Today I accompanied Councillor Blackie to a Local Government Association Branch meeting for Yorkshire and Humber. One of the lead speakers was Arnie Craven, the Elections Officer from the Yorkshire Party, there to petition Councillors to join his movement and call on Westminster to create a “One Yorkshire”. As a proud Yorkshirewoman myself, I can understand the idea behind this, but was also slightly puzzled. Obviously, I attend university in Newcastle and I love the city, the city is also home to many specialist hospital units regularly used by the people of the Yorkshire Dales, as it is quicker and more accessible than attending many of the specialist centres in another part of Yorkshire.
What Arnie was saying, though, was to create a unified Yorkshire, which would incorporate four already huge counties into one super block with extensive devolved powers and a mayor to oversee everything. I could totally understand his frustrations with lack of funding, budget cuts and lack of NHS and transport provisions. In fact, a lot of what he said did make sense, but what bugged me was that these aren’t problems that are exclusive to Yorkshire, they’re issues for the whole of the North of England, in fact they’re a problem for everyone living in England outside London and the South East’s little bubble.
School closures, transport cuts and hospital closures affect everyone from Cornwall to Cumbria, they’re not a problem unique to Yorkshire, so why should Yorkshire get to be “One Yorkshire”? Historically, political parties who are solely focused on one region don’t work, this is evidenced by the ‘Northern Party’ who survived just over a year from registering as a party in April 2015 until they deregistered voluntarily in April 2016 (The Electoral Commission, 2018). Alongside the Yorkshire Party, a “sister” organisation in the form of the North East Party started to campaign for further devolution in their region as well.
My question is, why not take all these regions that are being underfunded and unfairly treated by central government, who allow London and the South East to monopolise funding, and create a political party for the whole of England, which runs on a mandate of campaigning for equal funding across the country? I believe this could work, as the seven regions who suffer at the hands of the overfunding of two of the nine regions would definitely be in favour of more funding for their schools, transport, health services. No matter where on the political spectrum you align, there are very few people who can say with confidence that they will never use a school that hasn’t benefited from some government funding, have never attended a NHS doctor’s surgery or hospital and never used public transport, which even if not directly funded by the government or local authorities, often benefit from grants from them.
A brand new political party to specifically campaign against London and the South East seems unlikely though and something that the current parties with their London-centric vision are unlikely to let happen. So, I don’t know what the answer is, but I am doubtful that it is closing oneself off to the other regions. I am aware this isn’t what the Yorkshire Party are campaigning for. However, if Yorkshire as a single Authority was granted more devolutionary powers it is highly likely that the other six regions that are also suffering the same issues would not see this favourably and potentially feel they are getting a raw deal if they did not get the same devolution package.
Therefore, I think the only way to make devolution work for Yorkshire is to campaign for devolution for all seven regions who are currently suffering, to make it work for everyone is the only way to make it happen for Yorkshire. Devolution needs solidarity from the seven regions, even if it’s not in the form of a political party because to stand up to London and the South East requires one united voice to ensure it is taken seriously.
Written by Chloe Harrison – Third year International Relations and Politics