On 15th July the Yorkshire Party hosted its third ever summer conference. Over 50 members and supported travelled to Bridlington on the Yorkshire coast, to celebrate the Yorkshire Party's local and general election progress, and hear from our Leader Stewart Arnold. Stewart's speech is available to read in full below.
Thanks to you for coming today - it's great to see so many new faces.
Thanks also to Tim and especially Philip for organising this conference - our first in Bridlington and our largest so far.
I don't want to speak for long but I do want to touch on three things.
Firstly, I want to reflect on the election and particularly from our perspective
Secondly, I will briefly summarise where I think British politics is at the moment.
Thirdly, to say something about where I see us as a party going from here.
So firstly the General Election. Well frankly I think we had a magnificent campaign and a tremendous result.
In an election which turned out to be uncharacteristically Presidential in tone and where other parties - apart from Conservative and Labour got squeezed - we did exceptionally well.
Not only were we not squeezed we more than doubled our vote. We beat the Lib Dems in six seats and the Greens in five. In fact, we have established ourselves as the third party in many parts of Yorkshire. And this a process which I believe will continue and it's something I'll return to later.
21,000 votes. Sadly no MPs this time but 21,000 votes makes us the 6th largest party in England. In England! Even if we only stood in Yorkshire.
There is a clear and growing enthusiasm amongst voters in Yorkshire for what we have to say.
There were two key moments for me in the campaign. One was getting invited (after some nagging) onto the BBC Look North Hustings televised from Halifax and described as one of 'the main parties' by none other than Harry Gration! It showed to me how we had moved from fringe to mainstream.
The second key moment was the launch of our manifesto on the steps of Wakefield Cathedral one sunny morning. Lots of media interest, a great manifesto and many of our excellent parliamentary candidates. And looking at that group on the steps with me I was extremely proud of all of them and of those who couldn't make it to the launch.
Energetic, enthusiastic, great proponents for the Yorkshire Party and a joy to lead. There were no egos, no tantrums, no toys out of the pram, just hardworking champions of their local communities and of Yorkshire. Every one of our 21 candidates lived in the community they sought to represent.
The average age was about 35. The youngest candidate was 19 and probably the youngest candidate of any party in Yorkshire.
We had 20% LGBT candidates; our first non-white candidate and double the number of women compared to 2015. Fantastic stuff! I want you to join me in applauding the 21!
Already that election seems a lifetime away. We have a new Government - well not really...
What we have of course is the same lot supported by the DUP. And we discover there was a magic money tree all along!
As I made the point at the time, Arlene Foster and the DUP played a great hand here. 1 billion pounds extra for their community in addition to the enhanced public spending regime they already get in Northern Ireland. So just ten MPs extracted money for infrastructure, education, housing and so on. Imagine what we could do with 21 MPs or 54?
Would we have done the same? Its theoretical but possibly and in consultation with members. It's important to remember what we are about - we are pro-Yorkshire not anti this party or the other.
And what of Yorkshire's Conservative MPs? Here's a great opportunity to put pressure on a Government with a tiny majority and get the money to correct the imbalance in spending between Yorkshire and the south of England. But nothing. Barely a whimper and then that was merely a complaint about people not wearing ties in the chamber.
And let's remember both major parties launched their manifestos in Yorkshire. For one morning in May they seemed interested. But five weeks on from the election a deafening silence when it comes to what they plan for Yorkshire. They came and went and Yorkshire is forgotten once again. That's why the Yorkshire Party is needed more than ever. Because if we don't speak for Yorkshire and the people here, who will?
And that's true of the Brexit negotiations as much as anywhere. It's all well and good for Michael Gove to come to the Great Yorkshire Show and meet Yorkshire's farmers but what about next week when there is no show. Will he still be engaging with them? And what about the SME sector or the region's important chemical industries? Who's listening to them? We want a voice at the table for Yorkshire, in just the same way, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and even London have. In short, A consistent, regular dialogue with the Government as the Brexit negotiations unfold.
