The defeat of New Labour’s assembly plan for the north-east corner of Northumbria, in 2004’s referendum is often claimed as proof that regionalism is finished. Advocates of a triumphalist English Parliament cite polls showing support for regional assemblies now trailing at 9%. They forget that polls used to show a thumping majority in favour, UNTIL it was revealed how little was actually likely to be devolved. That contrast suggests that what is needed is not a timid approach to region-building that starts with a committee here or a partnership there but a systematic dynamiting of the whole Whitehall machine in favour of full-blown regional parliaments, and no half measures.
A recent academic paper records, in excruciating detail, how useful idiots in the ‘North East’ zone were led on by New Labour to bring about the demise of a project the leadership never really wanted to succeed. The belief that voters would back not real devolution but a costly means to go on lobbying for real devolution backfired badly. Back to the drawing board then.
So when Peter Hain this week sought to re-open the regionalisation debate, his contribution deserved to be greeted with a healthy dose of scepticism. Labour in opposition always acts as if no-one has any memory of just what these ghastly crooks got up to while in power. Nice try, Peter, but it doesn’t fool us.
The truth is that as far as Wessex is concerned, Labour is not the opposition. It has never enjoyed a majority here and so cannot be expected to welcome a self-governing Wessex. If we want an opposition to what the Coalition, building seamlessly on Labour’s work, is now doing to us, then our only hope is to build our own.