The Conservative MP for Stockton South writes
Speaking as someone who has lived in the North East all of his life and who is proud of his Durham accent, I see the North East not as a label but as a cultural and geographical fact.
I’m not surprised the Conservatives now want to do away with any idea of the North East because their leader’s prediction has come true. The Conservatives see the North East as a no-go area so they say it doesn’t exist, except of course when it comes to cuts. I have never known anything so demeaning to the people of the North East.
The North East probably has the strongest identity of any region in England. Of course there’s diversity in the North East. So Middlesbrough is playing Sunderland in the next round of the League Cup. I support Middlesbrough, many of my constituents support Sunderland. On match days Mackems and Smoggies will make their way to the Stadium of Light (hopefully to see Sunderland lose). The match is a derby, not a ‘political construct’.
Historically, Northumbria was the land north of the Humber and offers a history going back hundreds of years. To deny there is a North East is to deny that history, especially a modern history which begins with the Industrial Revolution.
The North East is a different North East to the one I grew up in during the 1960s. Coal mining, steel working and ship building were the core industries, the mines have closed, ship building has gone but the steel works on Teesside are again busy because of the negotiations started under the previous Labour government. I don’t want to see the North East stand still. Today, new technologies have replaced older ones. The new industrial revolution is global in its magnitude and can be found where the old industrial revolution dug its coal, built its ships and where Locomotion No. 1 travelled through my constituency almost two centuries ago.
This matters. During the campaign to ensure the government went ahead with the Intercity Express programme, the North East stood together and if we hadn’t stood together the deal would not have gone ahead and Hitachi wouldn’t have brought train building back to south Durham. Our campaign gained support from ‘the North Yorkshire border to Scotland’, from business and trade unions from local authorities to thousands of individuals signing a petition from all parts of the North East. If the MP for Stockton South sees the North East as a ‘label’, it’s a near universal one, one shared by business, councils, entrepreneurs and industrialists. The North East Chamber of Commerce, Association of North East Councils, North East Enterprise Partnership and the Northeast of England Process Industry Cluster, to name but a few, use the North East as a badge of honour. Even the local newspaper is called The Northern Echo.
Of course Yarm in Stockton South is different to Newton Aycliffe, just as Middlesbrough is different to Newcastle, but the truth is that the North East, like society, is stronger together than we are alone. That’s a lesson the Tories never seem to learn.
One further issue he raises must be addressed. He states: ‘Our opponents are more interested in those who do not want to work or who have vested interests in living largely at the taxpayer’s expense.’ This one statement reveals a latent prejudice. Labour is interested in those who do want to work but can’t find a job, and we have a duty as a society to provide those jobs by introducing a strong growth strategy which stimulates a thriving private sector based on manufacturing.
The Tory government may say we have the Regional Growth Fund to do that, but the same Stockton South MP signed off a cross-party Public Accounts Committee report which condemned the same fund. And to accuse people of having ‘a vested interest’ by ‘living largely at the taxpayer’s expense’, what does he have to say to the 13,000 families in Stockton South who receive child benefit, or the 9,000 who receive tax credits and rely on the payment to help work pay?
Sadly, the MP for Stockton South writes off whole sections of the residents of his constituency ‘who want to work hard and get on’, just as he and his party have written off whole sections of Teesside, the North East and the United Kingdom. Perhaps we have discovered in the MP for Stockton South the North East’s very own Mitt Romney.
Phil Wilson is member of parliament for Sedgefield
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