This likely lad is the North’s problem to fix

Say what you like about Dominic Cummings, but you’ve got to admit he’s a Northern kid.

He’s got attitude, he’s got swagger, he hates the effete London metropolitan liberal establishment.  If he’d gone into Britpop rather than Tory politics in the 1990s he could’ve been a classic Northern hero by now, reminiscing for cash on BBC4 rockumentaries.  But he did go into Tory politics, and right now he presents a genuinely mortal danger to our democracy.  So the North owns a big part of the job that needs to be done right now: getting rid of him.

Taxi for Mr Cummings

Dominic Cummings thinks he has all the trigger slogans and Facebook profiles he needs to deliver enough swing seats in the North for the Tory party to win the coming general election.  For the moment, the Trump administration and the international hedge fund billionaires believe him. What the North has to do now is not to fall for his tricks, and simply refuse to show support for the Tories.  Then the big money will quickly do the job of removing him from our lives.

This post was going to take a look at Dominic Cummings’s life story and ask the question, how did he work his way up to become Britain’s most powerful person, holding an entire country to ransom?  What exactly happened to make this ordinary Durham lad the craziest megalomaniac Britain’s seen in ages?  But in this week’s New Statesman, the job has already been done, and done well, by Harry Lambert: The Machiavel in Downing Street

The piece is well worth reading, and for what it’s worth, it seems like his parents in Durham are decent people.  Maybe it was moving from a state primary school to the posh-but-tough, private sector Durham School, in the shadow of the ancient cathedral, that taught him how to protect himself against bullying by becoming a bully himself.  Or maybe the North isn’t to blame, and something in him died when he joined the neoliberal goldrush into Yeltsin era post-Communist Russia in the 1990s.  Perhaps he saw enough criminality and cold brutality there to turn him into a nihilist.

But there comes a point where diminishing returns are hit in trying to work out whether Cummings is a toxic nutcase in good faith – a man who really believes that he will improve the country by tearing it to shreds so that he can build it back up again according to the half-baked sketches set out in his voluminous blog; or whether Cummings is a toxic nutcase in bad faith – a misanthrope who wants power for its own sake, and will burn the country down just for kicks.

There comes a point where you just think, who cares – this guy is a toxic nutcase either way, so get him out of 10 Downing Street right now.

Story time

George Monbiot tells us that if we want to make political impact, we need to stop quoting statistics and writing searing polemics, and start telling stories instead.

So here goes: a fairy tale about a cheesy night club that could be in any Northern town – a world that we know Dominic Cummings himself is well familiar with.

Klute-y Dumpling

It’s the big Friday night down at the town nite klub – let’s call it No.10’s.

A little while earlier Psycho Dom and his big daft hooray henry mate Bozzer made their dramatic entrance.  They’ve pulled some entertaining, if somewhat alarming, moves on the dance floor and have now moved to the bar.  But Dom is totally off his head on a very dangerous drug: power.  Refused another round of shots, he’s shouting the place down and is starting to smash the place up.  Very soon people are going to start getting hurt – seriously hurt.  There’s only one option for what to do: get this guy out, and fast – Route One to the exit.

Let’s add a twist to this tale.  Psycho Dom and Bozzer are actually the night club’s managers.  They’re running the place for Owd Liz, who has owned it for many years.  What are the bouncers going to do now?  He’s threatening them with the sack if they come anywhere near him.  The staff know Psycho Dom is not a man to be messed with – he sacked 21 of their colleagues just a few weeks ago.

They also know that Dom has been lying to Owd Liz.  He’s not looking after her interests at all.  He’s cut a deal with a big American boss, Don, to trash the premises and buy it for a song, and then knock it down and put up a luxury hotel for Don in its place.  There are rumours that Russian mafia money is involved.  The staff imagine there will be plenty of work for them in the fancy new place, but they know the club’s current clientele definitely won’t be invited.

So here we are, Bozzer is stumbling and mumbling around, and Psycho Dom is stood, back to the bar, waving a broken pintpot about.  “You’re all soft as shite, man.  None of yez can take me!” he yells.

There’s really only one thing to do, the clubbers themselves are going to have to take this headcase down, and get him out.

The lads from the building site, having a night out, could do it easily.  So could the big group from the call centre, celebrating a leaving do.  Even the students from the uni could do it, despite being pretty useless.  But the students are currently sat in their different cliques: Jo and Chuka’s team aren’t talking to Jez and Emily’s crew because of a dispute over who said what to whom in the gender-neutral toilets down at the student union.

If all the clubbers rushed him at once, Psycho Dom wouldn’t stand a chance.  But Dom has got a few tricks up his sleeve.  He knows the workers from the building site and the call centre take a sceptical view of the students.

“Look at these students, they’ve never done an honest day’s work in their lives!” shouts Dom.  “Are you going to let them fuck this club up with their gender-neutral toilets, eh?”

Bozzer comes up alongside Dom and starts chucking peanuts at the female students.  “Yeah!” he shouts, and then falls over.

“Look at these lot.”  Dom gesticulates towards a group of Asian-British kids who have decided to have a night out at No.10’s.  It’s their town after all, they’ve lived here all their lives.  “We NEVER used to have their sort in THIS club.”

A nasty group in the corner cheer at that remark.  It’s the Footy Lads.  They’re a sad, paunchy bunch of has-beens, their glory days of football aggro in the 1980s now long gone.  There’s only a few of them, but they still look ugly and dangerous.

“If you touch me”, yells Dom to the clubbers, “my footy mates are going to batter you and everybody else in here.  Why would you get battered for a student?  I’m on your side against them – and against them!”, turning to snarl at a young Asian-British woman.

“Jolly well looks like a jolly old pillar box” manages Bozzer, before falling over again.  A couple of the older women in the group from the call centre burst out laughing.  He’s not supposed to say that, they laugh, but you’ve got to admit, he is hilarious.

The footy lads chuck some beer and it lands on the young Asian-British woman.  She looks both frightened and angry.  The two women look nervously at each other: that wasn’t so funny.  But still, Dom and the footy lads weren’t having a go at them, and they weren’t the ones getting wet.

“Look guys, it’s like this.”  One of the students appeals to the building site lads and the call centre party.  “Dom’s not on your side, he’s trying to close this place and get all of us kicked out.  He’s really working for an American guy called Don.  They stand to make millions.”

The building site lads are listening.  “Don’t listen to that little pillock and his conspiracy theories.” warns Dom.

“And another thing,” continues the student, “this place needs to become an arts space with a vegan menu and gender-neutral toilets.”  The building site lads aren’t listening any more.

Dom senses the change of mood.  “Let’s just get this done!  Traitor students out of this club!  No fucking surrender!” he yells and boots over the students’ table full of drinks.  The footy lads launch up into a chorus of “No surrender to the IRA”.

Dom grabs one the student girls and drags her out of her seat by her hair.  “All of you students get out now, or I’m going to throw her to this lot”, he says, pointing to the footy lads.  She looks very afraid.  One of the builders mutters under his breath: “Howay man Dom, you’re going too far.”

