Amongst the struggles and massive inequality, there is loads of great stuff that really needs shouting about

Book Cover

When we launched our collaborative book of hopeful ideas for Regional Democracy from West Yorkshire, we wanted to promote debate. If you haven’t yet downloaded your free PDF, you can do so here.

Thank you to Alice Bradshaw  who provided the thoughtful response below. She originally presented this at our book launch event at the Book Corner in Halifax’s Piece Hall on Tuesday 11th June 2019. What do you think? Do you agree with Alice?

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I’m grateful for being invited to respond to the idea of regional democracy, thank you. My response comes from my arts and cultural professional background and my experience of living and working in Yorkshire for the past twelve years as an artist, curator and writer. I’m responding to the ideas articulated in the text “What do we mean by regional democracy” but kind of backwards as they read as I want to first talk about challenging London’s hegemony, then radical subsidiarity and finally building a region.

So firstly the inequalities that present themselves in a London hegemony and how we might challenge that to begin progressive change towards equality. One thing to note is that everywhere in the UK there’s worsening inequality and the situation in many places including London is really grim. But it is the fair distribution of limited resources and who has the say over how resources are distributed in each region that we are talking about here I think.

In 2017 the Institute for Public Policy Research North found that for the north to get the same Arts Council England funding per head as London it would need £691 million more in the 2018-2022 funding round. Arts Council England have improved their funding ratio of London versus outside London but still in the current 2018-2022 funding round, London receives 39.7% of Arts Council money when there is only 14.6% of the population of England living there. The north receives proportionally less arts funding per capita and has consistently done so all my professional life and before that too. This inequality is not exclusive to the arts but as previously mentioned this is my field and what I know best.

An example of how this operates: I subscribe to two contemporary arts listings services. One is London based and one is Leeds based. The London based newsletter is for UK listings but 90-100% of weekly listings are in London. The Leeds based newsletter is around 20-30% London based which is more in line with the population and funding. On challenging the London based one directly their response was to blame their algorithm and to say it is not intentional. This is one point that the piece in this book draws attention to: it’s not intentionally vindictive. It’s just the systems are massively biased towards supporting London. And it’s also worth noting that Northerners are not anti-London just as Londoners are not anti-North. Everyone is struggling but the statistics demonstrate the North is struggling much more and has done for a long time.

Even within Yorkshire, and more specifically West Yorkshire, the funding has a regional Leeds hegemony which brings the same kind of problems but on a regional basis rather than national. The point made in this publication that power and agency needs to be on a town and community basis level really resonates. The North and Yorkshire, and specifically West Yorkshire and Halifax, have been discriminated against for a very long time so perhaps a positive discrimination in our favour is required akin to the City of Culture injections of funding that benefits major cities. Outposts of Culture? This regional democracy text in this publication is pretty utopian so I think my response should follow suit. More realistically though, an equal arts funding per capita would be what we should be aiming for and expecting really.

Equal funding per capita leads us onto radical subsidiarity and governance being at neighbourhood level. Just imagine if that arts council funding per capita was given to each individual to pay for an arts and cultural service they want and need: If we really individualised that process. Perhaps we should have a culture allowance? The providers pitch directly to the public instead of the middle people and in the process we can reduce the administration costs of allocating funds. Read a utopian vision, get a utopian response.

However this individualised approach is missing the vital element of community that the Building a Region text addresses. This is such a necessary component in my view. For everyone to have a voice we need to bring decision making processes into the places like the markets and equivocal public spaces where some of the participatory workshops for this project manifested. Open spaces and open dialogue are how progressive change is going to happen. The published text talks about bringing the conversations and decision making out of the town halls to decentralise power and agency and this, in art practice is very much social art practice or participatory art. Art that is presented in galleries and museums, especially those that are pay-to-enter are only communicating to those that can literally afford to pay in and value that experience enough to pay for it. Art that is presented in public spaces such as the markets, parks, town squares, transport interchanges and schools where a true cross section of society traverse are the more democratic spaces where open dialogue can take place.

Schools and education is the pivotal point I’ll end on. Our education systems are the crux of a progressive and democratic society, I’m convinced of this. All while we’re educated just enough to believe in what we’re taught but not educated enough to question it, we’re never going to progress or have anything resembling democracy. Our school systems are as broken as the rest of society but the impact is much more significant. We cannot learn this critical component of conscientisation through mainstream schooling and universities that are inaccessibly elitist and reduced to economic impact indicators. Where do we learn it from though? It’s not going to be from the London hegemony. It’s going to be through radical subsidiarisation of empowering each other on a local level. If there’s any agency left for the cohabitants of the North it’s going to be centred on helping each other out, educating and platforming each other. Events like this and shameless plug: events like Art Lab at Dean Clough that I coordinate showcasing local and regional artists, encouraging critical dialogue as a free and open monthly event. Stuff like this is happening across Yorkshire, and yes in London too, but the local and regional grassroots activity really does need an effective infrastructure to communicate and engage the very people it’s about and for. What’s effective is word of mouth telling all your family, friend and colleagues about the great stuff you know about. There’s loads of great stuff in amongst the struggles and massive inequality and this really needs shouting about. This is how I think region building could help make cultural regional democracy on a micro level. The simple act of platforming each other and especially the marginalised is the strategy we could each employ.

