THE YORKSHIRE POST is proud to publish its general election manifesto for Yorkshire today, setting out our challenge to the next Government to unlock this region’s potential and create a new era of prosperity for its five million residents.
A Manifesto for Yorkshire – a blueprint which flies the flag for this region and pulls together the key policy challenges facing the White Rose county – is apolitical and seeks to ensure that pre-election promises are not forgotten after polling day on May 7.
For, while this is already the most unpredictable election in a generation as support for the traditional parties of government becomes splintered, the outcome could not be more critical to Yorkshire’s future prospects if it is to become the much-vaunted ‘economic powerhouse’ envisaged by politicians of all persuasions.
Although this is the region which powered the Industrial Revolution, it is still regarded – in the early years of a new millennium – as a sleeping giant and it is imperative that those local MPs returned to Westminster in just over 50 days’ time start to use their collective wisdom to pull together on a cross-party basis for this region’s greater good.
For too long, this area has been left short-changed by successive governments whose London-centric decision-making and funding formulae have so favoured the capital and devolved nations over the North, not least when it comes to infrastructure investment. This must change if various plans to empower Yorkshire are to be turned into tangible benefits.
However it has become clear, since last September’s historic referendum vote on Scottish independence, that the Scottish National Party – and its counterparts in Wales and Northern Ireland – could wield undue influence at Westminster in the increasingly likely event of a hung parliament.
Yorkshire can live up to its reputation as God’s own county. Let the debate begin.
That is why it is vital Yorkshire’s 54 MPs have a clear understanding of the issues affecting their constituents and look to forge a consensus to lessen the likelihood of this area losing out to the devolved nations, and in particular Scotland’s contingent of 59 MPs.
It is why this newspaper’s manifesto calls for English devolution to be given the same level of importance as issues pertaining to the future of the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly – the next Government has a fundamental duty to represent the whole of the United Kingdom in equal measure.
It is why, for example, our vision for the future also advocates the appointment of a Minister for Yorkshire. Although this proposal runs contrary to the desire for a smaller, and more efficient, government, there is a clear need for a figurehead who can co-ordinate policy and give added impetus to negotiations between Whitehall departments and regional leaders.
And it is why the blueprint includes specific ideas on improving academic attainment – Yorkshire’s entrenched position at the bottom of various education league tables is a source of embarrassment and not conducive to equipping today’s youngsters with the skills that will see them become tomorrow’s wealth-creators in a business-orientated world.
Although this is not as glamorous as policies like high-speed rail, it holds the key to this county ultimately becoming a net economic contributor to Great Britain plc rather than a constant drain on the nation’s finances.
Nevertheless it is precisely the type of issue which could be overlooked in a divisive election campaign that will revolve around the marginal constituencies where the result is too close to call – many Yorkshire constituencies will be totally ignored by Britain’s most influential politicians – and those totemic issues like the economy, NHS, immigration and Europe which have nationwide resonance.
Yet, at a time when the political parties are struggling to engage with voters, the time has come to put those issues most relevant to Yorkshire at the very heart of the 2015 general election campaign.
It is the democratic duty of every adult to challenge would-be MPs on their own priorities for this region – and for prospective candidates to set out their responses to the themes outlined in A Manifesto for Yorkshire.
Such a dialogue builds on the foundations of last summer’s unprecedented Grand Depart to the Tour de France which showed to the world what Yorkshire can achieve when the whole county pulls together with a unity of purpose.
The challenge now is to recapture the dynamism of this spirit, from a political, economic and social policy standpoint, so Yorkshire can live up to its reputation as God’s own county. Let the debate begin.
IN FULL: OUR YORKSHIRE MANIFESTO...