Fear and Loathing in South Yorkshire

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“We just thought people in Yorkshire hated everyone else. We didn't realise they hated each other so much.”
David Cameron in Leeds, September 2015

When the UK’s most easily forgettable ex-PM was caught out by a hot mic, he was way off the mark; mistaking healthy rivalry for genuine hostility. This is particularly true in the case of South Yorkshire. Barnsley, Rotherham Sheffield and Donny folk may fight like cats and dogs over the merits of their perennially awful football clubs; but they share a fraternity built on generations of struggle for liberty and egalitarianism under the weight of heavy metal and King Coal. However, if Cameron was talking about the region’s Labour politicians; he was dead on.

The town halls operate as clubland tribute acts to the ruling elite in Westminster - concerned with nest feathering and looking after their bigwig backers. In this context; the Sheffield City Region devolution stitch up, signed in time for George Osborne to play Bob the Builder at the Tory conference, made perfect sense. A straightforward, behind closed doors back scratching exercise where a little blame is sent north with a few bob to sweeten the deal. London gets cheap headlines about caring for the wretched hordes beyond Watford Gap and the local worthies get to sing the deindustrialization blues from behind a bigger desk. Everyone’s a winner…except the plebs.

Fast forward to September 2016. The brothers and sisters of South Yorkshire Labour are at loggerheads and the deal is on the rocks. Whereas the national party’s divisions are ideological disputes, the local bunfight is all about empire building.

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