Stewart Arnold addressing the Hull Conference Picture: Robbie MacDonald
It’s up to the Yorkshire Party to offer an alternative that captures the sense of grievance among voters but also directs the democratic upsurge in a new kind of politics, offering hope and optimism.
That was the message from Party Leader Stewart Arnold in his keynote speech to the Party’s Autumn Conference in Hull on October 13, 2018.
“Wherever I go and whoever I speak to there are two things that come up time and time again: a sense of powerlessness plus a feeling of insecurity. And the two things are linked,” said Stewart.
“I’ve been to city, town and village. Every community has its own issues, but what feels constant to me is the sense of powerlessness among those fighting for change.
“It’s the people of Leeds wanting a modern efficient transport system for the city; it’s rural communities desperate to get fast internet connection; it’s the people in Ryedale opposing fracking; it’s people in Hull wanting investment in infrastructure not least the electrification of the railway to the west; it’s the people of Bradford wanting the opportunity to come out of the shadow of Leeds and once again be a thriving economic city in its own right.
“Whatever the local problem, communities are angry and frustrated because they lack the power to put things right.
“Everywhere I went, in effect what people wanted, was to take back control. So how is that going to happen?
“Some argue it’s all about Brexit and, of course, Brexit consumes all political thinking at the moment. But here’s the irony. If, as I do, you think that the Brexit vote in Yorkshire was a cry for help from the people tired of economic decline, recession, austerity, a lack of investment in schools and infrastructure, then somebody, somewhere in London might start to address this.
“But no, this cry for help is being ignored. Yorkshire is being totally ignored. We have no voice at the table planning a better future for Yorkshire and its people.
“If we really want to address the root causes of why so many people in the county feel disempowered and unrepresented then we need to be empowering people and communities. We need to give them the ability to set their own priorities, spend their money and build a better future. In short they need the Yorkshire Party.
“Then there’s the insecurity people are feeling.
“At the university in the summer I looked around at the latest cohort of graduates enjoying the sunshine with family and friends eager to kick on with their lives. I wondered what sort of future in work they faced.
“The notion of jobs being from cradle to grave at a single employer of course is long gone. Working lives now have to undergo endless peaks, troughs and reinventions. We have to recognise that during our lifetime we might not just work for several different organisations or companies but do several different jobs or trades.
“We have to make sure that people can be retrained, reskilled and re-educated in a variety of ways to take up the different opportunities they might be faced with.
“It’s not just fear about the future of work which creates this insecurity. As the writer John Harris has said: ‘our lives are surely more scrambled and complicated than they have ever been’. Modernity is a muddle: it’s a world of multiple user accounts, passwords, contracts for energy providers, smartphones, tablets and Wi-Fi.
“There’s a sort of madness to modern living, a generalised complexity to our lives. As Harris says, this applies to those who think of themselves as relatively successful, let alone to people of those communities still struggling to come to terms with the economic hit they took a generation ago.
“It’s not unique to Yorkshire. All across the world people are in that same position. In those circumstances it’s not surprising people seek out those things which give them a sense of stability: family, friends and community. And in electoral terms it’s expressed in a vote for Trump and a vote for Brexit.
“But it’s also expressed in support for those parties which are of the community. Whether it’s Catalonia, Corsica, or Scotland, the parties that do well are those that best understand the hopes and fears of those communities.
“So it’s up to us to offer an alternative that captures the sense of grievance but at the same time directs towards the democratic upsurge in a new kind of politics, offering hope and optimism.
“Our message is getting support. May’s elections showed that many like what we have to say.
“Last year, I was delighted to be seen to be the 6th largest party in Yorkshire. Just a year on I would argue we are the 3rd largest across much of the county.
“So I know there is an appetite for our message.
“The Party has never been in better shape. We have more members, supporters and more followers on our so all media than at any time in our history. We have our first councillors one of whom you’ve met already of course.
“My challenge is to build on this and to advance the party even further: so more members, more supporters, more money and I want to see a record number of candidates in next year’s local elections. So if you haven’t signed up already do so today.
“We want a directly elected, accountable assembly (via fair votes) for the whole of Yorkshire. We believe such a body would properly reflect the political and geographic diversity in a modern Yorkshire.
“Nevertheless, I feel we can give qualified support to the One Yorkshire Campaign. After all, the Yorkshire Party has always supported the idea of a One Yorkshire devolution deal. We believe this is the way to create a prosperous region of five million people within the United Kingdom.
“The prospect of an elected Mayor responsible to a cabinet of Yorkshire’s local council leaders as proposed by this campaign is not an end but a beginning – a step towards the real inclusive devolution we want.
“So I’ve said we are prepared to bring our campaigning energy in order to strengthen the case for a One Yorkshire devolution settlement. Yorkshire must take much more responsibility for its own affairs – these are the first steps on that journey.
“Devolution to Yorkshire is coming. Everything we do as a party, putting out leaflets, high street stalls for our Yorkshire Pledge, writing letters, carrying out online petitions, putting up candidates, winning elections, moves that closer.
“We still have Government ministers (usually from Manchester curiously) telling us what we want but I think the sheer force of our argument will turn them. Just as we have carried the argument over the past years.
“As well as this campaign we need to be painting a picture of how devolution might look: the Yorkshire Party’s vision of a stronger Yorkshire in a fairer United Kingdom.
“In fact you can do a lot with devolution. The possibilities are exciting. It’s what still drives me after four years after setting up the party. And even longer since I chaired the Campaign for Yorkshire back when Prescott teased us with the idea of regional assemblies.
“Our goal is simple: a stronger Yorkshire in a fairer United Kingdom, and indeed a fairer Yorkshire; a fairer Yorkshire for all those born here and for all those who have chosen to make their home here, and for the generations to come.
“That’s why we believe in One Yorkshire. So work for this. That better future for Yorkshire and its people is close.
“Together we can make it happen.”