Matt Thomas: Why Lib Dems are out of touch over Yorkshire devolution

Should Yorkshire have its own parliament?
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THE CORONATION of Sir Vince Cable might give some Lib Dems hope for the future, but there will be others, especially in Yorkshire, who will decide that this is the moment to leave the party.

The Liberal Democrats had a disastrous General Election in Yorkshire. They suffered their largest vote share decline of anywhere in the UK. They lost their last two MPs in the county, meaning in the last three years they have lost three MPs and two MEPs. In effect, their entire Parliamentary representation. In addition, scores of local councillors have gone astray.

These loses are symptomatic of the fact that the Lib Dems seem to have nothing to say to the North and to Yorkshire in particular. One of the reasons that the Lib Dems did so badly in Yorkshire was that something like a third of the party’s own supporters had voted to leave in the Brexit referendum. So making one in three of your supporters feel unwelcome by inferring they were racists and little Englanders was never a sensible strategy.

This obsession with overturning the referendum result might have helped the Liberal Democrats claw back a couple of seats in London, but it was never going to win round new or existing supporters in Yorkshire.

It’s not only Europe though. Another problem is that Vince Cable personifies the Liberal Democrats attitude to devolution in Yorkshire. It had been a long-standing Liberal and Liberal Democrat policy to have a Yorkshire-wide assembly or parliament.

Devolution had always been high on the party’s agenda and it was something that attracted me to the party in the first place. Yet, as soon as the Liberal Democrats got round the Cabinet table with David Cameron in 2010, they forgot all about it. Indeed, it was worse.

In one of his first jobs as a Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, Vince Cable scrapped Yorkshire Forward, the region’s Regional Development Agency’.

Yorkshire Forward had its faults. It certainly could have done with greater transparency and accountability, but it was the one Yorkshire-wide organisation that had the clout to drive economic development and prosperity. In its place Vince stablished Local Enterprise Partnerships or LEPs which in his own words created ‘chaos’. Ask anyone working for or with LEPs in Yorkshire and their view is they are too small, their scope limited and they are under resourced. Ask others and they will say only a Yorkshire wide LEP would really work.

In terms of devolution in Yorkshire, Vince, despite being a Yorkshireman by birth, has shown nothing to suggest he understands why the devolution of powers away from the dead hand of London is so vital to the whole of Yorkshire.

My support for the Liberal Democrats was also tested by the tuition fee rises implemented by the coalition Government. I was not able to turn a blind eye and in March 2011 I joined protestors in Sheffield to march on the party conference.

Just before June’s General Election, I noticed that former Liberal Democrat, Diana Wallis, was a member of the Yorkshire Party. Diana is someone I have always held a deep respect for. This prompted me to look properly at what the Yorkshire Party stood for and I saw that I shared many values with the party.

Transport is a key issue for me; I am consistently dismayed by the lack of funding in our local rail structure. Education is also important to me, as are many other areas of policy which could be better controlled locally by a Yorkshire assembly.

The Yorkshire Party wants the transfer of significant, meaningful powers to Yorkshire so that we can set our own priorities here and unleash the tremendous potential that exists. We don’t see devolution as the other parties do: down a long list along with economy, health, housing, education and so on. To us it is the issue. It is thing which will helps us get a better economy, better housing, better education, better health and social care, and better democracy.

I would invite all Liberal Democrats across the county to join me in this exciting new project and help build a better Yorkshire.

Matt Thomas is a Yorkshire Party member in Wakefield.