This struck me as an interesting story from March which literally everyone else seems to have missed. Could Labour’s heartlands be reduced still further?

Party Of The North launches challenge in another Labour heartland

TRA-SPAC-0011The Party Of The North, a party set up at short notice to boost the representation and economy of the North of England, was today launched at an enthusiastic if somewhat unpolished event in central Leeds today. Led by Samira Khan, the charismatic former Labour Mayor of Kirklees, and her deputy, Eric Jones, a former independent councillor and ex-miner from Durham, the party is aiming to stand in all 158 constituencies across the European regions of Yorkshire and the Humber, the North West, and the North East.

The new grouping explicitly draws their inspiration from the spectacular rise in SNP support north of the border, and pledged today that any Party Of The North MPs elected will sit as a group with SNP and Plaid Cymru MPs to “oppose austerity and help shift the balance of power away from London and the South-East”.

“We’re not nationalists,” said Samira Khan to the approximately 200 members present, “any more than many Yes voters in the Scottish referendum last year were. The problems Scotland faces are similar to our own, though. The UK economy is designed around the interests of London and the South-East, and the Westminster model of UK politics is failing us.”

“For generations the North of England has voted Labour in the hope that they would live up to their founding values, but instead now they are offering us just a slower and more gentle version of the failed Tory austerity model. Many in the North saw Nicola Sturgeon’s performance in the leaders’ debates and wondered why they couldn’t vote for something similar: now they can.”

“Like many in Scotland, we no longer believe Labour have the answers to the problems of the North. And like the SNP, our MPs will always vote against any Tory government. We’ll vote for a Labour PM, but we’ll vote to block any continuation of the cuts which have undermined our society and our economy. Like the SNP, we will also vote against Trident renewal and against illegal wars.”

“This region could again be as prosperous as it once was, if we only had the powers of devolution that Scotland already has, not the three weak assemblies Labour offered more than a decade ago. Almost fifteen million people live here, nearly three times the population of Scotland: the North was the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution and of so much of this country’s cultural heritage, and we are still hard-working, innovative, welcoming, and creative. But without a voice of our own at Westminster, determined to put the interests of the North first, we will continue to get left behind.”

“From Chester to Berwick-upon-Tweed, from Grimsby to Carlisle, we’re seeing new members joining every day. People determined to oppose UKIP’s racist ‘little Englander’ values, the Tories’ focus on the interests of the Home Counties, the Lib Dems’ betrayal of the young, as well as many many people disappointed that Labour won’t oppose them as they should. Across this extraordinary region let me say this to the old parties: winter is coming.”

There remains uncertainty about where the party’s proposed Parliament For The North would be based, with towns and cities across the north likely to push their own claims, although the location of the launch was cited by some activists as a signal. The party’s programme is still largely uncosted, although, as with the SNP, much is made of the savings associated with not renewing Trident.

Pressed on the party’s long-term aims after the launch, Jones refused to rule out the possibility of a referendum on independence, insisting “we have no plans for a referendum at this time”, and that pushing for devolution was the party’s constitutional aim. Others in the party are believed to support the idea of a federation with an independent Scotland, should a second referendum there overturn last September’s result.

The SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon sent a video message to the launch, offering support to “our friends in the North”, and amidst enthusiastic cheers she welcomed the party’s arrival on the political scene as “the beginning of the end of the tired old politics in England”.

Labour sources, dismissing the new party as “doomed” and “a distraction”, pointed out that Labour’s offer of devolution to the English regions had been rejected, and claimed that only a Labour majority would deliver an end to Tory rule. Local Green party activists have expressed cautious sympathy for much of the Party Of The North’s agenda, but talks about how the two parties might not stand against each other have not so far proved successful. Meanwhile, Yorkshire First, founded last year, rejected the idea of working with the Party Of The North, and argued that the two parties would merely split the vote across Yorkshire.

Please note: this piece is fiction, and everyone in it apart from Nicola is fictional too – apologies to Nicola for putting words into her mouth!