'Mayoral system is nonsense, let's build a Yorkshire parliament instead', says Yorkshire Party leader Bob Buxton

Bob Buxton describes himself as being 'politically homeless' before the creation of the Yorkshire Party seven years ago, as he looked for a grouping that shared his strong belief in localism.

The full-time teacher and father-of-two flirted with the Conservatives and even joined their ranks before the 2010 General Election, taken in by David Cameron's 'Big Society' promises to empower local communities.

But after forming the view that the initiative did little to hand powers to local people, he quickly left. He couldn't join the Liberal Democrats because of their role in the hiking of student fees and disagreed with much of what Labour did in local government.

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21 January 2021..... Bob Buxton, the leader of the Yorkshire Party pictured in inclement weather in Rawdon, Leeds. Picture Tony Johnson

"Until 2014 I wasn't involved [in politics] at all, to use a buzz phrase I was politically homeless, which I think applied to a lot of people a lot of the time", he tells The Yorkshire Post. "It was great to find a party who were centrist, moderate, sensible and really passionate about localism."

Joining the Yorkshire Party in the year it was formed, he was drawn to its strong regionalist agenda and calls for a regional Yorkshire parliament as well as giving more powers to town and parish councils.

Now seven years later with the issue of the powers available to Yorkshire leaders still high on the agenda, he will lead the party into the next local elections after taking over from predecessor Chris Whitwood last May.

With a full-time job teaching engineering apprentices in Bradford, as well as a wife and two children and a role as a parish councillor in Rawdon, west Leeds, he had to think "long and hard" about taking on the responsibility.

"It was the right time, there was no-one else who particularly wanted it at that time, I felt there was a sense of duty really to take up leadership and try and lead it to more success."

Mr Buxton has solid foundations on which to build, with his party already having a smattering of local councillors around the region and winning the sixth most votes of any political party in England the 2019 General Election.

Though its ratio of money spent to votes would be the envy of any major party, suggesting it is punching above its weight, he concedes there is still a long way to go for it to have the impact he wants.

He compares the party's relatively low profile nationally with that of Change UK, founded in February 2019 and dissolved ten months later shortly after all its MPs lost their seats in the 2019 election.

"They got loads of donations and they got loads of members and they started off with 11 MPs, they were right at the front of the media. Ten months later, they didn't exist.

"We have had to come from nothing, not a single town or parish councillor, just the money that we've put in over seven years. And now we've got councillors at every level across the three ridings, we need more of them, we know that, there is a long way to go, there is no overconfidence, I can assure you that.

"But by being stubborn, which is a characteristic of people in Yorkshire I think, and hard working, we are making progress so we are growing. A lot of parties come into existence, with a lot of publicity and fall out of it, very quickly."

Though he is standing as the Yorkshire Party's candidate to be the first elected metro mayor of West Yorkshire, he says the devolution deals on offer from the Government pale in comparison with his preferred option of a regional parliament for Yorkshire.

He says such a devolved parliament, much like what already exists in Scotland and Wales, would make the region fairer and stronger and provide better representation for all of Yorkshire than the current mayoral system.

A petition launched by the party so far has more than 800 votes but needs 10,000 for the Government to respond and 100,000 for it to be debated by MPs.

He describes the system of mayoral combined authorities, led by an elected mayor whose cabinet includes local council leaders who can block some of their plans and other appointees for political balance, as a "bizarre mishmash" and a "load of complicated rubbish".

"It can't be polished into something that makes sense, it's a bad concept," he says. "And these rules are excruciating, a desperate attempt to make some sort of sense. We don't need to do this. Look at Scottish and Welsh devolved governments, they're the model for us to follow.

"Some people say [a Yorkshire parliament] is another layer of bureaucracy, people don't realise the layers that we've got at the moment, we'll be replacing a lot of these unelected bodies and semi-democratic combined authority and replace it with a democratically accountable body. And if you don't like what they do you can get rid of them. We'd go back to principles of democracy."

Though West Yorkshire's £1.8bn devolution deal with the Government is hailed as one of the most ambitious of its type, Mr Buxton describes it as "phony devolution" and points out that over the 30-year span of the deal the funding only amounts to £16 per person a year.

"If you think of all the money you pay every month in your income tax, council tax and national Insurance, it's such a small percentage of that you can clearly see there isn't much power in this mayoral devolution deal", he says.

"A lot of people report that the mayor has power over regional transport, not with that budget, you can come up with a good idea, you could do a feasibility study, you still have to go to the Treasury cap in hand."

As an example of the relative powerlessness of metro mayors Mr Buxton cites the example of Greater Manchester's Andy Burnham, who got into a high-profile row with the Prime Minister over coronavirus support but ultimately lost out.

He says: "Well, clearly that's not a devolved post, powers have not been devolved to you, you can make an argument, you're a spokesman, but you're overruled, they haven't got that power.

"Now, Scotland couldn't be overruled in the same way, nor could Wales or Northern Ireland. So, there's real devolution and that's phony devolution. Yorkshire needs real devolution, regional focus, regional democratic accountability."