Thursday 8 March 2018

Leeds Yellow Book 2018

 Here's a review of a further Leeds Yellow Book (an earlier one was for 2015) edited by Michael Meadowcroft and others.  You don't have to live in Leeds, or even be a Liberal, to find it valuable.

The Leeds Yellow Book 2018
Essays on a Liberal future for Leeds.
 138pp  £7

This volume of 11 essays is a powerful and informed plea to rebuild Liberalism in Leeds from the bottom up.  (There really is no other way.) Inspired by the famous Liberal Yellow Book of 1928 the ten authors dedicate themselves to the analyses of the present condition of Leeds, with suggestions on how  can be improved by the application of Liberal principles and policies.  That the analyses are in the main of more general application than specific to Leeds is a strength rather than a weakness since the book therefore  becomes required reading   for all, not just Liberals, to understand the deprivations of their own areas and points to suggestions as to how to create societies in which all individuals are enabled to achieve more fulfilling lives in more co-operative, confident  and civilised surroundings.

Co-editor Ian MacFadyen contributes a thoroughly-researched account of the present economic condition of Leeds and the likely, and damaging, effects of Brexit.  He points out that seven of the EU states are smaller than the Leeds City Region and two of them are smaller than Leeds itself.  He advocates devolution to a “smart” (?) Leeds City Region with a Metro Mayor and a Metro railway. 

By contrast his fellow co-editor, Michael Meadowcroft, discussing the Northern Powerhouse, scorns the  City Region and opts for devolution to One Yorkshire for which he believes there is the identity, population size (equal to that of Scotland, 60% greater than Wales and three times that of Northern Ireland), financial and economic capacity, and political will (even the Yorkshire Post is in favour.)  He is equally scornful of Metro Mayors. .We naturally expect, of course, a variety of views in any Liberal publication. I go for the Meadowcroft options on both counts.

Jeremy Pearlman waxes enthusiastically about devolution to parish council level. of which he provides a fascinating history. (I had never before heard of Courts of Sewers, and wonder what is the function of a Lengthsman. which Alwoodley still has.) Although clearly devoted to the council he describes, Pearlman  fails to acknowledge the weakness that, although the council ‘s constitution provides for 11 councillors, there are recent nominations for only eight.

Mark Stephens, a professor of public policy, gives a fascinating historical survey of the development of our housing stock.  (I was interested to discover that I was brought up in Type II housing – relatively superior back-to-backs without windowless inner rooms.)  His view is that all public interventions into housing market have been regarded as temporary – until the market returns to normal – and that it never will return to normal. 

Retired solicitor Jane McBennett charts the deprivations and injustices resulting from the recent cuts to legal aid; journalist Adam Christie describes the decline of the local press throughout Yorkshire and points out the resulting danger to our democracy; Carmel Harrison has a thought-provoking chapter on social care and Jon Hannah an interesting discussion on Liberalism –Wellness and Happiness.

My favouring chapter is by Stephen Sadler, long term resident of Bermantofts, a deprived part of Leeds, in which he sensitively analyses why the electors of this area voted overwhelmingly for Brexit.  His work has a touch of the Richard Hoggarts in it – a pity Stephen took to writing on social analysis so late in life.  The most refreshing chapter comes from student Liv Powell, who describes what is needed to make Leeds a youth-friendly city.  Among other things it’s the provision of charging facilities  for phones and laptops.  Well, I’d never have thought of that.

Tellingly, there is no chapter on education.  Sic transit Gloria mundi of the massive contribution made to the development of public education by both Leeds City council and the glorious  West Riding.

Meadowcroft and MacFadyen get together to write a final chapter suffused with repetitions of  what  “a Liberal Leeds will” look like. It’s positive, optimistic and upbeat  - an inspiration amid the encircling gloom.

Copies can be obtained from:

Beecroft Publications,

72 Waterloo Lane,

Bramley Leeds, LS13  2JF

and further information from www.beecroftpublications

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