Yorkshire Bylines is less than two years old but already we have published over 2,000 articles. We now have over 270 writers and thousands of regular readers – and subscribers. What did our writers make of 2021?
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The year was dominated by Brexit and covid. It was already clear before Brexit started that there were likely to be many problems ahead, so on 1 January 2021 we started the Davis Downside Dossier (David Davis infamously said there would be no downsides to Brexit, it turns out he was wrong). In the first year, 461 downsides were identified and only 18 upsides. The dossier has become the ‘go to’ resource for keeping up to date on Brexit failures. The following day we launched the Brexit Benefit Myths, in response to some highly dubious claims of Brexit benefits from various public figures.
A few monthly earlier we had launched the Digby Jones Index, which records cases where businesses have had to close, downsize or relocate due to Brexit, resulting in jobs being lost. Before the Brexit referendum, Lord Jones opined that not a single job would be lost through Brexit. There are now 277 entries on this jobs lost index.
Then in April 20201, we launched the Compendium of Cabinet Codebreakers. By April, there had been a steady stream of accusations of ministers breaching the ministerial code. Since then is seems to have become a way of life for many and with few challenges or punishments. As we closed the end of the year, the controversy around Johnson’s flat decoration rumbled on, leaving stains of sleaze across the parliamentary benches but with, seemingly, little impact on his tenure.
Brexit and the pandemic continue to dominate our news
In addition to Brexit-related indexes, many of our best articles have been on Brexit. They do not make a comforting read. The constant theme is how hard it has been for people, businesses especially, to overcome the trade and bureaucratic barriers people now face. Long delays for imports and exports with increased prices for traders has put many people off continuing to trade, and while shortages of goods and fuel were not devastating for the UK they made life harder and more tedious for all.
As 2021 closed, covid was still with us, two years after being first reported in Wuhan. Alpha gave way to Delta, which has in recent weeks given way to Omicron. Many of our stories over the course of the year have been on the impact of covid on individual lives, people in care homes or in schools. Throughout there has been a strong current of frustration that measures to control the spread of the disease and to protect public health have been too little and too late, leading to unnecessary suffering and death.
The economy has not been protected by stop-start measures and inconsistent messaging. And one of the worst aspects of the government’s handling of the pandemic has been in relation to schools. Although schools have been open throughout, even when many children were learning from home, they have received very little by way of resources to enable them to both educate and ‘keep children in school’ safely. They return now after Christmas still without adequate ventilation and a return to mask wearing.
Democracy and parliament
Three parliamentary bills in particular have claimed our attention this year: the nationality and borders bill; the police, crime, sentencing and courts bill; and the elections bill. Other themes – child hunger, the abuse of women and children and the cultures that permit it,
There has been much humour and joy too. Stan’s cartoons provide a range of responses from a wry smile to a loud guffaw. Norky’s ramblings have taken us down so many memory lanes, and Meryl White has expanded our taste buds (and our waistlines).
We wish all our readers the best for 2022. Below is just a selection of our writers and pieces over the last year. Enjoy!
A year at Yorkshire Bylines
We are acutely aware of the changing landscape for journalism, particularly the domination of UK media ownership by right-wing oligarchs. The impact is being felt across the board – in local and regional journalism, and throughout our democratic and political systems. Experienced journalists Julian Petley and Granville Williams look at the arrival of GB News and the wider concerns this brings, as we move away from news journalism, towards right-wing propaganda.
One of the many things our country lost as a result of Brexit was access to Erasmus Plus, the largest international education programme in the world. Dr Hywell Ceri Jones was the EU commission’s director for education, training and youth when Erasmus was founded in 1987. His article addresses the five interrelated features that mark the difference between Erasmus and the replacement Turing scheme, which is significantly weaker.
We look forward to a time when the pandemic won’t dominate our news, but that may be a while yet. Andy Brown looks in detail at the causes of this pandemic and warns that without preventative action, the next is only be a matter of time. We must rethink how we treat wildlife and how we obtain our food, as human behaviour is the cause of our current crises.
Our coverage of the government’s pandemic response has provided a running record of confused strategy, poor decision-making and a failure to learn from our mistakes. A year on, has anything changed? Jane Thomas, an experienced campaigner and former university lecturer, draws together research from a variety of news and academic publications. Back in February, she looked at our covid border control strategy which was already “too little, too late”.
We contacted Michael Hawgood to write about his experience of being refused entry to Sweden. His article proved popular. Many saw it as a criticism of the Swedish immigration system, but Michael was keen to point out that this system is the same one that applies to all third countries – including Britain, now we have left the EU. We can no longer expect favourable treatment.
Steve Pottinger writes regularly for us on all things political, but as a poet and comedian he enjoys taking a different approach. His series of conversations with “Tim” are a delight to read, with all the subtext commentary on the Johnson administration. But this piece set in a call centre simply asked whether our corrupt operating system could be fixed by turning it off and on again!
The health and care bill currently going through the House of Lords will enable greater privatisation of the NHS. In this prescient article in April 2021, Prof Juliet Lodge outlined the work of EveryDoctor and the organisation’s efforts to brief every MP about creeping privatisation and the risks this poses to the nation’s health. As Juliet points out, not every Yorkshire MP took the opportunity to be well informed.
10 April 2021 marked 23 years since the signing of the Belfast Good Friday Agreement, 100 days of Brexit, and eight nights of street fighting in Northern Ireland. Veteran news reporter Andrew Rosthorn covered The Troubles in the 1970s for the Daily Mail. In this powerful article, he looks back at this time and reflects on the fact that many had predicted the riots, and had dreaded the end of the transition period.
