Wednesday, 5 May 2021

A Look at the Northern Independence Party's Policies


The upcoming Hartlepool by-election is the focus of the UK right now and there are two key reasons for this. The first is that pollsters are predicting a disastrous defeat for Labour in one of its safest seats (the kind of defeat which would put huge pressure on Sir Keir Starmer). The second reason is Hartlepool is the first seat to be contested by the fledgling Northern Independence Party.

Okay, technically the Hartlepool seat is being contested by independent candidate (and former Labour MP) Thelma Walker. But Thelma is a member of the NIP and the only reason she is officially registered as an independent is because the party's registration process is not yet complete.

For those who don't know Thelma Walker, she was an MP on the left of Labour who felt she could no longer stay, after the right-wing direction Sir Keir Starmer has chosen. She is also a former school head teacher, and anyone who has encountered her in real life or on social media will tell you she is a warm and approachable person. Thelma has the likeability factor as well as her extensive political experience. 

She is a credible candidate for the Northern Independence Party and she is currently polling at 6%, despite the by-election coming at short notice, during a period the NIP were still setting up. It seems entirely possible she could hold onto her £500 deposit, which electoral candidates must pay and is only returned if they get at least 5% of the vote. If she does this, it would be a remarkable achievement, and would suggest that when the NIP is properly up and running, it could become a credible threat to the Westminster parties, especially Labour.

So who are the Northern Independence Party and what do they stand for?

Well, they stand for northern independence obviously! But if you would like a little more detail than that, the NIP website states: "we seek independence for people from Cheshire all the way to the Scottish border." The party has confirmed that bordering counties in England could be offered local referenda on joining an independent Northumbria.

The NIP is fighting for an independent Northumbria with unapologetically left-wing social and economic positions. This is a socialist party and could fill a natural void in the political landscape for northerners like myself who feel left behind by near-identical Westminster parties whose policies have exacerbated the north/south divide for decades.

Philip Proudfoot breaks down his motivations in the foreword of the NIP manifesto:

"We do not live in a normal country. We live in the most unfairly centralised nation in the developed world, both economically and politically.

"The level of inequality between the North and the South is not too different from a country recovering from a civil war."

The "Our Values" page of the NIP manifesto explains:

"Northerners have been made poorer and less healthy, are given fewer educational opportunities, and live shorter lives than our southern counterparts. We recognise the 'United' Kingdom filters people, resources, and jobs to the South."

To anyone concerned this project could turn out to be insular and nationalistic, NIP makes it clear, theirs is a progressive, pro-refugee party which will not pander to far-right populism. To the NIP, human beings are human beings, no matter where they come from, and yes, that includes those from southern England(!) who would be given freedom of movement to and from an independent Northumbria. 

The NIP proudly confirms: "we welcome refugees who seek safety and security in the North." What a breath of fresh air to not have a party which blames desperate refugees for the failures of politicians!

Let's see where the NIP stands on the economy:

The Northern Independence Party plans to build local economies around the "Preston model." This means a focus on co-operative businesses, municipal ownership, small and medium-sized enterprise (as opposed to corporations) and an end to outsourcing of services. Also, the party plans to build mutual and community banks and credit unions. In short, NIP wants to empower the people to take control of their own destiny. 

NIP is clearly proud of its support for unions at a time when Starmer's Labour is doing everything it can to push them away. It pledges to bring an end to exploitative practices such as fire and rehire and would boost workers' rights. NIP believes in shorter and more flexible working hours and more stability for those in precarious work. It would not allow corporations to falsely class their workers as "independent contractors" to deprive them of rights. 

NIP believes in higher corporation tax, a wealth tax for those with assets over £1 million, and other progressive tax reforms, as well as a clampdown on tax avoidance/evasion to address inequality. NIP would set the National Minimum Wage at £9.50 an hour and the National Living Wage at £12 an hour, increasing annually with inflation. 

The party backs a 15% wage increase for NHS staff at a time when Labour is shamefully committed to a measly 2.5%. Our heroic nurses and other staff have risked their lives during the pandemic and it's simply unacceptable for Westminster parties to leave them struggling in poverty. NHS staff should not be depending on foodbanks to survive.

Good news for WASPI women! NIP would reverse the increase in pension age for women born in the 1950s and 1960s. It believes the pension age should be 65 for all genders and no changes to pensions should leave anyone worse off.

NIP would pay council workers £12 an hour, trial a four day working week for the council and offer flexible working hours where practical. It would also trial a Universal Basic Income, although it has not yet provided specifics as to how this would be implemented. The party states that housing and access to healthy food are human rights.

