A former teacher turned One Yorkshire firebrand is hoping for a shock result in this week’s mayoral election.
On Thursday voters from across South Yorkshire will go to the polls to elect a new Sheffield city region mayor, but one candidate, the Yorkshire Party’s Mick Bower, thinks devolution should go further.
Mr Bower is in favour of a so-called One Yorkshire deal, whereby the whole of Yorkshire – north, south, east and west – would be united under a single assembly with wide-ranging powers, much like the devolved parliaments of Holyrood, Cardiff and Belfast.
“I’ve always said we’ve got a population the size of Scotland and an economy the size of Wales,” said Mr Bower.
“What we deserve is an assembly, like Scotland has, so we can make the decisions that matter to people in Yorkshire up here.
“That way we can build a fairer, more prosperous Yorkshire for the future. We’d be a real force to be reckoned with.”
As a father of two daughters, Bower entered politics almost three years ago after seeing the authorities in his hometown, Rotherham, turn a blind eye to one of what was then the UK’s largest ever child grooming scandal.
From the late 90s up until 2013, Rotherham City Council and South Yorkshire Police ignored reports of rape, torture and sexual assault of girls as young as 11, who were repeatedly drugged and abused by gangs of men of mostly Pakistani heritage.
To this day, no charges have been filed against senior council figures, including those who are alleged to have covered up evidence.
More than 1,400 girls were sexually abused in Rotherham between 1997 and 2013, and Bower watched as those in power quietly stepped aside, unpunished and unaccountable.
“When it all started to come out, the council just shuffled the deck and got a different bunch of people in, but no one was held to account,” he said.
“That was my snapping point, that was when I thought: ‘Enough is enough: I’ve got to do something.’”
Like of the many voters he now meets on the campaign trail, Bower felt ignored and betrayed by the established parties – particularly Labour – so he joined the Yorkshire Party in 2016, which he describes as a “real grassroots movement.”
Since then Bower has run, unsuccessfully, for Rotherham City Council, and also ran for parliament last year, where he finished in fifth place, a few hundred votes behind the Liberal Democrats’ candidate.
Now, as Bower makes his bid for Sheffield city region mayor, he believes a shock result could be in the making.
Bower is running on a five-point plan to fight for One Yorkshire devolution; donate half his mayoral salary to youth charities; improve and expand South Yorkshire bus services; rebuild communities; and tackle homelessness, rough sleeping and begging.
One of the issues Bower has weaponised most effectively during the campaign is what he calls the culture of “behind-closed-door deals” in South Yorkshire, whereby Labour-dominated councils with no significant opposition can defy public opinion and “do as they please.”
“The councils in South Yorkshire are run like little fiefdoms, and to my mind they’re run for the benefit of the people in the Town Hall these days, rather than the people that they’re supposed to represent,” said Mr Bower.
“We’re talking about people who get elected in their local ward on a thousand and a half votes, and then take us for granted.
“They think we’re just going to do as we’re told, but they’ve failed miserably, and we can see it.”
Bower says a combination of secrecy and complacency at Labour-stronghold councils has unleashed a “litany of disaster” on South Yorkshire, of which Sheffield’s tree-felling fiasco is only the most recent example.
“In Doncaster we had Donnygate, a mayor corruption scandal involving a Labour council, and in Rotherham we’ve had the child grooming scandal,” he said.
“Then in Sheffield we’ve got the trees deal, where they’ve signed a 25-year contract with Amey. It’s supposedly for the benefit of the city, but it’s led to mass insurrection and it’s made the place a laughing stock around the world.
“And finally we’ve got HS2 – a terrible idea that will suck the life out of this region, and one that Sheffield City Council has made worse, and now we’ve ended up with a train that devastates Yorkshire but doesn’t actually stop here.”
Bower is hoping that widespread apathy, anger and outrage at Labour’s handling of the tree-felling contract could see an upset in Thursday’s election.
“If somebody gets a bit of momentum, it’s not going to take much to unseat the frontrunner, which is obviously Dan Jarvis,” said Mr Bower.
One of the most striking features of the Sheffield city region election is the uncertainty as to what powers the new mayor will have and what he or she will be able to achieve once in office. This uncertainty has puzzled both voters and candidates alike.
On any issue, the new mayor will need to gain the approval of Sheffield, Rotherham, Doncaster and Barnsley city councils – the ‘combined authority’ – before heading to Westminster to lobby for greater powers or greater investment.
In other words, the new mayor will likely be handicapped by inter-council squabbling and bureaucratic red tape.
But Bower says his vision for a fully devolved Yorkshire assembly is the clearest on offer, and he will strive to deliver it if he is elected.
“There’s a lot of ducking and diving at the other parties about what they’ll do if they get in, but the Yorkshire Party is 100% clear,” he said.
“We do exactly what it says on the tin: We’re all about an all-Yorkshire deal.
“With the mayoral position that’s on offer now, we’d take it and get as much out of it as we can, but we see it as just a stepping stone.
“The Sheffield city region is too small, too unambitious. We’re all about Yorkshire.”