York MP on stag and hen parties, the Duke of York... and why she went against her party on covid vaccines

On the surface, York Central would be a constituency many MPs would envy.

Combining a hospitality and tourism based economy turbo-charged by the pandemic-led rise in staycations with some of the highest valued housing in Yorkshire, the city looks to be in rude health.

But as a Labour MP, Rachael Maskell sees the other side to York: one where, in her words, families feel unwelcome and poverty is rife.

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The MP has held the seat since 2015, after it was created in a boundary review in 2010. The constituency is entirely surrounded by York Outer, which is a safe Conservative seat.

As a Labour MP, Rachael Maskell sees the other side to York: one where, in her words, families feel unwelcome and poverty is rife.

“The inequality is biting, and it’s harsh in the city, particularly when we look at housing,” she told The Yorkshire Post.

“York is a post-industrial city, we had the rail industry and the chocolate industry - but those blue-collared jobs just disappeared after the Thatcher years.

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“As a result of that, the city - like so many places in the North - hasn’t given people the security of those sort of jobs.

“Because if people have decent jobs and decent wages - they can afford decent homes. And if we’re looking at levelling up, we have to look at it economically.”

Ms Maskell walks in the footsteps of those who have gone before her as anti-poverty campaigners.

The Rowntree family produced not only some of the UK’s most famous confectionery and chocolate but also a philanthropic tradition in York that saw anti-poverty work brought to the political forefront.

“The Rowntrees are such an inspiration,” said Ms Maskell, “And that kind of Quaker legacy they left around social justice still runs through the city today.

“Recognising the importance of that legacy is very much something I put at the forefront - and in so many ways, it feels like we’re back in those days where we have to examine those issues in our city.

“We’re at that crossroads as a city of making a decision of what we want in our future. Are we going to be a hollowed out stag-and-hen party city, as some will determine? That’s the laissez-faire approach some have taken to the economy.

“Or are we going to really invest in our industrial future - to make sure we’ve got protection around the future of housebuilding and ensure that local people have a real franchise in the future of the city? That’s the model that I’m working towards.”

In this respect, Ms Maskell has put her money where her mouth is and last week met Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Levelling Up to plead her case for AirBnB owners in York to be licensed.

Saying it makes her blood boil to see otherwise ordinary houses - often marketed towards stag and hen parties - fetching up to £1000 a night on the short-lets website, she’s demanded that instead local people should have priority for housing.

The department remained tight-lipped following the meeting about any agreements or promises made, but such tightening of short let restrictions does exist in other areas including London and Blackpool.

“We have a big choice to make about whether we’re going to be a family friendly city or a party city - and I’m really hoping to persuade the powers that be about how York should be developed.”

Such a scheme would undoubtedly have an impact on day-to-day life for many of the city’s 70,000 residents.

But Ms Maskell is also concerned with the symbolic connections the city has to one particular member of the royal family.

She has been campaigning vigorously for Prince Andrew to be stripped of his title of Duke of York, which was gifted to him by the Queen on his wedding day in 1987.

Andrew enjoys no particular connection with York beyond the title: he does not own a residence in the city and hasn’t visited formally since 2015.

But since he settled out-of-court earlier this year with Virginia Guiffre, who accused him of sexual assault, the campaign has grown for him to be stripped of his titles.

Earlier this week, the City of York Council voted unanimously to strip him of his freedom of the city, an unprecedented move.

Ms Maskell wants to go further, and has launched a parliamentary petition to have him formally removed of the Dukedom.

She said: “I’m waiting for the new Parliament to begin, and I’m certainly looking forward to bringing a piece of legislation forward.

“I’ve done a lot of research - a title can be given but not taken.

“Here we have peerages as well as dukedoms where there’s no mechanisms to remove them.

“We need to ensure there’s a process in place - like giving the Queen more powers, or for a parliamentary process.

Ms Maskell said she has written to the Duke of York but would not be drawn on his response.

“This isn’t just about a title, but a title buys privilege, which can be exploited.

“To have that association is what people across our city were so enraged about.

“It’s very much a ‘not in my name’ approach.. A responsible person would acknowledge the pain that so many women have experienced.”

Rachael Maskell's politics began around the family dining table. Brought up in the socialist tradition in Hampshire, she was inspired by her uncle Terence Morris, a prominent anti death-penalty campaigner.

She moved to York for work in the 2010s, eventually becoming head of health at Unite the Union before standing to be MP.

She cites concern for workers rights as the reason she defied Labour’s whips to go against backing mandatory covid vaccinations for care workers - a decision which cost her a shadow ministerial post.

“Ultimately, I’m a trade unionist,” she said. “I wasn’t going to vote for nonsense - that’s always going to be my stand. If that means making difficult decisions for me, so be it.”