Alice Bradshaw lives in Halifax.

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Devolution must chime with the everyday needs of local communities

Book CoverWhen we launched our collaborative book of hopeful ideas for Regional Democracy from West Yorkshire, we wanted to promote debate. If you haven’t yet downloaded your free PDF, you can do so here.

Thank you to Dan Collins for providing the thoughtful response below. What do you think? Do you agree with Dan?

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I read the book the book over the weekend and very much enjoyed it. I have my usual worries about the kind of asylum policy which would be generated if control was handed over to the people of Yorkshire, but in a more general sense, the idea of handing over decision making power to local communities has got to be a positive.

However, there is some concern in small town Halifax that devolution leads to a new concentration of power in Leeds. I have heard angry voices bemoaning the new integrated transport strategy (trams etc) which only seems to link Leeds and Bradford – no lines at all heading over this way.

I’ve been thinking about all this a lot recently. Reading lots on sustainability and towns/cities and the role of the community in bringing about change. It all ties in very closely with the arguments Same Skies have been making over the last few years. The people who live here need a voice in these transitions – preaching from self righteous activists will only bring hostility. How to get people on board and convinced that such changes will work for them is the major challenge.

I guess my main criticism of some of the pieces in the book was that it felt like the authors were single issue advocates who’d tacked their big idea on to the devolution debate. If devolving power is going to have any force and, more importantly, meaning for the people of West Yorkshire it has to provide alternatives to the key problems facing people in their everyday lives; namely housing, transport, work, schools, food, environment, community safety etc. In addressing these issues, how do we begin to find the pathways which allow people to try to find solutions which are sustainable ? I do not use the word ‘sustainable’ in the narrow environmental sense but instead use it encompass all aspects of 21st century life in northern towns and cities. That includes environmental factors, but also ways of working and living which are sustainable and regenerative in the wider human sense of promoting physical and mental well being, work life balance, breaking down social isolation etc etc.

The forces ranged against such transitions are truly mighty. I don’t think I need to name them here – we all know what they are. And when combined with the climate of fear and uncertainty stoked up by the nationalist right, the seeds for promoting transition in Yorkshire are not sitting on fertile ground. In those circumstances, focusing on a progressive ‘wish list’ is to put the chicken before the egg. For example (and I know this might make for difficult reading) asylum policy is not the catalyst by which local people can begin a new engagement in devolved decision-making. If, at this point in time, a truly local approach to asylum were to be developed, I strongly suspect that the resultant policy would be anything but progressive. If devolution is to gain any traction and is to begin to generate momentum for real progressive change, the issues selected for active promotion must chime with the everyday needs of local communities. To name just a few, how about bins, jobs, housing, traffic, food, security, safe leisure spaces, energy bills, childcare – probably not watchwords on the progressive to-do list, but high priorities for working people and all absolutely amenable to initiatives to promote change at a local level.

Dan Collins is a teacher based in Halifax.

“It is about checks and balances”

Book CoverWhen we launched our collaborative book of hopeful ideas for Regional Democracy from West Yorkshire, we wanted to promote debate. If you haven’t yet downloaded your free PDF, you can do so here.

Thank you to John Sour for providing the thoughtful response below. What do you think? Do you agree with John?

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“What Kind of Region Do We Want To Live In?” certainly gives me a better idea of where We Share The Same Skies” is coming from and broadly speaking we share the same aim of achieving regional democracy. Clearly you are coming at the issue from a particular stance, some of which I share and some of which I have some doubts about.

It is a little bit difficult to know where to begin from feeling amused that you use Paulo Freire whose books “Cultural Action for Freedom” and “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” have been on my shelves for 40 years (approx.) to wanting to argue with some of your contributors that either the issues they raise are per se nothing to do with regionalism or that within existing powers something might already be done about them.

So, let’s look at differences – basically, as you will be aware, inequalities in the UK extend beyond regions so e.g. the outcomes of racial inequality spread across the UK as a whole. Arguing that these can be tackled best through regional democracy or what specific role could be played by a regional government is debateable. Either way and this is absent throughout your text is any discussion of the relationship between central government and regional government.

In the same vein, your view of power following upwards rubs against the grain of most regional government systems I know anything about, where important powers are always reserved for the centre. Here is something I would disagree with you about since I believe that while regional democracy is good in itself, I am aware within the broader scale of things it can be either “progressive” in reducing inequality or “reactionary” in increasing it. So, for this reason I am both a centralist and a regionalist – it is about checks and balances.