When Mrs May came out of number 10 to announce the General Election I watched in something approaching panic laced with horror. We, like so many other parties, were unprepared. No candidates in place, low on resources, no manifesto. In fact I spoke to Philip, who was leading the policy development work, and I said 'you remember how I said you have three years to get a manifesto ready for the expected 2020 election, well we've got three weeks'. But Philip, like everyone in the party, was motivated by the announcement of an election and spurred into action. And in fact I would like to thank Mrs. May for calling the election, because we ended up with more members, more supporters, more followers on social media, more resources and greater media coverage, than if there had been no election at all.
So we will be ready for any general election in the autumn or next spring when we will field even more candidates and do even better. Actually I have my doubts there will be an election unless there is an Conservative upturn in the polls or unless David Davis' ego mounts a coup.
Nevertheless, General Election or not, we do have a big round of local elections next May in places like Leeds, Sheffield, Barnsley, Rotherham, Wakefield to name but a few. And we will fight these hard and I can tell you now that we will put up a record number of candidates.
So coming out of the General Election, the prognosis for the party is very good. It seems to me that as Conservatives and Labour continue their move away from the centre ground it leaves us with a tremendous opportunity. There has to be a party for moderate conservatives, disgruntled Lib Dems, social democrats, regionalists and those just plain angry at the way our democracy works and the way London based parties are stifling the creativity, innovation and progress in Yorkshire.
I want devolution. I make no bones about that. I want the transfer of significant, meaningful powers to Yorkshire so that we can set our own priorities here and unleash the tremendous potential that exists. And I don't see devolution as the other parties do: as part of a list along with economy, health, housing, education and so on. To me it is THE issue. It is thing which will helps us get a better economy, better housing, better education, better health and social care, and better democracy.
There is a land not too far away where there are no tuition fees, no prescription charges, where long closed railway lines are being reopened, where a 'baby box' has been launched to help cut down on infant mortality and where the economy is growing four times faster than the UK as a whole. Scotland of course. Now we don't have to do any of those things in Yorkshire they do in Scotland but the very fact the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government can set their own priorities is something we should all envy and aspire to.
So the shift of powers away from the dead hand of London is our fundamental aim. It is central to what we are about and we will continue to campaign on our own and with others, inside and outside other parties, to make this happen. And I want to say, that I believe people in Yorkshire are firmly behind this. Representatives of business, education, trade unions and others have all confirmed how much more Yorkshire would be better off if it had more control of its own affairs.
And let's be clear we are talking about the whole of Yorkshire with all its diversity , potential and global recognition. Not city regions! City Regions are divisive, undemocratic, unloved and woefully inadequate. If the government persists with this option we should get angry...very angry. After all can you imagine the reaction in Scotland if, after two generations of campaigning, devolution had finally been granted but only to the Edinburgh City region, Glasgow City region and so on. The Scots would never have accepted that. And nor should we.
But as I have said all along - this is not just about constitutional structures. This is about the difference devolution via a parliament or assembly could make to people's lives, the economy, the environment and so on.
That's why we started to develop the Vision for Yorkshire document - in effect how we see Yorkshire in the future. Part of this was reflected in our manifesto for the election - Speaking up for Yorkshire - in things like education, infrastructure investment, energy policy and so on. But there's more to be done. And that's where you come in - both today and going forwards. I want members and supporters to help frame our policy. It's your party! We have a lot of people with different skills, expertise, experience and interests. And I want to tap into that so that we can produce a vision of what life in Yorkshire could look like in the future. A vision that is so compelling and convincing that everybody in Yorkshire can get behind it.
I want us to be a party that can embrace both business and the public sector. It seems to me that politics - in terms of parties - seems to be one or the other. I want us to be a party of the enterprise economy and social compassion. Both going hand in hand.
So that means extending free wifi into every community into Yorkshire as an aid to both innovation and connectivity.
