Events culminating in Manchester on Tuesday will almost certainly define a new emerging divide in English politics at the next general election.

Ever since arguably the start of the Industrial Revolution 260 years ago and certainly the emergence of trade unionism two centuries ago, ‘headline’ politics in the UK has been shaped by the uneven distribution of wealth. In parallel, a more shadowy politics of class and wealth has operated largely unopposed in the background, where privilege in its many forms has continued within and for the advantage of the Establishment.

The home of both openly-contested and privileged politics has always been in London, where combined they have gained such critical mass that the experiences, ambitions and views of Londoners and London-leaners has overwhelmingly shaped the national political debate.

Over the last century this overt national divide has become so codified that the two major parties have increasingly relied on what Americans pundits call ‘dog whistle’ conditioning to ensure their core voters instinctively support their tribal masters without question, leaving the ultimate determination of which party gets to form the next government down to swing voters in a few dozen marginals.

But we are now in a rapidly-changing new political landscape shaped by the event of the coronavirus pandemic, coupled with the UK government’s attempts to shift responsibility for response in England to regions that do not have the constitutional, legal or financial means to do so independently of our highly-centralised English political system which continues to depend on Westminster to provide them.

This has led to the farce whereby political leaders in Greater Manchester were asked by central government to plan for and respond to spiralling Covid-19 cases there, but have had their requests for the level of funding that their planned responses require rejected by the same UK/English government that had asked them to accept responsibility in the first place.

Lurking in the background is a well-founded sense that things would have played out very differently if Greater London and not Greater Manchester was in the firing line now, as it was in March when the need to control the massive spike in coronavirus cases that was then highly-concentrated in London led to an unchallenged national lockdown.

History repeatedly tells us that what London wants, London gets. The rest of England gets to share the crumbs.

There is a clear direction of political travel beginning to crystallise. Its mechanisms could be seen at work during the Brexit referendum campaign of 2016. David Cameron’s London-centric view took no account of the very different views of the majority of English voters, resulting in an unexpected but entirely predictable outcome. Also in play was the fact that ‘dog whistling’ had no leverage on the politics surrounding this single issue, as neither the Conservatives nor Labour had messages in tune with many of their traditional supporters’ views on the subject, whereas the Leave campaign loosely allied with the new ‘class-blind’ Brexit party did.

And now the chaotic and often back-footed response to the pandemic at Westminster daily manifests itself in stark contrast to the clear-headed and calm response spearheaded by Nicola Sturgeon in Scotland and now increasingly copied in the Welsh and Northern Ireland assemblies, and thereby bringing the need for English devolution into an ever-clearer and attractive focus.

Westminster cannot continue to flip-flop between being the government of the UK one minute and of England the next, and not expect to shake itself apart in the process. There may have been a time when the logic of devolution in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland could have been extended to establishing a assembly for England constitutionally separate from the UK parliament and government, but that time has gone. People in the North are now increasingly realising they have more common cause with their neighbours in Scotland and Wales than with ‘out of sight, out of mind’ London.

Boris Johnson’s majority of 80 seats is identical to the 80 seats the Tories snatched from Labour in the English north and midlands. In combination those 80 MPs have immense real power despite their relative inexperience. It may not have been what motivated them to stand for Parliament, but they are now inextricably at the epicentre of an earthquake in English politics whether they like it or not.



Planting an eyesore

I AGREE with J Johnson that trees should be planted on the fells to hold back water from the valleys but it is the plastic tubes and wooden stakes they use that get left on the fells that are pollution and an eyesore.

Of those trees planted above the tree line and in exposed situations fewer than a third survive, leaving behind saplings that are not strong enough to stand alone. The plastic tubes and stakes are then left to blow about in the wind.

As these will take a long time to decay it should be up to the people who plant them to go out and tidy up the mess and pollution they have created.



All clear?

When I read the report in your edition of October 15 that quoted MP Mark Jenkinson as welcoming the ‘clarity’ of the convoluted new Covid guidance from the government, I was initially puzzled. Could it be humour or irony at play?

Then I remembered the words of Humpty Dumpty ‘when I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean,’ and all became clear: he meant it literally.



Public transport 'penalised'

Bus operators are under pressure from a government that tells us to avoid travelling by bus and train (whilst illogically saying that it is safe to cram on to aeroplanes). They give us this “advice” without producing any evidence to show that it is valid.

So people take to private transport causing congestion and making some residential roads virtually impassable because of the mass of cars parked on roads, verges and pavements.

This has forced local bus operator Stagecoach to make service changes including reducing some service frequencies, avoiding some congested roads, and splitting some routes to try to maintain a reliable service. On a positive note, Joseph Noble Road on Lillyhall industrial estate now gets double its previous daytime frequency.

These changes take effect on Monday November 2. But why should bus operators and users be penalised because national and local authorities do nothing to deter the growth in car use?



Deal or no deal?

Over the years I have written several letters to the Times & Star. Some have been about the subject which has kept me awake at night since 2016: Brexit!

Soon (perhaps already) we will know if Johnson and co have sorted out some pathetic little deal, or, even worse, we have a crippling ‘no deal’ scenario.

When I first expressed concern about Brexit, I was accused of peddling ‘Project Fear’, but no-one has ever given me a reasoned argument as to why Brexit is anything other than an unmitigated disaster for the country.

The financial costs have been horrendous (money spent on trying to sort out deals could have been spent on NHS, education, ending poverty). The “taking back control” argument is revealed as a sham. We always had control of our own laws anyway. A handful of government ministers and their advisers, plus some big business and elements of the media, take control as parliament and democracy is sidelined.

We have lost our freedom to travel, and work without hindrance in 27 other countries. We now face the prospect of huge price rises, queuing lorries, endless bureaucracy, shortages of (and more expensive) medicine, the abandonment of protections of food, the environment and workers’ rights. The ‘oven ready trade deal’ did not exist.

None of the assurances given by the government, with their capacity to ignore experts, nor our local MP, give me any confidence. In a worst-case scenario we will have even more huge job losses, in sectors other than those already affected by Covid and the possible break-up of the UK.

Some of us did our best to reveal the reality, but Brextremists distorted and manipulated the truth to their advantage – they continue to make money out of Brexit.

After January 1 2021, the government can no longer hide the reality of what ‘Brexit’ really means.


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