More than 120 people attended the launch of the Hannah Mitchell Foundation at Bradford City Hall on Friday 9 March.
Linda Riordan MP, president of the new campaign and think-tank for the north of England, said: “The Foundation has made a cracking start and the meeting showed a sense of purpose and feeling on the issues facing the north. It shows that there is a will to take action to address the real democratic deficit and ensure that the north doesn’t become squeezed by the battle for economic and political supremacy between London and Edinburgh.”
The Foundation is named after a northern working class socialist and feminist who campaigned throughout the north of England on issues including votes for women.
“Our vision is to blend our past with our desire to work for a better future,” said the organisation’s chair Barry Winter. “It’s not about nostalgia but seeing our radical heritage as a gift transmitted from the past to construct the future.”
Jill Liddington, a historian of the women’s movement in the north, spoke passionately about the relevance of Hannah Mitchell’s ideas for today.
The Foundation’s general secretary Paul Salveson stressed that economic regeneration and transport infrastructure were key issues over which regional government should be having an influence.
“Across Europe, strong, elected regional governments are investing to support the regeneration of regional economies, whilst here we have the inadequate, unaccountable Local Enterprise Partnerships who can only spend the small amounts of funds allowed by central government,” he said.
A spirited discussion took place about the respective merits of an English parliament versus regional government, with a majority expressing support for devolved government for the north. The Foundation welcomes the opportunity to debate with organisations which have other views and is proposing to hold a ‘Northern Convention’ on the best ways to give a strong voice to the region.
Austin Mitchell MP – whose daughter was named after Hannah – argued strongly that any future regional government should be for the north as a whole.
The organisation will now develop detailed policies on appropriate forms of regional government through a wide dialogue with groups across the north.
“This is an opportunity to start with a blank sheet of paper and develop democratic forms of governance which give greater accountability, and better representation, than we have ever had before. It’s about taking power from the centre and supporting strong local government below the regional tier,” said Salveson.
More information at: www.hannahmitchell.org.uk