A debate about England is stirring. The classic argument against this from many English is that we don't need another centralised state, we need English regions. I have always thought the opposite, that were there to be an English constitutional convention it would unhesitatingly embrace radical decentralisation in recognition on the intense localism of English sentiments.
Labour politicians are now starting to debate how to win back the south of England and they see that this is a national question and not just a class one. A couple of epochs ago, I recall being astonished during a TV interview with then Prime Minister Edward Heath by David Frost. At one point Frost began asking why Heath and Harold Wilson, the Labour leader, were so opposed to each other when they were so alike. Both were from lower middle class families, both went to grammar school, both then went to Oxford.... As soon as the line of questioning started Heath became visibly agitated with the desire to tell Frost the answer, finally he burst out, "But he's from the North and I'm from the South!"
John Denham, one of the few southern MPs still sitting on the Labour benches, gave a paper last week to an informal seminar OurKingdom has started with ippr, after we listened first to Roger Scruton. It was a thoughtful discussion of what may prove eventually an explosive issue. We didn't touch on the internal, North/South divide very much. But I was reminded of it reading this Cambrian Society lecture by David Blunkett (Hat tip Gareth Young). He too beats around the bush. But at one point he speculates about the future of Yorkshire with impeccable logic
In Yorkshire, we represent a mix of both the mutual and the stolid ‘no nonsense’ type of individualism. Yes, an emphasis on self-reliance, on knowing what’s best; but then being prepared to join in moving from individual caring to collective action.
In political terms, this is almost a mix of the more ‘English’, anti-authority conservatism and the more collective reciprocal commitment to each other.
Economically, we are innovative, inventive and hard-working. But a century ago it was the workers of Sheffield who gave their pennies to create a major contribution to the development of this university, with what in today’s money would be £15 million, literally volunteered from the weekly wage packet of Sheffield workers.
But unlike Scotland and Wales, we are not self-determining in our political structures. Our own destiny does not lie in Yorkshire. We cannot deal with the spending reductions, the social consequences and the reinvestment of growth in our own way.
The population of Wales is 3 million, Scotland’s just over 5 million and Yorkshire’s 5.2 million. Using what is known as the Barnett formula for distributing UK-wide government income, we could expect a tremendous advantage in having what in Wales is known as the Central Fund and in Scotland the Block Grant. Wales – the best comparator – will receive £14.5 billion for Assembly purposes in 2011-12. Rounded up for Yorkshire, this would be £24 billion.
Like London, we could then have our own development agency; draw down on and match European funding; ensure that we were able to reach out for inward investment and build up the capacity for our own knowledge-based economy. We could set our priorities, share across departmental budgets and charge others for the use of our facilities.
It may well be tongue in cheek; but, instead of a projected 82,000 job losses, independence for Yorkshire could have ensured the raising of loans for Sheffield Forgemasters, using all the resources of that part of HBOS which used to be the Halifax and taking our share of the Higher Education Funding Council money to make our priorities work for the people of our area.
Above all, we could reinforce our identity, develop the pride and motivation needed, restore our own form of Englishness and assert that important combination of bluff independence with caring mutuality.
We could include parts of the North Midlands, if they chose to do so. With the power stations, the military installations from RAF Menwith Hill to Catterick Garrison and with nine members of Labour’s Shadow Cabinet – including the Leader of the Opposition – Yorkshire would be well-placed to be the driving force of economic recovery outside the south-east of England!
I say, go for it. What's the matter with Yorkshire men and woman that they don't?