Greta, smashing, super

Then suddenly a young girl with her hair in plaits steps up.  It’s Greta, the school exchange student from Sweden.  How the hell did she get in here?  She’s never eighteen.

“You are a bully and this has got to stop now,” she says calmly.  Dom looks wild-eyed.  He’s been challenged.

She turns to the assembled clubbers, addressing all of the tables. “You could get together and stop this right now.  Do you have the courage?  How dare you leave it to a child to do what you should be doing!  In five seconds I am going to walk up and disarm this man.  If you are all with me then we can do it easily and no-one will be hurt.  If you do not join me, I will have no future.”

5, 4, 3, 2, 1……………. What happens next?

That’s up to the people of the Northern town to decide.

Post-script: what needs to happen now

Boris Johnson needs to be removed from No.10 straight away – next week – and replaced by a caretaker government.  That Government should do three jobs:

  • Ask the EU for a long delay to Brexit so that a no deal crash-out on 31 October is avoided.
  • Put through a new, tightened up electoral law to properly defend free and fair elections, rather than relying only on traditional conventions of fair play at election time.  This means excluding foreign interference and international dark money, and ensuring that whatever Dominic Cummings plans to do on Facebook in the last few days of the campaign is anticipated, and exposed for all the country to see;
  • Organise a clean referendum and general election, perhaps to be held on the same day, observed by independent international election monitors.  If those ballots can only be held in a year’s time, so be it.  The delay will allow the country to carry on functioning, whilst everybody takes a breather and calms down.

In one way all Cummings has got up his sleeve is a few million dodgy Facebook ads, yet because he will have the Trump administration and the whole mainstream media propaganda machine behind him, defeating him is going to be a mammoth task.

It won’t be easy, it will be very hard – and it will require those who oppose Cummings to cease fighting each other, compromise, and start fighting him.

If they don’t, then he could easily win the coming general election with 35% of the vote.  And that could spell game over for British democracy.  If Cummings wins the election he will be licensed to go all-out for full-spectrum domination of the media, the internet and the government machine.  As Leigh’s Paul Mason tells us, there may not be another free and fair British election in our lifetimes.

So, the stakes are high.  But if the anti-Cummings forces can stand together to fight him, peacefully, democratically, he can be beaten at the ballot box.


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That special place in Hell

As the thermometer hits the mid-80s Fahrenheit across the North of England, the tundra burns across the Arctic, and Boris Johnson takes his first grip on the reins of power in Westminster, it feels timely to remind ourselves of Donald Tusk’s “special place in hell for those that promote Brexit without even the sketch of a plan”.

It is scant comfort that Boris and whatever horror show of shysters, creeps, nutters and full-on sociopaths he assembles for his cabinet tomorrow, have a place reserved for them in hell.  Because they will be taking us down with them.  If we plough on with No Deal Brexit on 31 Oct – and who at the moment can say that the EU won’t simply lose patience and kick us out – the North and all its people will assuredly be going to social and economic hell, either as a slow descent or as a rapid nosedive.  And that’s not even the worst of it…

angel of the north descending to hell

The Euro election results in the North

The worst of it is that in the North, Boris will be doing this with the keen support of very large numbers of our fellow citizens.

The next post on this site will be an analysis of the Euro election results across the North.   It will show that, although the North as a whole was (marginally) less taken with Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party than the Midlands or South West of England, and although as a whole it would (probably) narrowly vote for Remain were there any second referendum, overall a very substantial fraction of the North’s voters have stayed resolute for Leave.

Unlike Wales, there is no clear signal in the election result data that the North has fundamentally turned against Brexit.  Despite three years of unavoidable, staring-you-in-the-face evidence that Brexit will be a disaster for the UK – and within that disaster, a particular industrial catastrophe for the North – not nearly enough people have changed their mind about Brexit to make the project no longer politically tenable.

The Brexit pilgrims

So the UK is now, more than ever, divided into Scotland, Northern Ireland, London – and now Wales – against Brexit, and England outside London still substantially for it.  The Brexit faith, a self-contained belief system impervious to the real world as it is, was identified some time ago by Fintan O’Toole as primarily a matter of ‘English-British’ national identity.  Hence the remarkable opinion poll showing that Tory members would be perfectly content to see the break up of the UK if that was the price of getting their Brexit.

In the Brexit faith, the criticism or ridicule of others only strengthens the faith of the believer.  Whilst, as O’Toole points put, for the Brexit faithful, national humiliation is something almost to be masochistically actively sought out.

Nobody says it better than John Bunyan about the psychology of the North’s Brexiters and their faith:

Who would true Valour see/ Let him come hither;/ One here will Constant be/ Come Wind, come Weather./  There’s no Discouragement/ Shall make him once Relent,/ His first avow’d Intent,/ To be a Pilgrim.

Who so beset him round,/ With dismal Stories,/ Do but themselves Confound;/ His Strength the more is./ No Lion can him fright,/ He’ll with a Giant fight,/ But he will have a right,/ To be a Pilgrim.

No true Northerner is going to disagree with those sentiments – in theory (we’ll see how we get on when actual hardship is spread to the more comfortably off).  Rupert Murdoch and Nigel Farage’s genius was to sell Brexit as the promised land, the destination of the pilgrimage.

Boris’s mill

What is Boris Johnson going to make of this?  It was never Boris’s plan to actually win the referendum.  The plan was to become the next leader of the Tory Party after David Cameron on the back of being the valiant but defeated Brexit campaigner.  It is highly doubtful that Boris believes Brexit is a good idea.  The objective was only ever to get the job of being Prime Minister.

The irony is in many respects quite amusing.  But Boris is unfortunately no joke for British Muslims and many others who are upset and alarmed that a man who is so cynically willing to ‘play the race card’ for political advantage should make it to No. 10 Downing Street.  As the former Chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum Mohammed Amin pointed out as he resigned from the Tory party today, Boris’s racist dog whistles are not funny when they lead directly to an upsurge in racist abuse and attacks.

Behind the façade of buffoonery is a gang of really nasty people, and few nastier than his old campaign supremo Lynton Crosby.  For the people hiding behind Boris, there is only one political objective: to keep the City of London going as a place where the rich can make easy money, safely.  There’s little they won’t stoop to in pursuit of that objective.

It goes without saying that they don’t give a damn about the North and its Brexit supporters, except perhaps as a source of pensions wealth and health service spending they can rake off and rip off.  Stalwart Northern Brexit pilgrims are just grist to Boris’s mill.

It gets worse.  The evidence of Boris’s behaviour during the leadership hustings, for example over the Kim Darroch affair, and Trump’s comments about him, seem to point to there having been some kind of deal with Trump.  Boris has been signalling to Trump that he will be his appropriately subservient disciple, and Trump has been tweeting back his approval.   Who knows what understanding has been reached between them.  But you’d better believe that the North’s Brexit-voting pensioners, as well as the rest of us, are on the menu.

Boris’s plan?

