A CONSERVATIVE MP has come under fire following the bold claim that “the North East is a political construct.”
The Teesside MP has warned his Tory colleagues looking to secure electoral success that they must not limit debate to a Labour Party-backed ideal of North East with no real geographical boundary.
Mr Wharton, elected in the 2010 intake, said that people in the region view themselves as “Smoggies, Mackems or Geordies” rather than as people of the North East.
Writing for the influential Conservative Home website, part of which is reproduced here, Mr Wharton adds that to pretend the region is “one uniform place running from the North Yorkshire border to Scotland is a fallacy.”
Speaking to The Journal, Mr Wharton said he was not saying the North East did not exist, but that it was a concept created by politicians which allowed Labour to overlook the large local support for the Tories in some areas. For years under Labour, the North East was treated as a whole, with multi-million-pound spending decisions based on lengthy, and often expensive, regional strategies.
Following the 2010 General Election and the creation of the coalition government all of the Government- backed North East decision-making infrastructure was abolished as ministers such as Communities Secretary Eric Pickles set out to purge concepts of regionalism.
One of the last men to actively lead the North East voice, former regional minister Nick Brown, has said he “profoundly disagrees” with the Teesside MP.
Newcastle East MP Mr Brown said: “He states that the region has no natural boundaries, this is clearly absurd. To the south of us we have Yorkshire, with a very clear and a strong identity, to the North we have Scotland, with a confident national identity.
“What we have here is two conurbations and a beautiful rural hinterland making up 4% of the nation’s population. If you take those together we are the fourth most populated conurbation and that gives is a shared interest in the dealing with the problems which face.”
Bishop Auckland MP Helen Goodman also backed the North East line, saying aid: “His comments suggesting that the North East needs more right-wing Thatcherism only serve to emphasis just how out of touch the Tories are.”
Others have been more neutral in their support for a clearly identified North East.
Robert Oliver, leader of the Conservative group on Sunderland Council, backed Mr Wharton, saying no MPs are elected for the North East.
He added: “James has a point in that the region is not the be all and end all. We should also consider the importance of cities, especially with the Government current focus here.
“We have some interest here in Sunderland that are similar to others in the North East, but we have differences as well and we need to remember that.”
Regional think tank IPPR North was one of those coming under Mr Wharton’s gaze in his blog entry. Think tank director Ed Cox said there was no denying a North East concept.
He added: “Regional identity and political identity are powerfully intertwined in the North East and it is a bold politician who tries to disentangle the two.
“Policies designed in the corridors of Whitehall may try to be blind to their impacts on particular towns and cities, but the reality is that they do affect some places more than others.”
Businesses have also had their say on the strength of working together.
Ken McMeikan, chief executive of Greggs and former regional chairman of the CBI, insisted that the North East remained a valuable concept.
He said it was time to “move away from the politics about the North East” and to focus on what could be achieved by those in the public, private and charitable sectors working together.
“The North East has a great heritage in terms of innovation, the results of which can be seen around the world,” he said.
“It is because of our expertise, skills and experience that goes back over many generations that we have the business community we have today.
“We have to build on those strengths at a time when the UK is looking to construct an economy based around exporting and manufacturing.”
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