“Our democracy has a deep rooted rot at its heart and the only way to tackle it is to break up the central power structures and institutions that govern our country.”
By Jon Trickett MP
I’ve lived my whole life in West Yorkshire. I was born in the centre of Leeds and have lived for nearly 25 years in Hemsworth Constituency. Like many people, I am proud to call this area my home.
Michael Gove’s comments about areas such as mine implied that we had little to be proud of. Clearly he does not know that people from Yorkshire often have the strongest sense of pride in where we come from. I’m biased, of course, but it’s not hard to see why.
From our history as one of the engines of the industrial revolution to our tradition of fighting for justice, and from our sweeping countryside views to our bustling cities and unique towns and villages, we have much to be proud of.
But when I speak to people from our area, and from across Yorkshire, there is a sense that things aren’t working the way they should be and that we deserve better.
They are right. Like many of the English regions, Yorkshire has been held back by governments in Westminster whose policies have prioritised large parts of the South, especially the City of London.
There are three interconnected reasons for the vast regional inequality we see today.
Firstly, we have had 12 years of Tory austerity which has cut public services, overseen a cost of living crisis and has sucked wealth away from the regions and pumped it into the City of London.
Secondly, we have had decades of deindustrialisation. This has totally skewed our economy towards financialisation. This has driven investment away manufacturing, green initiatives and decent jobs which ought to have replaced the industries the Thatcher government closed.
Thirdly, the reason why wealth and opportunity has been stripped away from the many and has become concentrated in the hands of the few is mainly because our centralised political system in Westminster is in the grip of vested interests, big corporations and global capital.
Take the energy industry, for example.
Energy prices are going to rise by a staggering 54% in April, which on average amounts to an increase in bills of £693. This will plunge as many as 20 million people into fuel poverty. Including one in three people in Yorkshire. Sadly this could mean more people dying as a result, with 14% of excess winter deaths linked to fuel poverty.
At the same time, energy companies have paid out £200 billion in dividends to shareholders since 2010. And during the same week as the energy bill hike, Shell announced that their profits increased by £4.7 billion in the last quarter, British Petrol – £3.01 billion, and as such Shell have said they will increase dividend payments by 4%.
Most people will, rightly, ask: how can the big companies get away with it? Surely the government should intervene?
The Chancellor announced a paltry £200 off energy bills, but not until October 2022. And this will have to be paid back in instalments.
Rishi Sunak stood up in the Commons and said to the millions who are already struggling that we simply will all have to “adjust to higher prices”. Alongside other cost of living rises, falling wages, tax rises and the impact of the covid crisis, it is unclear how most people can “adjust” when they are sinking.
I am sure the public would raise their eyebrows at the fact that the Tories, under Boris Johnson, have received over £1 million in donations from the energy industry since 2019. And under David Cameron, the Tories received £2.5million.
This is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of how our political system has been captured by corporate interests, at the expense of everyone else.
Our democracy has a deep rooted rot at its heart and the only way to tackle it is to break up the central power structures and institutions that govern our country.
The truth is we can’t rely solely on Westminster to solve problems in areas like Yorkshire for us. This approach hasn’t worked so far.
That’s why we need radical devolution; of resources and power.
Under their levelling up plans, the Tories want more devolution deals, but in reality this will not see the breaking up of our captured political system. In essence, it devolves cuts to the regions and concentrates wealth in London.
The plans do not tackle the central issue with any form of devolution, that of how to balance autonomy with equity. This is particularly a problem for Britain, which has such an asymmetric economy with wealth concentrated in the hands of a few in Westminster and the City of London.
I have long argued that the path to regenerating the economy of areas like mine in Yorkshire, strengthening our many communities and providing opportunity to the millions that live here is through the devolution of power. There is no way around it.
In our current over-centralised political system we are denied the resources and the political power to make the right decisions for people living in Yorkshire.
I have welcomed the campaign for One Yorkshire, but it’s important that when power and resources are devolved from Westminster to Yorkshire – whether as a single package or in a series of deals – that our new arrangements are properly democratic.
We need clear channels of accountability for newly appointed politicians and we need new mechanisms for giving local people a real say in what happens to their communities. This is why I proposed a series of Citizens’ Assemblies when I was Shadow Communities and Local Government Secretary.
And, lastly, we must not forget that devolution is not just a means to tackle inequality between the different parts of England, but also inequality within the regions themselves. This is long overdue.
- Jon Trickett is the MP for Hemsworth, you can follow him on Facebook and twitter.
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