Neil Smith, GMB union Political Officer, union politics

The NRG members have, on more than one occasion, suggested that the government has fallen into that fatal trap of making national decisions based on a London-centric view with London data.

19 October 2020

From Red Wragg to Just Bull

There is an old Chinese curse which says:” May you live in interesting times” and it applies to all of us right now. Interesting to say the least and strange in many ways as the Coronavirus comes back in a second wave and we are also being told “by the way prepare for a No Deal Brexit”, with all the mayhem and damage that will bring. Strange things are happening every day.

What about the young black footballer from a working class background being given the MBE for his impressive campaign against hunger? Of course he was then more or less told you’ve had your gong don’t keep demanding an end to food poverty and for more government money to feed poor kids.

Typical Tory response of saying one thing by appreciating the work done by Marcus Rashford but then refusing to keep up the good work and deliver for the poor.

Consistent with that approach but still strange, has been the noises coming from the Tories. “Set aside party politics and work with us to put in place measures that are needed across the North West so we can deal with this virus and support people through it. This is a time for people to come together so we can control this virus.” These calls for unity and solidarity came out of the mouth of the Health Secretary Matt Hancock no less.

However what they say and what they do are poles apart, as his government try and impose tier three restrictions on the North West without consultation and agreement with local politicians.

We saw the robust response from the Labour mayors on Merseyside and Manchester and that has to be a sign of things to come. What was a surprise and part of the strange behaviour season was the bizarre comment coming from the Tory incumbents who find themselves in the middle of the Red Wall across the north. They have formed a cabal among themselves, calling it Northern Research Group or NRG (gettit?).

Their leader, Rossendale MP Jake Berry dug out a soap box and tried to explain what they were about: ”It is like a trade union for northern MPs, where we can use our collective muscle and bargaining power together to make sure we get the best possible deal on a pan-northern basis.”

We could be forgiven for thinking we were listening to a radical left wing Labour politician or firebrand trade union official. Referring to collective muscle and bargaining power to get the best deal is almost Scargillesque. But it doesn’t take long for the mask to slip as he then said “This is not about giving the government a bad time but demanding they stick to their election commitments to level up and create wealth across the north.”

Sounds a bit woolly already. It is not surprising though that these self-serving individuals have come together as they are seeing first-hand the treatment many of us have been aware of all our working lives. London centricity at it’s worst. Discriminatory behaviour against our cities and towns, a lack of proper resources and finances where needed and imposition of unfair restrictions without meaningful consultation. The same response to Rashford as the rest of the region.

Although damage is being done with one of the new group William Wragg MP for Hazel Grove raging, going public with the fact he only found out, about a hastily planned meeting with Hancock’s people about possible restrictions, through a tweet by a local Labour MP.

Just look at what they are having to explain to their constituents,

  •   tier three restrictions, with hard pressed businesses in hospitality particularly at risk.
  •   The issue of local testing is also a scandal.

At the start of the pandemic a lot of NHS trusts put together their own testing schemes because they drastically needed to test staff. The results were impressive, with areas including Blackburn, Darwen and East Lancashire clinical commissioning groups highlighting the success of the public system, with impressive results between April and July, with hundreds of clinical staff quickly tested via the local hospital trust.

For some reason, this system was stood down as apparently swabbing capacity increased centrally. This was put down to a “change in direction of travel from central government” which means the private sector took over. Lucrative contracts were handed out hand over fist and highly paid jobs created for companies including SERCO (with strong Tory links), Deloitte picked up work worth £22.7m while government funds for PriceWaterhouse Coopers went up to £24.4m. Information has come into public domain about spending in this field rising by £65m since August and massive fees for consultants for up to 90 different private companies to provide test and trace related services to the government, for setting up and running the malfunctioning test and trace system, procuring PPE, medicine and supporting the government’s contact tracing, which has proven to be so successful or not depending which newspaper you read.

There isn’t much surprise in this union, but apparently rebellious local Tory MPS are upset to find out that the areas previously covered by the NHS testing are now virus hotspots including Blackburn, Burnley, Hyndburn, Ribble Valley, Pendle and Rossendale all seeing a dramatic increase in the R figure. And surprise, surprise some of these local NHS trusts have reinstated their in-house testing, but no surprise this time round they won’t see financial reimbursement for it from this government.

The political pressure is clearly now mounting as proper trade unions, businesses, constituents are all asking the right questions about their health and the economy as redundancies grow as fast as the virus spreads.

There is real dissent among the Tories, probably worried about their political careers. Erstwhile Tory Trade Union Baron Jake Berry recently accused the Prime Minister of “enjoying his Covid19 powers a little too much”. Sir Graham Brady, the chair of the 1922 Committee of Conservative MPs has this week warned the government that forcing Tier 3 restrictions on Greater Manchester would be “a very foolish thing to do”. The Altrincham and Sale West MP added: “The danger is, if you try to do these things without consent, people lose patience very quickly. We have a clear demonstration at the moment you have no support among MPs, no support among council leaders and opposition from the mayor as well. There clearly isn’t the broad consent for this measure that is needed.”

The NRG members have, on more than one occasion, suggested that the government has fallen into that fatal trap of making national decisions based on a London-centric view with London data. Are they preparing the ballot for action as we wait with bated breath or is it just more bull in the face of a red Wragg?

Neil Smith

Political Officer

GMB North West & Irish Region

GMB North West & Irish Region