English regionalism – here to stay or a flash in the pan?

How are the English regionalist parties faring, three years after Yorkshire First and the North East Party appeared on the scene? Has English regionalism – the dog that failed to bark in the night – finally found its voice? This might be a little unfair on the tiny Wessex Regionalist Party which has been plugging away for some decades now. That party was formed way back in 1974 but disappeared from the electoral scene after its high point in 1983 when it contested 10 parliamentary seats. Since 1997 one candidate for the party, in fact the same chap, has stood at each general elections, where he’s struggled to get over 100 votes.

Another, fourth English regionalist party has already come and gone since 2015, a case of last in, first out. The Northern Party, which, despite its name, appeared to be a party for Lancashire folk only, contested five seats in 2015, scored a mean 118 votes and then promptly de-registered itself within a year.

More serious efforts come in the shape of the North East Party (NEP), which did significantly better, contesting four seats with a mean vote of 535, or 1.4%. But the biggest intervention at the last general election was by Yorkshire First, which fought 14 seats, scooping up an average 487 votes with a mean vote of 1.0%. Here’s the 2015 general election results compared with those for MK.

General election results 2015

% of seats contested mean vote mean % vote median % vote
NEP 14% 535 1.4% 1.3%
YF 26% 487 1.0% 1.0%
MK 100% 946 1.9% 1.7%

Unlike MK, the northern regionalist parties have the opportunity to contest elections every year at a local level. In 2015 the local elections were held on the same day as the general election, a factor that inevitably squeezes the minor party vote. The results earlier this year probably provide a better guide to their performance. Here they are, with MK’s performance at the last Cornwall Council elections back in 2013 for comparison.

Local election results

No of wards contested (%) Mean vote Median vote
NEP 2015 1 (1%) 2.9% n/a
NEP 2016 1 (1%) 16.0% n/a
YF 2015 15 (3%) 3.8% 4.1%
YF 2016 17 (7%) 7.9% 7.1%
MK 2013 26 (21%) 24.1% 16.0%

Both parties have a way to go to reach the level of support for MK in local elections. However, the North East Party seems to have the potential to capture a respectable vote. The party’s sole candidate at the local elections in the Redhill ward of Sunderland in 2015 and 2016 managed to increase her share of the vote and go from fourth in 2015 to second this year, ahead of Tory, Lib Dem and Green candidates. Yet the party’s website looks a little amateurish and, worryingly for Cornwall, its submission to the Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee in 2014 stated that the ‘most coherent and consistent devolution would be to the level of the English regions’. Their policy on devolution seems to be to replace local government structures with a ‘small, lean and powerful regional government’, devolving local powers to parish and town councillors.

Moving on, last month Yorkshire First changed its name to the Yorkshire Party (YP), a symbolic shift that indicates its growing ambition. In terms of presence, number of candidates and professionalism, if not yet votes, the Yorkshire Party appears better organised and resourced than the NEP. It made steady progress in the 2016 local elections and has a good basis on which to build. It seems more active in the metropolitan districts than in rural Yorkshire, although this may be a function of the electoral cycle, with its best scores garnered in Barnsley, Rotherham, Sheffield, Leeds and Wakefield. Yet a District Council by-election candidate in Northallerton in North Yorkshire scored almost 12% in May, showing it has the ability to appeal in rural areas too. In its early days, the YP also contested the European elections (remember them?) in the Yorkshire and Humberside region, when it won 19,017 votes, or 1.5% of the total.

The YP’s policy positions look more coherent and worked out than those of the NEP. Like MK, the party is now a member of the European Free Alliance, although unlike MK its policies are broadly ‘catch-all’ and centrist. For example on the economy, it calls for investment in infrastructure and the energy sector, saving money by cutting the number of councillors and giving tax-setting powers to a Yorkshire parliament. There’s nothing much there to overly scare the neo-liberal horses. Meanwhile, it taps into the local opposition in Yorkshire to fracking, but there are no detailed policies on the environment or climate change on its website.

On the core issue of devolution it calls for a Yorkshire Parliament with powers over policing, transport, health, energy and education – a large step up from the insultingly feeble ‘devolution deals’ offered by the Tory Government. On local government it envisages a tier of unitary local councils. But it’s unclear whether these are town and parish councils or something bigger and whether any of the current structure will remain.

YF tweet

Nonetheless, with a professional website, an active social media presence and calls on its supporters to support petitions in favour of Cornish language funding, the YP looks like a very useful ally for devolution campaigners in Cornwall. We’ll now have to wait to see if it can make further progress in the 2017 round of elections.

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