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People’s Republic of South Yorkshire: A Political Memoire 1970-1992

Through her memoire Helen the historian brings to life the story of community and politics in Sheffield and South Yorkshire between the 1970’s and 90s. But her book achieves much more than this and should have a wide appeal to anyone interested in the history of English local government, the welfare of regional and local economies and the empowerment of local voices, especially of women, in those processes.

Jackson’s recollections are enriched by those of others who were active, front of stage and behind the scenes, during a period when change in England’s regions and cities was beginning to accelerate. She writes of the real-life consequences of policies, directed from London and Westminster by people who knew little, and cared less, about their impact on communities and people hundreds of miles from the metropolis. In sharp contrast, she describes how local politicians involved those same people in shaping their future, newcomers as well as those whose families had lived there for generations and whose lives were being shaken by the social and industrial change of the last three decades of the twentieth century. Helen’s determination to see wider and more equal opportunities for women at work and in family and community life shines through as she tells of how she worked with like mind others in Sheffield to achieve this; commitment and experience she later took forward in her role as a Westminster MP. As parliamentary private secretary to Northern Ireland Secretary of State Mo Mowlem, she helped to ensure that the women of Northern Ireland were given a voice in the peace process.

The recipes evolved by Sheffield people and politicians (notably Clive Betts and David Blunkett as well as Helen) came to have a lasting influence on the development of local government in England. The Centre for Local Economic Strategies was founded in 1986 with significant input from Sheffield and other northern cities and Jackson as one of its early Chairs. It continues to help shape the agenda to this day. Helen the politician is not content with setting out the history. Ever practical, her book concludes with a final chapter, The Way Forward, drawing themes and lessons from what worked well to deliver change in local democracy and what did not. The challenges of the Covid pandemic and climate change make learning these ever more urgent. The power of global movements needs to be effectively harnessed to those with the patience, determination and courage deployed across local communities the length and breadth of England and beyond. Helen concludes in echoing Fawcett’s clarion call, still yet Courage Calls to Courage Everywhere.

Published 2021 by People’s Republic of South Yorkshire – Spokesman books

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