Personally on the issue of London I think there is some tension between sentences one and two in para 4 on page 3 (yes I have read it in detail) – although you are right that what we are up against is a combination of history, power and geography, I think to avoid misinterpretation you should use “London”. I could imagine in different circumstances what is essentially a concentration of power in another context might be “Manchester” or “Birmingham”, unless you are following some kind of English origin myth relating to London and the Romans. You could also imagine taking the political centre away from the economic centre as some countries have done.

To take you on a different journey I would begin with constitutional reform which crosses over some of your arguments with mine – reading Vernon Bogdanor’s recent book “Beyond Brexit”, he argues that in many instances the lack of a written constitution lays the country open to a variety of challenges not least in the uneven devolution which has accrued to the nations of the UK leaving a system of governance which is wildly at odds with any other modern nation state. Obviously, you can easily add other elements to this mismatch, such as an unelected second chamber, PR and even the monarchy. He believes that as a country we have reached a crunch point, although whether anything will actually change is an open question.

I know a top down imposition of regional reform does not match your broader democratic agenda, over which again I have some sympathy for but also some reservations, however in terms of government reorganisations of the past I have to say this is how it has tended to have been done if we look back to New Labour’s failed efforts or the 1974 re-organisations. Sadly as I think I am quite a lot of years older than you I am looking for short terms only at present.

John Sour lives in Leeds.

 

Leeds Kirkgate Market – our neighbourhood, our regional democracy

From the very beginning, Same Skies has been about building Regional Democracy up from the good stuff around us here. We are our own region and it’s up to us to take responsibility and make it even better. Instead of just resistance, cynicism or scepticism, we want to engage people in region building. Our latest initiative takes us around the many markets of West Yorkshire where we have been asking people to draw maps of their own neighbourhoods, especially the good stuff, and talking about their hopes for the future of our region. Eventually we hope to put all of these maps together, building up that regional picture from below. Our first events were at Keighley Market, Oastler Market in Bradford, Castleford Market and Halifax Borough Market.

On Thursday 2nd August, we had a busy and illuminating day at Leeds Kirkgate Market. As elsewhere, children would often be attracted by the colourful maps hung around our stall and adults with them would want to look at others’ ideas and share their own thoughts on their home region and its future. Together families sat down to draw and chat. You can see for yourself the things that passers by valued in their neighbourhood. As well as the city centre itself, our map of West Yorkshire now includes various parts of Leeds including Burmantofts, Bramley, Chapel Allerton, Chapeltown, Cross Gates and Harehills.

It was very common for people who came to see us to talk about and draw things like bus stops, parks, dentists and supermarkets. As they were drawing, people also spoke passionately about how supportive local primary schools had been, how much they valued their community hub, how much they enjoyed the diversity and family atmosphere of their area, how proud they were of getting their own business running in that area and of how much they valued having friends with whom to share bikes and play football in the streets. Some people were worried about whether they could afford to keep living in the area they loved and wished that affordable housing locally was better built. One person even drew an aeroplane flying a long way away… to London.

Over time, we are building up a picture of the things that are valued most by people across West Yorkshire. The things that they want to keep, to protect and to develop. The things that exist in some neighbourhoods and that others would like for their own part of our region. Thanks to everyone for continuing to build our regional map with drawings from around Leeds – look out for us at Huddersfield Market on August 15th.

Halifax Market – our neighbourhood, our regional democracy

From the very beginning, Same Skies has been about building Regional Democracy up from the good stuff around us here. We are our own region and it’s up to us to take responsibility and make it even better. Instead of just resistance, cynicism or scepticism, we want to engage people in region building. Our latest initiative takes us around the many markets of West Yorkshire where we have been asking people to draw maps of their own neighbourhoods, especially the good stuff, and talking about their hopes for the future of our region. Eventually we hope to put all of these maps together, building up that regional picture from below. Our first events were at Keighley Market, Oastler Market in Bradford and Castleford Market.

On Saturday 19th May, we had a great day at Halifax Market. As you can see from the maps and the pictures below, despite (or perhaps due to) the alternative attractions of rugby league’s Magic Weekend, football’s FA Cup Final and the royal wedding on TV, Halifax Market drew in people from a wide area. We now have fascinating maps of Mixenden, Shelf, Elland, Sowerby Bridge, Triangle, Siddal, Illingworth, Shibden, Mytholmroyd, Northowram and Halifax itself.

As elsewhere, children would often be attracted by the colourful maps hung around our stall and adults with them would want to look at others’ ideas and share their own thoughts on their home region and its future. Together families sat down to draw and chat. You can see for yourself the things that passers by valued in their neighbourhood.

It was very common for people who came to see us to talk about and draw nearby parks with swings and slides, canals and woods for walks with the dog, local clubs for children (such as cricket), streets quiet enough to play football on, schools, cinemas and pubs (there was a real contrast between the experience of people in Shelf with that of those in Mixenden which had suffered numerous pub closures). It was also noticeable how far people were willing to travel to take advantage of Halifax Market and how many of those relied on bus services.

