Conservative MP ignites North East fact or figment row

Hadrian's Wall in Northumberland Hadrian's Wall is one of the North East's landmarks but does the region really exist?

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It's in my job title, it's in the title of the programme I present, but does the North East really exist?

One Conservative MP has suggested the North East of England is actually a "political construct", and not something that really exists in the hearts and minds of most of the people who live there.

In an article on the Conservative Home website, Stockton South MP James Wharton says he believes the borders of the region have been drawn arbitrarily.

He says that most people are more likely to consider themselves Tynesiders, Wearsiders or Teessiders (or in the local vernacular Geordies, Mackems and Smoggies).

He writes: "I care about and will fight for the North East, but to pretend it is one uniform place running from the North Yorkshire border to Scotland is a fallacy. People here do not describe themselves as North Easterners."

Common identity

His arguments though have upset those who firmly believe the North East and its people share a common identity.

Start Quote

James Wharton MP

I care about and will fight for the North East, but to pretend it is one uniform place running from the North Yorkshire border to Scotland is a fallacy”

End Quote James Wharton MP Conservative, Stockton South

Many in the Labour party and trade union movement believe there is a clear link between the communities in Northumberland, Tyne and Wear, County Durham and what used to be Cleveland.

Newcastle East's Labour MP Nick Brown said: "He states that the region has no natural boundaries, but this is clearly absurd.

"To the south of us we have Yorkshire, with a very clear and strong identity, to the north we have Scotland, with a confident national identity."

So who's right?

James Wharton certainly has some arguments on his side.

There are some boundary complications. Some people in the southern end of what's called the North East actually consider themselves to be living in Yorkshire.

James Wharton's own constituency is a clear example.

People in Stockton would identify with County Durham, but just across the Tees in Thornaby, people say they live in Yorkshire.

Loose definition

There are also different definitions. Northumbria was an ancient kingdom which encompassed the 'North East' but, as it also included Yorkshire too, it's hard to make a historical case.

And even we in the BBC have a loose definition as our broadcast boundaries reach deep into North Yorkshire, as far south as York.

Start Quote

Nick Brown MP

He states that the region has no natural boundaries, but this is clearly absurd”

End Quote Nick Brown MP Labour, Newcastle East

In addition, the one real electoral test of regional identity doesn't give much evidence of there being a desire for regional togetherness.

In a referendum in 2004, people in the North East overwhelmingly rejected the idea of having a regionwide assembly of politicians.

But there are cultural links and a shared industrial legacy, and largely there is a decent geographical boundary.

And that referendum might just have been the rejection of a political institution rather than the concept of a region.

The region's voters actually also were of one mind, as every part of the North East voted no.

There is though, of course, politics involved in this.

Effectively, the region has ceased to exist politically. The government has abolished its regional development agency (One North East) the government regional office and regional plans - all created by Labour.

There may still be an Association of North East Councils and the region might still be referred to in unemployment and other statistics, but it has effectively been administratively deconstructed.

'Them and us'

James Wharton is keen that Conservative policies cannot be dismissed as 'anti-North East'.

He said: "Think tanks and politicians use the region concept as justification to proclaim that some policy is 'bad for the North East' and we immediately move to defend ourselves, not realising the terms of reference have already been framed to our (the Conservative Party's) disadvantage."

People walking on Redcar beach Some would say Redcar is in the North East but others might say it is in Yorkshire

And it is true that it probably suits the Conservative's enemies in the Labour party and the trade unions to frame government policies as a 'them and us' situation - a southern-based government punishing the North East.

But then there is the reality of the political map of the region.

Yes, there are plenty of people who don't vote Labour, but the constituencies are largely a sea of red, with only two Conservatives and two Lib Dems breaking the Labour monopoly.

And many of those Labour seats remain super-safe. Voters in what you might call the North East do generally seem to have made a choice.

But without detailed polling evidence on regional identity, it seems hard to say who's right.

In the absence of that, perhaps you can tell me whether you think the North East is fact or figment.

Richard Moss, Political editor, North East & Cumbria Article written by Richard Moss Richard Moss Political editor, North East & Cumbria

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  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    I agree with the Stockton MP, I was born in the North Riding of Yorkshire and in most people hearts and minds it will always be the North Riding of Yorkshire.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Yet another attempt at dividing England to please their European masters
    if England does not stick together they will erase that good name from the maps

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    Oh come on now.
    This johnny come lateley soon to be gone wipe is just a mouthy solicitor from Darlo.

    Says it all really.

