Putting aside a one party region for the sake of the North East

Graham Robb’s article (J2, May 18) referring to the potential benefits that Messrs Cameron and Osborne could confer the North East made me think deeply. His later article of June 4, highlighting the need to get on with the process of preparing for Metro Mayors, did likewise.

Whilst I share Graham’s passion for this area and its businesses, we come from differing political persuasions, I, myself having been a Labour voter since I was a young man. These days, however, I vote for those I feel would best benefit the country at the time.

We’ve seen a lot of smearing of representatives of political parties and I do believe that most people, from their own perspective, are doing the best that they can to follow policies and approaches that are in the nation’s best interests. We cannot, however, divorce the human vested interest factor from this and the new administration, espousing principles of being the party of working people, will be known by its works, not its faith at the end of this term.

David Cameron appears an effective leader; seriously, he held together a diverse party, steered a course and uniquely gained ground in a general election, when all of the polls suggested coalition was almost a certainty.

I think we all need to take a little responsibility for making the new administration work here. There is a commitment to a “Northern Powerhouse”. That is an exciting prospect indeed and needs to be informed by processes, inclusion and sensible debate, rather than the parachuting in of capricious policies. We are seeing an unprecedented thing in the North East; a Conservative government, seen historically by many to have little interest in the North East due to its “fortress Labour” status, actually making the area a priority. Positioning Stockton South MP James Wharton as Minister for the Northern Powerhouse shows a commitment to this region and a figure of power in the region not seen since Tony Blair.

Perhaps instead of suspecting motives, we need to be part of the debate and welcome this. Maybe we need to overcome the tribal approach that the North East is a traditional Labour stronghold and put it into a place of uncertainty, where we can have more a more dynamic future politic with incumbent politicians perhaps not so certain of their seats and having to be truly representative of the people. We can’t do this if the staunch voters remain red or blue, regardless of the reality around us.

The bottom line is, I’m a businessman not a politician and I tend to see these things in organisational terms. Any system needs appropriate tension for it to be dynamic and evolving. Our bodies needs exercise if muscles are to grow and you are to maintain your health state or build strength. Companies need challenging competition to keep them healthy fit and effective. This is absolutely the same case with politics and, unfortunately in the North, we perhaps go native a little too much with one political system, rather than the see the merits of having a dynamic, changing political landscape.

I have already asserted many times, the North East is a great place to do business, has fabulous workforces and innovative people. Can we put aside our prejudices, based on history, not the present, and possibly acknowledge that there may be people unquestionably born to privilege, but who are prepared to expand their worldview to understand principles of inclusion, social justice, and see not an area of the country’s vote-winning potential, but its contribution to a nation?

We have a great opportunity, with two hard-working Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPS) that are now genuinely trying to affect the level of inclusion, innovation and dynamic policies to truly drive up standards, build skills, encourage more and better jobs; that seek to enhance skills, business support and opportunity.

We also have a vibrant business community in the North East. Whatever the politicians do or don’t do, we need to recognise ways of building the North East that are not just about building one’s own firm. They’re about enhancing connectivity, perhaps taking some calculated risks in the supply chain, to allow new entrants to get a foothold on markets; for the big businesses to encourage the small in non-exploitative and supportive ways and, most of all, for the business community to become inspiring businesses that inspire commerce.

So perhaps it’s about time we put our resistances to one side and look at the real potential that we are upon the cusp of experiencing here. Perhaps it’s about time children had hopes of seeing an apprenticeship or a degree as a true route to a sustainable job. Perhaps instead of simply criticising government over zero-hours contracts it’s equally for those organisations who exploit to explore their ethical conscience and their contribution to the community. If they do not do so, then perhaps legislation is needed.

Perhaps it is also time for this region to start to ensure it has a strong voice in the European debate.

So why not accept the bona fides of what has been said by our Prime Minister and Chancellor for a bit, not in some naive hope a great day in the morning, but acknowledging there will be a strong debate, a challenge to find out and forge ways forward. For real change, however, there will also be a need for the area to lose its historical deference to one party to be politically pluralistic, of constant interest to future contenders and yes, electoral reform may ease this. Most of all, however, to put our resistances down and give the kind of truly warm northern welcome to many of the offers that have been made with an open hand and the same compassion to our political leaders that are attempting to espouse within government.

It’s a funny situation for a cynic like me, but I’m quite optimistic. The challenge for the North is this: are we up to the collaborative challenges ahead?

David Cliff is Managing Director of Gedanken.

Original article

Also published in the Journal.