YP Comment: Who will speak for Yorkshire? Betty Boothroyd’s indomitable example to all

Betty Boothroyd became Britain's first female Speaker 25 years ago.
Betty Boothroyd became Britain's first female Speaker 25 years ago.
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THEY don’t make politicians like the plain-speaking Betty Boothroyd any more. Inspired by listening to Clement Attlee’s invigorating post-war speeches, it remains a mystery that this no nonsense octogenarian never represented her home county in Parliament – West Bromwich’s gain was Yorkshire’s loss.

Twenty five years after she made history by becoming Britain’s first female Speaker, she remains as a forthright as ever while her social values remain shaped by her upbringing in Dewsbury in the aftermath of the Wall Street Crash and the embarrassment etched on her unemployed father’s face as her family struggled to make ends meet.

Betty Boothroyd: Speaking her mind

Noting that “in a democracy, winners do not take all”, it can only be hoped that the June 8 election does see independent-minded MPs returned from all walks of life who are prepared to champion the underdog rather than those prototype politicians who are only selected because their views find favour with the party leadership. Equally, there should be a place in Parliament for forceful personalities who are prepared to tell it as it is.

Given how Yorkshire has not flickered on Theresa May’s political radar since the became Prime Minister apart from one opinion piece for this newspaper, it’s important that this county elects a cohort of MPs on June 8 who will become passionate advocates for Yorkshire. That means voters challenging candidates about their policies, and actually engaging in the democratic process now underway, rather than accepting the bland soundbites – made for television – that have come to characterise past campaigns. This year’s battle is no exception.

On the early evidence, Mrs May’s position appears to be unassailable and a convincing majority will provide the mandate she requires in order to extricate Britain from the European Union on the most advantageous terms. However Parliamentary democracies are underpinned by effective opposition and Labour’s lack of credibility threatens this tenet.

In this regard, it’s even more important that the electorate takes the chance to consider the merits of each and every candidate, inparticular their ability, and willingness, to speak up for Yorkshire.

The big transfer: From Wakefield to Manchester

LIKE the redoubtable Betty Boothroyd whose childhood was characterised by thrift, the same applies to council chief executive Joanne Roney whose first ambition in life was to be able to afford to purchase her own coats so she no longer had to adorn hand-me-downs and cast-offs.

However a humble upbringing did not preclude her from undertaking an apprenticeship scheme that would lead to a distinguished a career in local government. Head of Wakefield Council for the past eight years where she has presided over the city’s economic resurgence, she’s now succeeded the widely-respected and vastly experienced Sir Howard Bernstein as chief executive of Manchester Council.

One of the top jobs in regional government, it’s testament to the effectiveness of Ms Roney’s astute leadership and management that she was recruited for this prized role at a time when the North West city is actually implementing a new raft of devolved powers and electing its first metro mayor next month.

She will certainly be missed on this side of the Pennines where the devolution debate is still deadlocked. However it is to be hoped that this county can learn from her experiences in Manchester – and that her new role makes it easier for councils in both Yorkshire and North West to work together on issues of mutual benefit, like transport, so that the North is no longer the proverbial poor relation when it comes to infrastructure investment.

Wheel of fortune

CYCLING made Dame Sarah Storey a household name, and together with the Tour de Yorkshire, her remarkable achievement in becoming Britain’s most decorated Paralympian is helping to broaden the pursuit’s appeal as the country’s new national sport.

The ability to ride two wheels is changing lives for the better from the golden success enjoyed by elite competitors to the development of safe routes that enable youngsters to cycle to and from school. This would not be possible without exemplary role models like Dame Sarah whose integrity has transformed their sport’s reputation for the better – standards that must be upheld if the progress of recent years is not go into reverse.