Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Re-balancing Britain.

Much has been said in the press about Leanne Wood's Keynote speech to IPPR North's event in Manchester on Monday 1st July 2013, but I'm not sure the real messages from the event were reported upon. To place the event into context one needs to read Leanne's speech which can be found here and realise that what is often quoted in the press, "Plaid leader Leanne Wood says England needs a truly left-wing alternative" was only a small but perhaps a provocative part of the speech where she actually admits that the possibility of an English left-leaning alliance was utopian!
The potential for an English left-leaning alliance is enormous. Utopian this maybe. But we need new utopias. Politics as usual has not delivered. Think tanks like the IPPR have been vital in placing territorial justice in these islands on the agenda. But we need to go one step further and start thinking the unthinkable. The art of the possible, of the purely transactional, has failed Wales, failed Scotland, and failed most of England, too.
The real significance of what Leanne had to say is this:
There has to be a radical, muscular redistribution of economic activity - the redistribution of credit through a network of regional investment banks, and the redistribution of enterprise and activity through a system of economic incentives. 
In England, this should mean powerful regional government for the North. So far, political signs are encouraging. The Adam Smith Institute has called for a Council of the North.IPPR North has been consistent in its support for northern devolution, and more recently the Hannah Mitchell Foundation and its president Linda Riordan MP have been making an eloquent case for a new northern democracy. 
 The task that I have set Plaid Cymru is the radical rebuilding of the Welsh economy. This is too difficult to achieve by acting alone. We are just 5% of the population of Britain. We need to work with others who share our interests. The Party of Wales would greatly welcome an alliance with progressive forces from all parts of England.
Following Leanne's address the IPPR North's Director Ed Cox responded by saying he was thrilled by Leanne's appeal and the phrase the economics of renewal and the politics of liberation. He did not however  stay long on the question of politics, the constitution or left-leaning alliances, but quickly moved on to the 'crunch;' question... the economics.

He argued that its the economic argument that will win the day with the Treasury when it comes to the redistribution of wealth which was fundamental to re-balancing. Ed made the point that the economy of the North is twice as big as that of Scotland but that it was disadvantaged because it was not a nation but was a dependant economy

He then made reference to the report of the North Economic Futures Commission and the key building blocks to prosperity, skilled jobs, innovating businesses, linked industries and supplier businesses co-locating...need an Innovation Council. Then we had the age old issue of transport infrastructure (£2595 per head spent in London and South East whilst £5 per head spent in the North East which is a huge disparity).
Access to finance was clearly a key building block and the IPPR wish to see a regional banking system and for regions to have the ability to raise their own revenue...up to 50% at the regional level. Finally, the IPPR wish to see government stop tinkering with institutions like the Regional Development Agency ( lessons here for us with the WDA).

The subsequent audience discussion on the whole was warm towards the views of Ed and Leanne although some Labour Councillors made the point that there was no support for a left-leaning alliance in England but they also admitted that London centred Labour policies left a great deal to be desired. There was little support for City Regions with the main argument being that such policies increase deprivation in rural areas. There was questions from members of the Campaign for an English Parliament but they didn't seem to 'get' that an English Parliament without re-balancing the English economy would do nothing to reduce the division between London/South East and the rest of England. The most interesting observations came from members of the Hannah Mitchell Foundation which works for a fair and prosperous North of England. Concern was also raised about 'noises' from London and the South East for greater independence so as to avoid further redistribution of wealth.

Overall I was particularly impressed by all the contributions (with the exception of one outburst by an UKIPesque 'angry white man'), and I feel that this is a great opportunity to co-operate with like minded people to bring pressure on the government for further devolution of economic tools and finance  to re-balance the economy to make all the regions outside London and the South East more prosperous.


Anonymous said...

This makes alot more sense now, thanks. I didn't get the emphasis on a new English party. It looks like her speech was more about rebalancing the economy, something which is essential for Wales to have any meaningful future. I'm disappointed now that the press didn't lead on that! But it's typical of the Guardian to pick out the bit that would be most controversial for English readers.

Plaid Gwersyllt said...

I thought it needed clarifying...glad I kept such copious notes now!