Yorkshire deserves better than Tory sleaze - now Labour must offer an optimistic vision for the North: Yvette Cooper

Favours for rich friends instead of a fair deal for everyone – that is what we are getting from Conservative Ministers right now. Billionaires with the Prime Minister’s phone number get help with their taxes. But the excluded self-employed still get nothing. David Cameron and Greensill get private drinks with Ministers. But Rotherham steelworkers still wait to see if their jobs will survive. So much for the levelling up we were promised, instead this looks more like a return to Tory sleaze.

There have been recent controversies involving both Boris Johnson and David Cameron, pictured together here in 2012. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

Yorkshire deserves better than this. Eighteen months on from the General Election, we have seen no sign of a proper plan for growth, jobs and regional investment in our region.

Major investment such as transport still heavily favours the south – at two and a half times the level in London as Yorkshire. Even where capital investment has been promised, there is too often a catch. Ministers have given Rishi Sunak’s Richmondshire constituency higher priority on the list for the Levelling Up fund than Barnsley, despite it being ranked 251st on the Government’s own deprivation index while Barnsley is 38th.

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Time and again Tory Ministers are prioritising their own interests rather than giving everyone a fair chance. Where we have managed to get funding for lower income towns and communities, we have had to fight hard for it.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer pulls a pint and drinks it during a visit to Wrexham Larger Brewery in Wrexham as part of Welsh Labour's Senedd election campaign. Picture: Peter Byrne/PA Wire

Labour’s northern mayors powerfully exposed the raw deal northern businesses were getting in the Covid crisis last autumn – as we were offered only 66 per cent furlough support when the North faced restrictions in contrast to the 80 per cent furlough when London and the South East were hit too.

Nor is the Government backing us to get the jobs of the future. 64 per cent of the firms helped by the Future Fund are in London compared to only three per cent in Yorkshire. The Prime Minister’s new Build Back Better Council includes only one person from the North among its 30 appointed members, while 22 are from London. The huge strengths and potential of our northern towns and cities are being overlooked.

We can build back far better than this. But Labour has to work hard now to earn back the trust and support of voters we lost at the last election and show how things could be different. In my chapter of the Fabian Society’s new pamphlet, I argue that Labour’s belief in active partnerships between government, business, trades unions and communities, our commitment to equality, hard work and to fighting for a fair deal for everyone, are the kinds of principles and policies needed to drive new prosperity in the north.

The last Labour Government boosted jobs and investment in Yorkshire, including Regional Development Agencies to drive growth and the Coalfields Regeneration Trust which created new jobs on our pit sites. But we need to be much more ambitious now.

Yorkshire, the north and midlands should be at the heart of new green manufacturing and energy jobs. We need a proper northern industrial strategy supported by Regional Development Banks to invest in future jobs, new science and research. Towns need investment, not just cities. And we need proper recognition of the key worker jobs that have kept our economy and public services going this year.

We need more trains and buses to connect our towns as well as new digital infrastructure to support people working from home. Normanton in my constituency has just one train an hour to cover the 13 miles into the centre of Leeds compared to the six trains an hour for places that are a similar distance from the centre of London.

After the Covid crisis, our high streets need stronger backing. Small shops and pubs have had a really tough year. For them to be covered by business rates while Amazon and online giants don’t pay their fair share of tax is wrong.

Most of all we need to support our young people. They’ve had the toughest year of all after the exam crisis and the cuts to youth jobs. Northern schools have lost more days because of the pandemic, yet the catch-up support isn’t working, especially outside the big cities. It needs to be urgently sorted.

We should be more radical about moving government jobs north, especially in a post Covid world. If we were really serious about rebalancing the country, we would even talk about moving Parliament to Leeds, Manchester or York.

Across the north, we have great talent and ideas – local people, communities, businesses, mayors and councillors need to be given back power to deliver. Labour’s Tracy Brabin has pledged to bring in 1,000 new skilled youth jobs if elected West Yorkshire mayor.

Above all we need to draw on Labour values to set out an optimistic vision rooted in Northern pride, so that instead of cronyism everyone gets a fair deal.

Yvette Cooper is Labour MP for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford. This article is based on a chapter in a new pamphlet, Hearts and Minds, published by the Fabian Society.

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