Infrastructure

NIP commits to providing essential utilities like water and energy through public ownership or non-profit organisations to serve the public, rather than shareholders. The party has a detailed plan to improve public transport links across the north from east to west (and reduce fares) with a National Bus Strategy. It would nationalise rail, enable councils to bring bus services inhouse, and build shelters for those who have no place to store their bicycles. It would increase the number of public toilets, improve disability access, provide free internet access at council properties, and ban deeply flawed facial recognition technology from public spaces. It would also fund the removal of flammable cladding from all high rise buildings. NIP would make high quality broadband freely available to all, including those in rural areas, and it would ensure post offices, banks and GPs are available in rural areas.

Environment

NIP is keen to build a green economy with environmentally sustainable practices, eco-friendly buildings, more trees, allotments and urban green spaces, food waste recycling, and better flood defences. It talks of a Green Industrial Rebirth to reduce CO2 emissions and fix the economy with high-paid green jobs and a carefully planned transition for those working in high-carbon industries. In other words, workers would not be thrown under a bus like miners were during the Thatcher years.

Health and Education

NIP is placing a clear focus on investing in key services and reversing the damage caused by successive Labour and Tory governments. It would boost funding for mental health services and social care, reverse NHS privatisation and stop hospital closures. It would ensure GPs are available locally for those living in rural areas and invest in NHS infrastructure. 

NIP would scrap tuition fees, abolish student debt, reintroduce Education Maintenance Allowance, and provide free school meals for all pupils. It would support a ban on private schools and convert all existing private schools to comprehensives. It would scrap Ofsted, return assessment duties to local authorities and end punitive assessment practices.

Human rights

NIP is highly critical of the Police, Sentencing and Courts bill (anti-protest bill) and the Covert Human Intelligence Sources bill (spy cops bill) as well as many other recent bills which infringe on human rights. The party makes it clear it rejects the authoritarian direction of travel of the current UK government (and presumably the regular abstentions of the opposition leader.) 

This is a party which prioritises human rights and respects democratic norms at a time when Labour is shying away from the fight. With that in mind, NIP would reverse cuts to legal aid so everyone has access to justice, rather than just those who can afford to pay. NIP makes it clear it robustly supports unions (unlike the so-called Labour Party) and would vote against any moves to restrict rights to take industrial action. Clearly, it wants to return power to the ordinary person.

NIP pledges to reform the Department for Work and Pensions and bring an end to punitive practices. I would hope this means an end to work capability assessments for the disabled, because although nothing was specified, this would seem a logical step.

NIP would approve the use of medicinal cannabis and decriminalise drug possession and sex work. It would treat drug addiction as a public health issue and focus on harm reduction, recognising the war on drugs has failed and drug-related deaths are at an all-time high. Basically, the absurdity of criminalising people for making choices about their own bodies would come to an end.

NIP emphasises it is an LGBTQ+ party and will not tolerate racism/bigotry/homophobia/transphobia in society or parliament. It would reform the Gender Recognition Act to allow people to self-identify without medical diagnosis and it would ban gay conversion therapy outright. The party aims to robustly tackle antisemitism, Islamophobia and all other forms of racism, and it condemns the shocking failure of Westminster parties to do this.

NIP rejects the hostile environment for immigrants and condemns the outrageous treatment of the Windrush generation. It would end the minimum income requirement on family visas - a requirement my family endured for years, which left us at constant risk of being torn apart for no reason.

NIP would expand renters' rights, making all homes fit for human habitation and introducing controls so rents do not exceed 30% of local income. In other words, it would bring an end to rip-off landlords.

Lastly, you will be pleased to hear the NIP would protect food standards and not allow them to be watered down in any trade deals with the US or any other country. In other words, chlorinated chicken would be off the cards. Phew!

In summary

There are many fantastic policies within the NIP manifesto, so please don't consider the above list remotely comprehensive. I have significantly condensed it for those who don't have the time to read the manifesto in full, but I think I've provided a fair representation of the socialist direction of the party.

I have some minor criticisms, such as a lack of specifics in one or two areas and a lack of clarity over whether certain positions are ideals or specific pledges. (I am also disappointed to find no mention of the much anticipated National Whippet Races or mandatory flat caps, but I suppose we can't have everything.)

In fairness to the party, they emphasise this manifesto is still in its early stages and they have three years to expand upon it before the 2024 elections. There are definitely areas where I would have liked the party to go further, but on the other hand, no one can accuse them of publishing an unrealistic wish list. Nothing among their proposals strikes me as unaffordable and to the contrary, looks like perfect common sense.

As a person who feels abandoned by Starmer's Labour, the Northern Independence Party has come as a breath of fresh air. Imagine a party free of centrists and Tory infiltrators where everyone is broadly supportive of socialist goals and determined to break free of the shackles of Westminster. That's what the NIP represents, and the fact their candidate is currently polling at 6% is a hugely positive sign.

It remains to be seen whether NIP will remain as a left-wing protest party, putting pressure on the Westminster establishment or will grow into a credible force, similar to the Scottish National Party. In that regard, only time will tell, but for now, I'm just grateful to have a party which shares my political views.

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