I am writing to express my sadness, mixed with a little anger, on hearing that your ticket to the Northern Powerhouse party was lost in the post. You must have thought, as the sixth biggest city in the country, with more than its fair share of economic and social challenges down the years, that you would have been close to the front of the queue when it came to enjoying the benefits of a government elected on the promise to Level Up.
Who would ever have imagined that Levelling Up, like Global Britain, Take Back Control, Get Brexit Done and People’s Priorities all come from the one factory of production at which Boris Johnson truly excels – slogans without strategy or substance behind them.
You mustn’t take it too personally though. Because Northern Powerhouse itself comes from the same factory, albeit when under the different management of David Cameron. So you are not alone in being shafted by the new railway plans for which Johnson is now asking for your gratitude. But to those who may have voted for either or both of these rich, entitled, posh, arrogant Old Etonians, I wonder if the penny is yet dropping that they don’t really have your interests at heart, never did, never will?
You and I go back a long way, do we not, Bradford? I was born not far away, in Keighley, and briefly attended your famous grammar school before – one of the saddest days of my life – we had to move to Leicester shortly before my 12th Christmas. For the first eleven years of my life, Went Yorkshire was a happy home, my father’s veterinary practice spreading over some of the most beautiful landscapes on the planet. Then he had a bad accident, had to gave up his practice, and his new life as a Ministry of Agriculture vet took us south to the Midlands. My psychiatrist and I discuss it often!
You and I never lost touch though, even if most of my trips north take me to Burnley across the Lancashire border for football. In recent years mind you there has been a Bradford connection to those trips to Turf Moor, as Bradfordian Dave Baldwin became the club’s CEO, and roped me into supporting him in his work chairing the Bradford Economic Partnership. He got me to speak at the launch of its economic strategy three years ago, the chance to talk up Bradford’s many assets, and to josh with the Tory minister, Claire Perry, who was full of nice warm words, and told us Cameron was absolutely committed to helping deliver prosperity to the North. Cameron and she are both gone. Levelling Up has replaced the Big Society as the big message, and is going in exactly the same direction, to nowhere and nothing.
I will likely see Dave again next weekend when I will be in city centre planting trees as part of the Queen’s Garden Canopy initiative. I also spoke just last week to the organisers of your next literary festival which is seeking to become a Hay or Edinburgh of the North, and where I will be one of many dozens of writers trying to help them in that endeavour.
You have a great history, some wonderful old buildings, some exciting new businesses, great cultural figures past and present, some decent sports teams, and are never more than a short bus ride from breath-taking natural beauty. Today you will be feeling angry and let down, and no wonder. But you need to know that precisely because you have so many strengths, not least your people, you also have a great future. It is just that you will have to make it despite the government, rather than because of it.
I hope you are now able to see more clearly that Bradford’s full potential will never be fulfilled with a Tory government in London, least of all by one led by Johnson and Rishi Sunak, who confuses Bury and Burnley, and who has as much in common with the people of Bradford as you do with multi-billionaires who spend Covid building tennis courts and swimming pools..
Thank you for all the memories, and for all the moments in the future I know I will enjoy with you, starting with the tree-planting next week.
See you soon, and remember … you can never trust the Tories.
Yours ever, Alastair