For all his success in the leadership election, out in the real world Boris is in a precarious position.  Pundits are saying that whichever way he moves leads to checkmate against him.   But he must have a plan.  Despite the claims of some that it would be quite in character for him to indeed have no plan and no clue, it just seems so improbable that he should have waited his whole life to be Prime Minister, and not now be ready to pull some kind of trick to try to hang on to the job for more than a few weeks.

Northern Umbrella’s guess is that Boris’s plan is a general election.  One called in response to parliamentary deadlock, with 31st October looming.  The EU will grant a delay for the election to take place.  Boris will call an election not a referendum because he thinks he will win a general election, and secure a five year term.

The prediction here is for a surprisingly bold stroke: an electoral pact between Boris’s Tories and Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party.  Farage’s party will be given a free run against Labour remainers in Northern seats.  This was the game plan that was being teed up back in 2017 for UKIP under Paul Nuttall.   They will also run against Tory remain rebels who baulk at the plan.

The numbers from the Euro election show that this plan can win the election – the next post will set this out. Basically, whichever side of the Brexit divide can unite their vote will win the next general election, and whichever side splits their vote will lose it.

Beating Boris with a Remain Alliance

Whichever side unifies wins, and whichever side stays split loses, and this works both ways.  This will be demonstrated in the Brecon & Radnor by-election on 1 August when a Remain alliance candidate (in this case a LibDem) will win, against a split Tory/Brexit Party leave vote.  But beyond rural Wales, and particularly in the North, the Euro election results show that a Remain alliance could only win if Corbyn’s Labour is part of it.

Sadly, there is nothing currently visible in the Remain world to suggest that the #fbpe centrist Remainers and the Corbynistas are capable of coming together in order to keep a Boris/Farage alliance out – indeed the LibDems’ lacklustre new leader Jo Swinson has already ruled it out.  Meanwhile, the Blairite and Brownite old guard in the Labour party will revert to their despicable 2017 position of a general election being well worth losing, if it allows them to seize back control of the party.

Corbyn and John McDonnell’s Labour, for all its faults, is doing a lot of very interesting and useful policy thinking about how we might address some of our social, economic and environmental predicaments, and do so whilst respecting democracy and human rights.  For example: this.  But, sadly this means nothing to LibDem and ageing New Labour and ex-New Labour Westminster MPs, whose only vision is the impossible dream of a return to the way things were 1997-2016.

Without some kind of Remain alliance being formed, the Corbynistas, the Labour Old Guard, the ChUKkas, the ex-ChUKkas and the Liberal Democrats will all be defeated.  So will the poor old Greens.

The Corbynistas may hang on to the Labour party, or Tom Watson and his dirty-fighting old guard may seize it back.  But it won’t matter either way because post-Brexit the predators will descend and the welfare state will have been killed and picked clean by 2025.  No doubt by then the climate crisis will then be beyond the point of no return, causing serious wars and deaths.  The big money may well have decided by then that what England needs is a dose of fascism.  And Boris will then head off into retirement, and the opportunity at last to make some serious money, on the payroll of Blackrock, or whoever.

This doesn’t have to happen, but it will happen, unless grassroots Remainers can see clearly enough to realise that Corbyn is not their worst enemy, and falling for the crude demonisation of Corbyn is exactly what the forces of evil want them to do.

The only glimmer of cheer in this sorry prospect is the thought of the Scots taking their independence and walking away from the whole shitshow.  For the North of England there will be no hope, unless we urgently start talking to each other, understanding each other’s positions, and finding out what magic ingredient can bring Northern voters back to their senses.  We have approximately three months to do it.



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The European elections in the North

At 7am tomorrow morning the polling stations will open in every town, village and neighbourhood across the North for the elections for the European Union parliament – elections that nobody expected to see happening in circumstances of Brexit being completely unresolved.   What’s in store?

the irritating gentleman cropped

Unbidden, NU advises a voter on tactical voting options in the d’Hondt election system

At last, useful polling data

At the weekend Best for Britain, the marvellous anti-Brexit campaigning organisation that Northern Umbrella identified last July as a cut above the Peoples Vote campaign, did something that not a single mainstream media organisation had hitherto bothered to do: it published an opinion poll that actually gave numbers for each region of England, the regional constituencies which form the basis for the MEPs getting elected. It also published the numbers for Wales and Scotland.

Suddenly – lo and behold! – we discover that the SNP is not bumping along at 4%, as the BBC and the newspapers were reporting, it is polling at 38% in Scotland, 18% ahead of all other parties: on course for a huge victory.  And of course, at 0% in England and Wales.

Almost as sensational is the reveal that Plaid Cymru is the second-placed party in Wales at 19%, four points ahead of Labour, albeit miles behind Nigel Farage’s Brexit party which is polling at 35%.  In case you missed it being reported in the BBC news, Adam Price, the erudite new leader of Plaid Cymru, is now pushing for an independent Wales inside the EU.  Quite a turnaround in Wales, where outright independence was rarely seriously considered.  But this is the impact of the Little Englanders’ Brexit.

So what were the poll findings for the North?  Here are Best for Britain’s numbers as adapted by Northern Umbrella from Brexit Factbase (links provided in the discussion section below):

B4B poll by region

Choking on straws

There are some straws of good news we can clutch at: the main one being that it appears that Northerners appear to be less taken by the Brexit Party than any of the other regions of England outside London.  In the North East they stand on 35%, in Yorkshire 33% and in the North West, 32%.  This compares with Brexit party support of 37% in the South East and East Midlands, 40% in the West Midlands and East of England, and a scary 42% in the South West.

But it’s a straw to choke on really: the Brexit party is in a big lead in all three regions of the North – a lunatic situation to be in on a day when Brexit has killed off Scunthorpe steelworks after 150 years, and most likely taking Skinningrove in Cleveland down with it.

The 64 million dollar question of whether the combined vote for pro-Brexit parties exceeds the combined vote for anti-Brexit parties depends entirely on how you classify support for the Labour party.  One thing that the numbers show quite clearly is that there is no majority in the country as a whole for a hard Brexit.  That at least is good news.  But there is no obvious majority for Remain either.

What this shows, perhaps above all else, is that a vote for Labour in this election is a vote for letting someone else interpret what your vote means in terms of your position on Brexit.  Len McCluskey and Ian Lavery will interpret it their way, Andrew Adonis his way, Lisa Nandy and Caroline Flint their way.  If you’re happy with that, fine.  But if you’re not, tomorrow is a day to think hard before voting Labour.  More on this in the final section below.

The Brexit fantasy bubble

The Brexit party is as transparent a scam as has ever been perpetrated.  In fairness, you have to admire the sheer chutzpah of Farage saying “vote for me first and I’ll publish my manifesto after the election” – and romping to the top of the polls on the back of it.

But, as Northern Umbrella pointed out back in February, it is only succeeding because the people are now willing participants in the con trick.  Like TV wrestling, they know it’s not real, but they’re going along with it anyway.  Support for “Just get on with it” Brexit has long since lost any contact with reality, and is now just pure self-indulgence.

25,000 jobs can go in a day with Brexit clearly to blame – and with it the end of steelmaking in the North, a whole industry central to the North’s former industrial greatness – and yet for the “Just get on with it” brigade it won’t make a blind bit of difference to how they will vote.

