After writing to Bradford’s political leaders, I was genuinely surprised by the speed of some of the responses. Within a day, one Member of Parliament, Philip Davies (Conservative, Shipley), had replied.
I’d asked him about Bradford & District and used quotes which, looking back, were very city-centric; maybe it’s a bit like I feel when the news talks about England or Britain and really then discusses London and the South-East. His reply certainly showed that there is a relationship between Shipley and the city but Mr Davies isn’t a Bradfordian, despite his betraying a definite loyalty for his constituency and constituents. A Shipleyite might be more apt.
Lord Ouesely’s report into the Bradford Riots said that there was a discord between the city and the district, with those of the valleys not feeling a part of the city and vice versa, and even through two decades have passed, this remains. Mr Davies’s constituency could not be closer to the city: I was one of his constituents until the boundary changes put me in the constituency covering the city, Bradford West, and if his own party gets the further boundary changes and reduction in MP numbers they’d like, his constituency will disappear with most of his constituents (I believe) becoming West Bradfordians. Despite this, his reply most definitely makes a great distinction between Shipley (the constituency) and Bradford (the city) in keeping with Lord Ouseley’s note of discord across the District. Mr Davies makes it clear that the city is not his realm, and makes it equally clear that the city is not his responsibility and its problems are not his fault, though he has spoken up for the city.
Mr Davies knows there are problems with and solutions for the city, and he names three:
- Westfield: get it built or have a contingency plan if not.
- The Odeon: find a development “the people can get behind”.
- Cross Rail Project, which he has “raised with the Minister”.
The problem, though, lies squarely with Bradford MDC, not with him. I understand this position. After all, the city’s outside his constituency and outside his remit. But, surely, the fortunes of many of his constituents go hand in hand with those of the city. I’m sure that the Council would be unhappy if he were sticking his oar in every two minutes and would tell him, in no uncertain terms, that the city is theirs not his. He does offer support, though, and he will put his political support behind plans for the future, but not until “the Council has a coherent, credible vision” which Mr Davies obviously believes it doesn’t have.
So, we have a number of problems: a Bradford District MP doesn’t feel part of Bradford; Bradford Council wouldn’t welcome a Bradford District MP interfering in matters outside his constituency; an MP’s constituents are reliant or affected by the success or failure of an area outside the constituency; the national politicians blame the local politicians and the local politicians blame the national politicians whilst Labour blames Tory and… and… and… ad infinitum ad nauseum.
The way the political system works, parties must claim points over others, blaming the opposition for failures and taking credit for success. MPs must be hyper-local, taking care of constituents’ needs, but distance themselves from local issues when things aren’t running smoothly. For Bradford, it seems to me, this results in MPs blaming the Council, Tory MPs blaming the Labour Council, the Labour Council blaming the previous Tory – Lib-Dem Council and national government, and everyone swaps seats in City Hall and Parliament whilst bugger all gets done in Bradford. It’s working for the parties, because every time we vote one out, another gets in. Perhaps that’s why George Galloway’s ‘three cheeks of the same bum’ resonated with some of us.
Mr Davies blames the council for Bradford’s failures. Maybe he’s right to, but he isn’t forthcoming in solutions. I’d asked about what the politicians were really proud of, what they were doing and what they had planned for Bradford District. Mr Davies blamed the Council. Unfortunately, that’s what I’ve come to expect from politicians: too many act like rain-makers too much of the time – they tell you, if you vote for them, the rain’ll come and, if it doesn’t despite all their dancing, they blame somebody else, but take the credit when it does even when they’ve done nowt. I’d asked about what the politicians were really proud of, what they were doing and what they had planned for Bradford District and Mr Davies said nothing about past successes, nothing about current projects and nothing about future plans – he blamed the Council.
All this being said, Mr Davies does not overreach. He makes it plain and clear that he looks after the needs of his constituents: “I see myself as MP for the Shipley constituency – nothing more and nothing less – I don’t see myself as the MP for Bradford.” My indelicate questioning made Mr Davies see a difference between Bradford city and Bradford District, but it is that lack of a community shared between city and District, highlighted by Lord Ouseley back in 2001, which still exists and ensures that Bradford District’s MPs are not necessarily MPs for Bradford.
Mr Davies’ reply made me wonder if the way politics works is working for the politicians and not the people. Bradford District’s very diverse and who sits in the seats of power changes regularly, when something goes right those in power at that moment take the credit and when it doesn’t they apportion blame, and in the meantime not enough is getting done.
His reply also made me think of how we see ourselves in Bradford. The differences we have are highlighted, never celebrated and there’s a lack of community. I think of myself as a Bradfordian, Yorkshireman, Englishman and Briton, and there’s no cognitive dissonance; I believe that many would see themselves as Shipleyites, Keighleyites or Saltairians but not Bradfordian. Perhaps that’s no surprise. Bradford’s media image is poor and the decline of the city’s centre and its prospects, in stark contrast with those of Leeds and the town centres themselves, means that a trip to the city, the heart of the District, is uncommon, even unthinkable for some.
So, how do we get past this? Regeneration in the city centre is a must. Mr Davies’ points on Westfield, The Odeon and a cross-city rail link, coupled with better retail and leisure, would bring people back from the valleys, giving them a sense of pride in the city and, therefore, the District. It’s a tough ask, with getting to Leeds, for many, at least as easy as getting to Bradford. Bradford Council has to work with the District’s MPs to get our voices heard in Parliament and the corridors of power, and get regeneration moving.
In the end, though, do people of Keighley, Bingley and the rest want to be part of Bradford? Bradford’s got to give them something to be proud of and can’t just expect a community feeling because it just isn’t there.