2023 – An alternative view

In the last few days, things have gotten a little silly (even more so than usual) on Social Media. From some of the posts, you’d be forgiven for thinking those who voted Leave did so with the sole intention of scuppering Leeds’ plans to become European Capital of Culture. This is, of course, utter nonsense, but for the more militant in the ‘Remain’ camp, this was just the news they had been waiting for. “Now look what you’ve done”, “It’s all your fault” etc can ring out on any and all channels.

At the same time, the regional press is churning out the usual doom and gloom articles devoid of any positivity. “Hopes are dashed”, “It’s a huge blow” – you know the kind of thing. The City Council isn’t exactly rallying a call to action or showering the masses with positivity dust either. I won’t relay the contents of the email Judith Blake sent to business heads on Friday but if they bothered to read it, that may well make the rest of this article somewhat pointless. It certainly wouldn’t have them reaching for their cheque books.

Yes, on the surface it’s a poor state of affairs: The timing of the Commission’s decision was cruel and unforgivable. Many people have worked hard on this for a long time and as it turns out, longer than they needed to; some of these people I greatly admire and respect and I’m truly feeling for them. It’s never good to see hard work come to nothing, no matter what the circumstances, but what if all this work wasn’t for nothing? What if it led to something rather special?

Recently I wrote a little piece referring to the negative effect Leeds shouting about its numerous successes might have on the judges’ decision. Agreed, some viewed this as a little controversial, especially the timing, but I was merely trying to say that we could find ourselves a victim of our own success. This is a somewhat moot point now, but it still raises an interesting question.

What if the 2023 Bid had been allowed to go ahead and we’d lost to one of the other Cities? To be fair, that was the more likely outcome anyway, yet I’m told the City wouldn’t have been giving the money back, so the £millions would still have been available to spend on projects. What’s changed? Nothing, if you think about it. We just know sooner and we avoid any embarrassment that could have come from a Dublin style first round exit.

If the generosity and resolve of the private sector don’t waver, and with the right encouragement, why should it, then the people and businesses of Leeds can still unite and collaborate on a whole raft of projects, but better still, we can start right now; we don’t need to wait for permission. We have a jump on this and by the time our old masters on the mainland have got around to picking which Hungarian City is the most worthy, we’ll have already built our lighthouse and invested in whatever else suits us.

Yes, it’s estimated that many more millions (Liverpool for example) would have come as a result of a win, but if like many of us you thought that prospect unlikely, then things could actually turn out well in the end. Leeds is also not short of inward investment right now, with plenty more in the pipeline, most of which isn’t dependent on our City’s cultural status or our country’s inclusion in any kind of union.

It’s the likes of Dundee, Belfast and Derry I’m feeling for right now, because those people really needed this. They worked just as hard, if not harder, and worst still I’m sure those parts of the world would be more than happy if the referendum had never happened in the first place.

Our ability to celebrate our cultural importance in Europe and beyond has nothing to do with the rules of the European Commission or whether the UK is in the Union. Leeds should be raising two fingers in the air and facing them Southward. The City should unite and stay its course to prove that we are as worthy as any other, with or without the title. After all, it’s our actions that will produce results, not entering competitions.

 

  • Written by

    Paul Simon