Why not – is it not real for them because they think it won’t hit their pension, won’t hit their housing equity?   You can tell them, “oh yes it will, and post-Brexit poverty is coming for you” – and probably deep down they will know you’re right.  But they won’t be listening because it’s not real for them today.  Today they can, so they will, carry on pretending.

It’s a fantasy bubble that has blown up over the last three years perhaps because of, as much as in spite of, the facts piling up that “have your cake and eat it” Brexit was not on offer.  But instead of bursting on contact with reality, it just morphed into the fantasy that a “clean break” Brexit is doable and won’t be any trouble that we Dunkirk veterans can’t handle.  It’s a bubble that was given new life by the deadline extension granted by the EU on 31 March, and it has not been pricked in any way by this election campaign.

Fox in the (chlorine-washed) chicken house

It is said that a people get the politicians they deserve, but you would have to have a heart of stone not to laugh at the incredible – but unstoppable – prospect of the North West’s “Just get on with it” gammon getting the Revolutionary Communist Party’s Claire Fox as their anointed representative.

There cannot be many Brexit party voters in the North West who don’t know by now that Claire Fox wouldn’t condemn the IRA bombing of her own home town of Warrington.  They are ignoring it through the power of cognitive dissonance.  But quite a few will still be unaware of how weird she really is.

The RCP of the 1980s was to all intents and purposes a cult, and had all the weirdness that goes with that.  It’s difficult to say what Claire Fox and the other RCPers really believe these days, but it appears to all intents and purposes that the core group of cult members still exists and acts as a collective.  Whether or not they still think they are overthrowing capitalism, it seems plain that they think they can play Farage and the Bad Boys of Brexit to their own advantage.  Meanwhile, the Bad Boys think they can play the RCP.

So far, so banal.  But also, and far more sinisterly, the RCP think they can play the Koch Brothers and the American dark money.

The American vampire capitalist dark money, which is so obviously funding the Brexit party through undeclared £499 PayPal donations, cares literally not at all for the welfare of the North of England or its people.  But they certainly have an interest in us.  We are there to be used as a pawn in their geopolitical game, and as a population that can be bled dry for cash, then thrown away.

Their main geopolitical game is to try to destroy the EU, and thereby remove as the only world force capable of showing the American people that there is another way.  But, on the business side, to them we are a population there to be used and abused as they ram through the privatisation of the NHS to American healthcare corporations, and open up our kitchens to their factory farm corporations, and all the hormone-fed beef and chlorine-washed chicken you can stomach.

You can help support efforts by investigative journalists (such as Peter Geoghegan of Open Democracy)  to get to the truth of who is funding the Brexit party, here.  Whatever you donate, you will certainly get your money’s worth when the truth comes out, because it will more sensational, and horrifying – and absurd – than you can imagine.

What is to be done?  Northern Umbrella’s tactical voting picks

In the face of this absurdity and darkness, it is too easy to despair.  It is also too easy to say brightly, don’t despair, vote tactically for the LibDems, as if it wasn’t the LibDems’ enthusiastic adoption of deep austerity that is the main root cause of this Brexit mess in the first place.

Nevertheless, turnout is everything in an election like this, so GET OUT TO VOTE.

Unlike our lucky friends north of the border in Scotland and west of the border in Wales, this is the only chance a Northerner gets to vote in an election that isn’t run under the first past the post system.

Although the party list system and single non-transferable vote used for the Euro election is a terrible version of PR (chosen deliberately by Tony’s Blair’s Labour party to benefit themselves and discredit electoral reform), it is a proportional representation election, and so there is a clear temptation to say, just vote with your heart and give your vote to your first choice.

However, in the North, there certainly is a case for judicious tactical voting.  The Best for Britain polling numbers translate into forecast seats as follows:

Brexit Party 3 2 3
Conservative 0 0 1
Labour 1 1 2
LibDem 1 0 1
Green 1 0 1
Change UK 0 0 0

Lots of tactical voting advice is out there but Best for Britain’s Vote page allows you to test your own options using sliders – try it out.  A hat tip also to the info put out by Democratic Audit and Brexit Factbase.  Meanwhile, Northern Umbrella’s advice is as follows:

Across the North, a vote for Change UK is a wasted vote.  Change UK has been a hubristic yet lacklustre shambles from the start.  Let’s use this election to kill it off.  Their supposed big beasts can eat humble pie and then go crawling to the LibDems to let them in.  It will do them good – especially the Labour contribution to Change UK, who are a far less attractive bunch than its Tories.

In the North West, tactical voting is relatively easy.  Labour and the Brexit Party look comfortable to win two seats and the LibDems to win one, so it looks like a three horse race between the Green Party, the Tories and the Brexit Party for the final MEP seat.  Therefore all Remain tactical voters should give their support to the Greens, to get their experienced and effective campaigner Gina Dowding over the line and elected.  What a great breakthrough that would be for Green politics, and for saving the planet.

In the North East, where only three seats are up for grabs, the numbers show that Labour can comfortably win one seat but will struggle for two.  If you are inclined to vote tactically, the best chance to deprive the Brexit Party of two seats is to vote LibDem.

In Yorkshire and Humber, the top two Labour candidates are Richard Corbett and Eloise Todd, and probably there are no two people in the country with better anti-Brexit credentials.  Eloise Todd, who spoke to Northern Umbrella last July, is in with a sniff of getting a seat, and tactical voting would help her.  As Chief Executive of Best for Britain, Eloise has worked her socks off to stop Brexit, and Yorkshire could not elect a better or more well-qualified MEP.

But for Eloise Todd to do this, she will probably need to squeeze out the Green Party’s “magic” Magid Magid (last year’s superstar Lord Mayor of Sheffield) and the Yorkshire Party’s Chris Whitwood.  Which would be a shame.  It would be good to see either Greens or the Yorkshire Party break through – in the table the Yorkshire Party are hiding in ‘other’ at 5%. Even though 5 or 6% wouldn’t win them a seat, it would represent a breakthrough on a journey to give the Yorkshire a progressive, civic regionalist force something like its own version of Plaid Cymru.   Too difficult – no recommendation.

And they’re off!

An update will be posted here when the results are announced on Sunday.


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Think on, Rebecca

As we enter the second day of Jeremy Corbyn’s talks with Theresa May, what will happen next is very unclear.  Corbyn’s own intentions remain remarkably inscrutable – nobody really knows if he is the same Bennite Brexiter he was in 1975 and 1983, or if he is actually a ninth dan master of constructive ambiguity who is going to come out of this game of three dimensional chess with both a second referendum and the keys to No.10 in the bag.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (centre), shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer and shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey in his office in the Houses of Parliament in London preparing for a meeting with Prime Minister Theresa May. (Photo by Stefan Rousseau/PA Images via Getty Images)

Salford’s own Rebecca Long-Bailey (blurred in the above photo) is a key part of Labour’s negotiating team.  What Northern Labour MPs think, and what they perceive Northern voters think, is a really important part of what happens next.

