Arnie Craven All pictures by Robbie MacDonald
There are many challenges on the way to a fairer Yorkshire within a fairer Britain, the Party’s Chairman told more than 50 delegates to the Autumn Conference in Hull.
Arnie Craven said: “I don’t believe our nation can ever truly be better whilst the major disparities between the South and North persist: when some schoolchildren here in Yorkshire receive barely half the funding those in parts of London; when it takes me over an hour to travel the 30 miles between Leeds and Manchester; when people in Huddersfield are threatened with a hospital closure that will mean a 13 mile journey to the closest A&E – in Halifax.
“Those are the challenges we are fighting. And I’m here to tell you all, we are succeeding.
“I was reminded about how I first became involved with the Yorkshire Party earlier this week, when I was having a cup of tea with a councillor who was considering joining us.
“This councillor, who currently represents a major national party, looked me in the eye and asked me why the Yorkshire Party.
“I stopped to pause for a second, because it’s a very fair question. And I’m sure a question many of you often consider too.
“After all, it would be much easier in a large, national party, wouldn’t it?
“I know national parties would be quick to offer many of the great people around this room safe council seat
“And I know, as much as most people, the frustrations of working hard in an election, or a media campaign, only for that hard work come to naught.
“But I think back to the summer of 2014, where the first Leader of the Yorkshire Party, or Yorkshire First as it was then known, sent me a direct message on Twitter.
“Richard Carter, who sadly couldn’t be here today, spotted one of many Tweets I’d been putting out about the inadequate levels of transport spending in Yorkshire and the north.
“I recall vividly that this particular Tweet was prompted by a long journey on a Pacer train – one with bus seats, no less!
“Richard’s message to me, delivered in Richard’s unique style, encouraged me to stop talking and start doing. So I did.
“I met Richard in Leeds and we went to a small coffee shop. I said something along the lines of: ‘You know how crazy it is, trying to build a political party from nothing?’ He looked at me, with a glint in his eye, and said: ‘Yes. I know’
“But then Richard said something else that really hit me hard. He asked me if I really wanted to make a difference. He laid out to me his assessment of what was going wrong in politics in the north of England.
“That it wasn’t about who the Prime Minister was, or which of the big three parties got elected to run councils or represent constituencies.
“What it was really about was a structure where all meaningful power – both in terms of parties and of government – rested in London and the South East.
“And no matter how we tinker around the edges in the main parties – as long as that power structure continues to exist, things will never really change.
“And from that moment, I was sold. That was four years ago last month.
“It is a remarkable thing we are doing, trying to build a party from nothing.
“I’m a student of politics, so I see how many people have tried and failed. Look at the SDP, the English Nationalists, attempts to form a Socialist movement to the left of the Labour Party – all projects with big ambitions that came to nothing.
“At the time I remember thinking there was maybe a one in a hundred chance that we would succeed. And look where we are, four years on.
“I’m standing here addressing the AGM of a party with hundreds of members; with a growing network of branches across the region; and with councillors at every level of government – town, parish, district and county.
“Don’t get me wrong, I am under no illusions how far we still have to go.
“In the dark days, and believe me, there are many, I think of a quote from the famous Scottish author Alasdair Gray. ‘Work – as if you are in the early days of a better nation’
“Because I believe that’s what we are doing: building a better nation, a better Britain, by creating a fairer Yorkshire.
“I’ve long held the view that the only way to challenge the system is to play the system.
“And when I first met Richard, four years ago, I explained this to him.
“Everything I know of politics shows me that politicians, and the bigger parties, only really start to pay attention when they see their positions are being threatened.
“Just look at UKIP. As soon as they started seriously contesting elections, first securing third places, then second, then picking up councillors across the country – the national parties started to listen.
“And no matter what you think about Brexit, no one can be in any doubt that UKIP got its voice heard.
“That is what each and every one of us must do. Make sure the voice of the Yorkshire Party heard: by fighting elections; by holding street stalls and by securing Council seats.
“I believe the biggest changes come from the smallest steps. And these are steps we are taking!”
“We have councillors at district and county level, thanks to the decisions of Northallerton Councillor Claire Palmer and Selby Councillor Mike Jordan to join us.
“Mike and Claire have already made such a wonderful difference, and it is imperative we do everything we can to help them be re-elected next May.”
Chris Whitwood and Stewart Arnold with the WASPI women from Castleford: June Stansfield, Cath Dwyer, Maureen Weetman and Tina Kidger
The Conference’s applause for the women of WASPI – Women Against State Pension Inequality – showed how touched delegates were by the stories of the hardship suffered by many women born in the 1950s who were hit by sudden and unannounced changes to their state pension ages.
Led by Maureen Weetman of the Castleford and Yorkshire group, they explained how 3.8m women nationally – almost 300,000 in Yorkshire – were devastated by the lack of fair transitional arrangements when the Government decided to equalise pension ages between men and women and delay the age when pensions would be paid.
Another well-received speech was delivered by Peter Harrington, the entrepreneur, who talked about educating entrepreneurs to grow Yorkshire’s future economy. Peter was scathing about the present system designed to pass exams and tests at the expense of suffocating children’s natural curiosity and creativity.