Stewart Arnold: Yorkshire cannot afford to be ignored on June 8

The Yorkshire Party is fielding candidates in 21 seats.
The Yorkshire Party is fielding candidates in 21 seats.
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WHO will speak for Yorkshire? That was a headline in a recent editorial in The Yorkshire Post. The paper went on to state how Yorkshire has not flickered on Theresa May’s political radar since she became Prime Minister.

That is indeed true. It took 10 months since she was installed in office, and a General Election, before she first set foot in the county. Even then it was to a closed meeting of the party faithful in Leeds before a second visit 10 days later.

It is worrying therefore that, if as the polls suggest Theresa May is heading for a landslide, she will have little or no understanding of the issues we face here.

The General Election should be an opportunity to allow the people of Yorkshire to set their own priorities to the distinctive challenges the county faces. Obviously, Brexit is a defining moment in our politics but there are so many other important issues – education, health and social care, our crumbling infrastructure and our relationship with the rest of the UK.

It should also be an opportunity to break open the devolution logjam which has held back Yorkshire’s potential for some time now. All the main parties should lay out clearly and unequivocally their plans for governance in Yorkshire. The sort of hints and allusions that Theresa May gave in her interview with this newspaper were frankly not good enough. Does she want city regions? Metro mayors? A Yorkshire-wide settlement? We are none the wiser. It’s Yorkshire, after all, so a bit of straight talking should be the least we expect.

How Yorkshire goes forwards into the future matters. For example, if we wanted to host the Commonwealth Games in 2022 (and I personally think this would be a great idea), how do we go about it? London and Manchester with their elected mayors have already put in bids. Meanwhile, Yorkshire without the drive a Mayor or First Minister can provide, looks on impotently. And all this from a county that hosted such an excellent Tour de France and established the subsequent Tour de Yorkshire.

That is why the Yorkshire Party will be campaigning for democratic devolution for the whole of Yorkshire and for a parliament in the region with real and meaningful powers that can have a positive impact on people’s lives.

London and Scotland have benefited from this meaningful devolution and from higher public spending per head. This has enabled vast improvements in rail services and other forms of transport. In contrast, Yorkshire needs new lines, stations and modern rolling stock on its railways to ensure our economic competitiveness.

We need improvements to bus services, better road maintenance and more cycling routes. One thing that would also improve connectivity and innovation is if free wi-fi be extended to the whole of Yorkshire. It already exists in several town centres across the county so let’s extend that to the entire population.

Yorkshire has one of the lowest levels of inward investment of anywhere in England so, nationally and internationally, a Yorkshire Parliament would be tasked with marketing Yorkshire as an excellent place to do business.

As an extension of that, we would want to develop a ‘Made in Yorkshire’ label as a way of promoting the region and its products. Yorkshire’s global reputation in food and drink is second to none, so let’s blow our own trumpets! Over time this could be extended to specialist textiles, fashion, financial services and so on. Such an innovation could temper some of the uncertainty brought on by Brexit and the subsequent protracted trade talks.

This election is huge for Yorkshire. Can we really afford to be ignored for another five years? This election will be a chance for the people of Yorkshire to say to the London parties “enough – you are not listening. Give us control of our own affairs”.

The Yorkshire Party will be loudly campaigning across the region over the next few weeks to put the case for giving more control of Yorkshire’s affairs to the people here. The party is in better shape than at any time in our short history. We have more candidates, more resources and are better organised. We will be campaigning across the three Ridings from Skipton to Sheffield, from Bradford to Bridlington.

As The Yorkshire Post so plainly pointed out, it is apparent Yorkshire needs a strong voice at the moment. If no one else appears willing to pick up the mantle and speak up for Yorkshire, then we certainly will.

Stewart Arnold is the leader of the Yorkshire Party.