Tuesday, January 31, 2012

"The Sequal - A Federal Solution" by Ken Curran

This is a follow-up to my earlier articles "Leap in the Dark" and "Seeking a Way Forward" in which I stated that radical and dynamic solutions are required to address the problem of the North-South divide. My friend Ken Turton (who is a former railwayman) responded to tell me that contrary to my proposal to build a new east-west tunnel to stimulate freight traffic beneath the Pennines, a less costly alternative was already available. He pointed out that the existing Woodhead Tunnel is capable of carrying high speed freight trains and there was already a large freight line depot available to the west of the Pennines which could be utilized to provided effective deliveries to a new Humber Port Terminal in around 90 minutes. I believe that Ken's Woodhead option should be considered. Nevertheless, bold decisions of one variety or the other will need to be made if we are to make the needed leap in the dark. For today we live in a world in which if you stand still for a moment, we find we have actually gone backwards.

What is needed is a high priority is the upgrading or renewal of east-west rail links. For the export of British made products, our northern ports are under-utilised since the decisions of Thatcher that Britain's future lay in Finance, based in London. British ports have been rundown and neglected. British manufacturing has been left to languish as a Cinderella.

We have to confront Westminster with serious demands. There is no doubt in my mind that Governments in Westminster have failed to produce plans that can and will allow our people to face with confidence the very serious issues facing mankind. Our Governments have over time become so corrupted by their association with the vested interests of business and high finance that they are unable to distinguish national, private and public interests apart. As a member of the Labour Party I hate admitting that in recent times I have been driven by learning of the private behaviour of many of our MPs, that self-interest is a major drive of their behaviour. Nye Bevan believed that Westminster had very corrupting influence upon those who entered our parliament. The present method of our Government and its environment actually inhibits local councils, often surrounding and smothering them with bureacracy. This creates a situation in which the local electorate judge councils as being just similar to Westminister. I believe that there is a genuine case for changing the nature and method of governing the United Kingdom.

The present system of Government is failing on a number of fronts. It fails the nation on the economy, having created the North-South divide which is now a perminent feature of the economic landscape which no political party has really tried to address. There is a failure in housing. Transport is in a mess. Youth employment is a serious social problem, with overall unemployment forecast to reach 3.5 million. Care for the elderly is in a state of collapse. There is an abject failure to tackle climate change.

We have seen how the Welsh and Scottish Parliament have been able to engage their people by taking key decisions closer to those who are the recipients of their programmes. Neither the Scots nor the Welsh people can be judged as overtly nationalistic, unlike the English Defence League which is clearly linked to racism. A move to introduce Regional Government is, I believe, long overdue in order to enable people to to be energised over the key policies of transport, housing, elderly care, economic development, planning, health and the environment. I would advocate that Westminister should be a Federal Government where each of the Federal Regions are represented by members of the Regional Government of their areas. I have yet to hear any MP advance any convincing argument why millions of potential electors fail to vote at elections. There may be a number of reasons. Personally I believe many do not vote because they believe it makes little difference because the system is corrupt and no longer fit for purpose.

Ken Curran, Chair of Sheffield Co-operative Party and Sheffield District Labour Party.


  1. Ken : The idea that the United Kingdom should have a federal structure on the lines of the system in Germany appeals to me. With Scotland and Wales as federal units it would meet most of the demands of those who press for independence in both nations and would provide a degree of independence that should satisfy most of their populations. There is, however, a question to be resolved over Northern Ireland. Its peace process and its Assembly have worked quite well, but how would the notion of it being a federal unit of the UK go down with Unionists and Nationalists? Would it aid the stance of those who wish to return to violence, or might it even aid the peace process? Then into how many federal units would England be divided? The map at the head of Ken's article is from Danny Dorling. It is Danny's line using numbers of economic and social indicators showing the North-South divide. It could be used to divide England into two Federal Regions. It includes areas down to Worcester, for inclusion in the "North". Would such a dividing line work? Or would more English Regions than two be required; although a major reason for dividing up England is to tackle problems arising from the North-South divide?

    I appreciate that I raise what might be called "technical" problems which can be resolved at a later stage. On the other hand unless these are faced up to now they could derail any move to a UK Federation.

  2. I have discussed Regional Assemblies with Ken and reading the above I still stand by what I said then. We are of course already divided - into administrative units ie Berkshire; Northumberland etc. To suggest that the south may be getting more allocations of jobs, financial assistance or economic consessions may be true, but if it is, it can only be a political problem and should be addressed as such. To believe that Regional Assemblies will remedy this political problem is ludicrus. London would still be the bed of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the government of the day will still hold the keys. Surely socialists have a socialist answer. It lies between us and the electorate. Our job as socialists always has been and probably always will, a task of converting the people from the ethos of need before greed, people before private pockets. If we cannot even restore demcracy in the party at all levels then God help us. Democracy must come before other 'solutions' are even considered. Ed Miliband talks not as a leader but as an autocrat. Lastly on the subject of Regional Assemblies, the proposed Northeast Assembly was thrown out by the electors by 90% of those who voted, and it was a high vote. However, despite that, John Prescot still pressed ahead with the Assembly. Indeed he had 300 staff standing by - so much was he convinced the north would vote for an Assembly. If this is an example of getting around problems, by ignoring the people's overwhelming decision, I think supporters of Regional Assemblies should think again.