This column appeared in this week’s Barnsley Independent.
Earlier this month, we learnt that ex-Tory cabinet minister John Redwood was recorded as saying that people looking to find work or struggling with the cost of living in the north of England are “jealous Northerners” who should go and find work in London – the “mighty capital” – to boost their incomes.
This just goes to show how totally offensive and out of touch these Tories are. But it also demonstrates that the Government’s economic policies are failing. You never hear David Cameron say “we’re all in this together” anymore, do you? That’s because the economic ‘recovery’ (such as it is) seems only to benefiting a privileged few. And it certainly doesn’t feel like much of a recovery here in Barnsley.
The Tories will tell you everything is fixed and that the country is on the right track. But hardworking people in Britain and across Barnsley are on average £1,600 a year worse off since 2010.
We know wages are much higher in London (though living costs are much higher too). But did you know that 80% of all new jobs under this Government are in London? Or that over half of people in our unelected second chamber in Parliament, The House of Lords, are from London and the South East? How can that be right?
That’s why Ed Miliband wants to see a One Nation Government where prosperity and opportunities are felt in every corner of the country – including here in the North. Labour has a radical plan for spreading power and prosperity across England’s city and county regions, including our own.
Labour’s Manifesto will include plans to give city and county regions more power by passing an English Devolution Bill. This will give people at a regional level the power and resources to reverse a century of centralisation and make decisions about what’s best for their county or city Region. This will support devolved funding for transport and housing, funding for business support and enterprise projects, commission further education provision and provide employment support to get the long term unemployed back to work.
Last week, I was appointed as Shadow Transport Secretary. Take local bus services for example. We need big improvements. Local people and local businesses demand a public transport system that helps them succeed, but that doesn’t happen at the moment. Labour will legislate so that regions can set fares, decide routes and integrate bus services with the wider public transport network.
That’s why last week in the House of Commons I voted to challenge Ministers to give local people in our city and county regions the powers they need to deliver fast, frequent and affordable buses. This means that local communities will be in the driving seat – not the bosses of the different private bus companies out to make a quick buck, or ministers sat on their backsides in Whitehall.
Redwood’s comments reminded me of those made in the 1980s by another Tory, Norman Tebbit. As the Tories were busy closing down large parts of industry, like the pits and the steel works, Tebbit said that the unemployed should “get on their bike”.
It just goes to show: some things change, some things stay the same. As for the Tories, they haven’t changed a bit. We can and must do better than this.