Bill Carmichael: A tough choice on Yorkshire’s greatest

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DAVID Cameron is a brave man – not just because of his determination to destroy the Islamic State, or to cut taxes or curb benefits, but because he waded into the fraught controversy over who is the “greatest living Yorkshireman”.

Doesn’t he realise that this is essentially a never ending family squabble and the opinions of outsiders are neither sought nor valued?

I know plenty of pubs in this county where a “foreigner”, such as Cameron, making his views known on such a sensitive topic would be considered real fighting talk.

Luckily for the Prime Minister he wasn’t in a street corner boozer but the more refined surroundings of the Conservative Party conference when he casually tossed in a hand grenade into the debate by nominating former party leader William Hague for the title.

What! Reaction on social media was swift with many instead championing cricketing hero Geoffrey Boycott as the “greatest living Yorkshireman” – including, it almost goes without saying, the never-modest great man himself.

Others were quick to nominate playwright Alan Bennett, painter David Hockney, the king of chat Sir Michael Parkinson and the businessman and Ukip donor Paul Sykes.

Now I’ve lived in the White Rose county for a considerable number of years and I’ve brought up a family here, but I wasn’t born in Yorkshire – so I am more circumspect than the Prime Minister when offering an opinion.

But Hague to me seems a pretty strong choice. He rose from humble beginnings to occupy one of the great offices of state and is a brilliant parliamentarian and debater. Only the other day I heard him making absolute mincemeat of his fellow panel guests, including fellow Yorkshire MP Yvette Cooper, on BBC radio’s Any Questions show.

For the sake of political impartiality, I’d also nominate David Blunkett from the other side of the aisle. Like Hague, Blunkett rose from unpromising beginnings and went on to be Home Secretary and a key player in Labour’s three election victories. The world of Westminster will be a poorer place when these two political heavyweights retire.

Away from politics and into the world of film, television and the theatre and we are spoilt for choice. Sir Patrick Stewart, Sir Ben Kingsley, Michael Palin, Sean Bean, Brian Blessed and Tom Courtenay must all be in with a shout.

From popular music we have Tony Christie, Joe Cocker, Jarvis Cocker and Alex Turner (lead singer of the popular beat combo the Arctic Monkeys, m’lud) among many others. In sport there is Kevin Keegan, Dickie Bird and the Brownlee brothers, Alistair and Jonathan. Or how about Jeremy Paxman, who was born in Leeds although he doesn’t shout about it? Or Jeremy Clarkson, Vic Reeves, Bob Mortimer or Paul Daniels?

And note that so far we have only discussed Yorkshiremen. When we include Yorkshire women a whole new vista opens up – from actresses Dame Judi Dench and Diana Rigg, to athlete Jessica Ennis-Hill, singer Lesley Garrett, boxer Nicola Adams, former Commons Speaker Betty Boothroyd and the sublime “Barnsley nightingale” Kate Rusby.

Was ever a county blessed with so many distinguished figures from all walks of life? I’ve probably missed out your favourite – if so feel free to continue this debate. But to get the perspective of a true born native I asked a friend of mine – a Dalesman who thinks anyone who comes from beyond Kettlewell is a southern pansy – whom he would nominate. “The greatest living Yorkshireman?” he said. “That’s easy – it is God.”

Quite a contrast

Compare and contrast the speeches of the two party leaders in recent days.

Ed Miliband forgot to mention the deficit or immigration, promised higher taxes and more spending and told how he wandered around Hampstead Heath in a desperate search for “ordinary people” to talk to. Verdict – simply embarrassing.

David Cameron was responsible about the deficit, honest about the cuts needed to balance the books, promised lower taxes and stricter immigration controls and was passionate about defending the NHS. Verdict – deeply impressive.

Conference speeches may not amount to much but the truth is that one of these two men will be our prime minister in eight months’ time. Nobody else stands a chance. Makes you think, doesn’t it?