“There is much in the British socialist tradition that has been forgotten or ignored, and which runs counter to state centralism, in particular a stress on grass-roots solutions, co-operation and an emphasis on local culture. Applied imaginatively, these traditions open up the possibility of creating a popular democratic culture which reflects different but complementary regional and national identities.”
Paul Salveson’s aim in his new book, Socialism with a Northern Accent, is to uncover some of the lost radical traditions which he believes are largely specific to northern England, or ‘the North of England’, as he would have it. In doing so he strives to make the case for a renewal of popular socialism based on devolution and a reconnection with the tradition’s local and regional roots.
Starting almost 200 years ago at the Peterloo Massacre, Salveson traces the development of what he calls “the heroic age of northern socialism”, sketching local events and leading characters who played important roles in movements such as Chartism, radical Liberalism, co-operatives, Clarion clubs, ramblers, municipal reformers and the Independent Labour Party across northern England.
At the core of his book is a call for a return to the “decentralist and democratic values” of the early ILP, and its emphasis on “ethics, community and culture”, aspects of socialism which slipped from view and influence through the 20th century as centralism became dominant and the top-down, “Webb model” of social democracy was embedded in the Labour movement.
The answer, he asserts in the book’s final section, is not just to rebuild a radical regional identity in the north, but to create a directly elected regional government.
Socialism with a Northern Accent: Radical traditions for modern times, by Paul Salveson, is published by Lawrence & Wishart, price £14.99.
A full review of the book will follow.
More on the history of the ILP.