Why Yorkshire is at the heart of the race to be Prime Minister - Luke Tryl

Yorkshire is at the heart of the race to be our next Prime Minister. With Liz Truss growing up in Leeds and starting her political career in Hemsworth and Calder Valley and Rishi Sunak representing Richmond, come September, Yorkshire will once again be represented in Downing Street after a long 46- year absence.

But beyond the candidates, More in Common’s research has uncovered another reason that places Yorkshire front and centre in this election – the public want whoever wins the race to espouse our great Yorkshire values.

In our recent poll, we asked the British public to pick the top qualities they wanted in our next Prime Minister – the top three were honest (56 per cent agreed), competent (33 per cent agreed) and straight-talking (28 per cent agreed). If they’re not the epitome of Yorkshire values, something I was lucky enough to experience myself growing up in Halifax, I’m not sure what is.

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In contrast fewer than one per cent of the public said they wanted a candidate who was slick. Instead they want someone who says what they mean, and will stick to their guns, even if they’re not the most polished media performer. It’s not just our polling that shows this, focus groups we’ve conducted across the country find a similar picture. What voters tell us they most want is someone who gets it, who understands their lives and will tell it like it is.

Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak during a TV debate. Picture: Getty.Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak during a TV debate. Picture: Getty.
Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak during a TV debate. Picture: Getty.

All of which can help explain where the race for No. 10 stands today. There’s no doubt from chatting to voters in Rother Valley and Wakefield that images of Rishi Sunak visiting a building site in Blyth in Prada shoes and apparently not knowing how to use contactless have damaged his image with voters.

Most of the voters we spoke to said that during the pandemic Sunak had marked himself out as a future PM with his deft handling of the furlough scheme, but recent revelations about his family’s tax affairs had made it difficult for them to believe he understood the challenges faced by ordinary people. In contrast, while Liz Truss was much less well known at the start of the race, many have liked what they’ve got to see – particularly the fact that she admits she’s not the slickest candidate, but instead says what she thinks and is proud of having a more humble Yorkshire upbringing.

Some might say that focusing on a candidate’s personality is trivial, especially when we’re choosing our next Prime Minister, but the voters we’ve spoken to in focus groups disagree. After all, policies are designed by people and often the difference between a good policy and a bad one is understanding how it will affect people’s day-to- day lives. Appreciating what life is like for most families across the country makes for better policy.

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None of which is to say that issues don’t matter. They really do. And one issue looms large over everything else as we head out of summer and towards the autumn and winter – the rising cost of living. Seven in 10 people from the Yorkshire and Humber region now say that cost of living is the most important issue facing the country – more than double the concern of any other issue.

These aren’t just abstract worries. In a focus group in Wakefield, we heard from a young father who’d had to take on a second job at the weekend to pay his families’ bills meaning he barely sees his children, and a mother who had to fight to get her son onto free school meals because she was now out of work.

What was clear from their stories is that it’s not just the very poorest who find themselves struggling – but those who are just about managing as well. Whoever becomes Prime Minister in September will have their work cut out to provide reassurance that they will do what’s necessary to help families through the winter – and for the public that is a combination of immediate tax cuts and support with bills.

Our polling also finds that seven in 10 people in Yorkshire think it’s important the next PM maintains our commitment to reaching net-zero by 2050. In focus groups, people in Yorkshire tell us they worry about their children and grandchildren’s futures if we don’t get a grip on climate change quickly.

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The other big issue is levelling up. Yorkshire is a fantastic place that I loved growing up in, but we also know that among our rich heritage, our rolling hills and our kind, down-to-earth, can-do communities, there are also large parts of the region – both rural and urban – that feel they have been left behind and neglected for far too long.

The next Prime Minister must now deliver on what has been promised, but not yet delivered, and provide communities across Yorkshire with the investment and support they need to thrive.

- Luke Tryl is UK director of More in Common.