Northern Umbrella’s take on it all is simple: let Corbyn cook up any deal he wants with Theresa May, but whatever it is, PUT IT TO THE PEOPLE.  The ‘Kyle-Wilson’ compromise would be the simplest given the extreme lack of time we have – vote through Theresa May’s existing deal, which we know the EU will agree to, on the condition that it is put to a ratification referendum, with Remain as the alternative.

Jez kidding?

The real danger is that May and Corbyn will agree on some softer form of Brexit (all the Labour bullshit of ‘a’ customs union, as opposed to ‘the’ customs union), conspire to sell it as a happy compromise between the extremes of Remain and No Deal, and rush it through before the EU’s deadline of 12 April.

Why would they do that?  There is no such thing as a ‘jobs-first Brexit’: all forms of soft Brexit deliver a worse deal with the EU than the one we already have, and would be a stupid, pointless throwing away of Britain’s seat at the EU table.  People propounding soft Brexit only ever make the case in terms of respecting the 2016 referendum vote, they never make the case in positive terms of what it offers the country.  Nobody even bothers to ask them to.

The problem with soft Brexit is that it only unites the country in the sense that nobody wants it.  So why would Corbyn and May go for it?

One argument in its favour is that it drives the hard Brexiters nuts.  The only enjoyable thing coming out of the latest twist in the crisis is watching the charlatans, clowns and disaster capitalist crooks of the Tory ERG lose their shit as they realise they have lost their control over what happens next.

But the argument offered here is that what both Corbyn and May share is a vested interest in keeping Westminster’s undemocratic two party, first-past-the-post-in-single-member-constituencies duopoly system intact.

They both fancy their chances in a Westminster General Election, while both deeply fear having to contest the European parliament elections in June, run under a proportional representation system*, when the real state of support for their two parties would actually be revealed.  (*A very bad version of PR, the so-called party list system, cynically chosen by Tony Blair to discredit PR.)

Think on, Rebecca

But if Labour would just stop and think for one minute, they would never do anything as mad as push through soft Brexit in cahoots with Theresa May, without a ratification referendum.

If Brexit is any one thing, it is a crime by the old against the young.  The statistics on the age breakdown of the Brexit vote in 2016 are astonishing.  The old – with many honourable exceptions of course – wanted to leave and the young wanted to stay.  And things have got even more polarised since then.

The most amazing fact about Brexit voters is that not only are they much more pessimistic about the future than Remainers, but also that they do not expect Brexit to change that.  Brexiters think Britain’s best days are behind it, full stop – even after Brexit.

The most amazing fact about Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour party is that he would not have won the leadership, and he would not have hung on to it against a vicious backlash by the Labour party establishment, without the enthusiastic support of the young.

If Corbyn and Rebecca Long-Bailey secure a confirmatory referendum as an outcome of these talks, then they will be walking on water as far as the young people of this country are concerned.  One million marchers and six million signers of the revoke petition will become a young and enthusiastic doorstep army to win the referendum, and they will probably then move on to put Jeremy Corbyn into No. 10 too.

If they conspire with Theresa May to deny a referendum, then their support from the young will evaporate overnight.  Furthermore, and quite rightly, the young will turn against Labour and the dream of a reforming Corbyn government will be over.

Labour’s high command must have thought through the arithmetic, and if they come out against a referendum, they must believe that Brexit voters in the North are the crucial factor in their chances of winning a general election.  They would be making a gigantic strategic mistake.  Alienating the young and siding with the past against future is no way forward, in the North as much as anywhere.  Assuming young remainers have nowhere else to take their vote would soon be proven wrong: they are a lively lot and would create somewhere else to take their vote, and Labour as a dynamic and forward-looking force would be finished.

The Northern Labour MPs holding out for hard Brexit are a mixed bag.  Some, like Caroline Flint, are compromised by spending too much time in Annabel’s with Andrew Neil and the dark alt-right netherworld he is a gateway to. Some want to represent what they feel their constituents are saying to them.  Some just worry about getting re-elected.

But most, like Ronnie Campbell, are nice enough guys but at the end of the day are just living dinosaurs: yesterday’s old party men whose best days are well behind them and have given up on offering any kind of hope or future to the young people of the North of England.

Brexiters are now a clear minority in the country.  As they attempt to deny this, it is worth asking: if they represent the will of the majority as they claim to do, why are they so afraid of putting that to the test of a referendum?

The hard Brexiters, the crooks and the charlatans, cannot be compromised with.  They can only be confronted and defeated.  Meanwhile the “just get on with it” brigade, the pensioners who read the Daily Express, and believe the shit fed to them in it, should be sympathised with, but we can’t allow them to crash the car with all our kids in it.

Rebecca Long-Bailey could be a good leader of the Labour party some day.  She should consider: does she really want to side with the past against the future?

[UPDATE]: 25 Labour MPs’ letter urging Corbyn to reject a referendum

So 25 Labour MPs have written to Jeremy Corbyn urging a quick compromise deal with Theresa May “to avoid fighting the European elections”.  They say that Labour party policy is that a “deal that secures jobs and rights at work… does not require a confirmatory ballot”.

Of the 25 MPs, 20 represent Northern seats, and all apart from one represent seats in the North or the North Midlands.  It’s a broad group of Labour MPs, men and women, old and young, from different wings of the party – it’s not just limited to the dinosaur brigade.  What links them is that they all represent seats that voted heavily for Brexit.  It’s long and depressing list of ex-mining and manufacturing towns that are in a bad way:

Trying to get a better future for places like these is why Northern Umbrella exists.  So it is right to respect that this letter comes from these towns’ elected MPs and represents a genuine point of view.

However, we are entitled to ask these MPs to make clear what their ‘Labour Brexit’ deal would actually do to make their towns a better place.  Because they have nothing to say on this.  All they can say is that making Brexit happen “respects the result of the 2016 referendum”.

All of these MPs will be fully aware of the well-known issue that Brexit will hammer the areas that voted for Brexit hardest.  Sure, soft Brexit won’t be as bad as No Deal Brexit, but it will be bad.  To be aware of this problem, and not to show leadership in their communities on it, just for the sake of avoiding bother, is shameful.

Of course respecting democracy is important, and this is why it is a travesty of democracy to deny the people a confirmatory referendum on the actual Brexit proposal, as opposed to 2016’s blank sheet of paper that nobody cared to define and nobody understood (and was lied and lied about, in a Leave campaign that broke the law).

The real reason they don’t want a referendum is because they know they will lose it, and lose it quite badly.  A soft Brexit deal they claim can “bring leave and remain voters together” if put to a referendum would likely do just that – it would bring them together to reject it, and would struggle to get 30% of the vote.

It would be a particular travesty of democracy to ram through a hurriedly lashed-up deal without scrutiny, just so that the Labour and Conservative parties can avoid having to face the genuinely democratic test of a European election.

In fact, holding the European election is a great democratic opportunity to find out what people really think about Brexit, and what they want to do next.  It’s a PR election where votes properly count, and so a range of parties that actually reflect the range of public opinion will be able to set out their stall, and people will be able to vote for the platform they like best.

