Thursday, 4 January 2018

We must put the local back into local politics


If there is one thing that defines a Northern town it is the river or canal that runs through it. From the peaks of Derbyshire all the way up to the top of Lancashire, the North was built on canals. Depending on which artery you are on, two towns nearby to each other (but only as the crow flies) can have very little relationship with each other. This means there are still subtle cultural differences.

A trained ear can pick out distinctions in the accents and it stems from the whichever port or city the canal serves. This is particular to the Pennines where even now a thirty five mile distance, say between Bradford and Buxton, weather dependent, can take up to two hours. For comparison, I can get from Bristol to Reading in about an hour on the M4 which is about seventy five miles.

So as a motorist, local is relative to the region - and nothing redfines local quite like having your car in for a repair. That which is "just two minutes down the road" becomes a half day trek, and if you never drove again you would likely never see those places again. Similarly in the olden days, unless you had a very good reason to travel to a nearby town, you wouldn't. That mentality still exists today.

This is not just an education thing. For some it is a personal preference. I have a friend in Bradford with two degrees, one in electronic engineering, and it's taken a wonderful woman and getting past forty to get him to even venture beyond Leeds, which to him is usually unnecessary and unwelcome travel. Folks are funny like that.

As it happens, my friend is from the other side of Bradford, brought up in the village of Idle, home of the world famous Idle Working Men's club. That's where he goes drinking. That's where he thinks all the best pubs are. Compared with Wibsey where I'm from, he's not wrong. They have Black Sabbath on the jukebox and you can catch a live band, whereas Wibsey village has a dozen pubs, all of them awful.

It's about as working class as working class gets. Filthy, crap beer selections, blaring TVs, dartboards and tacky horse brasses hanging off the wall. Irony of all ironies being that I now frequent a pop-up microbrewery pub on the high street in what used to be the old opticians because it's the only one that doesn't have Sky Sports on all the time. For Wibsey, that's hipster!

The point, I suppose, is that even among the white community, even between the suburbs, there is diversity of culture, albeit subtle. Then for a lot of older drinkers who don't bother going into Bradford, just four miles away, it might as well be on Mars. In that respect local politics is entirely relative. I once thought Bradford sufficiently small enough to warrant a larger council but actually it could do with two or three. North Bradford has nothing to do with the South.

Then there's the Aire valley, where Manningham and Heaton socially interacts with Shipley, Bingley, Keighley and Skipton. That's the night bus route up into the Dales where most of my drinking buddies met each other as kids. And of course, if kids mingle then so do the parents. In terms of sector models, the Hoyt Model seems most fitting for Bradford but the segments follow the main arteries out of the city and into the mill towns.

South Bradford interacts differently with the region. Cleckheaton, Dewsbury, Huddersfield and Halifax are more likely destinations. My mum never bothers going to Bradford at all. Her operational radius does not extend into North Bradford at all.

Now keep in mind that Bradford is not exactly a mega city. It is bigger than a town, larger than Leicester but smaller than Bristol. It is its own distinct polity from Leeds and for most, even Leeds is not local, despite it being about ten miles away. Let's face it, who would go to Leeds without good cause?

This same mentality exists in South Yorkshire where it is an unwise person who lumps in Rotherham, Barnsley or Doncaster with Sheffield. Again there is a distinct difference in culture. West Yorkshire is practically Tory compared with Sheffield, which I regard as a communist shit tip.

Then over to the West there's Manchester, which isn't remotely like Liverpool which has its own politics that doesn't really conform to the typical Northern politics being it heavily protestant and closely connected with Ireland and Irish politics. It's the North's answer to Glasgow.

So you can really imagine my scepticism when any politician in London speaks of the Northern Powerhouse. If you can't even find a unified polity in a city like Bradford, itself having a strain of tribal politics reaching into the back hills of Pakistan, you can't really talk about "the North" as a political concept. In fact, to a Geordie, we're midlands, and Birmingham is in the South.

And we have seen what Whitehall considers to be devolution in the North. Thus far it consists of a metro mayor for Manchester with a view to making Manchester the "London of the North". Simon Jenkin describes this quite well in the Guardian yesterday.

"Whitehall’s policy towards devolution within England has long been to whittle away traditional sources of local revenue, and replace them with ad hoc central grants, for which local politicians must grovel and plead. It is centrism at its most humiliating and demoralising. Regeneration, so desperately needed in Yorkshire, is not about state patronage but about local confidence and self-help".

Bingo! Most of the places I describe, Bradford especially are known for dilapidation. But the most dilapidated thing of all is morale. My nihilistic streak is most definitely a product of my Bradford upbringing. The propensity of relentless miserablistic negativity defines Bradford. We're an abandoned, forgotten city and we know it. So much so, that even I don't live there and I actually quite like the place.

The very last thing we want is Whitehall imposing its reject politicians into cushy devolution jobs in what are essentially regional development agencies. There is nothing that much wrong with the local authorities as they are save for the fact they are too big with not nearly enough sovereignty. As to the the notion of Manchester being the London of the North, any politician who thinks a Yorkshireman is going to take political direction from the Mancs has a deathwish.

You can see this command and control mentality in the constituency boundaries. We actually have a Skipton and Ripon parliamentary constituency. It takes an hour to drive the thirty miles between the two, and the two places couldn't be more dissimilar. Ripon is a wealthy North Yorkshire rural city with a cathedral to rival any, whereas Skipton is a rainy little market town in West Yorkshire with Bradford postcode. It's Bradford facing and it's on the Leeds-Liverpool canal. Ripon relates more to Harrogate, a wealthy spa town.

Then, as I understand there is talk of even deleting the Bradford South constituency and putting Wibsey into Spen, which is nowhere near Bradford. There are similar absurdities here in Filton where for some reason the council is based in a town twenty minutes down the road that in ten years I have only ever been to once.

The simple truth is we do not have local democracy. We lack the instruments for it. We are not even allowed to define ourselves and our own polity. How then can we have representative democracy when our regions and districts don't even reflect the political reality on the ground?

During the EU referendum much was said about sovereignty, which as a concept has already been perverted, but now it has come to mean parliament's authority to rule over us. I don't know where they get that fanciful idea. If I don't want to be ruled by Brussels then I certainly don't want to be ruled by London or represented by an MP where the constituency is a piece of technocratic guesswork.

If we are to have meaningful democracy then the prerequisite is that people are able to define themselves and their communities. The people themselves must be sovereign. Then and only then will there be sufficient legitimacy in the system for any politician to speak in our name. If I don't want Poland having a say in English affairs, why should the London government be interfering Bristol education, health and much else?

Westminster is a hive of perverts, degenerates, thieves and sociopaths. For reasons that escape me, we have them all under one roof, advised by charlatans and quacks, "informed" by London media - and then we let them make our choices. It's madness. If Britain is to be a modern, independent country of sovereign peoples, Brexit is barely a start. Our local politics is not local, and representative democracy is not democracy. It is time we changed that.

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