The curious case of the Northern Independence Party and the future of the British Left

Callum Sawyers on the Northern Independence Party

Callum Sawyers
30th November 2020
Following defeat in the 2019 general election, a steady exodus of leftists has filtered from the Labour Party. These former members have either joined established smaller parties, such as the Socialist Workers Party, or founded new parties that better represent their visions for the country.

However, one of these new parties stands out, as its vision is for a completely new country altogether. The Northern Independence Party (NIP) was set up in October 2020. It models itself off re-emerging independence movements in Wales, Scotland, and Cornwall, and calls for an independent Northern England under the historic boundaries of the medieval Kingdom of Northumbria. The party wants this new republic to be “democratic socialist” in nature with left-wing social beliefs as well.

Acting Leader of the Northern Independence Party Philip Proudfoot on ITV. Credit: Philip Proudfoot on YouTube

The question is, does this party have a chance of making any sizable dent in British politics? The short answer is no. The long answer? Also no. However, it does touch on something much more interesting.

From a purely parliamentary point of view, this party has no hope. With small parties already being massively disadvantaged by our first-past-the-post system, NIP’s unique selling point is an idea that begins to fall apart when held up to the independence movements that it’s modelled itself off.

The Celtic nationalist movements are based on a feeling of Anglo-centrism within the UK.

Scottish, Welsh, and Cornish independence movements are based on identities that are notably distinct from the perceived Anglo-centrism of the UK. NIP, on the other hand, does not have this. While it is entirely true that millions of people in the North would self-identify as ‘Northern,” and have pride in that fact, the vast majority would also describe themselves as English.

This pseudo-dual nationality is not strong enough to build an independence movement upon, unlike the ones previously mentioned. Despite being mistreated and underfunded by successive Westminster governments, there has not been a distinctive break in national identity in the vast majority of the North.

The North's identity, whilst unique, is not distinct enough to justify a complete national break from England.

Also, the invocation of an ancient kingdom as the basis for their proposals fall flat. Someone in Huddersfield or Manchester will have little to no connection to Northumbria compared to someone from the modern namesake.

If the one unique selling point fails to inspire, then why focus on the party? Well, it's more down to what conditions created NIP rather than what NIP succeeds in doing.

The Northern Independence Party epitomises a growing anti-Westminster sentiment.

At the core of the party is anger, disenfranchisement, and distrust at Westminster and the current system of British democracy; something that the British Left has failed to capitalise on in recent years.

NIP is correct when talking about the economic disparity between the North and South, this discrepancy is a political choice by Prime Minister after Prime Minister. This is not something that appears overnight. At best it is ignorance and a lack of care from Labour and Conservative governments, at worst it’s a purposeful exacerbation of deep-seated problems by the main parties when they’re in charge.

In recent years, it has been the right-wing who have been best able to capture and channel this anger, the epitome of this being the Brexit vote. People have been left behind by neoliberalism and are frustrated, the right-wing has managed to give them a convenient enemy in immigrants while redirecting their anger from the power structures which have enabled the policies that have actively made the lives of the average working-class Britons harder over the last 30-40 years.

In recent years, only the right-wing has found success in capitalising on the frustrations of England's 'left behind' communities. This is best represented by 2016's Brexit Vote.

This is the refreshing nature of NIP, a party that is more than happy to attack the Westminster system from the outside. This is something that is impossible for the left-wingers in Labour, such as Corbyn, to do. How can you portray yourself as a populist anti-establishment candidate when you have sat on the backbenches for a third of a century? Even if those beliefs were genuine, it’s hard for the electorate to buy into that narrative.

This is where I feel the British Left needs to recalibrate. If former commodities trader Nigel Farage can rally more populist support among the British working classes than the left can, big missteps have been made.

The British Left needs to find a way to re-connect with the English working-class.

While NIP’s uniqueness is also its downfall, the engagement in anti-establishment rhetoric is something the British left needs to reclaim. However, I fail to see this happen within the Labour party. If Corbyn, a left-wing populist, failed to succeed in weaponizing the anger of the working-class to enact sizable changes as successfully as someone like Farage, I can’t see Keir Starmer being able to achieve it either, even if he becomes Prime Minister.

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