Wayne Dixon is the leader of the SDP’s Yorkshire campaigning base and is challenging strongly for a seat on Leeds City Council.
Rooted in the community, his campaigning background comes from running a football club in Leeds. Founded by Wayne in 2004, Middleton Park F.C now has more than 200 members.
Wayne says of starting it up,
“It was just to get the kids off the street on my estate, because there was nothing to do. Football clubs, rugby clubs, cricket clubs, they are massive to communities. I think they’re really undervalued, and it’s great for local community networking – I’ve seen some of the juniors getting jobs because people know them [through the club].”
This was also how he got his first taste of how political power in Leeds works. For when he lobbied Leeds City Council for some minimal support for the club – just sharing training facilities – he came face to face with official indifference.
“The council is just so short-sighted. One of the local councillors told me I didn’t know what I was doing – that was after running [the club] for 10 years. They kept banging on about us being self-sustainable, but when I asked for the tools to help make us self-sustainable, they wouldn’t do it.”
Eventually, with a group of other community clubs, he put together a plan to use a former golf club. However this was ignored by the council.
“They didn’t even ring me to explain. So I decided to stand for the council,” he says.
With some votes behind him and the prospect of his tally rising, councillors became much more amenable: “How can we help you, Wayne?”
The process of getting involved taught Wayne how the system works. Or rather, how it doesn’t work: “That’s what got me into politics: they promised the world and just didn’t deliver.”
Regardless, Middleton Park F.C has mushroomed in popularity – and one of its players has just graduated to sign for Sheffield United.
For Dixon, this story demonstrates the same thing that has driven radical leaders in Yorkshire over the centuries: how our political settlement keeps disadvantaged communities disadvantaged. He wants that to change.
“Why don’t people on council estates get involved in politics? One of the biggest barriers is some people not knowing much about the electoral system. Straightaway at schools we’ve got a failure to educate us on how our country works. But also, it costs money. It’s not just money on leaflets, but also fuel costs and those kinds of things. If you are struggling financially why would you do that?
When people don’t understand the electoral system, they just don’t vote – so they end up with someone who hasn’t done anything for them in decades, and who nine times out of ten doesn’t live in the area and a lot of time doesn’t even go to the area. So there’s no representation as such. All there is is someone appointed to your area from a political party, be it Labour or Conservative. If you’re not from a community, or at least live there, how can you understand that place?”
Local elections in Wayne’s ward are due next May.
The SDP is hopeful that Wayne will unseat Judith Blake, the Labour leader of Leeds City Council, in Middleton Park ward. “She lives 45 minutes drive away, and we never see her,” he says. However she survives on a turnout of 22 percent.
Unseating Blake would be a huge moment for Wayne and for the SDP, but would also bring focus onto issues and policies.
Some of the SDP’s policy ideas will be small and relatively uncontroversial, such as allowing local sports clubs to lease their own grounds. “It sounds small but it’ll be massive, because clubs will be able to get so much more funding to build on their facilities, and they’ll have incentive to make it more of a community club.”
Some will be more contentious, including the SDP’s stand against positive discrimination.
“For me it’s about equality, genuine equality: treating everyone the same, not just picking and choosing. People should think about a person’s situation rather than just race. You won’t bring all of us together by discriminating for and against people because of their skin colour. That’s wrong. Things like police recruitment have to be fair.
I get why they do it, because they want to present an idealistic view of the country, but when you’re looking at kids off the estate like mine, they hate the police, but they’re the ones they’re wanting in some respects. If you want build respect, you’ve got to get people from all backgrounds.
The good thing about the SDP is that we cross across the right-left wing divide – everyone can find good in us. It’s not racist to be genuinely concerned about immigration. People around here are concerned that their family members can’t get a council house because there’s a shortage. The council will prioritize housing for those who are most in need, but those who meet this test tend to be new to the country. So obviously the council gives them priority – it’s a bit of a catch-22.”
Wayne is now using the same organizational drive and talent which he brought to the football club to help build the SDP organisation in Yorkshire. The party has the same focus on building communities and supporting families that he has demonstrated.
“[Middleton] has a rough reputation, but as funny as it sounds, my neighbours were probably the most trustworthy people I’ve met. Sounds really daft, but as kids you could leave your house door open, and no-one’s going to walk in. The mentality on the council estate was looking after their own, so that’s what they do.
“You don’t have to have financial stability or be rich to have a good community spirit where everyone looks after each other. That’s what we hope to build in the SDP.”