The Return of the Region

The leading article today in The Times (a London newspaper) is about the north-south divide. It reports a call – actually made back in March – from Paul Hackett of the Smith Institute for a ‘Council of the North’ to be established, “a body that would bring together politicians, business leaders and academics to speak for the region as a whole. Such a body last existed between 1484 and 1641. It was set up by Richard III to give more power to the north after centuries of depression. Mr Hackett pointed out that London had representation that was becoming increasingly strong, and Scotland and Wales were also able to argue their cause. He suggested that bringing together the North West, Yorkshire and Humber and the North East would strengthen the whole region’s voice.”

The history is broad-brush but the political point is well made. The figures reproduced are damning – especially that transport spending per head in London is three times higher than up north.

What does this have to do with Wessex? Plenty. The case for centralism is that it allows resources to be shared out fairly by an impartial elite seated in Whitehall. It is demonstrable nonsense. All it does is thwart regional initiative and favour those closest to the metropolitan power-base. In 1971, John Banks, later our Party’s President, wrote in his book, Federal Britain?: The Case for Regionalism, that centralisation “has meant the concentration in London of the best jobs in government and business, and the corresponding drain of talent from the provinces and smaller national areas. High incomes have been earned in the metropolitan region, which have then been taxed in order to subsidize the regions from which enterprise has been attracted to the high income area, in order to persuade some of it to go back again. It is ‘Alice through the Looking Glass’ economics, from which nobody can ultimately gain.”

We advocate a regional solution that can begin to redress unfairness in a dynamic and lasting way. We are regionalists, not separatists, and work with those in the Celtic nations and in other areas of England – even with ordinary Londoners – to dismantle the structures of arrogance that suppress us all. There is no place in our Party for those who wish to whine about Scots or northerners getting their hands on money that could have been spent in Wessex. Much of the money that apparently needs to be spent in Wessex is only needed because of reckless population growth outstripping the capacity of our public services to cope. Centralism has delivered a ‘lose-lose’ scenario where the older industrial regions are gutted and abandoned while Wessex disappears under concrete. Regionalism can hardly do worse than that.

Our Party puts Wessex first, always. But we seek to do it in an intelligent way, one that builds successful alliances that will benefit us at least as much as they benefit others. We have always been the Wessex Regionalist Party: proud of the fact that we view Wessex as a region – a community of communities that joins with others to form still larger communities as the need arises, in every case upon the basis of enlightened self-interest, not empire-building, nor uniformity for its own sake. In this view, we stand shoulder to shoulder with so many good folk throughout the length and breadth of Europe. We follow their progress with interest, as we hope they follow ours. A rising tide lifts all boats and, as we pursue our goal of self-government for Wessex, we trust we shall never be so blind to the world that we miss the signs of the turn, nor so deaf that we cannot listen and learn from the struggles and successes of our friends and neighbours.

4 comments on “The Return of the Region

  1. August 16, 2011 Westcountryman

    That was an excellent article. That is the sort of stirring call that could really bring people on board to the regionalist movement.

    I did wonder why you mentioned Europe only and not say the World or the West? To single out Europe seems strange and puts ond in the unpopular and tactically poor position of seeming to Europhile. You don't have to be hyperbolically Eurosceptic, but hints of actual pro-EU sentiments are tactically, and I'd say in principle, not a good look.

    My other criticism would be that of the invriable use of term 'Wessex'. Now obviously you a spokesman for the Wessex regionalist party and in other areas you no doubt give a more nuanced view of the region. However Wessex, is really three regions which though linked are not necessarily identical. That is, it is the historical and cultural Wessex, it is the South-West and the West Country. In that sense Wessex is not a relatively open and shut identity like the identity of the Welsh or the English, as English, are. Someone from Somerset could be quite a fierce 'South-West first' sort of a person but have no real conception of Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Hampshire, the Isle of Wight or even Wiltshire as part of their 'region'. I'm not of course challenging the party's and society's definition of Wessex, I agree with it except I think good arguments about the status of Gloucestershire or Oxfordshire can be made either way and where they end up is not key to the identity of Wessex or a South-West region. I do think though more nuance should be used, just to show Wessex regionalists and decentralists are alive to the complexities and realities involved and are not(as some Mercians I have encountered are.) kooks who take it for granted that our regional identity is as alive and fixed as that of the Scots or the Welsh and even(like the Mercians again) little changed for over a thousand years(some Mercians even try and merge Mercian nationalism with Germanic pagan revivalism!).

    With those of little tweaks I genuinely think that article could be the basis of a stand alone pamphlet or some such thing to argue the case for Wessex regionalism.

  2. August 16, 2011 Westcountryman

    I suppose my comments above are more weighted to considering that article in isolation, as a stand alone piece. My second criticism in particular is only important in such circumstances.

  3. August 20, 2011 David Robins

    Wessex & Europe. It’s true that Wessex has a less polished identity than those of the various nations with which we are all familiar. To consolidate that identity is a major piece of the project and we won’t make progress if we remain endlessly deferential to competing identities on our territory. We have to start as we mean to go on. We don’t have to be arrogant about this. The case for Wessex can be put simply as common sense, leaving histrionics to one-man bands from Mercia.

    The article refers to our friends and neighbours, who are indeed in Europe. We would find little in common politically or geographically with movements in other continents whose conditions differ so radically from our own. Our position on the EU is perfectly clear, namely that subsidiarity must apply at every level and that currently it does not.

  4. August 21, 2011 Westcountryman

    I can understand the desire to consolidate the Wessex identity, I agree with it. I'm just saying it hasn't come that far yet; that multiple identities do very much exist in Wessex. If one is talking to those outside the party and its supporters then it is perhaps best to show something of this ambiguity. By all means it is best also to show that your idea of Wessex is the best solution to these ambiguities, I agree it is(if again I'm not that fussed about where Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire end up.) but you will come over better if you show recognition they exist and recognition of the realistic place of Wessex identity currently in the region. There is a difference between consolidating one's identity, as we must do, and simply defending it, as the Scots et al must do. Again this only really matters if you are talking to outsiders and I recommend you use that article as the basis for a pamphlet.

    Your policy on the EU is a tactical liability and it doesn't make much principled sense either. There is no need to actively support withdrawal of course, but Europhilism is tactically self-defeating, unless you're like the naive, left-of-centre Cornish nats who are hoping the EU will grant them their autonomy without realising that the EU will only do this as part of a framework that will destroy decentralism and regionalism.

    The best approach is not to directly call for leaving the EU, it can serve real purposes, but make it clear that you only see a very limited role for it, that is must stay within this role or you will take actions up to and including withdrawal, and what is more that it is only one of the many transnational forums that can be used.

    This singly out of the EU is itself a Europhile position; only a line of reasoning that sees something special and indeed ultimately above the usual importance or our international obligations in our dealings with the EU nations would preference it, on the whole, above our relationships with particular European nations(including Norway and Switzerland.), with the UN, with the Commonwealth and with the Americans. Your policy, particularly when it is explained and defended by various members, comes across as neither as hard on the EU as would be best nor as willing to make time for the alternative international forums. This does leave one with the impression of Europhilism, which is correctly unpopular in England and in Wessex.


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