I do a lot of complaining – I’m a Yorkshireman so it’s part of my cultural identity. I’ll get angry (through my aptly titled Angry of Bradford Twitterfeed) about how Bradford’s either ignored or vilified by the media; how governments preside over decline rather than drive us forward; how little has changed some of our lowest points were highlighted in 1990s and early 2000s. I whinge and I moan. I wonder how such a large city and district has been allowed to rot, falling further than virtually any other city during the 20th Century; how Bradfordians have been left behind; how we, once so rich, so opulent, so important, became so poor, so hidden, so ignored. I moan and I whinge. But why?
Below, I’ll have a whinge and a moan about my favourite topic, Bradford, but look wider at Yorkshire and wonder why we’re overlooked as a county, nay, the county of the country.
I’ve tried to never go down the route of pre-sheikh Manchester City fans who bleated about their “massive club” whilst in the shadow of the Red Devils – but perhaps I should have. I found figures which startled me. Bradford is England’s 5th largest and the UK’s 6th largest district. I really had no idea! How could it be that such a large and populous region is treated like this by governments and media?
Geography is the simple, but not sole, answer. We’re in the North, the provinces, the badlands, and far from the London-centric gaze, whose eyes focus intensely on the capital barring brief, fleeting glances at the South-East or the even less occasional peek at Gaelic matters, in which we do not figure. More than this, we’re in the shadow of Leeds – the centre of regional employment, culture, prosperity and importance. Were we more remote, further from the UK’s third city, maybe we’d get more investment, more media coverage, more, more, more. Maybe.
As it stands, much of Bradford’s money is spent in Leeds city centre or Meadowhall, because Bradford has nothing comparable. Much of our culture is found in Leeds, bizarrely as Bradford’s cultural bounty is comparable, and even finer in many respects. Much of our investment is scraps falling from Leeds’ table.
But what goes for Bradford goes for Yorkshire, including Leeds.
A look at the the table linked above shows just how big we are, and yet are ignored.
Leeds (3), Sheffield (5) and Bradford (6) appear in the top 10, with Kirklees (11), Wakefield (15) and the East Riding (19) in the top 20. Nowhere, not the South-East, not the Midlands, not Scotland nor Wales nor Northern Ireland have such coverage, so why are we allowing ourselves to be dictated to, mismanaged and ignored?
Tha can allus tell a Yorkshireman but tha can’t tell ‘im much goes the saying. So what is it about us that makes us take this crap from soft Southern Nancys? Perhaps the pride, the outward bravado, the hubris of the Yorkshireman hides an inner lack of self-confidence and self-belief. Hard to imagine, I know, but what else could explain our ability to be kept down?
Is Yorkshire’s geography a problem, similar to Bradford’s problem? Yes. We’re in the North, so we’re forgotten. Politically, Labour has us sewn up so, as is shown by Bradford’s decline, we are ignored or treated with contempt by the Tories, and Labour takes us for granted. Culturally, we’re an irrelevance – we’re flat caps and whippets and nowt else, despite Hockney and Brontes and Priestley and, and, and… In sports, we’re an oddity, with Yorkshire famously being the heart and soul of Britain’s summer Olympics haul (finishing 12th in the medals table), the most famous county cricket club and its rugby league clubs always leading the way; yet we are without a Premiership team in union or football.
We’ve more people than Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland, and we’re larger than Northern Ireland, but we don’t have the jingoism and identity of nationhood to draw on. We have a deep, rich culture, and have furthered the Arts in line, at least, with our size and status, yet it’s Livercool and Madchester and Cool Britannia (for which can be read London) which take the plaudits.
Yorkshire Backward or Yorkshire Forward?
So what can we do, as Bradfordians, Leodensians, Sheffielders, Yorkists, et al, to have our voices heard, to have our culture recognised, to take our place near the top of the nation rather than at its feet?
Culturally, Yorkshire and Bradford need to step up. We have everything anyone could want, yet we choose to keep quiet about it. We have scenery and countryside far superior to anywhere in the land, and far easier to reach for most than the hills of Scotland and the lakes of Cumbria – so let’s sell the Dales and the Moors and the Peak District as well as the dales and the moors and the peaks we have on our doorsteps. Let’s tell the world of the literature of Haworth and Bradford and Huddersfield and Scarborough.
In the media, we are ignored or vilified. Bradford District, 500,000 people strong, will soon lose the full-time presence of the national media when the BBC leave the National Media Museum. Our reputation is so low, media students are scared to walk our streets. And with West Yorkshire having such a huge population, low cost housing, fantastic road, rail & air links, the UNESCO City of Film, the National Media Museum, and much, much, more, why did the BBC choose Salford / Manchester? Why are BBC jobs going to Manchester when we, in Yorkshire, have got more and better to offer? Why are BBC flagship programmes, like Dr Who, made in Wales? Yorkshire could be the hub of new technologies, with Leeds and Bradford selling themselves as super-connected cities. Building on UNESCO City of Film and making the BBC give us something in return for its abandonment of Bradford, with the benefits listed above, why can’t we get some investment, some interest, some love from the media?
