Now is the time for a leader who understands the northern concern

9 Jun 17

As the rustbelt turns red, it is time for a leader who understands the undercurrents of northern concern, says Ed Cox. 

Prior to the General Election, many predicted the Conservative Party would scoop up UKIP voters in so-called Northern ‘rustbelt’ seats in places like Hartlepool and Darlington.

Despite both gaining vote share, in fact Labour candidates did much better than their Conservative rivals in winning back those who had deserted the mainstream parties in recent times.

In Stockton South and Bury North, Conservatives actually lost their seats.

The Conservatives’ failure to make any in-roads into the rustbelt, together with big wins in the North’s big cities - shows Corbyn’s anti-establishment, anti-austerity rhetoric and focus on public services has had widespread appeal, not least to young people who have finally turned up.

But this has taught us something about Brexit too.

Northerners that shouted ‘leave’ this time last year have now shown they’re not too keen on a Conservative hard Brexit.

Whoever forms the next government will have to do a lot more to reflect Northern concerns at the negotiating table and suddenly it seems that the recently elected metro mayors – together with other local leaders – represent the strong and stable leaders that must lead this charge.

However, surprising this result might seem, votes in 2015, 2016 and 2017 have one thing in common: Northerners have each time snubbed the ‘Westminster option’.

Miliband, Remain and now Theresa May have each been rejected by Northern voters who want to see real change.

As the Westminster bubble now turns its attention to leadership contests and the prospect of yet another election at what point will it recognise this growing undercurrent?

Corbyn has declared that this election shows that politics has changed, but will the Labour party – suddenly boosted by the biggest vote share since Atlee – really grasp the nettle of reform?

If the first-past-the-post system keeps failing to deliver the clear result it is designed to achieve, it is high time we join more mature democracies with an electoral system that is designed to enable coalition-building and make sure every vote counts.

If the political map looks more regionally divided than ever, we must move quickly to a more federal approach to governing England.

As the nation now looks for a true leader, will someone step forward who taps into the deeper concerns of the nation, bursts the Westminster bubble and unlocks the potential of the North?

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