Contrast this to a general election where questions of much more vital importance to voters than Brexit need to be settled. We have had a taster of this with the Newport West by-election tonight, won by Labour with a 1,951 majority over the Tories in a campaign in which “neither Labour nor Tory focused on Brexit”.

We need a general election, and we need to settle Brexit.  But a general election is not a good means of settling Brexit, in fact it is a very bad one.  And a British general election least of all, with our unfit for purpose, first past the post, single member seat system that turns our general elections into such a rigged, fundamentally undemocratic and depressing occasion.  Polls are saying 80% of people don’t want a general election now.

There has to be a suspicion that these MPs want the two party duopoly Westminster system, and their safe seats within it, more than they want to make sure they are doing what really is best for the country.

Let’s be charitable and say that this suspicion is unjustified.  In that case, we need to make the time for them to present their case, and for it to be debated.  To do this, we are going to need a long extension to the Brexit deadline, a breather so that everyone can calm down, and then return to a more reasoned debate.

There is only one way to bring the Brexit debate to an end so that we can move on to solving the North’s actual problems.  We must engage seriously with those who have reached for Brexit as a panacea for the serious problems of neglect and austerity, whilst at the same time confronting the No Deal Brexit fantasists and fanatics, and democratically defeating them.  The Labour MPs who can’t see that are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

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April Fool’s Day

Should the inquest ever come to be held on why Britain committed national economic and diplomatic suicide by crashing out of the European Union without a deal, April Fool’s Day 2019 will be the most important day to examine.

Today is the day to stop fucking around with mad Soft Brexit unicorns like a customs union or Common Market 2.0.  The very idea that any arrangement can be negotiated with the EU at a few days’ notice is utterly ridiculous.  The only possible deal we could get would be one that would put UK at a massive disadvantage to the EU.  Two years was spent negotiating on Theresa May’s deal.  It’s a bad deal for Britain, because our fundamental strategic economic weakness made that inevitable, but it’s the best one we can get and still Brexit.

The fact that there are still large numbers of the public who think crashing out is going to be a matter of a short period of belt-tightening then we’ll be fine is a national disgrace – a disgrace for which the BBC bears a large share of the responsibility.  The BBC’s conduct must be placed at the centre of any future inquiry.

The best deal Britain can get from the EU is the one that we spent the last 45 years negotiating: the one we already have.  The only available alternative is Theresa May’s deal.  That is why there are only two options left on the table that make any kind of sense: the first is the Kyle-Wilson proposal for parliament to vote through May’s Deal on the condition that it then goes to a ratification referendum with two options on the ballot paper: May’s Deal or Remain.  This is a viable option in that it is straightforward and something the EU can understand, and therefore may agree to.  Remember, we have now reduced ourselves to supplicants to the European Council.

If Theresa May and her Tories cannot agree to a ratification referendum, then there is only one option left, the one that should have expired on 29 March but the EU kindly extended to 12 April, which is to revoke Article 50 and stay in with our existing deal.

All else is bullshit and it is an utter scandal to see Tories and Labour – and the media – focusing on garbage like a General Election or, God help us, a Tory leadership election. Yes, those things are going to be needed, but we have 12 days to come up with a proposal that the EU will accept, or to revoke Article 50, which they will have no choice but to accept.  It’s one minute to midnight, folks.

It looks like Labour may whip its MPs for sanity and a second referendum today.  Let’s hope so.  The Labour party failed to support the indicative vote for the ‘revoke Article 50 in an emergency’ option – for the very mature reason that it was proposed by the SNP, who they hate.  Today is the day to put that right – let’s hope they do.  But there remains the issue of Northern Labour MPs defying the whip and voting with the ERG for national oblivion.   The descent of the North of England into unrecoverable decline and social disaster will be not only the Tories’ fault, but it will also be their fault, and we will never forget that.

Northern Umbrella will be watching you!


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Independence Day [updated post vote]

Two years ago, when 29 March 2019 was set up as Brexit Day – what Nigel Farage called the UK’s Independence Day – who could have believed that the British government would have descended so far into utter incompetence and shambles as to be in all seriousness offering up a totally blind Brexit to parliament and people today?

It must be the greatest failure of British statecraft of all time -all the government’s fault, all Theresa May’s fault, all the Tory Party’s fault.  Yet would you realise this if you relied on the BBC for your information?

The Brexit end game now resembles the closing minutes of a football final where both teams are exhausted, have abandoned all footballing skills, and are just punting the ball up and down the pitch in the desperate hope that somehow the ball will go in the net before the whistle blows.  It’s end to end stuff.

Today is Theresa May’s last desperate attack upfield.  As a last minute step to “get the deal over the line”, it was long planned by the Prime Minister.  Finally getting the ERG on board for her deal, it would come down to the arithmetic of getting more Labour MPs to vote for it than there were Tory remain rebels to vote against it.  But since the move was planned, we have long since descended into farce.

Last Sunday the “grand wizards” of the Tory ERG – Boris, Rees-Mogg, IDS, babyface Dominic Raab – went to Chequers and agreed to vote for Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement today on the basis of a promise that she will resign and they could decide which of them would be the next Prime Minister by the means of a Tory party leadership election.  It was a nakedly shameless performance by the public school Toryboys.

Mercifully it now looks like that not only is their last shot at goal going to fail, but it may banana into a fatal own goal.  The DUP have told them to fuck off, and so have the true believer half of the ERG.  Boris Johnson and the ridiculous Dominic Raab, who were willing to spaff the country up the wall just to get the keys to No.10 (to use Boris’s own language), may have ended up just spaffing their own support up the wall.

Yet even now, incredibly, it remains possible that some of the North of England’s Labour MPs are actually going to vote for the May withdrawal agreement tonight.  Let’s see.

MPs take back control

On Monday the ball will be punted up to the other end of the pitch, and we will go into the second day of the indicative vote process led by backbench MPs, having wrenched control of the parliamentary timetable away from the government.

Monday – three days after “independence day” – could at long last be the day when the Brexit way forward comes into view.  And it is then when the actions of Northern Labour MPs will be vital.

It is worth shining a spotlight on the behaviour of Northern Labour MPs in Wednesday’s indicative votes.  As everyone knows, none of the eight options succeeded in getting a majority.  (The BBC immediately followed the government propaganda line that this was a shambles and showed that MPs could not be trusted with charting the way forward.  In fact, it was always intended that Wednesday’s vote would tee up a debate to be had over the weekend with Monday as decision day.)

What ought to be more widely known is that two of the propositions could have gained a majority on Wednesday if Labour MPs had not opposed it.

45 Labour MPs defied the Labour whip to either vote against or abstain on Margaret Beckett’s proposition that any Brexit deal should go to a confirmatory referendum.  Of these, no fewer than 32 were MPs for Northern seats.

Just look at the list of places – all places where people voted for Brexit and where their MPs judge their constituents still want it, and want it so much they are not prepared to put the actual Brexit deal to the democratic test of a referendum.

