8 May, 2016
It is difficult to understand any implications that the recent local government elections might have for the devolution movement here in Yorkshire as attitudes to regional devolution seem to depend on the individual involved rather than the party he or she may belong to. This certainly seems to be the case for the two major parties though the Conservatives seem to be more inclined towards the “Greater Yorkshire Devolution Proposal”. In any event, the outcome of the elections in Yorkshire was predictable so we can probably expect no real change.
Moving on to the party that is perhaps most consistent in its aspirations for Yorkshire devolution, Yorkshire First: by my reckoning the party fielded 17 candidates in the local elections. This level of coverage looks pretty thin but then the party is still relatively young and finding its feet. On the other hand, I might have expected them to have at least one or two candidates in such major centres as Bradford and Hull. I don’t think Richard Carter’s (leader of Yorkshire First) criticism of the BBC for not allowing Yorkshire First a party political broadcast really holds water when so few candidates took part. (Some criticism of the BBC may be due for their coverage of the Tour de Yorkshire, however, as the finish was not even given a mention on our late regional news bulletin on Sunday 1st May.)
On the day the party’s performance was not that bad. Although they did not gain any seats, several candidates did rather well. For me their outstanding performance, though maybe not their best overall, was in Guiseley and Rawdon in Leeds where Bob Buxton came in third ahead of the Lib Dems, Greens and UKIP. To do this in an area like Guiseley and Rawdon, which I know pretty well, is a real achievement and for me signals the arrival of Yorkshire First as a credible party. Building on this will not be easy but let’s hope these elections provide the impetus for Yorkshire First to move forward and present the people of Yorkshire with a real alternative. This must also act as a wake-up call to the other parties to get their devolution policies in order.
To cap off the week, Austin Mitchell provided the Saturday essay in the Yorkshire Post which was entitled “Bridging the Divide of the Northern Madhouse”. In it he provided a reasonable analysis of the current Northern Powerhouse initiative. He asked all the right questions but failed to provide any realistic suggestions for solutions. It is clear that the current devolution initiatives are a mess but suggesting that a Humberside solution might be the answer for Hull, North and North East Lincolnshire is clearly a non-starter as this has been consistently rejected by the people of East Yorkshire. To cast Stephen Brady, the leader of Hull City Council, as somehow obstructing progress on devolution is disingenuous as Councillor Brady has been a key proponent of “Greater Yorkshire Devolution” which, in the current circumstances, must be the most logical solution for Yorkshire. If anybody could be accused of obstructing progress, it must be those leaders in South and West Yorkshire who fail to see the opportunities presented by a greater Yorkshire solution and who seem determined to follow their own narrow self-interests at the expense of their own fiefdoms and the rest of us.
Mr Mitchell is right to suggest that “we must decide on what basis to devolve power to and what powers should be devolved.” The questions for me are who should decide this and on what basis. The YDM’s all Yorkshire solution does not even figure in Mr Mitchell’s suggested solutions, yet it is the favoured option for quite a large number of people in Yorkshire. We also believe, however, that we must let the people have their say which brings me back to the local elections.
It seems to me that the YDM’s message; that a Yorkshire devolution solution can not only work but that it will allow the region and its people to thrive, that it could ultimately cost less than the current systems of government, that it would be more accountable and that it would provide an impetus for economic growth that the city regions could not get anywhere near, let alone match; is not getting through to a large proportion of our target audience. This is something that we must rectify as a matter of urgency.
If anything then, the most significant implication of these elections for the devolution movement in Yorkshire is that we must learn to campaign more effectively and we must seek ways to cooperate more closely wherever possible in order to turn the momentum of our campaign into a critical mass in favour of a Yorkshire devolution solution.
8 May 2016