An all-party pressure group plans to re-create the ancient kingdom of Northumbria as a federal state in a reformed United Kingdom.
The Campaign for the North, chaired by the former Tory MP Harold Elletson, proposes to take ‘devo-max’ power from Westminster and bring the traditional counties of Northumberland, Durham, Yorkshire, Lancashire, Westmorland and Cumberland into one democratic state with powers equal to Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland or London.
Their Northumbria would cover the territory that was ruled a thousand years ago by the Norseman Erik Bloodaxe, the last ‘king of the North’, killed in battle at Stainmore, high in the Pennines in 954. The Anglo Saxon kingdom of Wessex, based in Winchester and London, overwhelmed the kingdom, centred on Jorvik [York], allowing Eadred, fourth son of Edward the Elder, to become the first recognised king of England.
Harold Elletson, Conservative MP for Blackpool North 1992-1997, said at his Lancashire home in Preesall yesterday:
It’s time for the North. England needs to embrace the reality of devolution within the United Kingdom and adopt a federal system. ‘Devo-max’ could give the North a new beginning. We should govern ourselves, raise taxes from our own resources and make all the important decisions – about education, health, transport and our economy – here in the North.
The Campaign commissioned The Case for the North, a study of the potential benefits of a Northern parliament that would govern 15 million people, a constituency as big as the successful German federal states, created after the Second World War by British planners striving to avoid the political evils of German centralisation. The report also recalls Winston Churchill’s 1913 call for federal ‘Home Rule All Round’, made at an open air meeting in Dundee.
The Case for the North appeared two days after the Financial Times commented: A system that works for America and for Germany would for Britain
The authors of the Case for the North include Chris Donnelly, a former special adviser to the Secretary General of NATO, Dr Angela White, orthopaedic surgeon and specialist in trauma care, Dr Hester Dunlop, a Yorkshire GP in the NHS, Professor Michael Mumford, fellow of the Department of Accounting and Finance at Lancaster University, David Gilbertson, a former HM Inspector of Constabulary, and Munro Price, professor of modern history at Bradford University. They say Northumbria:
would contain a population of over 15 million people, roughly the same size as Bavaria or North Rhine-Westphalia in Germany… With an administration of its own, determined to set about improving its trans-Pennine infrastructure, investing in education and supporting the development of the industries of the future within its borders, it could have a bright future and play an important role in boosting overall UK economic growth too.
Harold Elletson, whose family have been lords of the manor in a ‘typical small squire’s homestead’ on the banks of the River Wyre since 1189, is a Russian-speaking communications expert, director of the New Security Foundation in Berlin and editor of the eLearning Africa Report. He has been a member of Lancashire County Council and cut his parliamentary teeth in the task of contesting Burnley for the Tories in 1987.
Stressing that the Campaign is pro-European, he said:
There is a great opportunity for the North of England now to take real power from London and the south-east and Campaign for the North has been formed to make it happen. An English Parliament is not the answer – it would be a disaster for the North. We want to make sure the North decides its own future.
The Campaign for the North are allied with the Hannah Mitchell Foundation, based in Huddersfield but named after a Bolton seamstress and suffragette elected as a socialist city councillor for Newton Heath in Manchester after the First World War.
The foundation’s general secretary is Professor Paul Salveson, a founder member of Campaign for the North, Tribune contributor and a former Labour councillor at Kirklees. Salveson worked in the smithy at Horwich Loco Works after leaving Lancaster University. He was a railway freight guard at Blackburn, a signalman in Bolton and a senior technical officer at the British Railways Property Board.
He now supports the new
We are a campaign for democratic government in the North of England. We are not tied to any party – our members are drawn from Labour, Green, Liberal Democrats – but most are ‘non-aligned’. We even have one or two Conservative supporters.
Following the Scottish referendum, ‘Devolution’ for England is well and truly on the political agenda. All the main parties say it’s a ‘good thing’. But we reject solutions which are not based on giving real democracy to the North – and that has got to mean directly elected government. We want to develop new ways of doing politics, not just a re-hash of the increasingly discredited ‘Westminster’ model. A new North must be an inclusive North which recognises the huge demographic changes of the last thirty years.
The Case for the North calls for:
A Northern Government and a directly elected Parliament for the North of England
A major reform of local government – removing a layer of administration
Constitutional reform and a new House of Lords more representative of the regions
The merger of the North’s 11 police forces into a single Police Service of Northern England
A ‘whole system’ approach to health, social care and welfare
Investment in education and the guarantee of a ‘fair deal’ for young people
The creation of a ‘Bank of the North’
A 10 year transport plan for the North, with electrification and new trains
Sustainability at the heart of Government and more support for the North’s environment
Writing in the FT on September 29, Quentin Peel noted:
When the German federal republic was set up by the victorious Allies after the second world war, most of the new Länder (federal states) were artificial, partly to ensure that there was no dominant Prussian state. New creations such as Baden-Württemberg in the southwest, and North Rhine-Westphalia centred on the industrial Ruhr, inspired little common sense of identity. Yet today no one seriously questions their existence.
Does German federalism work? Yes, although it is not particularly efficient, and can be infuriatingly slow moving. It means that the central government in Berlin is often forced to work by consensus and compromise: the 16 states represented in the Bundesrat, the second chamber of the German parliament, often have a different political majority to the Bundestag.
That is no bad thing. A similar federal chamber representing 11 separate states in the UK could happily replace the strange anachronism that is today’s House of Lords, and call the Westminster government to account. It would be more democratic and more representative than the present upper house. It would give a much stronger voice to the nations and regions of the British Isles.
Admitting to being a lifelong ‘railway crank’ Professor Salveson refers his readers to Leopold Kohr, a political scientist who quoted his pupil and friend E.F. Schumacher, author of Small is Beautiful saying:
After all, what is a crank? It is a tool that is cheap, small, efficient and economical and – it makes revolutions.
Kohr, author of The Breakdown of Nations, himself wrote:
The central disease of our time is not ugliness, poverty, crime or neglect, but the ugliness, poverty, crime and neglect that comes from the unsurveyable dimensions of modern national and urban gigantism.
Top picture: A coin of Eric Bloodaxe in the British Museum. PGHCOM Wikimedia