That people in places like Wigan, or Jarrow, or Batley & Spen can still be believing in Brexit after the last 2-3 years is the North’s tragedy.  When was the last time anybody even bothered to say what possible benefit Brexit will bring for people in the North’s towns?  All anybody is saying is respect the 2016 vote or “just get on with it”.

Give credit to the grand wizards, they are doing what they are doing for a logical reason – they are doing it for the money and for the trappings of high office.  They have made their promises to the City and to Wall Street that they will privatise the NHS, and allow all manner of looting of the British public realm, and offer up the British people as debt slaves to them.  What reason have the people of Heywood and Middleton, or Don Valley, or Blyth Valley got for still going for Brexit?

Although more and more Northerners are grasping that Brexit is suicide for the region – either a fast demise under no deal, or a slow inexorable decline under May’s deal – it is a tragedy that so many people, especially the retired, have still not faced up to this.  There comes a point in the face of the blindingly obvious that staying ignorant becomes an active choice.

We can still rescue the North from Brexit, and should, but a lot of damage that will take years to put right has already been done.  The two main parties must pay a political price for this.  Future posts will discuss what this should be.


So it was 286-344.

Jacob Rees-Mogg couldn’t even deliver half the ERG, never mind the DUP.  He trooped through the lobby to vote for Theresa May’s deal and all he achieved was to spaff his own minimal remaining credibility up the wall, joining Boris Johnson in the Eton mess.

4 Labour MPs joined Jacob and Boris to vote for Theresa May’s deal, 3 of them from the North: Kevin Barron (Rother Valley), Rosie Cooper (West Lancs) and Caroline Flint (Don Valley).  2 abstained, both from the North*: Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley) and Dennis Skinner (Bolsover).  (*working on Northern Umbrella’s rule that north Derbyshire can count as the North if we want it to.)

It is rumoured that the going rate for a vote in favour of the deal was £10m per constituency.  (Link to tweet to follow).  Will they now get the money??



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Fiddling while Rome burns [updated for skolstrejk]

The Arctic has melted and we have entered a new climate era.  Nothing can be the same again and there can be no going back to how it was before.

The full gravity of that statement is really difficult to face.  All across Earth – even in the damp and mizzly North of England – our forests and grasslands are literally on fire: our home is burning down.

saddleworth blaze

A weather statistician tells us that the statistical probability of the record-breaking warm weather in the North of England in February was close to zero: effectively, it was impossible.  But it just happened.  What he means is that it used to be impossible under the old climate system, driven by a frozen Arctic Ocean, which has produced all our weather records to date.  Now we are in a new climate era with a melted Arctic, and a lot of things become possible that are a lot less pleasant than a few days of shirtsleeves weather in the North of England during winter.

Nothing can be the same again and there can be no going back to how it was before.  Yet MPs are not treating the matter seriously.  Here is a picture of the House of Commons during the debate on climate change on 28 February.  Around 600 out of 650 MPs simply did not show up.

commons climate change debate

Skolstrejk for Klimatet

On Friday 15 March, the “school strike for climate” movement started in August 2018 by Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg will stage its biggest demonstration yet, in countries all across the world, with many thousands of school students.  On 14 March, Greta, aged 16, was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

With the world’s climate scientists giving us just 10-12 years to stave off catastrophic civilisation-ending climate change, this is one tremendous ray of hope.  Tremendous and shaming: we grown ups are reduced to hoping that the children will find the courage to act that we have not.

The North of England will play its part.  The UK Student Climate Network ( is reporting that school strikes will take place in 23 towns and cities across the North.  Adults are welcome to go along to support, but not to try to take over.  The locations are: Bradford, Burnley, Calderdale, Carlisle, Chester, Durham, Guisborough, Hexham, Huddersfield, Hull, Kendal, Lancaster, Leeds, Liverpool, Macclesfield, Manchester, Newcastle, Preston, Scarborough, Sheffield, Stockport, Teesside, Warrington and York.   Links to the details are here.

On 15 February, the day of the first large schoolchildren’s strike protest in Parliament Square London, Andrea Leadsom MP, the Tory Government’s ‘Leader of the House of Commons’ tweeted: “It’s called truancy, not a strike”.

What has any of this got to do with Brexit? 

Northern Umbrella is supposed to be focusing on the campaign to stop Brexit.  But after the February heatwave, it just felt like it could not be more insanely trivial for Northern Umbrella to be put up another post about Brexit, or, God help us, the formation of “The Independent Group” of MPs in Westminster.

But actually, with now just 14 days left on the Brexit countdown clock, we will continue to argue that stopping Brexit is the most urgent thing we can do right now.  To give us any kind of chance of waging a successful battle against climate chaos, famine, war and extinction, defeating the Brexiteers like Andrea Leadsom with their warped view of who we are as a nation, and their banal, doomed vision of where we should go next, is a crucial first step.

So normal service will soon be resumed on Northern Umbrella in posts to follow this one, with a few thoughts on what political demands we should start making in the aftermath of the debacle that has been Brexit 2016-2019.  In the meantime, a post on the small matter that our house is on fire, and that men in tweeds with shotguns have got a lot to answer for.

What has any of this got to do with grouse shooting?

On 23 Feb, when the warm snap started, reports started coming in that gamekeepers on “driven grouse shooting” estates across the North were taking the opportunity to burn the moorland heather whilst it was dry.  They do this in order to force the heather to throw up more green shoots come springtime, a preferred food for the grouse.  The immediate issue for nearby village communities in the dales and valleys was the pall of smoke pollution spoiling the opportunity to enjoy a warm sunny day.

The gamekeepers always try to make sure that the fires they start do not burn out of control.  They don’t always succeed.  Having said that, the out of control fire on Saddleworth Moor shown in the picture above may more likely have been started by a young arsonist, which is itself also an old Pennine tradition.

Whoever lit this particular fire, look at the picture and remember that this is February.  Last June, in 2018, giant fires raged for days on Saddleworth Moor, Winter Hill near Bolton, and elsewhere.  Unless we act now to change the way we manage our moorlands, fires like this are only going to get worse.  Because the droughts and heatwaves coming our way are going to be like nothing we have ever seen before.

One of the things that is going to have to go is the driven grouse shooting industry.

The grouse moor racket – a microcosm of all that is wrong with the North

Moorland management for grouse shooting is a scandal and an environmental disaster.  The overstocking of grouse means that gamekeepers poison, trap and shoot the grouse’s natural predators and herbivore competitors for the tasty young heather shoots, such as hares, often treating wildlife protection laws with disdain.  The stink pits which are found by people like Hunt Investigation Team (don’t look at this one on Bingley Moor if you have a weak stomach) are a disgrace.

The burning destroys the natural habitat and ecosystem, creating soil and peat erosion, and what is in effect a degraded upland wildlife desert.  It is the ultimate bad neighbour activity in that it, alongside all our other failed moorland management practices, is also responsible for exacerbating the flash flooding experienced in the Pennine valleys during exceptional heavy rainfall (which will become more and more commonplace as global climate system breakdown continues).

