Conservative MPs have been urged by a party colleague to put partisan interest aside and back the mission to wrest powers and money from Westminster for a region-wide Yorkshire mayor.
A Yorkshire Post survey of the region’s MPs today shows that a majority of respondents backed a One Yorkshire devolution deal but were split on party lines, with Labour far more in favour.
Despite 18 out of 20 councils, including all Tory leaders, backing One Yorkshire, the party’s MPs tended to either oppose the idea entirely or remain unconvinced, with many preferring smaller city-based deals.
Robert Goodwill accused Tory colleagues of opposing the plans because they fear Yorkshire becoming a Labour “safe seat”.
But on the eve of the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham, the Scarborough and Whitby MP said only a Yorkshire-wide deal would see the region having a “Premier League” mayor like Manchester’s Andy Burnham and West Midlands’ Andy Street.
He told The Yorkshire Post: “Too many seem to be focused on electoral arithmetic and political gain.
“I want to see Yorkshire reach the critical mass needed to sit at the top table with mayors from London, Manchester and Birmingham.
“We need to be in the Premier League and only the One Yorkshire solution, as backed by most councils, can really deliver that.
“In 1999, I was elected to the European Parliament for the whole One Yorkshire region in an election the Conservatives came first in.
“One Yorkshire creates a real democratic unit which is not a safe seat for any party.”
Meanwhile, Greek former Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis backed calls for more devolution in the North, arguing that the Northern Powerhouse has gone from an idea that “excited people magnificently” to a “source of discontent”.
The councils that support One Yorkshire, along with Sheffield City Region Mayor Dan Jarvis, have found their efforts to secure a deal rebuffed by Ministers, who want the South Yorkshire deal to be properly implemented before even discussing a regional plan.
They are due to soon present an economic case for a deal to the Government, saying devolution could benefit Yorkshire residents by up to £5,500 a year.
Mr Varoufakis urged the Government to take devolution proposals seriously.
“London is never going to be able to express the aspirations, concerns, worries and hopes of people in Leeds, people in Hull or people in Doncaster,” he told The Yorkshire Post.
Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry said he would look for the One Yorkshire economic case to show a plan that will drive a “step change in economic growth”.
One Yorkshire Survey
In total, 24 MPs out of the 45 who responded to the survey support a region-wide agreement, while nine oppose it and the rest were undecided.
But Labour MPs were far more in favour of One Yorkshire, with 22 backing the proposals compared to just two Conservatives.
Only nine MPs were completely opposed to a Yorkshire mayor, but six of these were Conservatives, putting them at odds with the council leaders from their party who are among the 18 backing the plans.
The rest were vague, undecided or did not prefer one model over another.
Of the Tories that replied, only Shipley's Philip Davies raised concerns about a Labour mayor, arguing someone “nominated by Unite the union” and elected as a Labour mayor would “end up with businesses fleeing the region, not flocking here”.
Morley and Outwood MP Andrea Jenkyns also expressed concerns about the potential calibre of candidate, arguing a One Yorkshire deal could only be done in stages to attract the right kind of leader.
“If someone who had been the CEO of a big company wanted the job that would be fantastic,” she said.
Brigg and Goole MP Andrew Percy described himself as “100 per cent against this damaging and silly proposal”, warning East and North Yorkshire would end up being dominated by cities.
Tory supporters included York Outer MP Julian Sturdy, who said he would back a North and East Yorkshire deal if it was “the first step towards a larger devolution agreement further down the line”.
Pudsey’s Stuart Andrew simply backed any kind of deal that can garner support, including One Yorkshire, saying he was “extremely anxious” about being left behind the likes of Manchester.
The Yorkshire Post says: Plan now for the future and give One Yorkshire the power
For Labour, several MPs highlighted the cross-party unity of the region’s councils, and said a deal would allow Yorkshire to punch above its weight, develop regional business hubs, improve transport links in line with local needs, become a player on the world stage and better mitigate the effects of austerity.
Several of the party’s big hitters backed the plan, including Doncaster MP and former leader Ed Miliband who said it would allow Yorkshire to “punch above its weight”, and ex-Cabinet Minister and West Yorkshire MP Yvette Cooper who stressed the importance of getting decision-making back in the region and away from a Whitehall machine that “doesn’t seem to be listening at all”.
Another ex-Cabinet Minister, Leeds MP Hilary Benn, described the proposals as a “unique opportunity” to unite the community to “increase Yorkshire’s voice, take more decisions for ourselves and fulfil our potential”.
“Give us the tools and we will do the job,” he said.
But some MPs from Sheffield and Rotherham, where the councils oppose One Yorkshire, said they did not back a region-wide deal.
Wentworth and Dearne MP John Healey said One Yorkshire “falls far short” of what is needed for his seat, while Sheffield’s Paul Blomfield said he would prefer a “network of city regions working together across the North”.