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The Party Politics of Northernness

Wednesday 17 March 2021, 13:00

Postgraduate Researcher Ryan Swift presented this talk as part of the Research Seminar Series hosted by the School of Politics and International Studies.

In recent years, the North of England has become increasingly salient in political debate. In particular, the focus on the North as part of the so-called ‘Red Wall’ at the 2019 general election and its place in subsequent government rhetoric on ‘levelling up’ has been significant. So too has the role of the North within debates around the government’s handling of the Coronavirus pandemic and the economic recovery from it. It is in this context that this paper explores the extent to which the increased political saliency of the North is currently being reflected within political parties at present. Specifically, it considers whether there is an emerging party politics of Northernness, characterised by issues based on perceptions of Northern distinction, or ideas of distinct Northern grievances being politicised regularly and in a coherent way by notable elements of political parties. The paper argues that there is some evidence of this taking place. For example, Labour’s metro mayors and council leaders across the North increasingly come together to speak on behalf of the region as a whole, and there has been some talk of a distinct ‘Northern Labour’ brand. Meanwhile, the formation of the Northern Research Group of Conservative MPs points towards a notable politicisation of the North within the Conservative Party. In exploring the prospects of this burgeoning party politics of Northernness, the paper demonstrates that the role of the North of England looks set to continue to be a notable issue of contestation within political debate, being politicised by actors across the political spectrum. It suggests that this could have interesting implications not only for the North in policy terms, but also on both inter-party competition in the North and intra-party centre-regional relations going forwards.