A Conservative peer says it’s a ‘county of Leftist whingers’. The fact he thinks it’s one county is a clue to his expertise, says Fleet Street Fox
Image: Rex Features)
When the history of this great binfire is written – presuming we are spared long enough to read it – a special chapter will be dedicated to the extinction of The Experts.
It began in 2010 with the appointment of a smiling leg of ham as Prime Minister, continued through the 2016 Declaration That The People Have Had Enough of Experts, We Reckon, and has accelerated with Boris Johnson’s ‘government of all of the talentless’ to reach its apogee in Lord Daniel Moylan.
In a tweet about a newspaper story that criticized Tory plans for leveling-up as not being good enough, he pronounced: “I’m going to Yorkshire for a short break next week. Everything I’ve read recently in The Yorkshire Post makes me fear I’m going to find it transformed into a county of Leftist whingers begging for handouts.”
And the fact he thinks that it’s one county is a big clue about whether the rest of the sentence is as clever as he thinks it is.
It seems that to a lot of Tories – especially those who float to the top of government – Yorkshire consists of a cricket club and several charming grouse moors. They seem not to have noticed that not all the houses come with a mountain attached.
But then a lot of what Yorkshire has to offer seems to have passed Lord Moylan by. The centuries of history, for example, in which it was divided into administrative Ridings, or the 1889 change, followed by updates in 1976 and again 20 years later, which created 4 separate counties, each with their own Lord Lieutenant, police force, fire service, and transport policy.
You might think someone who advised Boris Johnson about transport policies would know a bit about how a massive place with a lot of cities developed its travel networks. But perhaps Lord Moylan apparates directly into a winged armchair by the fire in a friend’s country home, and doesn’t need to bother with the Sheffield tram system, York’s park-and-ride scheme, or Doncaster’s bus interchange.
It’s a pity, because knowing a bit about them might have helped him advise the then-Mayor of London about transport. Oh well. Who needs experts?
This is perhaps the level of awareness we could expect from a transport adviser who once declared to Parliament that what London really needed was a new airport in the Thames Estuary, even though the remains of the last failed one can still be seen at low tide, and we had to spend £5million on an abortive dream-sequence to confirm, for a second time, that it wouldn’t work.
But anyway, back to the massive green hill that is all Yorkshire consists of, as seen from the window of Lord Moylan’s holiday cottage, or castle, or wherever he is dangling upside down from the rafters.
According to the latest government figures, at the end of last year the gross domestic product of Yorkshire and the Humber had shrunk to the same level as 2012. The TUC says the proportion of working-age people in poverty in the region is the same today , at 23%, as it was in 2010. And charity Teaching First says that, while in London 59% of disadvantaged pupils get good GCSEs, it’s just 45% in Yorkshire, and educational attainment has barely changed since 2017.
It is almost a country in its own right – with a population larger than Scotland, and a combined GDP from all four of its counties equivalent to the economies of the United Arab Emirates, Italy, Kuwait, and Cyprus put together. It has mounds of riches, like Rishi Sunak’s constituency of Richmond, which has below-average unemployment and above-average house prices, and places of great deprivation, like Bradford, where a third of the city’s children live in poverty and houses are all half -price.
Has Lord Moylan ever been to Bradford? If he took a trip to its suburb of Saltaire, he might wonder why 19th-century industrialist Titus Salt went to so much effort and expense to build nice houses for his workers, with delightful gardens, and bootscrapes built into the wall. “Free houses?!” scream Tories. “Live in a tent! A moldy one! What more do you need?”
The answer, as Titus and anyone with half a brain could tell him, is because improved housing improves lives, and thus productivity, and everyone gets richer and happier. If you want to get rid of Leftist whingers, dear Tories, why not try that.
Yorkshire has huge rural wealth, and mass urban poverty. It has jobs in the cities, but few in the fields. The economy in both places is stuttering worse than in many parts of the UK, and its problems stem entirely from the fact that people in That London don’t know the first damned thing about it.
Post-industrial landscapes like Middlesborough and Redcar, and the beached fishing trawlers of Hull, share the name of ‘Yorkshire’ with the Bronte parsonage and cream tea tyranny of Haworth, and splendor of Castle Howard. There is a dialect so thick you could call it a different language, and a cultural unity that would make the Tory backbenches weep.
If there were people in Parliament who knew what it was, and what it needed, then it might have a leveling-up plan that made sense, a future that seemed brighter, and its newspapers would be able to report on success stories delivered by politicians that put the success of Britain’s greatest counties at the top of their agenda.
Instead, it’s had decades of destruction. Rural communities have had hospitals and schools defunded as second homeowners move in, and residents are forced out. Industry was smashed first by Thatcher’s ideology and then Blair’s, and relocating a few government jobs to Leeds has not buttered many parsnips.
For the past 12 years, Yorkshire has been a place where those in charge watch the cricket, plot leadership coups during shooting weekends, and don’t open their eyes to see anything else. The entire reason why Hebden Bridge keeps flooding is that the people with the grouse moor at the top of the hill can’t see or hear the people who live at the bottom.
Much could be made of the fact that Daniel Moylan went from grammar school in a good part of Birmingham to Oxford, then the Foreign Office, banking, and onto the council of Kensington and Chelsea before being elevated by Boris Johnson to the peerage, and that nowhere on this journey did he have any reason to visit Doncaster.
So perhaps this man, who himself described his career as “a series of happy stumbles”, can be forgiven for hearing criticism from these places and telling himself that it’s just a Last of the Summer Whine re-run, or hippies from Wokefield, or political machinations by the People’s Republic of South Yawnshire.
It’s not his fault his expertise is in demonstrating ignorance. Nor should we hold it against him that he’s always managed to stumble upwards, and he has no idea what it’s like to move in the other direction. Perhaps we could have a TV documentary series called Educating Westminster – that might fix it.
But a man who claims £323 a day for turning up at a talking shop that’s done nothing for Yorkshire in a generation, and who also holds four other paid jobs, should perhaps ask himself who the whingers getting handouts are, because from here it looks like they wear blue rosettes and sit in a palace a long way from reality.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.