Socialism with a Northern Accent?

Regional government in England is starting to take off, following the excitement of the Scottish Refrendum. It has been a long time coming, spending 10 years in the doldrums following the failure of Labour’s referendum on a rather inspidid North-East devolution.

Devolution has worked in Scotland, Wales and London. It’s about time the North had its fair share of devolution too. Signs are that things are beginning to change in the wake of the amazing campaign for a ‘yes’ in the Scottish Referendum. The Hannah Mitchell Foundation ( is about developing a  debate on what sort of regionalism is right for the North, ensuring accountability, inclusivity and democracy. Why not join?

Putting up The Northern Umbrella

The ‘Northern Umbrella’ is a new initiative which is complementary to Hannah Mitchell Foundation and has a stronger ‘cultural’ dimension….There is an open meeting in Croston, at Twin Lakes Velo Cafe, next Monday June 26th at 7.15…followed by a more action-oriented meeting that same week, Thursday June 29th, at 6.00 in Carluccio’s Piccadilly station (upstairs). This is really for people who may want to become more actively involved in the Northern Umbrella project.

We’re hoping to organise a Hannah Mitchell Foundation meeting to discuss the political implications of the recent election and maybe look at how we can crank up our influence within Labour. Details to follow but probably August (yes I know not ideal but don’t want to leave it too long). If you do want to get involved in either Umbrella or HMF (or both!) please let me know.

Here is the basic ‘Northern Umbrella’ concept……..

The Great Big Northern Umbrella

Big issues for the North – past, present and future

There are lots of great things going on in the North’s towns, cities and villages, created by voluntary bodies, businesses, social enterprises and charities involving a massive range of active citizens. But we rarely come together as the whole North – from Chester to Berwick, Carlisle to Sheffield.

The Great Big Northern Umbrella is a friendly shared space gathering together all of us who want a better North of England – making contact, learning, sharing ideas, celebrating success, creating new alliances.

The idea: a 2-day event in a Northern town or city, at several linked venues, celebrating the history, creativity, diversity and vibrancy of the North of England and all of its’ people. It’s aimed at organisations, individuals – anyone and everyone who wants to see a thriving, inclusive and creative North. HOWEVER….the idea, if it catches on, could encompass lots of smaller local meetings, events, discussions before and after the BIG event….

There are some embryonic ideas for a complementary ‘Northern Umbrella’ magazine.

Including, on Day 1:

  • The Great Big Northern Welcome: gathering us all together to meet and get started
  • Stalls and displays from the North’s wide range of organisations and enterprises
  • Workshops, talks, organised and impromptu discussions and debates
  • Practical demonstrations (Northern cooking, crafts, art work, exercises)
  • Poetry, stories, music, dancing
  • An evening gala Trades Banquet based on The Chartists’ ‘Tradesmens’ Banquets’ of the 1840s – with traditional decorations, home-made food, music, bonhomie, speechifying

Including, on Day 2:

  • Out and about to see inspiring examples of successful projects, including visits
  • Walks, bike rides, bus trips, boat excursions, train rides to the surrounding countryside
  • Guided walks around host town; music and sporting events?

Who should be involved? Anyone and everyone, including community organisations, Northern-based companies including social enterprises, faith groups, youth organisations, unions, parties, cultural associations….the whole caboodle.


Summer 2018 – with the possibility it could become annual, at different locations in the North.

How would it be organised and funded?

The Great Big Umbrella is to be a not-for-profit event.  Entry to the event would be free to those on low incomes to maximise attendance, although some activities including the Trades Banquet would be charged to cover costs.  Exhibitor space would be free or cost price.  The event therefore needs a mixture of sponsorship, grants, support in kind (e.g. Big Issue North promotion), crowd funding. Delivery needs professional co-ordination supported by a strong voluntary committee of do-ers.

HMF Membership Form 2017

Interested? There’s a facebook group and page (please like!) and a twitter feed (@HannahMFdn) , but email me and I’ll add you to the email group list as well. The Hannah Mitchell Foundation is a campaign for regional government in the North with an emphasis on social justice and popular democracy. But we are not a ‘party’ organisation and members include Labour, Greens, Lib Dems – and lots of non-aligned people.

My book Socialism with a Northern Accent is available from the publishers, Lawrence and Wishart ( – it features Hannah Mitchell and her life, and presents a modern case for regional devolution.


Blue Labour or Red: which traditions do we celebrate?

Maurice Glasman’s ‘Blue Labour’ project seems to have captured the interest of Ed Miliband and other senior Labour politicians. There’s much in it that’s highly relevant to Labour’s renewal as a radical and democratic force; it’s right to re-connect with Labour’s heritage and highlight some of the radical traditions which have been lost or forgotten.

art in the service of the cause! c 1985

But equally, there is a risk of selective interpretation of Labour and socialist history which ignores the rich and very diverse socialist heritage across the UK and risks missing out on opportunities for a regional revival within England in particular.

‘Blue Labour’ is silent on the crucial importance of the trades unions in creating a mass base for the party when it was established in 1900. Rather than growing out of a disparate network of ‘mutuals’ and co-ops, it was a result of some very clever politicking by the ‘ethical socialist’ leaders of the Independent Labour Party, above all Keir Hardie and Ramsay Macdonald. The alliance between the socialists of the Independent labour Party (ILP) and the unions, many of whom were very reluctant converts from Liberalism, and in some cases Toryism, was what ultimately allowed Labour to eclipse Liberalism as the political expression of the working class after the First World War. The alternative, of a ‘socialist alliance’ between the ILP and the rigid Marxism of the Social Democratic Federation (SDF) would have consigned socialism in Britain to the status of a modest-sized cult……….