Posts Tagged ‘Cumbria’

Jam-eaters will decide Copeland. Based on her trip north, Theresa May has clearly never heard of them

18/02/2017, 10:30:26 PM

by Jonathan Todd

It is easy to poke fun at Cumbria. The land that time forgot. Northern accents that can’t quite be placed – “I thought you were from Yorkshire”. Withnail and I going, “on holiday by mistake”. Lots of sausage. Little hip and happening.

Most people in Cumbria, I feel, look at Millom, a town of 8,000 people in the south of Copeland, scene of one of this week’s byelections, as the rest of the country looks at Cumbria – far-flung, incomprehensible. “It is,” I was once told by a friend from Workington, “a funny place, Millom, isn’t it?” Millom, in turn, redirects this perception to Bootle, a nearby village.

“What is it that you don’t have in Bootle? Electricity?”

Coming from Bootle, I grew accustomed to mocking enquiries such as this in the Millom schoolyard. At least, no one called me, “bad Bootle UKIP meff”. That is Paul Nuttall from Bootle, Merseyside – a more gritty and urban place.

The sitcom Porridge is set in a prison just outside Millom. A hapless guard bemoans losing his wife to, “the bright lights of Workington”. A lag, played by Ronnie Barker, sympathises that he, “can’t compete with that”. As much as the canned laughter indicates that the rest of the country find the notion of a cosmopolitan Cumbria oxymoronic, the Millom prison guard and my Workington friend would see themselves as coming from different places.

While there is a rivalry between Whitehaven, very much in the Copeland constituency, and Workington, a town just north that gives its name to a separate seat this side of the boundary review, they’d see each other as fellow jam-eaters and Millom and Bootle as remote outposts.

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The northern road to prime minister Miliband

09/03/2015, 01:09:09 PM

by Jonathan Todd

You wait an eternity for a female Cumbrian MP and then two seem set to come along at once. Lee Sherriff, Labour’s candidate in Carlisle, is regularly applauded in speeches by shadow ministers. Sue Hayman has more recently been selected by Labour to fight Workington, a seat the party has invariably held throughout its history.

Polling by Lord Ashcroft suggests that Sherriff is set to turn around the 853 majority of Conservative MP John Stevenson. Iain Dale also calls the seat narrowly for Labour. Assuming Labour suffer no Cumbrian losses, this would give Labour at least four of the six Cumbrian seats.

Labour faces tougher fights in Westmorland and Lonsdale, where Tim Farron defends a majority of over 12,000 for the Liberal Democrats, and Penrith and the Border, a Conservative citadel, granting Rory Stewart a majority of over 11,000. These seats have never been red and cover much of the Lake District National Park, which draws visitors from across the globe. The more Labour inclined seats have their charms but are less well travelled.

Stevenson is Carlisle’s first Conservative MP since Ronald Lewis won the seat back for Labour in 1964, the year Harold Wilson first became Prime Minister. In 1983, an unhappier general election year for Labour, the party’s commitment to unilateral nuclear disarmament allowed Cecil Franks, the Conservative candidate in Barrow and Furness, where the building of nuclear submarines has long been a major source of employment, to ask at every opportunity: “If Labour gets elected, what will the lads do on Monday?”

John Hutton defeated Franks for Labour in 1992, meaning that four of the six Cumbrian MPs again were Labour, but it took another five years for the government to become so too. If Sherriff were to win Carlisle, it might herald another period in which four of the six Cumbrian MPs are Labour but the government is not. Equally, Carlisle is the kind of seat to give Ed Miliband hope.

As average weekly earnings in Carlisle lag the average for Great Britain by around £120, it is a place where Labour’s cost of living focus is likely to have had resonance and decisions taken by the Tory-led government are unlikely to always have been well received. With diligent local campaigning, it should be possible to transfer this grievance with the government into support for Labour. A recent profile in the New Statesman indicates that Sherriff is providing such campaigning with aplomb.

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How we beat the BNP in Cumbria

15/08/2012, 07:00:26 AM

by Rachel Stalker

The church warden of a remote Anglican parish on the west Cumbrian coast was sorting out the church loft when he happened upon an England flag. It was in the run-up to St. George’s day so he decided to fly the flag from the church tower.

Because the church is an iconic coastal landmark, the flag could be seen for miles around – from both land and sea. The church was so overwhelmed by the positive feedback from the local community that a decision was taken to keep the flag flying. It was still flying a few months later when, on 2nd June 2010, Derrick Bird tore through West Cumbria leaving 12 dead, many more injured and a community in complete shellshock. In response, the flag flew at half-mast and it provided a potent symbol of community grief and solidarity.

The church celebrated the Queen’s Jubilee this year – the congregation like to find any excuse for a party, especially if it involves the Queen. There would likely have been a “bring and share” meal with dancing and some games for the children. There are precious few republicans in these parts notwithstanding the rock solid Labour vote which saw the local Labour county councillor comfortably returned, even in Labour’s 2009 nadir.

