“People want democracy but they don’t think they are getting it” – Jon Trickett’s speech at #LabourYorkshire

On 20 October Jon Trickett, shadow minister for the cabinet office, gave a powerful speech at the English Labour Network’s ‘Winning England’ event in Yorkshire.

You can read it here:

“In the part of Yorkshire I represent, four times as many people think things are getting worse than think they’re getting better, according to a recent poll. A similar story emerges across England. 

I can understand this. So many areas like the one I represent have over the last forty years experienced disruptive change on a dramatic scale.

But if the past really seems to the majority of the English to be a better place than the present or the future, then we clearly have a problem.

Progressive politics ought to be contemporary in character, forward-looking, and create exciting opportunities for national renewal and fresh achievement, even if we understand that top down change can be unwelcome.

But pining for a lost past, blind to its problems, will never inspire new generations.

Yet the sense of restlessness, alienation and occasionally anomie – which many people across England feel, presents an opportunity to rebuild England and what it means to be English.

This must start with a recognition that for many people – especially in what is often called Middle-England – there has been a loss of voice and of choice.

The dramatic changes of the last few decades feel as if they happened without consent. There is a sense among many people that as a nation we are hurtling to an unknown destination at breakneck speed, and with the wrong people at the steering wheel.

In Wakefield, for example, 3 out of 4 people think they cannot influence local decisions either very much or at all. The same is felt across the country, where a lack of control – a sense that we the people are the not agents of our own destiny – has bred fear, resentment and even anger.

Ironically, for the majority of people, their distrust and anger towards politics and politicians comes from a deep seated-belief that democracy matters.

According to the Social Attitudes Survey, the overwhelming majority of people place extreme or significant importance on living within a democracy. Yet when asked how democratic this country is, the answers were much less favourable.

In short, people want democracy but they don’t think they are getting it.

It’s hard to disagree, especially when considering the centralised Westminster and Whitehall model, the corporate capture of policy-making and the presence of a top sediment of political elites that only look after themselves.

And then there is the outsourcing of public services, the destruction of local government, the shackling of civil society, including the trades unions, and the loss of the individual character of communities.

All of this has contributed to the diminishment of democracy and a growing sense of alienation.

66% of people living in the North of England agree that decisions affecting them should be made in the North, while only 7% disagree. Many people in other parts of the country also feel the same about the places they inhabit.

And too often decision-makers in the current system don’t hold the same values held by most people.

For example, the Social Attitudes Survey shows that there is a strong consensus among the public that democracy, in addition to guaranteeing free and fair competitive elections and protecting civil liberties, should protect people against poverty, reduce inequality and involve citizens in decision-making.

In recent decades, the opposite has happened.

Here in Yorkshire there are 250,000 children in poverty. And child poverty has gone up in all three regions of the North of England since 2010.

And according to the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, the UK infant mortality rate is rising for the first time in a century and is now significantly higher than in 15 other European countries.

These shocking statistics indicate a breakdown of the social contract between the nation and its rulers, who have used the power of government to engineer a massive transfer of wealth from almost the whole nation to a handful at the top.

Between 2009 and 2018, the richest 1000 increased their wealth by £466 billion, while in the same period the 33 million working people of this country together lost a similar amount in income.

But we must not forget. This dramatic shift in wealth, as well as the effects of austerity and decades of under-investment, have hit the North hardest.

The UK is the most regionally unequal country in the European Union, and the majority of UK regions are poorer than the average for the whole of the EU.

The North East and Yorkshire and Humber, for example, have the lowest productivity per head in the UK, and the whole of the North is less than half as productive as London.

Yorkshire and the Humber has the second lowest median full-time gross weekly earnings of any region in the UK, and in the North nearly 230,000 people are on zero-hour contracts. That means that 28% of all zero-hour contracts are in the North of England.

And on average, a £1000 more is spent per year on each child’s education in London than In Yorkshire, where social mobility has in recent years all but collapsed.

I could go on. But I won’t, because surely now my message is clear.

This is not what people in the North want from our government. And this is not what the English want either.

We were sold a story of national sacrifice, and many bought into the idea of a country uniting to overcome the challenges posed by the financial crash.

But in reality, we were never ‘all in it together’ as these figures show. Many people paid a heavier price than others.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t all be in it together, and more importantly, that the people of England shouldn’t have a real say in how their country is ran.

A strong sense of place – be it local, regional or national – is deeply tied to the question of control and self-determination, and our ability to collectively shape our own lives.

And when people feel more in control of their own lives and optimistic about the future they become more “resilient to hateful narratives and to political manifestations of this hatred”. These aren’t my words. They are those of Hope not Hate, who recently published a study of values and identity in Britain.

Rebuilding a sense of community control and optimism requires far-reaching economic and political transformation. We must tackle head on the inequality, both economic and political, that divides this country.

We must look to create a new economic settlement with social justice at its core.

Many of you will no doubt be aware of our pledge to Rebuild Britain. But let me tell you about some of our policies designed to reach out to Middle-England – whether a low or middle income earners:

If elected, Labour will give local government the power and resources it needs to respond effectively to the needs of local people.

We will deliver a five point plan to save the high street. And we will look to launch a small business agency, which would offer loans and services to small businesses including house builders.

We will deliver a raft of measures designed to support the self-employed and prevent their exploitation.

We will provide an additional £8 billion for social care over the lifetime of the next Parliament, including £1 billion in the first year.

We will abolish student fees.

And we will set in motion a democratic process that is radically representative of the diversity of England and truly responsive to the needs of working people across the regions.

As Minister for the Constitutional Convention I will oversee this. My feeling is that we should move to a more federal Britain with power devolved to the regions of England, as well as the other home nations.

More broadly, in this current moment of constitutional upheaval, we need to campaign for an England rooted in the notion of popular sovereignty, and imbued with the values of fairness and justice.

Let us look beyond the limits set by those who seek to bring power back to this country only so it benefits a small elite. We are for the many, they are for the few.

And let us create a democratic dialogue in which a new English identity can emerge, but let this reflect our diversity as a country, our sense of community and our proud history of struggle. But let it come from the people themselves.

Because English identity is different everywhere you go, and it is deeply intertwined with a sense of place and local culture. Let these differences emerge, but let us channel them into a project of national transformation that unites the many and gives our country a sense of purpose once more.

Labour’s recent campaign video does just this. It spoke to a loss of community and the removal of control caused by de-industrialisation and austerity. But it also spoke of our pledge to rebuild Britain and in doing so rebuild the pride that many parts of this country once felt. It is time they did so again.

And I have a feeling that if we achieve this we might help to give England a renewed sense of national purpose and identity.”


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