Over time, we are building up a picture of the things that are valued most by people across West Yorkshire. The things that they want to keep, to protect and to develop. The things that exist in some neighbourhoods and that others would like for their own part of our region. Thanks to everyone for continuing to build our regional map with drawings from around Halifax – look out for us at Leeds Kirkgate Market on August 2nd and at Huddersfield Market on August 15th.

Castleford Market – our neighbourhood, our regional democracy

From the very beginning, Same Skies has been about building Regional Democracy up from the good stuff around us here. We are our own region and it’s up to us to take responsibility and make it even better. Instead of just resistance, cynicism or scepticism, we want to engage people in region building.
Our latest initiative takes us around the many markets of West Yorkshire where we have been asking people to draw maps of their own neighbourhoods, especially the good stuff, and talking about their hopes for the future of our region. Eventually we hope to put all of these maps together, building up that regional picture from below. Our first event was at Keighley Market and our second at Oastler Market in Bradford. On Saturday, we had a great day at Castleford Market.
As you can see from the maps and the pictures below, Castleford Market on a Saturday is a busy place (especially when there is a rugby league match on that afternoon). Often children would be attracted by the colourful maps hung around our stall and adults with them would want to look at others’ ideas and share their own thoughts on their home region and its future. Together families sat down to draw and chat. They drew maps of the town itself and also the many other towns and villages around it from where people will travel for such a good market. You can see for yourself the things that passers by valued in their neighbourhood.


It was very common for people who came to see us to talk about and draw parks for playing, canal paths for walking the dog, community centres with things going on like sports clubs, libraries, shops and bus stops with regular services taking them to places like Castleford Market. People also talked a lot about schools, from their love for Ferry Fryston Primary School to frustration at not being able to get a place at the school in their village (Methley) and so having to travel every day to the neighbouring town of Rothwell.
Over time, we are building up a picture of the things that are valued most by people across West Yorkshire. The things that they want to keep, to protect and to develop. The things that exist in some neighbourhoods and that others would like for their own part of our region. Thanks to everyone for continuing to build our regional map with drawings from around Castleford – look out other markets in West Yorkshire, we’ll be seeing you soon…

Oastler Market, Bradford – our neighbourhood, our regional democracy

From the very beginning, Same Skies has been about building Regional Democracy up from the good stuff around us here. We are our own region and it’s up to us to take responsibility and make it even better. Instead of just resistance, cynicism or scepticism, we want to engage people in region building.

Our latest initiative takes us around the many markets of West Yorkshire where we have been asking people to draw maps of their own neighbourhoods, especially the good stuff, and talking about their hopes for the future of our region. Eventually we hope to put all of these maps together, building up that regional picture from below.

Our first event was at Keighley Market. On Saturday we had lots of fun at Oastler Market in Bradford. You can see many of the maps in the pictures below. You can also see for yourself the things that the passers by who stopped to draw and chat thought were significant in their neighbourhood.

It was very common for people who came to see us to talk about and draw parks, post offices, libraries, schools and shops whilst also being concerned about things closing locally (Haworth Road library) or services being reduced (street lighting in West Bowling). Some participants also expressed concern about the UK being ‘Londoncentric’ and that the vote to leave the European Union was in part a reaction against this.

Thanks to everyone for continuing to build our regional map with drawings of Bradford– look out other markets in West Yorkshire, we’ll be seeing you soon…

Where I’m calling from*

Summary

  • Yorkshire and the North are subject to the hegemony of power and influence concentrated in London.
  • This hegemony has a negative impact on the life and freedom of people here.
  • Many people in Yorkshire and the North do not have the same privileges as others in the region when it comes to life chances.
  • Future opportunities for all in Yorkshire and the North depend on acknowledging that hegemony and privilege.
  • That means actively building an alternative civil society that challenges and does not depend on London’s hegemony
  • It also means actively addressing the impact of privilege on people in Yorkshire and the North as an integral part of regional democracy here.

Introduction

A few weeks ago the Ridings of Jorvik Society (RJS) tweeted a well known video experiment that tries to explain the idea of privilege, particularly in a US context. The RJS wondered aloud what a ‘UKcentric one, region focused’ would look like. I had already been thinking about how far hegemony could explain the reality of life for people in Yorkshire and the North today. I now started to think again about privilege more deeply and what it might mean for people in Yorkshire and the North. This included the extent to which campaigns for self-determination, devolution and regional democracy challenged or exacerbated such privilege.

Hegemony

In this specific context, hegemony to me means the dominance of a way of thinking, doing and being that is most closely associated  with a specific region of the UK and which is exactly the same place where overwhelming political, economic, cultural and media power is centralised – London and the South East. That is not to say that all those who hold power are from London and the South East, but I believe that accepting the primacy of that way of thinking, doing and being smooths the path to power, status and financial wellbeing in the UK.

