Chris Whitwood: pride at Party’s progress Picture: Robbie MacDonald
The Yorkshire Party must become a credible option to run the county’s councils and their services, the Party’s Deputy Leader told the Autumn Conference in Hull.
Chris Whitwood said: “The year ahead must be the year when the Yorkshire Party ceases to be a single-issue party of devolution and steps forward as a serious and credible alternative party of local government.
“For the first time in our history we have councillors at every local government level – county, district, town and parish.
“As we grow, we shall fight with increasing experience and confidence and our voice will be heard. Yorkshire will be heard. From dale and moor to vibrant city. From the Pennine hills to the sea and all who hear shall know that a vote for the party for Yorkshire is a vote for fairer opportunities, a stronger economy and a more united society
Chris spoke of his pride at the Party’s progress. “When I first attended a Yorkshire Party event in York back in the summer of 2014, the thought of success seemed very distant indeed. In that small room, sat seven people talking, in admittedly quite vague terms, about the prospect of devolution and how we might campaign to change Yorkshire for the better. In four years we have grown into a party with hundreds of members and voters that number in the tens of thousands … from humble beginnings.
“Don’t get me wrong. We have a long road yet to travel. The question we must ask ourselves, is by which road? What does and should the Yorkshire Party stand for?
“It’s not always an easy question to answer. It is perhaps easier to say what the Yorkshire Party is not… and on that I am very clear.
“The Yorkshire Party is not and it must not become a party of insularity. We are not and must not become a party of clichés, nor one that panders to stereotypes.
“It can be easy to become inward looking. However, our eyes, our vision, our resolve must be firmly fixed on Yorkshire’s place in the modern world.
“Yorkshire was once the industrial powerhouse of our nation but in recent decades has been neglected by central government. Yorkshire has now fallen behind… no! We have been allowed, through Westminster neglect, to fall behind much of the rest of the country.
“In the 21st century, technological advances mean that people are better connected than at any other point in human history. Yet in political terms, too many people have felt too disenfranchised for too long.
“In these turbulent times, it is easy to be pessimistic. It would be easy to say modern politics has failed – in many ways it has. The waves of discontent that have swept not just Europe but many other parts of the world are evidence of this. But now must also be a time for optimism. Though the disease of populism thrives, it has not yet taken root. So we must remain hopeful.
“The very challenges that threaten the political world also present outward-looking, democratic, progressive parties with an opportunity: in our case, an opportunity to build a new political vision where the people of Yorkshire have a clear voice and the powers to shape our own futures.
“We all came here today for different reasons. We all came to the Yorkshire Party by different routes. But one thing that, I hope, unites us all is our ambition for Yorkshire.
“Our vision is ambitious. It is our right to demand that our children receive the high-quality education that every child deserves. It is our responsibility to shape our economy to ensure that public investment enables fair and creative enterprise to thrive. It is our task to bring our region and our nation together, through investment in transport, infrastructure and connectivity.
“It is our obligation to face the threats posed by climate change, head on – not shirking the challenges facing our generation at the expense of the next … and it is our duty to ensure that Yorkshire takes a leading role on the international stage, within the United Kingdom, in fearlessly realising this vision.
“I will be first to admit there have been and still are areas where we should and must do better. It is very easy to default to a ‘safe’ position – a viewpoint that doesn’t rock the boat. That isn’t to say we should advocate change purely for the sake of change.
“However, if we are to succeed, we must spell out a narrative that will not only attract people who are already disenchanted with the mainstream. We must outline a vision that inspires individuals from across the political spectrum and across Yorkshire.
“And to do that we must be firm in what we believe. We must have the confidence to adopt policies and points of principle in the knowledge that not everyone will agree. But we must be true to ourselves and true to our beliefs.
“Only then will we be seen by the people of Yorkshire as a party capable and worthy of shaping the future of our region, and indeed our nation.
I believe, fervently and without hesitation, in outward looking, international Yorkshire, confident in ourselves and assured of our place in our nation and the world.
“We fight for a stronger Yorkshire, not just for ourselves; not even for our communities, which are the heart and soul of everything we do. We fight, to redress the imbalances in our nation and to set right the inequalities in our society. For by building a stronger Yorkshire, we will also create a fairer United Kingdom.”
The Party belongs to the European Free Alliance and the Conference heard speeches from two international experts on devolution: Anders Eriksson from the Alands Framtid campaign for self-governing Aland to be independent of Finland and Attila Dabis, Foreign Affairs Commissioner to the Szekler National Council, representing hundreds of thousands of Szekler Hungarians living in Szeklerland, Transylvania in Romania. Anders spoke of bringing decisions more closely to the people and Attila put an international perspective on gaining greater autonomy.