There’s lots of discussion on the centre-left about the idea of a ‘progressive alliance’ that could offer a united alternative to the increasingly rightward drift of the Tories and of course UKIP. There is a very specific ‘Northern’ dimension to all this which has been largely missed in the national media, apart from Andy Burnham’s talk of a ‘Northern Labour’ that sounds like a centre-left take on UKIP. It does not have to be so. There must be the basis of a pro-Europe and pro-devolution platform that would appeal to many Labour, Lib Dem and Green supporters and even some liberal Tories.
The North, particularly the most marginalised and excluded communities, voted heavily for ‘leave’. The reasons for this were complex and about much more than Europe, or for that matter, immigration. The challenge is coming up with a progressive platform that can address Northern concerns without descending into being a pale imitation of UKIP.
The suggested ‘progressive alliance’ needs to be ‘Northernised’ with a clear progressive platform based on democratic devolution and a pro-Europe stance. Leaving the EU will be disastrous for many communities in the North and there are signs that people are beginning to wake up to that.
Simply falling in with the national (read ‘London’) led progressive alliance won’t, it seems to me, to cut much ice. Going for a complementary approach that can harness the strong feelings in the North about exclusion and marginalisation could.
This is where the idea of a ‘Northern Umbrella’ comes in. A few of us were developing the idea of an inclusive regionalist grouping called ‘Northern Umbrella’ which could provide a framework for all the good things happening in the North. We still need that, but maybe the emerging movement around ‘Incredible North’ can offer that.
Could ‘Northern Umbrella’ be the North’s own version of a progressive alliance between politicians, parties and activists from different traditions who share a common desire to get the Tories out, see off UKIP, and promote a modern, democratic devolution that is pro-Europe? I’m convinced it could be.
I’m sceptical that Labour on its own could see off the UKIP challenge and for that matter capture a decent number of seats back from the Tories. And of course it isn’t just about elections, it’s about winning hearts and minds and building a progressive alternative to the prevailing right-wing mood. The centre-left needs to build alliances if we are not to get trampled. There needs to be urgent conversations between the different political forces that could make up a Northern Umbrella/Progressive Alliance. Bodies like the Hannah Mitchell Foundation and IPPR North could be important catalysts in making it happen.
We need to win a few key people across the centre-left to support the idea. The core programme might be:
- Strong commitment to social justice
- Clear commitment to regenerating all the North, not just the big cities
- Strong commitment to democratic devolution for all the North
- Pro-Europe, anti-Brexit; supporting all who live here
Politicians in local and parliamentary elections could be endorsed by ‘Northern Umbrella’ – even to the extent of having ‘primaries’ where one candidate for each seat is supported.
Early days – but lots to think about. Are you up for it?