In terms of public transport, Tom Forth has described an ‘institutional bias’ that has merely ‘patronised’ us. This had led for example to most people in Yorkshire who actually welcome HS2 doing so because they have no genuine belief that London will ever do better (whether HS3/Crossrail for the North/Northern Powerhouse Rail or something else). George Monbiot has described how journalists ‘spend too much time in each other’s company’ and Paul Mason has described how this leads to people ‘seeing, faster than (the media) are seeing, a change in reality which (the media) are failing institutionally to deal with; and whose risks (the media) are refusing to understand’. Meanwhile Pat Kane has described this hegemony in part as ‘shared vocabulary and terms of reference, accumulation of capital of all kinds’ whilst Ed Carlisle has experienced first hand how our electoral system contributes to maintaining that hegemony.

Ultimately however the maintenance of this hegemony is most effectively sustained by our financial dependency on London. People who benefit from London’s hegemony use London’s hegemony to make decisions that maintain London’s hegemony. These decisions perpetuate Yorkshire’s (and other regions’) dependence and make challenges to London’s hegemony seem riskier. Whether it is about spending money (such as prioritising and investing in London’s schools or infrastructure over other parts of the UK) or it is about creating a political and legal climate (such as one that benefits types of industries concentrated in London but not one that benefits types of industries concentrated elsewhere), London continues to be economically successful because UK government has decided actively to do something to make it so. Even if sometimes that is a specific decision to get out of the way of capital or business. Each time these decisions are successful, they strengthen London’s case for being prioritised above everywhere else in any future return on investment analysis.

Privilege

Despite the fact that this hegemony has an impact on everyone living in Yorkshire and the North, many of our fellow citizens also benefit from or suffer disadvantage as a result of privilege. In particular there are a number of ‘protected characteristics’ (race, religion, gender, sexuality, disability, age and class) which have been shown to impact on an individual’s life chances. For example I write this as a white, heterosexual, able bodied forty-something male who attended a Methodist church in my youth, went on to University at 18 and has travelled widely on a UK/EU passport. I am aware of the privilege that contributed in many ways to me being able to take the time to think about, write and publish this article. I speak only for myself and from my own necessarily limited perspective.

Penny Wangari-Jones has described “overlapping and interdependent systems of advantage and disadvantage” where the “institutions that oppress are interconnected”. She suggests a need to “examine the structures of power that so successfully resist change” and that “solidarity is the key” through intersectionalism.

How does the hegemony of London and the South East contribute to privilege?

There is increasing awareness that hard and soft power in and over the UK is overwhelmingly concentrated in London but the question is whether that hegemony affects the life chances of people elsewhere. Given that I live in East Leeds, what does hegemony mean for us here in Yorkshire? Does living in Yorkshire mean you are likely to have fewer life chances? Does living in Yorkshire affect the range and quality of jobs available to you? Does living in Yorkshire affect your ability to bring about the changes you want to see in society? Does living in Yorkshire affect the quality of your health? In fact, does hegemony affect your freedom to be you? For example, does living in Yorkshire mean that your opinions are valued as highly? Does living in Yorkshire mean that the choices you make and the preferences you express lead to the same opportunities?

In my opinion, living in Yorkshire has a specific impact on all of this. To take this beyond the previously discussed realm of elections, the media and political decisions about where and how money is spent, what does this hegemony mean for language for example? If the English you hear around you is not the standard English that you are expected to use in academic and professional situations, does that mean you have to learn how to use a version of English that is not your own to get on? If you are always surrounded by such English, does that give you an advantage in academic and professional situations? Is that because the English commonly spoken by people in certain places is ‘better’ than others or is it because the people who speak that form of English play a dominant role in UK society? Is there anything wrong with learning different forms of English or other languages? Does it seem fair that children growing up in certain regions of the UK have to learn the standard dialect of English in order to progress whilst others do not (particularly when those children are already growing up in a place that already offers more life chances)?

Isn’t this really all about class though? It is definitely the case that people from middle class backgrounds in Yorkshire and the North are often described as working class by the Londoncentric media, perhaps because the culture most readily associated with Yorkshire and the North from outside has its roots in working class lives. It could be argued that in many cases this element of privilege is more important but nevertheless there has to be a question about where, if at all, geography fits in to intersectionality. In previous years it was the case that citizens of Yorkshire and the North could in theory move to a better situation anywhere within the EU (even if they faced the disadvantage of ‘starting again’ in an unfamiliar place) but now even that movement may be restricted, as it has been for the majority of people from outside the EU for much longer.

Nevertheless the UK itself continues to enjoy freedom of movement. Why don’t we just ‘get on our bikes’ to London/South East? Many do. They find themselves struggling to find somewhere to live that they can afford. Often they are doing jobs that don’t pay enough to live a reasonable life. Maybe they are doing unpaid internships to try and get the contacts and experience to find paid work. Just like many people who were born and raised in London itself. Of course, the people from London itself do have a much better chance of benefiting from having friends, family and other contacts already nearby. Maybe they are even living at home, maybe some are even paying little or no rent, maybe some have food and other things provided by parents. A job interview probably means a relatively short hop on the UK’s best funded public transport system rather than an expensive and time consuming trip using (at least partially) the less reliable transport networks that run outside the UK capital.

