By-election is 'a wake-up call about neglect in the north'

The Batley and Spen by-election is a wake-up call about the neglect and deprivation of people in the north of England as a result of the domination of power by Whitehall and Westminster.

It is now time for Batley and Spen to devolve power into the hands of the people

The North-South divide is a reality with conclusive evidence that life expectation decreases the further north you live and work from London and the South East.

The case for devolution to Yorkshire has been made and won and the issue now is getting on with the implementation by political parties, trade unions and faith communities.

It is now the time for Batley and Spen to adapt to the present, learn from the past and plan for the future determined to devolve power into the hands of the people.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer with the party's by-election candidate Kim Leadbeater. Photo: Getty Images

We have a talented and ambitions population which could benefit from more skilled training and better employment opportunities. We have a proud history and culture of independence, non-conformity, and self-help. And we deserve better than having to rely on food banks.

Today Batley and Spen has the advantage of having a population from all parts of the world. The seat has a rich ethnical mix with about a fifth of the population from the Asian community with people from India, Kashmir and Pakistan who first arrived after the Second World War and took on hard jobs in local textile mills.

And as the local MP Jo Cox pointed out in her maiden speech in the House of Commons, there is also an important Irish presence in Birstall and Batley which originally worked in construction and farming.

Batley and Spen is a marginal constituency between the Conservatives and Labour, with Batley voting predominately Labour and Spenborough leaning towards the Conservatives.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson with the Conservatives' by-election candidate Ryan Stephenson on a visit to the Fox's Biscuits factory in Batley. Photo: Joel Anderson

It was once peppered with textile factories and coal mines in rural settings and the words "factories and mines surround us" were included in my old school song at Heckmondwike Grammar School. The song was composed by a local alderman but has been allowed to die a quiet death along with the mills and pits and the passing of the alderman.

Today the M62 motorway runs through Spenborough, which is now mainly a commuter belt convenient for Leeds and Manchester. The area is no longer one of green fields and skylarks as expanses of private houses, semi and detached, have been built across fields and even allotments.

There are historic and even current independent and Liberal influences in the area. In local elections Conservatives often stood as Independents while campaigning from premises with names such as Churchill Hall.

At the I960 parliamentary by-election in Brighouse and Spenborough, the successful candidate Michael Shaw, who gained the seat, stood as the Conservative and National Liberal candidate.

There are working men's clubs known locally as liberal clubs, which is a throw back to when Sir John Simon, the Liberal MP for the Spen Valley in the 1930s, won support from many less well-off voters. And the neighbouring Leeds North West constituency was recently held from 2005 to 2017 by a Liberal Democrat.

Local pride should not be discounted and the town of Heckmondwike is extremely proud of pioneering Christmas illuminations which it claims has blazed the trail followed by Blackpool and Southend. And Stanley Matthews, the wizard of dribble, had his football boots specially made at the Co-operative Wholesale Society (CWS) boot and shoe factory.

The famous Batley Variety Club hit the headlines in the 1960s when it attracted artists from across the world such as Shirley Bassey and Eartha Kitt. When Louis Armstrong was on stage BBC Look North tried to send up Batley and featured streets of back to back houses decked with washing lines accompanied by Armstrong's "Oh What a Lovely World".

From historic local pride to the harsh reality of today, there is no doubt that the credibility of the Prime Minister and his ministers has been severely dented. He has such a poor front bench of "yes" MPs who appear to lack ability, experience, or judgement and his Government will eventually fall apart.

We should be thinking of the next important steps towards a One Yorkshire region which has a population slightly bigger than that of Scotland. It is time to think big and begin to blaze the trail for federal government for the nations and regions of the UK with elected assemblies, fewer MPs in Westminster, and real power in the hands of the people.

It is vital that Batley and Spen sends a real champion of devolution to Westminster and voters should not be distracted by anyone who thinks otherwise but prefers to divide the community.