News reaches us of a groundbreaking initiative by WessexSociety, the cultural association devoted to promoting our region’s identity. To mark St Ealdhelm’s Day, which falls today, the Society offered Wyvern flags to all the county and unitary authorities in Wessex to fly outside their offices.
There has been a good take-up from county councils – Dorset, Isle of Wight, Somerset, Wiltshire – and some of the unitary districts – the Borough of Bournemouth, the City & County of Bristol, South Gloucestershire (who have two offices and so requested two flags), and the Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead. Six of our eight shires are therefore included. Wyvern flags are also flown, or have been flown recently, by the town councils in Wantage and Weston-super-Mare and at Oxford Castle and Winchester University. Today’s omissions are mainly around the peripheries, where identity could be expected to be weaker, so give them time, but what happened to Hampshire County Council? Are they trying to tell us that Winchester isn’t in Wessex? How stupid do they want to look?
We are also told that Eric Pickles’ Department for Communities & Local Government planned to fly the Wyvern again this year outside their London headquarters but discovered, too late, that they had mislaid the flag. You can just imagine what Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It would make of that.
While the political niche we fill is necessarily a narrow one – at this stage in the development of Wessex consciousness – the success of Wessex Society’s initiative should now silence those who insist that Wessex doesn’t exist at all and that there is no wider sense of identity into which a Wessex political movement can potentially tap.
What the initiative also reveals is where the real threat to Wessex lies. Positive responses were received from half the county councils but only a quarter of the unitary districts. Many unitaries are urban and three of them are controlled by Labour. The overall response rate across Wessex was 33%; the response rate from Labour-run councils was precisely nil. Nothing from Plymouth or Reading, while Southampton just dithered indefinitely.
Why? The Labour movement is happy to come to Tolpuddle once a year; the RMT union’s Wessex branch even takes part with a gurt big wyvern on its banner. Labour in government did nothing to lift the ban on our flag, leaving it to Eric Pickles to restore our freedom to fly. But that’s history now. Surely they’ve moved on? So why the sour-faced refusal to join in the fun today? Would Labour refuse to fly the Welsh dragon or the Scottish saltire in their respective home territories?
Or has some directive gone out from London that the boundaries of the Prescott zones are never, ever to be questioned, even in the interests of promoting a real regional identity capable of mobilising support for devolution across a significant chunk of the south of England? Tell us, please, why DOES Labour hate Wessex so much?