“Manifesto for the North” launches amid Javid and McDonnell campaign visits

As the chancellor and shadow chancellor head to the North West, 30 regional newspapers and websites continue drive to “Power up the North” 

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On the day that Sajid Javid and John McDonnell made their way to the North West to begin their respective election campaigns, newspapers across the region have published a “Manifesto for the North”.  This “clarion call from Britain’s powerhouse” stated that “the North has been neglected and ignored for too long” and that “this election must change that”.

Their “Power up the North” proposals, hitting the newsstands as the country gets into the swing of the 12 December vote, are summarised with five “game changers”. The body proposes local control of education and training to meet the region’s growth needs. It calls for a commitment to include rebalancing the economy as a formal HM Treasury objective in the department’s ‘Green Book’. The NP11 also reiterate calls for a transport budget that would allow Transport for the North, a body chaired by former Confederation of British Industry Director John Cridland, to implement its plan for high-speed rail from the West to the East of the country.  The manifesto also says the North should be given its own powers to promote renewable energy and green investment, as well as ownership of, and freedom to lead, investment and trade activities to drive exports.

These policy asks are the result of September’s Convention of the North, an annual conference organised by the NP11, a body made up of the northern regions’ 11 Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEP). The organisation’s steering group includes key players from devolved northern authorities and councils, including Andy Burnham, mayor of Greater Manchester Combined Authority, Steve Rotheram, mayor of Liverpool City Region, Dan Jarvis, mayor of Sheffield City Region, and the leaders of Newcastle, Leeds, and Sheffield city councils.

Strategists for both main parties will be aware that swathes of northern seats litter their route to a parliamentary majority. Labour’s John McDonnell has been  attempting to woo voters over the last few months, promising to move “a powerful section of the Treasury” away from Whitehall and up to the North. Boris Johnson, for his part, has committed a future Conservative government to supporting HS3 -- the proposed project linking Liverpool to Hull via Manchester and Leeds -- a policy also supported by Labour. Speaking at the Convention two months ago, Johnson told delegates he would “give the railways of the North back to the people of the North”, handing over powers related to  franchising, services, and rolling stock to devolved authorities.

Transport infrastructure, or the lack of it, has been a particular focus for northern politicians. The leaders of devolved authorities have been promoting HS3, branded “Crossrail of the North”, as one of the keys to unlocking the potential of the region. In a Guardian article coinciding with today’s manifesto launch, Burnham said that the northern transport system “feels as though it belongs to a different era and country to the one that operates in London and the South East”. The capital is set to become the beneficiary of the £17bn Crossrail project once it opens in the next two years. In addition, the first phase of HS2 will reduce journey times between London and Birmingham by half an hour, at a cost of around £40bn. The second phase connecting Birmingham to northern cities is yet to be approved by parliament.

Research from the IPPR North think tank in August showed that the government’s planned transport spending per head is £2,389 more in London than in the North, with £3,636 and £1,247 respectively. In May, Lord Bob Kerslake, former head of the civil service, announced the findings of his investigation into regional inequalities, noting that the disparities of wealth and investment between the North and South of England were starker than the differences between East and West Germany prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Much of the North has traditionally been seen as Labour’s heartland. Its industrial heritage and the historical strength of organised labour across the region ensured comfortable majorities in what were seen as safe Labour seats. However, shifting demographic patterns, the decline of manufacturing and blue collar industries, and the perception that Labour has become a party of metropolitan liberal graduates has given the Conservatives fresh confidence  that they can make inroads into the region. The decline of Labour loyalism is a long-term trend that has been exacerbated by Brexit, which saw many working-class northern Labour seats vote Leave.

According to today’s northern newspapers, the North will be “front and centre” of this election campaign. Boris Johnson, Sajid Javid, and the Conservative Party - in danger of losing multiple remain-voting southern seats to the Liberal Democrats - have dropped the old Tory commitment to fiscal prudence, abandoning austerity and tempting northern voters with big spending pledges and a promise to “get Brexit done".

Javid today promised an audience in Manchester that he’d deliver "not just more jobs and higher wages, but more investment in our schools, in our NHS, in our environment, and in the rail, road and digital infrastructure that we all rely on."

Labour’s message is that it will bring record levels of spending to rebalance the economy, promising that many of the investment decisions will be devolved. “The political centre of gravity is shifting away from London,” John McDonnell told the audience at Thursday’s campaign stop in Liverpool. “It’s coming back home to the North.”

Jonny Ball is a Special Projects Writer for Spotlight and the New Statesman

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