Tuesday, 30 March 2021

Why Won't Labour Address the North/South Divide?

If you pay attention to social media politics in the UK, you can't have missed the launch of the Northern Independence Party, if only because Labour centrists won't stop freaking out about it. And the louder the Starmerrhoids scream about how irrelevant the NIP is, the less convincing they sound. 

While few are expecting the NIP to start winning parliamentary seats overnight, the threat of them picking up 5% of the vote share is real, and depending on where those votes come from, they could easily sway the outcome of local and by-elections.

Take Hartlepool for example: a historically safe Labour seat which was betrayed by Sir Keith Starmer and his disastrous People's Vote. A seat where the public are rapidly losing trust in Labour and unsure what the party even stands for now. 

The NIP is contesting this seat in the coming by-election and it's entirely possible their vote share will come from disaffected Labour voters. This could spell trouble for Starmer, given Labour's margin of victory in 2019 was fairly small at approximately 3,600. 

Keith must be praying those Hartlepudlians who lent the Tories their vote solely for Brexit will save his skin by not voting the Tory shade of blue again. But he knows the Tories could be looking at a Covid vaccine bounce, meaning a larger vote share for them and a smaller vote share for Blue Labour. 

The bookies have the parties neck and neck, and if Starmer loses the seat, this would be a huge hammer blow to his leadership. How could he blame Jeremy Corbyn, when Corbyn's Labour twice won this seat, despite the best efforts of centrist wreckers?

Defeat might force Starmer out of a job and Labour would then surely go into free fall, because centrist attacks on party democracy mean it would end up with another out of touch centrist in charge. (Please let it be Jess Phillips!)

Now you might scoff at the idea of a new fringe party picking up a significant vote share, but NIP are, on the surface, a single-issue party (they would not describe themselves as such) with a strong and instantly recognisable brand. Let's not forget, the Brexit Party picked up a significant vote share because people instantly knew what it was about on name recognition alone. (No one knows what Labour is about now.)

If you're a disaffected voter stepping into the booth, feeling unenthused about any of the main choices and you see Northern Independence Party on the ballot, you might just put a tick in that box. After all, no one else is listening to your concerns about the decline of your region. The establishment has left you behind.

This could be a powerful effect, and when you combine it with the fact the NIP has a credible candidate in former Labour MP Thelma Walker, only a fool would dismiss their chances. Winning Hartlepool outright would be incredibly tough, but picking up the 5% vote share to hold onto their deposit would seem entirely feasible. And would represent a huge achievement.

From Labour's perspective, the best approach would be to take ownership of the issue, to acknowledge the severity of the north/south divide and tell the public how they intend to address that. But they aren't and won't

Let's not forget, Labour had 13 years in power under Blair and they did nothing meaningful to address the north/south divide because they were too busy dropping bombs. Labour abandoned their natural base on the assumption us northerners had nowhere else to go and they've been haemorrhaging support in the "red wall" ever since. It's laughable that centrists now blame Jeremy Corbyn for this problem when the one halt in the decline came at the 2017 general election. Corbyn was actually reversing the trend until Keith got his way with PV and betrayed the north all over again.

So now, instead of acknowledging past failings and showing us their plan to fix our regions, Labour is like a rabbit in the headlights, terrified of upsetting its flag shagging base. And its focus groups have come up with the ingenious plan of writing a hit piece in The Times. This move offered the type of exposure the Northern Independence Party could only dream of. No wonder their Twitter numbers are going so high!

So this piece in The Times was written by a Labour guy who proudly told us how northern and English he is, and then went onto describe a middle-class experience which is totally alien to most of us northerners. (The middle-class to us is like the upper-class to you southerners. We're all poor here.) He  went on to describe the NIP as a glorified Twitter account (one which is getting more engagement than Keith's and doesn't need an army of paid bots to boost its numbers) and just threw petty insults at it. Not only was he insulting the party, he was also indirectly insulting every northerner who is looking seriously at the Northern Independence Party because our issues are not being addressed by Labour. He then had the gall to suggest the NIP was needlessly dividing the left, when the left have spent the last few years being mocked, ridiculed and purged by his neoliberal party. He honestly believes the best strategy is to further insult the people his party deliberately pushed away and demand they fall in line. It's so excruciatingly tone deaf.

Why didn't he address any of our real concerns? Why didn't he discuss how the north has twice as many underperforming schools and much lower numbers of pupils going onto university? Why didn't he discuss how the average income in West London is double that of Sunderland? Why didn't he discuss our higher unemployment rates and shocking lack of job opportunities? Why did he disregard our lack of investment in public transport?

The Labour guy, who I won't be naming, simply told us how lovely and middle class his life is in the northeast and how this made him proud to be English. I promise you 99% of northerners would've been rolling their eyes.

We have been left behind by Westminster and very deliberately so. 

If the north was an independent country, it would have a population of 15 million (comparable to the Netherlands) and would be the 74th most populous country in the world. It would also be 24th largest by GDP per capita. This means an independent Northumbria would be far from helpless. It would be a medium-sized country more than capable of producing enough to provide for its people through fairer distribution of resources. 

We're never going to achieve that while we're attached to the Tory south because they're always going to vote for a status quo that favours themselves over us. We are essentially at their mercy. We are under the dictatorship of the southern middle class, and Labour is not offering a way out.

Labour could fight for proportional representation to strengthen our voice in parliament. They won't. 

The Socialist Campaign Group could break away from Labour and fight for us. They won't.

In short, we have been abandoned by those we chose to represent us, and we have been left with nowhere else to turn. If Labour won't offer us hope, the only remaining option is to destroy the party and replace it with something better, like the SNP did in Scotland. And all you need to do that is 5% of the vote share.

Labour has already been routed in Scotland, meaning it has no route back to power in Westminster. It's a walking corpse. Now imagine the Northern Independence Party picking up 5% of the vote in every Labour/Tory Marginal. Labour's share of the seats would collapse. And while you may find that idea horrifying, we're talking about a Labour Party which has abstained on some of the Tories' most sinister policies, like the Spy Cops bill. And we're talking about a Labour Party that, through Yvette Cooper, played a large role in the introduction of ATOS assessments which have brought misery, and even death, to the disabled (I know people who were left suicidal by this policy). 

The Labour Party is the Tory Party. It's the establishment's B team. If we can completely smash Labour's seat share, the public will abandon it in droves and they will then be looking for something new. In the north, that will be the Northern Independence Party, and in the south, you can expect the rise of a new left-wing movement in the near future.

We are going to see a new kind of opposition. An opposition spread across a coalition of anti-establishment parties who individually could not hold a majority in Westminster, but collectively might, and at the very least will play a huge role in shaping the national debate. Northumbria could become a semi-autonomous region like Scotland, but it's likely Scotland will declare full independence in the next ten years, at which point the remaining union will likely collapse, and Northumbrians will not want to remain attached to Tory England.

The Northern Independence Party could well be the start of something - a movement driven by people who've had enough of career politicians and want to shape their own destiny. Expect the smears and dirty tricks to come. They already are. Don't even acknowledge them. Just keep driving our narrative and focus on dismantling the last vestiges of the British empire.

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email: r.d.hale@outlook.com