I announced in the Yorkshire Post last week that I am standing to be the mayor of West Yorkshire. I’m under no illusions at the size of the task ahead. Our candidate will need a campaign like no other. So many of our traditional tactics just won’t be available. The Tories will throw the kitchen sink at it, pretending their party shares our Yorkshire values.
The new mayor will face an economic crisis in a region already struggling after a decade of austerity. We need a bold and creative vision. Campaigning as usual won’t win this election; neither cuts nor the status quo will rebuild our economy. West Yorkshire and our devolution deal are unique and we need a different sort of leader for the times that we live in.
I’ll be a mayor committed to community wealth building, a green economy – re-industrialising our heartlands in a sustainable way – better transport, social and council housing. I’ll be an ambassador for our region, fighting for investment and jobs.
I want to do that because I am passionate about our region, our movement and our values. I’m West Yorkshire born and bred. Growing up in a council flat on an estate in Batley on free school meals, I’ve spent over three decades as a freelancer often living hand to mouth, pay cheque to pay cheque.
I know I’m not a typical politician. I haven’t spent my life in politics but I have spent my life putting our values into action – organising donations in the miners’ strike, marching on Greenham Common, representing members as a union rep.
As mayor, I will work across our whole movement, in partnership with local government leaders, councillors and trade unions. I’ve seen what social partnership in Wales has delivered for people and communities, and will build on what’s worked in Liverpool, North of Tyne and Manchester to forge our own path in West Yorkshire.
Every policy I introduce as mayor will follow a Fair Work Charter that I will introduce within my first year, equality impact assessed and ‘green’ checked to ensure that our policies are deliverable and live up to our Labour values. In West Yorkshire, we’re committed to zero emissions by 2038 – a great target but one that needs a delivery roadmap.
On policing, we have to fight Tory cuts while creating a more victim-centred system. Alongside neighbourhood policing, tackling drug crime and anti-social behaviour, I will make domestic abuse a priority. These crimes are too rarely reported and prosecuted and violence against women has surged during lockdown. I want to pilot domestic abuse courts in our region, learning from the work of charities such as Women’s Aid. As a former shadow early years minister, I know that early Intervention is a key part of this public health approach to crime, and I will work with councils to support a network of Sure Start Plus hubs across West Yorkshire.
Finally, using my own experience, I will lead a Creative New Deal. Billions of pounds are spent every year in the creative industries. Calderdale is already vying to be the ‘Hollywood of the North’, BackStage Academy and Production Park in South Kirby are leading the way in creative skills and manufacturing. Channel 4’s relocation to Leeds and Sky’s £10m commitment to Black, Asian and minority ethnic content means opportunities for our diverse communities. Screen Yorkshire leads the country in training and apprenticeships. West Yorkshire can be a world leader bringing tourism, jobs, skills, opportunities, regeneration and investment into our communities.
With campaigning forced off the streets, we have to do things differently if we want to make this vision a reality. I will lead a digital campaigning revolution to win this election. Learning from Bernie Sanders in the US, but also from homegrown excellence in our movement: CWU and their innovative campaign against Royal Mail, Momentum and their amazing general election efforts, NEU and their successful mass member engagement. We will reach and engage those currently disengaged from politics.
I have the ideas, the energy and a vision for West Yorkshire, but no one politician has all the answers, which is why I’m starting as I mean to go on. In order to lead, you have to listen. I’m asking all members, trade unionists and councillors in our region what is important to you and your community as we build our manifesto for West Yorkshire – so tell me your ideas here.