Here, deep in Labour’s heartlands, there is a strong sense of national identity and pride – yet it was precisely these qualities that made it fertile territory for the BNP whose toxic ideology ripped through West Cumbria with just as much ferocity as Derrick Bird.

In December 2008 the BNP came within 16 votes of taking the Kells & Sandwith county council division – Labour’s safest seat in the county, almost overturning a majority of 1,000 on a swing of 32%.

Kells had been the location of the Haig colliery which, when it closed in 1987, ended 390 years of coalmining in the county. Folk have long memories in these parts and its economic history had forged a deep political identity. Or so it was thought.

Emboldened by their results in Kells & Sandwith, the BNP decided to field a full slate of county council candidates in Copeland for the 2009 elections. Expectations were high: if they could almost take Kells & Sandwith – of all places – then they could take any seat in the constituency.

They confidently expected to take six of the twelve seats – and this confidence went right to the top of the national party. On the day of the count, Nick Griffin travelled from his home in rural Wales all the way to Whitehaven.

He did so because he expected a news story – shock BNP wins in rural Cumbria. On his way into the Civic Hall, he stumbled into leading anti-BNP activist, Gillian Troughton, completely oblivious to her part in his downfall.

Despite the BNP’s brutal campaign tactics, Nick Griffin was to be disappointed. They had a strong showing in four divisions but failed to take a single seat. As I look back on my part in kicking Nick Griffin out of Cumbria, I am reminded how much he helped forge my political ideology.

I approached the BNP’s arrival as a naïve cosmopolitan. I’d moved from Birmingham in 2004. I had deep family roots in West Cumbria, but I was basically a young professional from the leafy south Birmingham suburbs. It was obvious to me that racism was wrong and that multiculturalism is “a very good thing”.

This was backed up by a strong Christian faith that looked forward to the New Jerusalem where people of “every tribe, tongue and nation” would bow before the Lamb. It horrified me that people I liked and respected seriously considered voting BNP. Some of them even went to church with me.

An encounter with three little boys whilst out leafleting in Frizington forced me to look at the world from different perspective. These little boys had such a narrow view of the world that they genuinely thought I was foreign. (I’m obviously white British). I was a stranger bringing strange ideas about racism being wrong. They shouted racist abuse at me that they could only have been learnt from the adults around them. These little boys saw the world very differently from me and I wanted to understand it.

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Cumbria was always New and Blue Labour

21/12/2011, 04:04:15 PM

by Jonathan Todd

No less an authority than Lord Mandelson has declared New Labour dead. Dan Hodges has called time on blue Labour. But the revisionist principles driving New Labour long predate it and will surely outlast it. They stretch back to Eduard Bernstein via Tony Crosland and are timeless. As Lord Mandelson certainly knows, they cannot die. And the quest for belonging in a globalised age that underpins blue Labour shows no signs of losing its resonance as we continue to live through globalisation’s biggest economic crisis since the 1930s.

If the revisionist principles of New Labour are un-dead and blue Labour retains significance, perhaps Labour’s future, as both David Miliband and James Purnell have postulated, lies in some fusion of New and Blue Labour.

Labour’s future, in other words, is Cumbrian.

New Labour made Labour’s peace with business; reconciling Labour’s values of social justice with a pro-business attitude at ease with globalisation. Little could be more open for business than a national park which welcomes around 12 million visitors annually, the largest concentration of nuclear expertise in Europe and a vital production facility for BAE Systems, the third-largest defence manufacturer in the world. If New Labour means being pro-business, then New Labour is Cumbrian.

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NHS: Cumbrian case study shows Labour, not the Tories, are the reformers.

28/01/2011, 01:00:32 PM

By Jonathan Todd

Labour’s compassion built the NHS under Attlee and Labour’s investment saved the NHS under Blair and Brown. But it is Labour reform that has kept Cumbria’s community hospitals open and achieved better health outcomes in so doing. These successes are now threatened by Tory incompetence.

Gerry Robinson, the management guru who once tried to “fix the NHS”, bemoaned the lack of piloting contained in Andrew Lansley’s NHS plan on the Today programme last year. The presenter (Evan Davis, as I recall) then misdirected him towards Cumbria. While Cumbria may have much GP commissioning, it has benefitted from Labour reform, not opened a window on Lansley’s future.

The Financial Times reports that Cumbria offers “a glimpse into what the … government’s healthcare revolution could look like”. It may be that Lansley’s spinners have been whispering in the ears of Davis and the Financial Times, but Cumbria isn’t the first domino to fall in Lansley’s revolution. It is benefitting from a flowering of reform championed by Lord Darzi and patiently cultivated by NHS workers. Evolution would have meant more such reform, not a “grenade tossed into the PCTs”. (more…)

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