A Yorkshire Mayor? It’s Debatable

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Well over a year ago I was sat in a packed lecture room in The Rosebowl at what was then Leeds Metropolitan University listening to a debate about whether the city should elect a mayor.

The “most critical part of the debate” was how we, “the citizens of Leeds”, could participate in transforming local government and understand what that entailed for civic involvement and democratic accountability. The debate generated a lot of online and in the pub conversations. And it’s still ongoing.

But how foolish we all must feel now!

Over the weekend The Yorkshire Post “launched a debate on whether a single Boris Johnson-style mayor should be elected to lead this county into a new era of economic prosperity.”

Obviously we’ve not only been talking about the wrong type of mayor (I’m not sure any of us in the Rosebowl back then considered Boris Johnson our type) for the wrong type of thing (there’s not the slightest hint or slip of civic in this new debate) but we’ve also been getting the geography wrong too.

Leeds? A city mayor? Just too piecemeal and provincial and liable to be subverted by petty jealousies.

Only Yorkshire, with it’s “distinct city, town, rural and coastal locations” has the bigger picture. Yorkshire is a “priceless brand” and an “Iconic brand”. Brand Yorkshire is the “county’s greatest asset – both from an economic and marketing standpoint”, which is yet to be “tapped” and “maximised”. Yorkshire, therefore, “should give serious consideration to creating a figurehead who can fully utilise the Government’s new devolution powers.” This Yorkshire “figurehead” would get the “region’s leaders to coalesce around a structure of local leadership which demonstrates to the world that Yorkshire is open for business and developing a robust infrastructure to match”.

Forget the civic stuff. The debate is about “putting in place a leadership structure that maximises this county’s economic potential” where Yorkshire “can win a new generation of jobs and transport investment.”

Yorkshire needs to speak with a “single voice” to drive forward the economy” says a local MP. And that voice will “make a real difference on issues like transport and economic development.” (Personally I have problems with the One Voice idea.)

And a successful local businessman says the same thing, in much the same words – though, interestingly he is the only one to mention anything outside transport and economic development (housing and culture and quality of life, all pretty important for people living in Yorkshire). But in the end it comes down to “raising productivity, the most pressing economic issue.

Basically a Yorkshire mayor will be responsible for pushing economic development, transport, and productivity.

Let me translate.

Economic development” is more jobs. Any jobs.

Transport” is more roads to help you get to your job. Maybe a tram or two if you wait long enough and are really desperate.

Raising productivity” means getting you to work harder than the saps in Manchester, never mind the Germans or Swedes, so we can at least grab a bit of inward investment from their devilishly efficient grasp.

Call me cynical, but I prefer the debate we were having previously.

The Yorkshire Post saysYorkshire should be leading from the front rather than no man’s land in the centre where others dictate the debate on their terms” (wasn’t no man’s land at the front?) I think we’d better think about the terms of the debate they are dictating.


  1. The thing to ask isn’t the bollocks of a Yorkshire mayor, since Yorkshire might be a brand, but it isn’t a single region with one goal. It’s why regions can’t join forces, without elected mayors – which we’ve already voted that we don’t want – and make demands of this government. Put the regions of the north together, except Manchester, which bowed down happily, and start saying *this* is what we want. Your job is to provide it. Make these things available and we’ll work with you, and together. Give us devolution on our terms, the terms the electorate wants, and we’ll get along well. If not, believe us, everyone in these regions will know who’s to blame, and even Tory seats in Cheshire might not be safe.

  2. Excellent demolition of the nature of the debate and the lining up of suitable business leaders to take a particular line. We at Yorkshire First want first rate dwvo of powers similar to Scotland combined with a look again at how people can influence much more. The battle is one of democracy and the debate needs to bring it back to this. They are right obout the ‘brand’ but it’s fundamentally about people as citizens influencing their lives.

  3. I’m so far behind the times I still remember John Prescott’s failed efforts when he was Deputy Prime Minister.

    Didn’t he set up something called “The Northern Way” – somewhat similar in concept to the “Northern Powerhouse”.

    He also promoted elected regional assemblies. Without these being placed within any idea of national constitutional reform they were pretty much doomed to fail as happened with the referendum for one in the North east.

    For what it is worth – and obviously this is pretty much zero – I think if the country wants to get out of its presently chaotic state around “devolution” it needs thorough going reform not the current mess of national assemblies, ideas of English votes for English MP’s, and piece meal devolution to mayor-led city regions.

    That means thinking about the UK as a state of nations and regions with appropriate powers and democratic for a for different levels.

    Yorkshire and the Humber was fine by me but no mayors please – these I can do without


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