WILLIAM HAGUE made a profound point when reminded in Parliament about “a fabulous part of England called Yorkshire” – a region that lies “between the increasing power and wealth of the London and the South, and the growing power and independence of Scotland”.
The Leader of the Commons, who takes his leave of front line politics at the election when he retires as Richmond MP, had this pithy response for Huddersfield’s Labour MP Barry Sheerman: “As a proud Yorkshireman, it has always been my view that we do not aspire to govern Yorkshire – we aspire to govern the world.”
Yet, while Mr Hague appeared to relish a final opportunity to live up to David Cameron’s claim that he is “the greatest living Yorkshireman”, there was a certain irony to the ex-Foreign Secretary’s words.
After all, there is still a possibility that it will be a Yorkshire MP – one Ed Miliband – who becomes Prime Minister after the election, although his affinity with this region is not the strongest and does not compare favourably with Huddersfield-born Harold Wilson, who went on to represent a Merseyside seat before advancing to the top job in politics.
And, irrespective of whether it is Mr Miliband or David Cameron who is occupying 10 Downing Street after May 7, neither appears particularly well-placed to neuter the advances being made by two politicians whose rising popularity threatens to marginalise and short-change Yorkshire. The two people in question? Nicola Sturgeon and Boris Johnson.
First Ms Sturgeon. Even though there were many people in Scotland who thought Alex Salmond was an impossible act to follow, the First Minister and SNP leader is benefiting from the continuing disarray within Labour’s ranks, a rather ironic state of affairs given that the Nationalists actually lost September’s historic referendum vote on independence.
Her objective is clear. Brimming with confidence, she wants the SNP to win sufficient seats that it holds the balance of power can prop up a Miliband-led government. It is also not impossible that this scenario sees the aforementioned Mr Salmond performing the Nick Clegg role as Deputy Prime Minister, assuming that he wins the Lib Dem-held seat in Aberdeenshire which he is contesting.
No doubt it explains why Ms Sturgeon has signalled that SNP MPs could vote on English-only matters. She has all the momentum, even though any coalition or pact with Labour could be disastrous for the English regions. Downing Street would be little more than a Holyrood branch office.
It’s bad enough that the longstanding Barnett Formula, which so favours Scotland over the rest of Britain when it comes to public spending, remains unreformed, but a Miliband government propped up by Ms Sturgeon and Mr Salmond? It is why voters have a right to know what the SNP would do for Yorkshire if the Nationalists held the balance of power – they would be responsible for matters pertinent to the whole of the UK and not just their home territory.
Even if the Tories are the biggest party, Mr Cameron should not under-estimate the self-evident ambition of his Eton and Oxford University contemporary Boris Johnson, who is expected to win the Uxbridge seat and who already has his eyes set on being a wide-ranging Minister without Portfolio until his second term as Mayor of London concludes in May 2016.
He signalled his ambition at the weekend by renouncing his American citizenship – Mr Johnson was born in New York – and has already listed a number of roles that he would accept.
But Mr Johnson also made one other telling assertion that should not be overlooked in God’s own county: “By the way, one of the questions that people can reasonably ask is will I continue to speak up for London? The answer is yes.”
Yet, while Yorkshire could benefit from the experience of Mr Johnson in the capital and his assertion that politics could be “detoxified” if more power was handed to the regions, he has admitted that his first love, politically-speaking of course, will always be London. He has said so himself. There are Tories who fear, rightly or wrongly, that he will become a gaffe-prone distraction.
Where does this leave Yorkshire? Even though the Cameron government does now recognise that there is a country beyond the outer extremities of the M25, their policies have yet to make a lasting impact and this region is still bereft of a political ‘big beast’ of its own. It is a shame that a politician like Mr Hague could not have done more, since his election in 1989, to advance his home county’s cause.
In the meantime, I would like to see every political party contesting seats in Yorkshire to select candidates who were either born or have impeccable links here. Any party committed to this region’s advancement will not shy away from such criteria. If this was to happen, there might – just – emerge an unifying politician who is in a position to help Yorkshire “to govern the world”, William Hague’s wish.
The worry is what happens in the immediate aftermath of a general election on May 7 which could spell bad news for the county – regardless of whether it is Nicola Sturgeon or Boris Johnson in the ascendancy.