Nevertheless that London model failed many of its citizens long before even the Grenfell tragedy and we should stand in solidarity with all those marginalised and all those who challenge that London model. Take Back The City and others at least have the opportunity to do that with a mayor (unlike most of the North) and an assembly elected by proportional representation (an electoral system not used anywhere in the North). Given the impact of London’s hegemony on housing etc for its working class residents there is also the question of whether it is good for London to be under such pressure and therefore the role of London based organisations in standing in solidarity with us here in the North.

As the US video demonstrates, there are factors related to race, religion, gender, sexuality, disability, age and class that create barriers for some and privileges for others. Growing up in London doesn’t mean privilege disappears. If however you live in Yorkshire and the North, you have an additional barrier. Living in Yorkshire and the North means that others elsewhere have an advantage simply by living in London and the South East that will give them opportunities you are unlikely to access. Some of that may eventually lessen by moving to London. But is it OK that you have to? What does it mean for the future of our society that moving to London and/or accepting its hegemony can make such a difference to life chances? Is it OK that “the North has even forgotten it was ever defeated”.

In my opinion, privilege is not only structural but it affects people globally (even if to greater and lesser extents). In the context of this article London’s hegemony ‘only’ affects the life chances of people living in a relatively small area of this planet, even if Jon Trickett and many others in the North feel like they are “the last colonial outpost of the British Empire”. Those life chances are still much better than those of many people around the world, even if they are worse than most other regions of Northern Europe. The impact of privilege and the impact of London’s hegemony are not the same thing but they are related enough that I hope fellow campaigners for regional democracy take privilege seriously and fellow intersectionalists take seriously how London’s hegemony affects people in Yorkshire and the North. I believe London’s hegemony contributes to privilege and by challenging it, we can build something better together.

What does this mean for regional democracy?

It seems to me that those of us in Yorkshire and the North who agree (even if only in part) with this analysis of hegemony and privilege should be seeking to make allies of those campaigning for ‘liberation’. We should actively try to understand and work in solidarity with those challenging privilege on an intersectional basis. This raises the broader question as to whether individuals in our region unable to benefit from one privilege or another actually want regional democracy. Our cause is no more righteous than any other, but its value is well understood by those whose regional democracy campaigning is already informed by their understanding of intersectionality. For example Leila Taleb has long argued that for a woman of colour trying to reach her full potential, living in Yorkshire and the North is an extra challenge she is obliged to overcome, not necessarily the most important but definitely an added one.

This has most recently come to media attention with the release of data about the intake to Oxford and Cambridge universities suggesting that it is harder for people from the North to enter the UK’s elite (and become part of that hegemony). Ultimately if the proposed answer is to get more Northern and working class students to Oxbridge, that means trying (and potentially failing) to succeed on the terms of those interested in retaining their own privilege. The only truly transformative approach would be to create alternative power balances to a system that puts so much power in hands of Oxbridge graduates.

The reality of London is that decisions affecting Yorkshire and much of the North (though rarely just our region) are made there by people who spend the overwhelming part of their lives there in professional and social contact with other people who spend the overwhelming part of their lives there. There is little doubt that most of those people genuinely feel that the decisions they make are in the best interests of people across England or the UK (or Europe or the World). Many feel aggrieved at the suggestion that their decisions are not in the best interests of people in Yorkshire. The reality of life for people in Yorkshire however (particularly in comparison with those in London and the South East, particularly compared with those living in other regions of Northern Europe) suggests that this good will towards Yorkshire has not been enough. A Londoncentric perspective on what’s best for Yorkshire has been given a long and reasonable chance to succeed but it hasn’t worked. The future must be different. The future must acknowledge that London’s hegemony over Yorkshire, not just in the political sphere, has to come to an end and that the UK as a whole has a responsibility towards Yorkshire (and any other self-defined regions that also want to do so) to actively get out of the way so that Yorkshire (and the other regions) can determine their own futures autonomously.

And the reality of this hegemony is that the one affecting the life chances of people in Yorkshire is the same one that is a barrier to a fairer, more inclusive politics in the UK as a whole. To bring about social justice anywhere on this island means breaking up the hegemony and creating alternative, more diverse, geographically spread, balances of power (perhaps learning from rhizomatic organisation as described by Lou Mycroft here). We need to build, support and network organisations and civil society autonomous from London to challenge and provide counter balance whilst at the same time all of those emerging institutions of regional democracy must be aware of privilege and active allies in addressing that privilege within our region.

I described many of these possible organisations in October 2015. Since then the biggest change affecting where I live has been the increasing awareness of the Yorkshire Post of its own potential in challenging London’s hegemony across partisan lines. I hope this continues and it increasingly challenges privilege within Yorkshire too.  Same Skies also started to build a timeline of initiatives relevant to West Yorkshire based on this principle.

