LETTER TO THE PRIME MINISTER
Dear Prime Minister,
Firstly, may I offer my sincere congratulations on your new job as PM. As we all know, with any great title comes great responsibility, and here in The North there is much to be done. But before we get to the cut-and-thrust of this letter I would like to indulge in a bit of light bonding over our mutual interest: fashion.
I personally think that you have a wonderful sense of style — it hits the right note between polished professional and effortless chic. Let’s face it, busy women like us just don’t have the time to spend all morning getting ready and your common-sense elegance looks secondary to the importance of the job that you do. And that’s just how it should be.
I make no apologies for taking an interest in what you or any other influential woman chooses to wear. While it would be damaging to take the main focus off your work and onto your signature kitten-heels, I do think it’s human nature to look at women. The problem comes when we judge/are judged by what we wear. On the other hand, we wouldn’t want a dowdy-looking Prime Minister, would we?
But let’s get down to business. As you know, the British fashion industry currently contributes some £28billion a year to the British economy [figure courtesy of Oxford Economics] and employs around 800,000 people. As such, it is one of our country’s most important industries and yet it is still not being taken seriously. I know that there is a tradition of hosting a fashion-industry reception at No. 10 (originally instigated by Sarah Brown) but having been to more than one of those do’s, I’m not sure that anything comes of it. Maybe, as a woman with a double interest in fashion and stimulating the economy, you will see to it that there is a follow-through to the conversations and promised investments that are made on such occasions; promises that your male counterparts have so far failed to fulfil?
What did TM wear to meet HM when she was asked if she wanted to become PM? A patriotic Amanda Wakely coat and matching dress, and a favourite pair of LK Bennett leopard-print kitten heels, of course.This pervading ‘bad attitude’ towards the fashion industry is best summed up by the time I asked a (male) Sheffield politician to accompany me to London Fashion Week. This was at a time when I was on the board of [Tony] Blair’s Skills Task Force, and we were trying to encourage factories in The North to take on the manufacturing for young designers; along with pulling in experts on pattern-cutting, accountancy, business skills — everything you need to run a proper business. His response? ‘Ah… well, I’m going to a football match but I’m sure my wife likes that kind of thing’.
So I really do think that Government needs to start and champion the ‘babes’ of the fashion industry; they are its future. This can be done by 1) influencing editors of big magazines/newspapers to support and feature the work of local, fresh talent, instead of just focussing on the luxury goods behemoths who advertise; 2) encouraging British manufacturers to make-up the small quantities required by younger designers in order for them to have a functioning business model. Young designers can’t afford to pay for the big orders required by manufacturers in China/India and neither can they afford the exhorbitant rates charged by British manufacturers for small runs. It’s not as though a fledgling designer can go to the bank these days and ask for an big overdraft or a loan; and if they’ve just left university, chances are they’re in £40,000’s worth of debt already.
You have said on many occasions that ‘Brexit means Brexit’. But who knows what leaving the EU is going to do to the British fashion industry when 70 per cent of its goods are exported to the EU, and when 56 per cent of designers on the London Fashion Week schedule were born outside of the UK. This doesn’t even take into consideration the fact that the fashion industry has to start and deal with the consequences of the GBP dropping like a stone against the Euro and the Dollar which is inevitably going to force up the cost of making and retailing clothing. I can’t help but think that this is going to put a lot of small independents out of business at a time when all our High Streets are looking the same. We need to safeguard our independent makers and champion innovation!
Much has been made of the BREXIT vote in terms of how people voted regionally. I can tell you now that The North’s majority vote to leave the EU wasn’t so much to do with the realities of immigration (despite it being the bandwagon/soundbyte that everybody jumped upon) as it was a two finger-salute to the political establishment, whether that be in Westminster or Brussels. People around here in Barnsley, Rotherham and Wakefield are angry at how politically disenfranchised they are; and they are only going to get angrier as EU money begins to dry up. So I invite you to come and meet the people who voted for BREXIT… I promise they won’t bite.
You might even take the opportunity to visit the Yorkshire Sculpture Park or The Hepworth Gallery; both world-class culture destinations that can rival the likes of the Peggy Guggenheim in Venice or the Tate Modern in London. Which brings me nicely to my next point: your Government has got to stop being so London-centic. The fact that most young creative people can’t afford to live in London gives your Government an incredible opportunity to conceive creative hubs in other parts of the UK — like here, in the country’s biggest county. Yes, we have heard much chatter about the Northern Powerhouse but I defy you to find anyone in these parts who believes it will happen.
If you are really serious about creating a Northern Powerhouse (as opposed to just using it as gimmick to make a token journey and get on the news wearing a hard hat while laying a brick), then you will need to come and check out Manchester and Leeds airports. Just by trying to get there, you will see at first hand how bad and congested our roads are, and how outdated our train systems are. (You can’t even get a train link from Leeds Airport to York, which is one of the most fabulous, ancient cities in Europe. Can you imagine that being the case on the Continent? Just think what the tourist industry could be like in Yorkshire if there were better transport links.)
I know that you are incredibly busy but I do think that once you’ve whizzed around Europe visiting Presidents Merkel and Hollande you should pay us a visit. You could get yourself an office in Leeds or Sheffield, and be seen to be ‘bringing people back together – rich and poor, north and south… young and old, male and female, black and white’ as you pledged to do just a few weeks ago.
We can feed and water you here at the Tobacco Warehouse’s Quintessential Kitchen, and make light work of your sartorial patriotism: how about a plaster-pink cashmere sweater knitted in Hawick, Scotland; a ‘jardigan’ made from cashmere woven in Bradford and tailored right here in Barnsley, or a suede ‘boyfriend jacket’ made with lambskin sourced in Northampton? If you need to switch-up your look from PM’s Questions to PM’s Cocktails, just add some bold Jennie Gill jewellery, lovingly crafted down the road in Sheffield. (We see that, like us, you have a penchant for a statement necklace.)
It was Mary Wakefield, commissioning editor of The Spectator, who wrote that Dan Jarvis MP could ‘only rise to the very top if he listens to Rita’. I mention this not to blow my own trumpet but to say that ‘Rita’ in this sense represents Everywoman/Everyman in these parts. You need to listen to us — the people — and to take action. Or else maybe we in The North should throw our lot in with the Scots?