IN the part of Yorkshire I represent, four times as many people think things are getting worse than think they’re getting better. A similar story emerges across England.
I can understand this. So many parts of this country have experienced disruptive change on a dramatic scale. Yet the sense of restlessness that many people feel presents an opportunity to rebuild England and what it means to be English.
This must start with a recognition that for many people – especially in what is often called Middle England – there has been a loss of voice and of choice.
In Wakefield, for example, three out of four people think they cannot influence local decisions either very much or at all. Across the country this lack of control has bred resentment and even anger.
Yet this distrust and anger towards politics comes from a belief that democracy matters. According to the Social Attitudes Survey, the overwhelming majority of people place extreme or significant importance on living within a democracy. Yet when asked how democratic this country is, the answers were much less favourable.
People want democracy but they don’t think they are getting it. It’s hard to disagree, especially when considering the centralised Westminster state, the corporate capture of policy-making and political elites that look after only themselves. Then there is the outsourcing of public services, the destruction of local government, the shackling of civil society and the loss of the character of communities.
All of this has contributed to the diminishment of democracy and a growing sense of alienation. Too often decision-makers in the current system don’t hold the same values held by most people.
The Social Attitudes Survey also shows that there is a strong consensus among the public that democracy, in addition to guaranteeing free and fair elections, should protect people against poverty and involve citizens in decision-making.
Yet the opposite has happened. Here in Yorkshire there are 250,000 children in poverty. The UK infant mortality rate is rising for the first time in a century and is now significantly higher than in 15 other European countries.
These shocking statistics indicate a breakdown of the social contract between the nation and its rulers, who have used the power of government to engineer a transfer of wealth from almost the whole nation to a handful at the top.
Between 2009 and 2018, the richest 1,000 increased their wealth by £466bn, while in the same period the 33 million working people of this country together lost a similar amount in income.
This transfer of wealth, plus austerity and decades of under-investment, have both hit the North hardest.
The North-East and Yorkshire and Humber, for example, have the lowest productivity per head in the UK, and the whole of the North is less than half as productive as London. Yorkshire and the Humber has the second lowest median full-time gross weekly earnings of any region, and nearly 230,000 people are on zero-hour contracts in the North.
I could go on. But I won’t, because the message is already clear. This is not what people in the North want from the Government. It is not what the English want either. We were never “all in it together”, as these statistics show. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be, and that the people of England shouldn’t have a real say in how their country is run.
Rebuilding a sense of community control and optimism requires far-reaching economic and political transformation. We must tackle the economic and political inequality that divides this country.
Many of you will be aware of Labour’s pledge to Rebuild Britain. If elected, Labour will give local government the power and resources it needs to respond to the needs of local people.
We will deliver a five-point plan to save the high street. We will look to launch a small business agency, which would offer loans and services. We will provide an additional £8bn over the lifetime of the next Parliament for social care.
And we will make our democracy properly responsive to the needs of working people across the regions. My personal feeling is that we should move to a more federal Britain with power devolved to the regions of England, and with a One Yorkshire deal.
I have a feeling that if we achieve all of this, not only will we rebuild Britain and England’s economy, but we will rebuild the sense of pride we once felt as a country.
Jon Trickett is Labour MP for Hemsworth. He’s also the Shadow Cabinet Office Minister.