There are many good organisations based in London who want to be ‘national’ but in reality having a head office in London means it is hard for them not be part of this hegemony, living, socialising and working in London with people who do the same. Charities and pressure groups have limited funds and this hegemony means it makes most sense to base their limited resources in London, making doing things there so much easier and therefore so much more likely (such as this event talking specifically about why ‘England without London’ voted leave in the EU referendum). When funding cuts cause reductions in provision, the last places to go are those in London (for example, a number of ‘national’ refugee charities retreated to London in early/mid 2000s despite asylum seeker dispersal to places with far less provision and experience than London).

Equally political parties whose primary focus is to gain power at Westminster prioritise the power of Westminster and see everything through the prism of whether it will make their chances at Westminster better, not whether it is in the best interests of people here in Yorkshire and the North. The argument is always that Yorkshire will only be OK when X party is in power at Westminster (i.e. when it gains a greater share of power in London’s hegemony), Yorkshire just needs to trust in them and accept those times when its interests are contrary to those of the party. But when will that moment come? Under all three of the UK wide parties to have held power at Westminster, the reality of London’s hegemony has continued to have a negative impact on the lives of people in Yorkshire. It continues to be the case that London head offices can impose their will on local branches to suit the ‘national’ agenda. What will it take for ‘national’ parties to challenge that hegemony?

For example, despite talk in the Labour party about radical change, it cannot happen without addressing London’s hegemony, as described by Ben Wray in this class analysis of the UK’s constitution. In fact the only place in the UK where there is a significant challenge to London’s hegemony (a thriving, alternative civil society) is the only part where any of Labour’s 2017 manifesto has been delivered. A place which sees its own increasing freedoms as contributing to the North’s liberation from London’s hegemony and where Gramsci’s ‘trenches in front of the elite’ were the most recent successful challenge to London’s hegemony on this island (as described by Allan Burnett in response to Paul Mason). Equally it is noteworthy that Andy Burnham has described how he only really started to understand this when he left Westminster.

Conclusion

Much of what I have described here could apply to many parts of the UK, especially the regions of ‘England’. But ultimately this is all about ‘where I’m calling from’. This is how it looks from here. A fair future for Yorkshire and the North can only be decided by those who live here. No matter the sincerity of motives and intelligence of analysis, a Londoncentric UK has only perpetuated privilege and injustice. Something better can only happen if London no longer has hegemony over people in Yorkshire and the North and all of us here work towards a future where privilege plays no part.

In conclusion, I believe that:

  • we all must make more effort to address the reality that where you live/grow up affects your life chances.
  • we must put the concept of hegemony at the heart of regional democracy campaigning (including its implication that we need to act ‘autonomously’ to genuinely be able to reach our full potential).
  • amidst the growth of regional democracy in Yorkshire and the North, it is essential that we all actively take responsibility for addressing the impact of privilege on our fellow citizens.

Ian Martin is a member of Same Skies based in East Leeds

* With apologies to Raymond Carver

Keighley Market – our neighbourhood, our regional democracy.

From the very beginning, Same Skies has been about building Regional Democracy up from the good stuff around us here. We are our own region and it’s up to us to take responsibility and make it even better. Instead of just resistance, cynicism or scepticism, we want to engage people in region building.

Our latest initiative takes us around the many markets of West Yorkshire where we have been asking people to draw maps of their own neighbourhoods, especially the good stuff, and talking about their hopes for the future of our region. Eventually we hope to put all of these maps together, building up that regional picture from below.

Today we had lots of fun at Keighley Market. You can see many of the maps in the pictures below. You can also see for yourself the things that the passers by who stopped to draw and chat thought were significant in their neighbourhood.

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Thanks to everyone for beginning our regional map with drawings of Keighley, Oakworth, Steeton, Silsden, Cowling Hill and Sutton in Craven. We’ve now got a big gap between Keighley, Huddersfield and Leeds on our wall – look out other markets in West Yorkshire, we’ll be seeing you soon…

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Article 50: A personal view on Yorkshire, the UK and the EU

This blog reflects the personal views of Same Skies campaigner Ian Martin from East Leeds.

The future of Yorkshire really matters to me. This is my home, whatever happens here, whether our future is positive or negative, it will directly affect me and my family. I believe it my duty, our duty, to stand up where we are and look out positively. This includes engaging positively and working collaboratively with people beyond whatever borders surround us. For the many issues we can’t address as Yorkshire alone, we need to look outwards and more often than not in our past the EU was a better outlet, a more appropriate scale and a more positive partner than the UK. The EU made possible the dream of Yorkshire’s citizens collaborating with those in Nordrhein-Westfalen and Lombardy without our ambitions being filtered through the very different perspective of London.

