THE BLOG
02/07/2013 06:11 BST | Updated 31/08/2013 06:12 BST

A Rainbow Alliance for a Radical and Rebalanced Future

On Monday, I told the Institute of Public Policy Research in Manchester how greater devolution and closer political networking between post-industrialised areas could address the growing North-South divide. Here, I outline that vision further...

It was over half a century ago, in October 1962, that then-Prime Minister Harold MacMillan told his Cabinet:

"It was out of the question to allow Scotland or the North-east, or any large area, to be abandoned to decay."

His Home Secretary Henry Brooke was more direct:

"If we do not regard it as a major Government responsibility to take this situation in hand and prevent Two Nations developing geographically, a poor North and a rich and overcrowded South, I am sure our successors will reproach us as we reproach the Victorians for complacency about slums and ugliness."

MacMillan failed to halt the decline of the North. His successor-but-one Harold Wilson - the only Labour Prime Minister to have come from that part of the world - presided over the fastest pit closure programme in history.

Fast forward 50 years and today we have a Conservative Prime Minister who, upon taking office, referenced Disraeli's "two nations". We have an Oxford-educated Labour leader from the south whose half-useful One-Nation conference quip has now become the animating narrative for ex-New Labour.

The political language is identical to that of the 1960s because so too are the underlying conditions. In fact, the divide is greater and it continues to grow. Where are you born is as big an influence on your future life prospects as who you are born to. In this inaptly-named United Kingdom, the spatial and the social are inter-twined. Geography has as much consequence as class.

It is right to argue that the north-south divide is an over-simplification. The compass points of poverty in Britain are marked by west, too. The line of disadvantage lies between the South-East of England and the rest (with pockets of acute hidden poverty found in almost all communities across Britain).

In Wales our economy has drowned in wave after wave of deindustrialisation. At each successive restructuring of the economy - Wilson's second industrial revolution, Thatcher's Big Bang, New Labour's Knowledge Economy - we have seen income, wealth and jobs concentrated ever further in the hands of what the Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change in Manchester calls the "working rich".

It seems that the role of the Deputy Prime Minister in every Government is to speak in vivid terms about how much they are committed to ending the wealth gap between the rich south and an impoverished north. But as far as actual practical solutions are concerned, we have had 80 years of failed policies - and now we have welfare reform and austerity.

If we really are to address this century-old divide, we need a fundamental shift in policy and in politics.

While an independence referendum is not currently on the agenda for Wales as it is in Scotland, it seems to be even further away for England. There has been some discussion of an English Parliament in recent years, along with some moves for devolution to the English regions, but again, these debates haven't yet featured in any meaningful way on the agenda.

Plaid Cymru would like to see a proper regional policy within the union that would provide clear benefits for the regions and nations. We would like to see an English Parliament emerge, with groups of local authorities forming adecentralised regional level of government.

Billy Bragg thinks a specifically English national party isn't needed when an existing party or a brand new party could place progressive Englishness at its heart. In Wales we have learned to claim Welshness for ourselves. We had to turn it into a civic project, and this project has enabled us to create a solidarity between different parts of the country while welcoming new citizens to Wales.

As a nation, Wales has been impoverished to the point of bankruptcy because of the indifference and negligence of those ruling on our behalf. Our economic position has required us to become radical decentralisers of power and wealth in the here-and-now.

Those people in England outside London and the South East could do something similar and work with us to redistribute wealth. We will have to be radicals and realists.

The economics of renewal goes hand-in-hand with the politics of liberation. We must show that we can reverse our economic disadvantage, that we can be better off and that our poverty is not inevitable.

Plaid Cymru often refers to the "London parties" - a political system in thrall to the power of the City of London, which puts make-believe property prices at the core of economic policy. For over a century the City of London has given priority to international trade over local lending and investment, and it has been able to convince politicians in those London parties to enact policy that benefits only itsinvestment flows and allocation of resources.

The City of London is, in the Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change's words, "the Great Unleveller". Instead of a percolation of jobs, wealth and opportunity through mythical trickle-down, it has vastly increased inequality, socially and spatially, vertically and horizontally.

So how can we begin a re-levelling of this island?

There has to be a radical, muscular redistribution of economic activity - the redistribution of credit through a network of regional investment banks, and the redistribution of enterprise and activity through a system of economic incentives.

In England, this should mean powerful regional government for the North. So far, political signs are encouraging. The Adam Smith Institute has called for a Council of the North. IPPR North has been consistent in its support for northern devolution, and more recently the Hannah Mitchell Foundation and its president Linda Riordan MP have been making an eloquent case for a new northern democracy.

The task that I have set Plaid Cymru is the radical rebuilding of the Welsh economy. This is too difficult to achieve by acting alone. We are just 5% of the population of Britain. We need to work with others who share our interests. The Party of Wales would greatly welcome an alliance with progressive forces from all parts of England.

After all, does it make any more sense to put faith in a Labour Government? Labour never challenged the pre-eminence of the City of London as the only worthwhile bedrock of the UK economy. As a consequence, Wales and the North were economically left further behind. Is it surprising that 83% of Northern voters believe "politicians don't understand the real world at all", that of the 10 English seats with the lowest turnout, nine are in the North, and that the two lowest turnouts of all were in the central constituencies of Manchester and Leeds?

Plaid Cymru genuinely wants to support people in England who want to rebalance political and economic power. Our party is co-operative, internationalist and of the left. We will work with progressives of any hue in England who want to decentralise. We are also prepared to actively support a new Left party in England.

Pluralism can provide the path to progress. Syriza in Greece, Le Front de le Gauche in France and the Bildu coalition in the Basque Country are all networks. A broad network in England, united behind a core set of progressive values,could well include the Greens and other environmentalists. It could include the trade union movement, the churches and other faith organisations, the new People's Assembly movement, our sister party Mebyon Kernow in Cornwall, refugees from Labour and the Lib Dems.

The potential for an English left-leaning alliance is enormous. Utopian this maybe. But we need new utopias. Politics as usual has not delivered. Think tanks like the IPPR have been vital in placing territorial justice in these islands on the agenda. But we need to go one step further and start thinking the unthinkable. The art of the possible, of the purely transactional, has failed Wales, failed Scotland, and failed most of England, too.

A rainbow alliance for a radical, rebalanced, reindustrialized future - not one nation but a network of equals. Not the old Britain, but a new island - where each of us owns the key to our own future - is maybe the change we all seek. Let's work together to achieve it.