Politically, it’s time to take on the political parties, and challenge them to do something for us for a change. I voted for George Galloway’s Respect Party and am angry I got more of the same. I want someone to talk about Bradford and Yorkshire and the North, not brush us under a carpet. I want the Tories to understand that there’s a world outside the Home Counties and see what their policies are doing to us – and stop and listen and think… and change. I want Labour to stop trying to be the Tories and stop taking us for granted and, for God’s sake, stop sending empty shirts to their heartlands – we need candidates with warm blood and fire in their bellies who will argue and fight for us – I want a candidate with Galloway’s zeal for publicity who will put us on the map. I want Respect to do what it promised and put us in the national media, for reasons other than gaffes by its figurehead. We have millions of votes, so why do the main parties ignore us, then vilify us when we pick minor, especially extreme, ones who ostensibly talk to us but really prey on our fears and the main parties’ ineffectualness? Tell the Tories, Labour, Lib-Dems, Respect that they’re doing nothing for us so we won’t vote for them. Tell Labour to remember where their heart is and send us some living, breathing candidates; tell the Tories they owe us for killing us in the 1980s; tell Respect they promised to put us on the map. And tell them all to F-off until they do.
Educationally, we should be outraged at what we’ve been subjected to. Bradford languishes at the bottom of league tables year after year. I asked the local government what they were doing after the District’s schools were once again lambasted and had dropped to second worst in the country (according to OfSTED); they said that schools are improving and that league tables don’t tell the whole story. I asked the national government what they were doing specifically for Bradford; they are doing nothing… except they want all our schools to be turned into academies. When London’s schools were awful, it was described as an “emergency” by Tony Blair and they got The London Challenge with experts and inter-agency working and money, money, money. Bradford, a District of over 500k people and the city with youngest demographic in the country, gets platitudes and ignored. In the wider country, 8/10 of the worst performing Local Authorities are in the North (and now none are in London). And what do we get? Moves to bring our teachers’ pay down; an end to Building Schools for the Future (when the South and London’s projects went ahead earlier and with less trouble); ignored. Demand better! Demand that your governments, local and national, invest in our children’s futures. Demand change! In Bradford, doing what everyone else is doing isn’t working – so let’s not do that. ‘One size doesn’t fit all’ is a mantra for teachers, because every child is an individual – so why are Bradford and many other places in the North following a path which leads them nowhere. If it’s broken, fix it; if it can’t be fixed, throw it away and get something new. We need a revolution in education and if we don’t get it, we’ll always sink to the bottom.
Employment in the North is appalling. Bradford West’s unemployment is one of the highest in the country… and rising. Across the North, in the last recession, for every job lost in the South, 10 were lost in the North. Bradford is believed to be one of the least affected areas in the country this time around… because we haven’t got over the last one yet. When we get it right with kids, there aren’t the places to employ them. Every year, Bradford sends children to some of the best universities in the country, but where do they go afterwards? They rarely return, with the District’s Oxbridge students choosing the university towns or London, using their brains and spending their money elsewhere. Investment in making West Yorkshire a bastion of new technologies, our low rents (far more attractive than the high prices of London) will start drawing in start-ups, and if we educate our children to take advantage of this, we can become British Silicone Valley, with other industries rising on their tide. If this isn’t an option, what is? We need something to replace the manufacturing jobs lost; we need a plan.
The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
To be noticed, though, the cities of Yorkshire might have to bite the bullet. If we’re not to keep the status quo, cities and towns with deep seated identities may have to lose some of that individuality, at least to outsiders, and work with the giant of the neighbourhood, trusting them to work in their interests and the greater interest of the region – something difficult for a Bradfordian to stomach. Bradford, Wakefield, Huddersfield, even York, may have to embrace their role as a minor player in Leeds City Region, working with the Loiners to ensure they get their fair share; Barnsley, Rotherham, Doncaster, can you trust the Dee-Dars to do your bidding?
It’ll be a tightrope act to ensure that the lesser boroughs get the investment and money and support they need more than the main, named party. But, as much as I dislike the insidious title of Leeds City Region (why not Yorkshire Region, York City Region, York & West Yorkshire Region?), I believe we’ll get more scraps from Leeds’ dining table, and maybe even a square meal or two, than we do from Westminster’s.
So all this started with a table, a table which showed us, Bradford, and us, Yorkshire, as being bigger than the rest – and I already knew we were better. But now it’s time to act like it, and now it’s time to show it.