It’s harder up north. This much is generally understood, but what it actually means for people living here, like my constituents, is rarely talked about by political elites or the media. They show little interest in events outside the capital.
Brexit was their wake up call. It revealed a deep frustration from people like us at the failure of policies cooked up in Westminster that did nothing to dampen the impact of the economic devastation caused by deindustrialisation. We needed to change a political system that was not delivering for areas like ours.
But the Brexit being pursued by the Conservatives will not deliver the change the north needs either. The opportunities that Brexit presents are wasted on a party that wants only a race to the bottom. They want to deregulate markets, centralise power and open Britain up to huge businesses at any cost. What the Conservatives lack in imagination they also lack in the competence needed to overcome the challenges ahead, as we are reminded almost daily.
Many of these challenges are especially relevant to the north. Today’s report from the Institute for Public Policy Research’s “State of the North” show exactly why.
The report tells us that Brexit will have nearly twice the impact on the economy of the north of England as it will on London, primarily as a consequence of northern regions’ greater dependency on EU trade. We’ve not be able to grow our own as much as places down south, so have ended up less independent than them.
But what the IPPR’s report also highlights—and this, I think, is significant—is that by 2030, the dominant age group in the north, in politics and in the economy, will be the millennial generation and their successors. These are the people who hold the key to transforming this for people in our region. They will also bear the brunt of whatever policies are put (or not put) in place over the next few years.
Young people are likely to hold fewer assets and have lower income than their predecessors. We need to give the generation the tools to change this, particularly round here.
We can start by giving 16 year-olds a vote on the issues that will come to shape their lives—as Labour recently tried to do in the House of Commons, only to be stopped by a Conservative Party set on wrecking democracy least they be defeated.
But more than anything, what we need is a transformative politics that sets out to fundamentally reshape the UK and the North in particular. The aim of this politics should be to democratise wealth, abolish inequality and give people a real say in the decisions that matter—especially those excluded from the market and ignored by politicians, as young people so often are.
I want devolution to be a huge part of this. It is key to this and is crucial to unlocking the North’s potential.
As I’ve often said, we in the North know what’s best for our communities, and the terms of any further devolution should determined by local needs and desired outcomes, not those set by central government. Devolution should also offer an opportunity to challenge dominant approaches to policy making, not reinforce them, as it tends to do in its current form. So, devolution, yes, but the right kind of devolution.
But without proper investment, devolution will have limited impact. We need the power to make decisions, but we need the resources to realise their potential. Infrastructure investment in the north, for example, is many times lower per head than it is in London. This has to change.
This then should be the target for politicians like me. We must meet the challenges and opportunities presented by Brexit but we can go someway to dramatically rebalancing the economy in favour of the north, and in favour of the many, not the few.