Retired science teacher Charlie McCarthy writes regularly for Yorkshire Bylines on a range of subjects, though education is a particular interest. In this article he looked at how British children compare with others, internationally, and at how the official test results are skewed in favour of the most able students, thus undermining faith in the system.
A number of our writers come from further afield, including Sue Wilson who emigrated to Spain. Sue writes about politics and Brexit, and has campaigned for many years to restore the voting rights of UK citizens who have lived abroad for more than 10 years. The elections bill, though full of changes to undermine our democracy, does at least look set to restore these rights.
With COP26 meeting in Glasgow last year, the climate crisis has featured heavily in news publications. At Yorkshire Bylines it has always been one of our priorities. Brian McHugh writes for us on climate related issues, including air pollution and chemical pollution. But in this article he looks at how climate events far away will have a devastating impact on our coastal communities.
In another prescient piece, Alex Toal explores the impact the government’s ill-conceived herd immunity strategy will have on young people. He argues that relying on young people to develop herd immunity risks their long-term health and the long-term economic health of the country. This was before the arrival of Omicron yet, despite warnings from scientists, we are still locked into this failed strategy with schools about to reopen once more.
Pen Hemingway’s articles tend to take on an historical flavour, and this was no exception. With anti-vaxxers and their activities dominating the news it would be easy to conclude they’re a modern phenomenon, but in fact they’re a long-standing tradition almost as old as vaccines themselves. Pen takes a look at their origins with the 1863 Vaccines Act, when the smallpox vaccine became compulsory.
Following the government’s decision in July 2021 to reorganise North Yorkshire into a unitary authority, John Harris (previously CEO of South Yorkshire Metropolitan Council) explains what this will mean for the county and the likely next steps. He also considers how to make best use of the opportunities devolution will bring, particularly if a new county/York mayor joins forces with other regional mayors to create a powerful voice for Yorkshire.
Psychologist, author and academic Dr Pam Jarvis has written for us throughout the pandemic, with a particular focus on schooling. Many of these articles have been ahead of the curve, and as events have unfolded, it’s clear that the government would have been wise to follow her advice. Although this “crunch time” article was written for the autumn term, it could just as easily apply today.
The Bylines Network sits firmly within the progressive side of politics, social policy and opinion. You might say we’re ‘woke’! Our aim is to enhance participatory democracy and one key objective is to encourage cooperation across the political parties, to bring about electoral reform. John Elsom, freelance writer and former BBC theatre correspondent, reflects on the need for a liberal alliance after five years of false promises and political sloganeering.
Yorkshire Bylines has many students writing for us, including Kerry Pearson who is studying international history and politics at Leeds University. We asked Kerry to take on the challenge of explaining the significance of the Lugano Convention (which clarifies which national courts have jurisdiction in commercial and cross-border disputes) and why the UK has been denied re-entry due to post-Brexit mistrust. Her excellent piece did the subject justice.
Local historian John Heywood started writing for us last March. He tweets as History and Heritage Yorkshire @GenealogyBeech, which is well worth a follow for lovers of Yorkshire history. With all the recent media attention on refugees, John looked back at a time when our country welcomed refugees rather than turning them away. During WW2, Wakefield 18 Belgian refugees arrived in Wakefield, and the Yorkshire welcome was almost too much!
Regular readers will know that Meryl White, who tweets as @GrandmaAbson, has been writing for us since the very beginning. She provides recipes that often have an historical Yorkshire flavour, or are linked to current events. This recipe for Pastel de Santiago is a great example, timed to coincide with the arrival of the COP26 Camino walkers in Glasgow. Take some time to explore her other recipes too!
Following the murder of Sara Everard, Amanda Robinson wrote about what needs to change in the criminal justice system to secure more convictions for those who sexually women and to prevent police officers with a dubious personal history becoming or remaining members of the force. She argues for change in how we how we think about and discuss violence against women, and the language we use.
Wakefield poet Jimmy Andrex usually takes a quirky look at politics with his unique brand of humour, often with a pie in hand. But occasionally he takes a detour. The racism row at Yorkshire County Cricket Club dominated the headlines for several weeks, and will hopefully lead to system-wide learning and change. Jimmy argues that the story goes right to the heart of Yorkshire identity.
Dr Stella Perrott is a consultant in criminal justice and children’s services who has spent 25 years reviewing public services, usually when things have gone wrong. She is therefore ideally placed to write on these subjects and her articles are well worth reading. Having reviewed several recent immigration inspection reports, she concludes that breaking the asylum system may be a deliberate government strategy to punish those seeking asylum.
- Nobody wins a ‘modern’ war: only cooperation can beat killer robots, climate change and nuclear weapons
Former Green Party leader and Sheffield resident Natalie Bennett writes regularly for us from her position as a member of the House of Lords. It’s not only climate change that draws her attention, but the raft of legislation making its way through parliament. In her most recent piece, she examines the controversy surrounding ‘killer robots’ and argues for cooperation, not competition, to tackle these and other threats.
Anthony Robinson’s regular articles on politics and Brexit continue to be our most read. His excellent analysis is based on careful research and trustworthy sources. In his final article for 2021, he took a look at the what’s happening in the Brexit-supporting press, in particular The Spectator, where it would appear that there is considerable worry that voters will soon discover Brexit isn’t all it was cracked up to be.
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