For that reason, I can totally understand why Scotland (that voted in referenda to remain in the UK and then subsequently in the EU) may have to make the choice to leave one international body (UK) in order to remain in an international body that has better served its needs (EU). Here in Yorkshire, we don’t have that same question. Yorkshire voted to leave the EU, although it has not had the chance to express its opinion on being bound to England and the UK. Given the referendum, the only international body we can be a part of in the near future is the UK (which remains part of the UN, NATO etc).

I became politically aware at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the conflict in the former Yugoslavia. Bosnian refugees arrived in my suburb and their stories, as well as those of East Germans finally free to speak across borders, convinced me of the benefits of European unity. I was inspired to learn German and eventually benefited from the EU’s ERASMUS programme to study in Trier for a year. Perhaps unsurprisingly then, I voted Remain, I felt that was in the best interests of Yorkshire’s future. I accept I lost. I accept that most people who voted ‘leave’ in the referendum don’t see the EU as the appropriate level at which to make any decisions about our future. I accept that for now most people who voted in the referendum would prefer those decisions to be made in Westminster. The question that needs to be asked though is about whether people here in Yorkshire and elsewhere will be given the choice as to whether those decisions should be still be taken in Westminster in future.

I’m also aware that the defeat of the Remain campaign may be in the longer term best interests of the EU itself. For as long as I remember, the UK has been an awkward partner to fellow EU members, often acting as a brake on the positive ambitions of other members towards a more integrated continent of solidarity. And not just in governmental terms, the only part of EU-wide decision making that is directly accountable to its citizens (especially as it is under a proportional system) has been consistently ignored by those whose job should be to scrutinise its work – how much have we learned about the European Parliament from press and broadcast media in the UK?

After decades of being half in and half out, it could be something of a relief for the UK and the EU to start again. The boost to support for the EU in most member nations as a result of Brexit may allow it to create a genuine pan-European electorate giving assent or otherwise to the vision of a federal body with minimum standards of quality of life for all its citizens. The UK in future may decide it wants to negotiate access to some or all of that. Without being members of the EU, UK representatives will have had no role in designing, developing, consenting to or scrutinising any of it but we may decide that it is attractive enough to nevertheless accept EU terms. In fact over time, that lack of political impact on decisions made by our nearest neighbours that affect us may be a key argument for those campaigning for Yorkshire (and the rest of what this island becomes) to rejoin the EU.

IPPR North have been lobbying for the voice of the North to be heard in Brexit negotiations, including through a Northern Brexit Negotiating Committee, and I hope they will succeed in making this happen with a diverse range of voices and perspectives from throughout the North. For me, all of this should be focused on the future and in particular on the future of young people in areas of fewer opportunities (including parts of Yorkshire). The referendum took the UK out of the EU and put power in the hands of the UK government for now. If the UK government is going to take seriously our future here in Yorkshire, here are a few things I want it to do:

  • To ensure that people in Yorkshire have the widest possible opportunities to live, work, travel, study and play in the EU (and beyond) without any ‘right’ being effectively hindered by bureaucracy.

  • To be fair to other regions of Europe and to ensure that Yorkshire continues to benefit from the ideas and energy of people from elsewhere, the UK government needs to get out of the way of us actively making EU citizens welcome and ensure they benefit from the same rights here as do Yorkshire’s citizens within the EU.

  • To ensure the continued active promotion of ideas and perspectives sharing through exchange programmes, such as ERASMUS.

  • To maximise access to opportunities for organisations (including businesses) within Yorkshire and that these are based as a minimum on employment rights, environmental standards, public procurement transparency and consumer protection (developed by the UK government as part of the EU’s decision making processes) for as long as democratically elected bodies within Yorkshire consider them appropriate.

  • To ensure the replacement of EU Development funds (that have benefited Yorkshire even when UK government has ignored our needs) and make sure that decisions about them are taken by democratically elected bodies within Yorkshire itself

  • To ensure that Yorkshire can continue to play its role in contributing to continent wide peace and solidarity programmes, including welcoming refugees arriving at EU borders and making safe routes available for them to reach Yorkshire instead of risking the Mediterranean and other crossings.

But most important of all, now that the UK as a whole has answered the question of its role within the EU, surely it is the time for people here in Yorkshire to decide on how we want to be governed within the UK too? Surely this time of change for the UK is exactly the time when Regional Democracy should blossom?

I campaigned for the UK to remain in the European Union alongside others and we couldn’t convince enough people to get out and vote that way. The UK will no longer be a member of the EU and that means Yorkshire will not be part of the EU either. Nevertheless I will continue to think of myself as European and support the development of the European Union. I will continue to believe another Europe is possible. I will continue to buy the New European newspaper and encourage it to reflect the experiences of Europeans in all parts of this island. I will apply for individual EU membership if and when the time comes. And once the EU has had chance to move forward without the brakes placed on it by the UK’s elite, I may well be amongst those campaigning for Yorkshire to rejoin fellow regional democracies in the European Union.