BEN Houchen is an unlikely politician – he’s the former Leeds Tykes rugby player who has drawn inspiration from the injuries inflicted 15 years ago that cut short a promising sporting career.
Now his chosen sport is politics after the 31-year-old, who retrained as a solicitor, was elected this May as the first metro-mayor of the Tees Valley as part of the area’s devolution settlement.
Yet, while Mr Houchen’s scepticism about One Yorkshire will not play well with all those, including voters in Doncaster and Barnsley, who contend that this county should move forward as a single entity, his new experiences leading from the front offer a number of lessons for this region’s decision-makers.
First, the Mayor of Tees Valley is entitled to attend the Government’s discussions on Brexit while this county has no such representation. How long does Yorkshire, which prides itself on being the biggest and most important country, intend to sit on the sidelines?
Second, issues pertaining to economic growth, inward investment and skills transcend artificial local authority boundaries and decisions should no longer be taken in isolation. For example, access to and from Hull’s ports matters to the whole region, whether it be trade, tourism or East Yorkshire’s burgeoning green energy sector.
Finally, Mr Houchen’s election proved that it is possible for Tory politicians to be elected in areas traditionally associated with Labour – a reminder that the electorate is open to change if candidates are independent-minded and know how to make a difference. Now who wants to be mayor of Yorkshire?