Establishment must stop ‘sneering’ at Northern voters, think tank warns

Ed Cox, director of IPPR North
Ed Cox, director of IPPR North
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Establishment figures will be sent a clear warning today to stop dismissing leave voters in the North as “stupid” and “foolish” and start taking the concerns of the region’s post-industrial communities more seriously.

Presenting its latest assessment of the health region’s economy, the independent think-tank IPPR North will argue that June’s Brexit result was a “cry of outrage” from communities that feel increasingly left behind by the levels of wealth in the South.

It will also warn that many of these areas are likely to suffer most as a result of leaving the EU, due to a reliance on European trade and a lack of diversity in local industries.

But rather than than patronise these groups, members of the so-called “metropolitan elite” should focus their efforts on boosting economic resilience and granting the region greater independence.

Addressing a conference of key northern leaders in Leeds today, IPPR North director Ed Cox will speak of his anger that “since the referendum... some in the metropolitan media have presented Northerners as foolish or simple”.

“We believe that Brexit is a cry of community outrage at the imbalances of wealth and power, played out in glorious technicolour within and between the regions of this nation,” he will say.

“Northerners have historically compromised short-term economic benefits for the sake of their wider freedom and autonomy. This I believe is what we are witnessing in the Brexit vote.

“The 80-year experiment with centralisation is over, and it is little wonder the establishment are struggling to get it.”

The think-tank’s annual economic “healthcheck” states that overall jobs growth in the North has “motored on” and the region’s economy has passed the £300bn mark.

But is warns that “dark clouds are gathering on the horizon” and uncertainty “now pervades the northern mood”.

It cites figures that reveal the Northern economy is more than twice as dependent on EU trade as London, making it more vulnerable to Brexit “turbulence”.

And its research suggests those areas which voted most strongly to leave the EU – including Sheffield and the Humber - are the most likely to be affected.

“The North’s economic diversity is striking... but while some areas are well-prepared to adapt, the indications are that others will struggle,” explains report author Luke Raikes.

“It is clear from this analysis that an industrial strategy will be vital for the North.

“But this strategy can’t just invest in small clusters of activity, it must also connect these up across the North.

“And most important of all, the North will need to develop a stronger more inclusive labour market, so that both people and businesses can thrive from northern economic growth.”

Responding to the report, Labour MP and Shadow Housing Secretary John Healey said it highlighted a clear need to ensure jobs and wages in the region do not take a hit as a result of any post-Brexit restrictions on trade.

He also argued that the Government needs to “look afresh at how we can build the jobs and industries of the future across the country, not just in London and the South”.

“There are so many towns and cities across the country with huge untapped potential, but which have been written off by Conservative ministers,” he said.

“It’s Labour’s task now to also show how we can fix the ways in which too many people feel Britain isn’t working for them and their families.”