows that it is impossible to win if we become disconnected from our ‘heartlands’ and that we should never, ever wish to. These communities helped give birth to the Labour Party, and they are vital to ensuring it survives as an electoral force into the future. As proudly northern, working-class representatives, today we say: enough is enough. No more being left behind, no more acceptance of a social situation that is wreaking havoc in people’s lives. There can be no turning back to a metropolitan dominated politics that has utterly failed our people. The document sets out a path to rebuilding our great party in the North for and of working people.

Let’s renew the social contract that we always wanted to create between our movement and the nation. Labour was never intended to be a career ladder constructed for professional politicians to climb up. It was created to be a mass movement designed to transform our society, from top to bottom. Our purpose was to promote the common good – a better society for all. The first step on our journey is surely to rediscover our working-class foundations, upon which a great movement can yet be built.

We welcome any comments. If you live in the North and you are a socialist, please do get in touch via [email protected] and please provide your name and region. The full Northern Discomfort report can be found here.

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