    So why are people giving his views any credence whatsoever?
    Must be a slow news day.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Any humanities or social science scholar will tell you identities can be multiple and overlapping. I am from Tynemouth (though the silly Post Office insist on calling it - and even Cullercoats! - 'North Shields' now) and consider myself to be from Tynemouth, and Tyneside, and Northumberland, and the North East. There is no doubt about it, there is such a thing as North East identity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    The UK govt is keeps trying to divide the political inconvenience of England out of existence. The English of the 'N.East' face exactly the same problems and challenges as other English folk - we all get a raw deal from the so called 'UK'. England is one nation. The only regions we need are counties. What we desperately need is our own English parliament back and working in the English interest.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Of course the North East exists. As the article so rightly points out, the boundaries are quite clear: Scotland to the north, Yorkshire to the south and Cumbria to the west

    We may not describe ourselves as "northeasterners" but I'm happy to say I'm from "the North East", mostly to people who don't know where County Durham is. Much better than (erroneously) saying I'm from Newcastle.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Mr Smith,
    I'm not sure you're taking this seriously. You can't a king and a president- Mr Brown would have to be prime minister. No, wait, we tried that...

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    13. JohnSmithREAL
    Well said I quite agree
    But I would go one further and say Yorkshire should have independence, based on the medal haul at the Olympics and a population higher than most Carribian & Balkan countries and I propose Roy Chubby Brown for King and Sean Bean as President

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Historical counties have been broken up into smaller groups so that they have less influence at the national level and less power at the local level this empowers white hall civil servants. Boris Johnson uses his Office to influence the national political debate on issues from Tax to Foreign Policy .
    Yorkshire should have its own Regional Assembly and more devolution

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    I am a North Easterner, but I was born and raised in the North East of Scotland... my wife is from Northumbria and definately is not a Geordie... it's all about perspective. Anything North of the Watford Gap is a wilderness as far as the Estuary English are concerned. Don't forget the border between Endland and Scotland was once at the Eden/Tees during Malcolm III's reign

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    The kingdom of Northumbria (north of the Humber) was itself a construct of older kingdoms, Bernicia and Deira. The dividing line between these kingdoms was the Tees. This is now currently the border between Yorkshire and Durham which also became a line dividing Danish Yorkshire and the remnent English Northumbria beyond.

    Today this line still separates different people despite modern Teesside.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    English regions are "artificial" constructs delineated by the Registrar General decades ago for statistical reasons. They were used for planning and economic development purposes in the 60's and 70's.
    At that time Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were treated as regions of the UK.
    Their use also received a post with entry into the EEC which tended to base its policies on "regions".

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Speaking as a Darlo boy living in Edinburgh I must say that I am first and foremost a Darlo boy, but I am a North eastener, not just a Northerner, we have a collective identity, Darlington may be trains , Seaham coal and Newcastle docks , but we are linked. If we did not have this then competitive derby day matches would not exist, ask any fan,they would rather beat the nearest team than Man utd

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Yorkshire County Cricket Club see the Tees as the boundary. Coming from Guisborough then (just to the south) I am, & consider myself to be, a Yorkshireman. However, I also consider myself to be Northeastern. I follow Middlesbro' FC & our rivals are Newc & Sunder'd - there is a Northeastern ID/rivalry. 'Yorkshire' covers many identities, there's no contradiction in being Yorkshire & Northeastern.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Everything south of the Tees is Yorkshire and the sooner we get put back properly in the North Riding of Yorkshire and disassociated with Durham (nice people, but lets face it - foreign) the better.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Northumbria was one of the great kingdoms in the dark ages and a beacon of light of education throughout Europe. Of course it was a bit bigger than current Northumberland and Durham. That is not an artificial construct but real history. Couple that with the Scots border wars, and that is real identity

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Once upon a time there was a place called Yorkshire before they carved it up, we were " The North" we had our own weather, our own economic figures etc etc. Now we are lumped together with Durham & Northumberland and called the North East. The real North East is Durham & Northumberland ! Not the land of the white rose.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    What a buffoon. While his 332 majority was likely to see him un-seated at the next election anyway I suspect he has just guaranteed he can return to his law practice. While he may be from the north-east....sorry County Durham he is clearly not in touch with local sentiment or popular conciousness.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Who's to say it's just the 'North East' that suffers at the heart of this London centric Government? If it's not in the London or the South East, then it's not anywhere it seems. We've had dreadful flooding and the A1M motorway was out of action for 4 days! This is the main motorway to the 'North East', yet was allowed to be closed! If it were the M25 closed for 4 days there'd be hell to pay!

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    By no means a Tory supporter I have to say I don't think there is a natural identity for the North East but then Glaswegians don't identify with Edinburgh even though they will all say they are Scots.
    There is a strong parochialism here and a pride in being from Newcastle or Sunderland or Northumberland etc. It helps the South to do us down to make them feel better about themselves


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