Driven grouse shooting is an unusual ‘sport’.  Shooting at birds to supplement the pot is an old country tradition across Europe and the world.  But dressing up in tweeds to stand still and blast away at short range at hundreds of grouse rounded up and driven by beaters into the line of fire is a peculiarly British activity.  It’s strongly associated with the old aristocracy and the old British Empire: the costumes and the rituals are all the kind of thing so many love to watch on Downton Abbey on our tellies for a cosy Sunday evening.

But who knew that it’s almost as big today as it has ever been?  Who the hell goes grouse shooting for fun – do you know anybody who does it?  It’s an expensive hobby.  The answer is exactly the same as it was in the 1880s or 1930s, other periods of deep austerity for the majority of the North’s people: it’s the new rich, who want to celebrate and reinforce their arrival in the elite by aping the habits of the old aristocrats.  Today, these aren’t the mill owners or the industrialists of yesteryear, it is mostly people who are making crazy money from the ‘financialisation’ of the British economy – in short, to use the Cockney rhyming slang, a bunch of City bankers.  A country treat for a bunch of hyper-competitive men who need a break in the fresh air from cutting deals, doing coke and spending time in pole-dancing clubs.

For all these gifts they give to society, the grouse estates are entitled to and take public subsidy.  Because the grouse estates were there when the National Parks were set up in the 1940s and 1950s, the National Park authorities think it is their duty to preserve these ‘traditional’ uses creating these ‘traditional landscapes’ exactly as they were on the day they were set up.  And because of their symbiotic relationship with the finance sector and the City of London, many of the estates are up to their neck in all sorts of fiddling: tax offsetting and tax avoidance schemes.

In the industrial Pennines, it’s not even as if the old aristocrats are the big landowners.  The biggest landowners are actually the privatised water companies.  Many of the moors were bought by local authorities like Sheffield Corporation or Bradford Corporation as catchment areas for their reservoirs and city water supply.  The municipal water boards were nationalised by the 1973 Water Act and brought under the control of regional water authorities: in the North, Yorkshire Water, North West Water and Northumbrian Water.  In 1989 they were privatised in one of Margaret Thatcher’s great share giveaway gold rushes.  Most of the small shareholders sold out within months or short years, and now the English water companies rank as testaments to the extraordinary decades-long scam of privatisation, being world-class cash extraction businesses with a sideline in water engineering.  But that is another story.  In the battle to fix the North’s moorlands, the water companies’ landholdings will be vital.

The grouse moor campaigns – a microcosm of all that is great about the North, and can be greater

Yet the story of the North’s moorlands is not a one way street of exploitation and degradation.  Out of the ashes of today’s moorlands, a better way of doing things can rise like the phoenix.

There is of course a whole Northern tradition of using the moors as a place of recreation and spiritual recharge.  The story of the battle for access to the moorlands for harmless walking, rambling and birdwatching is well known: for example, the celebrated Kinder Scout mass trespass of 1932, and its lesser known predecessor, the Winter Hill mass trespass of 1896.  The whole Northern social infrastructure of Clarion Clubs and ramblers’ associations is a great and still relevant living tradition.

Cumbrians William and Dorothy Wordsworth arguably created a whole new way of looking at wilder landscapes which is now common currency across the world.  The National Trust, which for all its flaws remains an internally democratic organisation, was co-founded in the Lake District.  In the North, the RSPB, the Wildlife Trusts, the Woodland Trust, the Conservation Volunteers and many others are strong and vibrant.

Spanning both these traditions now are the activist groups taking on the driven grouse shooting industry and its crimes and abuses, and working positively for upland management across the North that is better for wildlife and better for people.  There is no space or time to list them all here, but a flavour is given by Yorkshire’s Stop the Shoot , and the Peak District’s Moorland Monitors.  Meanwhile, Calderdale’s Slow the Flow, Ban the Burn and Treesponsibility all give cause for hope.

There is a huge win-win just waiting to be had in the North’s moorlands: better for wildlife and better for people.  Every gamekeeper made redundant by the banning of driven grouse shooting and of burning the moors could be immediately re-employed as a moorland wildlife guardian and guide.  ‘Rewilding‘ the grouse estates and sheep ranches of the North’s moors, and restoring the natural ecosystems could see them teeming with wildlife.  The millions of Northern residents and potential tourists who are now actively kept out of the grouse estates, would instead be welcomed in for walking safaris, generating jobs and trade for the local businesses of the area far greater than what grouse shooting does.

The North of England is well behind Scotland in thinking about and acting on issues like land reform, but it can learn much from Scotland.  The water companies, returned to some form of public ownership, have the potential to become an immense force for good in the North.

All this might be hopeless in the face of rapid global warming, but it feels like something worth fighting for.  And fought for it will have to be – peacefully and by persuasion.  Go into a real country pub in the North’s grouse shooting areas, and the whole rotten, ridiculous, traditional system will be defended to the hilt.  The police’s first instinct is to  defend the grouse estates against ‘trespass’, even against blatantly harmless volunteers not even on their land, rather than to enforce wildlife protection laws.  But campaigning can change that.

Change is going to have to come, and it can come whilst bringing people along with us.  Or we can carry on having a brew whilst Rome burns.

this is fine dog

UPDATES at 17/3/2019

15 March: School strike in the North.  This was a success: 1,000 gathered at Leeds Town Hall, as well as in Sheffield and elsewhere.  Well done school students!

16 March: Floods in Calderdale.  Heavy rain leading to flooding in Todmorden and elsewhere down the Calder Valley.  Disastrous moorland management is responsible for the flood peak being earlier and higher than it would otherwise be, as water pours off the denuded tops.  Part of the blame lies with burning of moorland for driven grouse shooting.  Here is the flooded Calder Valley railway line near Todmorden, causing serious and costly disruption to rail travel between Manchester and Bradford.

16-17 March.  Farage ‘march to leave’ fiasco in Sunderland, Hartlepool and Middlesbrough.  Dressed for a grouse shoot.  City boys in tweeds as part of the problem, not part of the solution.  The whole farce skewered by Led by Donkeys.

Friends of the Earth are on the case investigating this winter’s round of heather burning, in apparent clear contravention of voluntary agreements to stop the practice, signed in 2018.  This FoE piece gives you all the information you need.  This video featuring Guy Shrubsole and Alasdair Cameron is fantastic: showing you the beauty of the moors and how careful research and investigation can help expose what an untrustworthy bunch the grouse estate owners are.  Here they are: just look at the state of them.  Seven pillocks in tweeds and one woman in PR.

23 March and 10-13 May: Take Back the Land! 

Are the residents of Calderdale and valley bottoms across the North just going to sit there as the landowners on the moors above them trash the land, break agreements, and literally dump on them with repeated damaging floods?  No!  The Land Justice Network is on the case and planning a ‘land justice camp and occupation’ in Calderdale in May 2019.  The National Gathering to plan the event is in Manchester on Saturday 23 March.  Could this be an epic ‘rising of the lions after slumber’ to rival the great Kinder Scout mass trespass of 1932?  Watch this space.


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