'We need a first minister for Yorkshire, we could call it top brass' - Meet the punk singer vying to be the first mayor of West Yorkshire

When West Yorkshire elects its first metro mayor next year following the signing of a £1.8bn devolution deal with the Government, voters will likely see familiar names on the ballot.

Already putting themselves forward are MPs and council leaders, with business figures also likely to be key contenders.

But for 30-year-old punk singer Rio Goldhammer, from Bradford, the time has come for someone outside the political sphere to shake things up.

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“I’d only serve for one term,” Rio tells me when we meet - on Zoom, of course - during the week.

Rio Goldhammer, musician who wants to become West Yorkshire's first mayor. Photo: Bruce Rollinson

Rio had spent his day virtually teaching students at Leeds Conservatoire, where he is a senior lecturer in Music Business

It’s only part of his normal routine, planned for this year had been international tours with his band, 1919, but the pandemic put a stop to that.

When we speak, Rio is in a self-imposed isolation after coming into contact with someone who had been in contact with someone else with coronavirus.

Overly cautious, maybe, but he knows how devastating the virus has been, especially for his industry.

Rio Goldhammer, musician who wants to become West Yorkshire's first mayor. Photo: Bruce Rollinson

“It's not like we're doing any gigs at the moment, but we've been trying to do some studio stuff,” he said.

“Although we're not huge, we can fully fill a club in most major cities worldwide and have done, which means I have a kind of platform that I think I'm able to draw attention to certain issues quicker and more effectively than other people can, the main people like MPs and councillors.”

Despite wanting the job, Rio is unconvinced that having a mayor of West Yorkshire is on the big enough scale.

“The mere existence of a West Yorkshire Metro mayor is a kind of a b******* overturning of the democratic will, everyone said ‘no we want one Yorkshire devolution’,” he said.

Rio Goldhammer, musician who wants to become West Yorkshire's first mayor. Photo: Bruce Rollinson

“Now, it's obvious why this is being done, because if you take South Yorkshire out of the equation and you take West Yorkshire out the equation, then North Yorkshire might well be a Tory mayor in the future and East could be swing seats. So, whereas the alternative is you create a Scotland mark two, somewhere that's the size and population of modern Scotland and has, you know, and would have the same amount of power and would equally never have a Tory majority.”

But he said the only way Yorkshire would have any swing would be to return to the idea of having a mayor for the whole region, which has been consistently rejected by the Government.

And that wasn’t to devalue the successes of people such as Sheffield City Region metro mayor, Dan Jarvis, he said.

But to recognise the power that could be had, pointing to Great Manchester’s Andy Burnham whose footprint extends to 10 local authorities.

Rio Goldhammer, musician who wants to become West Yorkshire's first mayor. Photo: Bruce Rollinson

“We've seen the kind of successes that Andy Burnham has had, at least in a rhetorical sense, in a sense of the North needs a voice,” Rio said.

“And I've seen at the moment Yorkshire isn't getting mentioned in this, we hear ‘Andy Burnham king of the North’, and we’re completely unrepresented and next door.”

“We need a first minister really, we need a first minister of Yorkshire and we should call it ‘top brass’ or something.”

Rio wants to run on a platform of change, and despite his unconventionality, far from being a gimmick, his candidacy was backed by deep-seated morals and a political education.

“The first thing that really made me think is to do with how our refugees are treated. Now we've got so many people that are locked up, some of which are in South Yorkshire,” said Rio, who has a masters in politics from the University of Leeds.

“And it's actually because I have a few friends that work for refugee charities, I know that when someone's asylum lapses or for whatever reason, after someone's claimed and been given asylum, they can still be captured and detained for an unlimited amount of time. And we're the only place in Europe that still allows an unlimited amount of time.

“And not only that, but when someone is detained they don't tell anyone, they don't send a letter to their friends, they don't make a call, they just disappear from the street.”

Rio said his Jewish ancestry had caused him to draw parallels between the struggles seen today and those of years gone by.

“My family were Jewish refugees from Poland and Austria, so 70 years ago, it was us on boats looking for a better life and half my family found it either in London, Australia, or Israel, or America, scattered around the place, and others didn't,” he said.

“And there were other Jews that would arrive during the war on boats and were sent back to Belson and Dachau and the thing is that what is happening to those families, from mainly the Middle East now, is just so similar to what my family and other Jewish families went through back then.”

He added: “I have the privilege not only of having a reasonable public profile, but also being a British person, and white person, and I just thought, well, there's nobody actually talking about these refugees.

“Let's stop putting people in cages for committing the crime of being alive, and actually the metro mayor would be able to say, ‘okay, we're not going to arrest people for that anymore’.”

Pointing to the managed zone in Holbeck, where policing has changed towards sex workers allowing them to operate at certain times, he said: “Even if you don't change the law on a national level, you can just stop the practice of detaining people arbitrarily in West Yorkshire, that's the first thing I'd like to do.”

Other policies include taxing private schools to hand money to state education, and capping rent for those struggling due to the pandemic, as well as looking to Europe for inspiration on how to improve life for renters in general.

“I'm speaking maybe specifically about Paris, for example,” he said. “Which is a really expensive city, but people will have l three, four or five year tenancies, and you're only allowed to increase the rent at the end of the tenancy, and that can only be by a certain percentage which is tied to the increase in house prices.”

And he went further: “I would completely advocate for pausing rent altogether, both in residential and in a commercial setting. We've got a lot of music venues and other businesses that have been massively, massively affected.

“If they go bust they are not going to be paying the rent anyway, so you might as well just pause it.”

The West Yorkshire mayoral race is not the first time Rio has run for elected office.

In 2016 his bid to be the Labour councillor for Killinghall in the Harrogate local elections was the subject of a documentary, Punk Rock Politics.

But he was adamant he would not be sticking around in the job if he were to be selected by the Labour Party to fight for West Yorkshire, and win.

“I won’t be seeking re-election, I would serve this first term, and do what I can to help the all of the poor and working and lower middle class people in West Yorkshire and I don't care who I p*** off in order to do it.

“I'm not trying to build on that to be an MP in future anything like that. That's it, dishing out what I can, try to steer the ship in a direction that gives people what they need to get on, and then after that, I'm done, back to touring, singing, and dancing.”

Labour will announce who has been selected as their candidate for the race on December 11, with a number of candidates already announced.

Other candidates so far include Bradford Council leader Susan Hinchcliffe, Batley and Spen MP Tracy Brabin, Huddersfield businessman and lawyer Hugh Goulbourne, and former Calderdale councillor Peter Judge.

No candidates have yet put themselves forward for the Conservatives but party co-chairman Amanda Milling previously said the party would put up a strong candidate.

Andrew Cooper, leader of the Green Party on Kirklees Council is the Green Party's candidate.

The vote will be on May 6, 2021.