I want to see a 'super port' set up along both banks of the Humber to rival not only the great ports of the UK but also those across Europe.
Yorkshire is a strong global brand and has a huge number of well regarded products especially in the food and drink sector. I want to see a 'Made in Yorkshire' label being promoted. Scotland through he Scottish Government has a 'Made in Scotland' label - again something they can do because of devolution.
It means making a Yorkshire challenge a cornerstone of our plans to improve educational attainment levels. This means more resources yes but it also means collaboration and strong leadership.
When the world is moving away from fossil fuels and towards a carbon free future how come Yorkshire is in the front line for shale gas exploitation? I want to ban any fracking from taking place in Yorkshire and to see the development of an innovative energy policy where renewables play a key part.
To make Yorkshire work we need a competitive economic environment, we need an infrastructure fit for the 21st century not for the middle of the last century. I think it takes as long to get from Hull to Liverpool in 2017 as it did in 1950.
Let me here say something about HS2. As a party we are doubtful that a third rail line between Yorkshire and London would have been the transport investment priority for any devolved Yorkshire institutions. We see much more value in HS3 which proposes to improve transport links between Hull, Leeds, Bradford and other parts of Yorkshire and beyond. We would also prioritise the building of new stations and the reopening of long closed lines.
We have always agreed that the key to unleashing the potential in Yorkshire is infrastructure.
HS2 aside, it is absurd that the long argued for dualling of the A64 is decided by civil servants in London. And the same for the electrification of the line between Hull and Selby. Or even that the placing of a roundabout in the city of Leeds must be agreed by someone behind a desk in Whitehall.
These things should be decided at a regional and local level where priorities can be set and decisions made.
So again it's a question of leadership and the appropriate levels of decision making. But it's also about money of course. You will have probably seen The Guardian article from the other day which showed transport spending in London three times the average in England. And the region that does worst of all? Yorkshire. No surprise because the cost of Crossrail 2 alone - one single project in London - is greater than ALL the transport infrastructure projects in the North for the next three years!
We would establish a Yorkshire finance trust for public investment to launch a new age of improvement in Yorkshire.
It will provide the financial mechanism to transform Yorkshire’s infrastructure into one fit for the challenges of today’s economy and tomorrow’s society.
There are other ways we can approach problems in Yorkshire without having to be battered on the anvil of ideology as if grammar schools are the key to low levels of educational attainment or nationalising the railway as a solution to Pacer trains. I want to use the best of traditions and heritage as a map for how we might approach the future. So with our history of community, cooperation and common purpose let's explore the idea of mutualism and cooperatives.
Also finally, with increasing use of robotics and artificial intelligence the world of work will change hugely In the years to come so we need to be able to incorporate a new way of thinking about work in our Vision for Yorkshire.
Let's be clear the stakes are high.
When we started the party back in 2014, it was important to catch up with the devolved nations of Scotland and Wales. Now we have seen Manchester, Liverpool, the Tees Valley (whatever that is!) and other parts of England gain some - albeit limited - decentralised powers. We are getting left behind.
If the Yorkshire economy had hit the UK rate of growth over the last 25 five years we would all be £2000 better off.
And if we had grown at the level of Finland - a country I know well with also coincidentally 5 million people - we would all be £10,000 a year better off.
So that's what we mean when we say about unleashing the potential. We look at London and the South East and see the economy there motoring ahead while our economic wealth is stuck at pre-recession levels.
Yorkshire is stuck at the bottom of so many economic and social indicators: economic growth, productivity, infrastructure spending, educational attainment, life expectancy amongst others.
It doesn't have to be like this.
I want us to be at the forefront of articulating a vision of hw Yorkshire should become a modern, prosperous, innovative region. If we don't do it then no one else will.
I believe that in creating that vision and offering that hope to a better future for the people of Yorkshire we have the real possibility to bring about change.
Let's do that together