Yorkshire tykes march into Shadow Cabinet

The Cabinet under Brown resounded to Scottish voices. Nearly half of Ed Miliband's team have links to the North. Leeds-born Rachel Shields reports
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Indy Politics

Could Labour's red rose be about to turn white? To its inhabitants – and many sons and daughters now grown up and scattered all over the world – Yorkshire has long been the heart of Britain, boasting the nation's most beautiful scenery, driest humour and best beer.

Now it looks as if the rest of the country might have to agree with us biased folk, and give God's Own County the respect it deserves, after MPs with links to the region took control of the Shadow Cabinet, grabbing 12 of the 28 posts.

But while the announcement of Ed Miliband's top team met with the usual objections over the number of "privileged" former pupils from private schools and Oxbridge, the Yorkshire invasion went undetected.

Each Thursday night the new Labour leader could in future be joined on the train to his constituency by fellow MPs from Yorkshire and the Humber: Alan Johnson, Hilary Benn, Ed Balls, Caroline Flint, Rosie Winterton, Yvette Cooper, Mary Creagh, Jon Trickett and John Healey.

Beside these is a clutch of Shadow Cabinet members who were born and bred in Yorkshire; although hopefully they disprove the saying "Yorkshire born, Yorkshire bred, strong in the arm and thick in the head". The shadow minister of state, Jon Trickett, and the shadow Health Secretary, John Healey, grew up in Yorkshire; the shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Angela Eagle, and her twin sister, Maria, now shadow Transport Secretary, were born in Bridlington, in the East Riding (although they grew up on Merseyside).

Despite Yorkshire and the Humber having a population of just over five million – under 10 per cent of the nation's 61 million residents – MPs with links to the region have bagged almost half the Shadow Cabinet places. With the modesty that the area's residents are known for, local news websites have not been shy in reporting this "Yorkshire triumph".

While the tyke team might be puffed up with Yorkshire pride now, they could come under fire for this imbalance in the Shadow Cabinet. When Gordon Brown was in power, he was often urged to purge the "Scottish mafia" of ministers including Alistair Darling, Douglas Alexander and Des Browne from the Cabinet and replace them with "English voices". Similarly, a raft of MPs from the North-east were swept to power with Tony Blair after the 1997 election, including Peter Mandelson in Hartlepool, Alan Milburn in Darlington and Nick Brown in Newcastle upon Tyne.

"It just shows what a breadth of talent and experience Yorkshire MPs have," said Michael Dugher, MP for Barnsley East, who was tipped yesterday as a junior shadow Defence minister. "It is good for Yorkshire, but in the first meeting of the Shadow Cabinet they are not going to pass a motion to relocate Parliament to Yorkshire, or abolish Lancashire."

While Yorkshire may be over-represented, the members of the Shadow Cabinet hardly hail from traditional working-class northern stock. Many grew up in affluent parts of London and its leafy environs; nine went to private schools, and the same number are Oxbridge graduates.

Of the four MPs who grew up in Yorkshire – Rosie Winterton, Angela and Maria Eagle, and John Healey – only the Eagle sisters did not attend a private school.

Yorkshire MPs not from the region have also been known to play up their northern connections. Hilary Benn, the shadow Leader of the House and MP for Leeds Central, grew up in London, but maintains that his great-great-great grandfather, William Benn, was born in his constituency, at the end of the 18th century.

Although Yorkshire is the largest county in the country, and as such would be expected to house a greater number of MPs than others, some believe that the high proportion of Yorkshire MPs in the Shadow Cabinet reflect Labour's failure to win seats in the South outside London.

Yorkshire residents were not the only ones celebrating the appointments this weekend. The Shadow Cabinet contains 11 women, which has been seen as a triumph for equality campaigners, not least the deputy Labour leader and former minister for women, Harriet Harman.

One woman not from Yorkshire but catapulted on to Mr Miliband's front bench is Diane Abbott, named as shadow Public Health minister yesterday. It was seen as a reward for standing in the Labour leadership contest, although she secured only 59 votes in the Shadow Cabinet election.

She will be working under the shadow Health Secretary, John Healey, who brandished his credentials as the true Yorkshireman of the bunch: "Under the old rules, I guess I would be the only one allowed to bat for Yorkshire. But tykes or not, it's great to be part of a top team that's looking to hit the Tories for six."

Ms Abbott's most notable foray into health policy came in 1996 when she was accused of racism after criticising a local hospital for taking on "blonde, blue-eyed girls from Finland" because they might never have met a black person before.