On this day last year we were delighted to mention Wessex Society’s success in persuading a third of the county and unitary councils in Wessex to fly the Wyvern for St Ealdhelm’s Day. (The picture below was taken at Somerset County Hall in Taunton.) This year, many councils are doing the same, with Bath & North East Somerset and Portsmouth City reported to be joining the list.
Inexplicably, there is one loss. South Gloucestershire will not be repeating last year’s display of regional consciousness. The reason advanced is that the council has changed hands from ‘No Overall Control’ to Conservative, and the ruling Conservative group doesn’t want to fly the flag. Very odd, considering that it was a Conservative minister, Eric Pickles, who relaxed the rules on flying the Wyvern and went on to declare 25th May as Wessex Day. No doubt there are still some years of such confusion ahead of us as the London parties grapple with the fact of Wessex identity, stop regarding it as some sort of crime, and join in the celebration of our patron saint’s day. The protestations that ‘WESSEX DOESN’T EXIST!’ will continue, but nowadays are too shrill even to be worth refuting. One way or another, today’s culture is always the foundation of tomorrow’s constitution. It’s the pace of change that’s uncertain.
Wessex itself is not a party-political idea. It’s for everyone to make of it what they will. We welcome the growth of other organisations, such as Wessex Society, with the means to reach out to and engage with a much larger audience than we can expect to attract. The stronger and more varied the suite of Wessex organisations becomes, the stronger Wessex will be. But let’s not run before we can walk. The organisations we have need to be nurtured: putting down roots comes before sending out shoots. So dissipating our energy wouldn’t be clever.
This is especially so in the political field, where there’s huge potential for a territorial party to tap into the frustration that exists with the London parties, and the admiration that exists for the SNP’s onward-rolling bandwagon. Let everyone who cares for Wessex speak up for Wessex and do it NOW.
Let’s do it though in ways that are complementary and not divisive. The establishment would love us to fall out over something. It could be our name, or how we define Wessex, or any other faultline of convenience that’s open to exploitation if we allow it to be, but the fact is that changing political reality is about sustained hard work and nothing else. Magic bullets don’t exist. Things will move faster if we stick together: the greatest risk at times like this is for the impatient to split off, burn brightly for a season and then sink without trace. People’s Front of Wessex versus Wessaxon People’s Front?
Quite unnecessary, of course. WR is a broad church, and open to influence from within. Scotland and Wales have learnt from the tragedy of Ireland that the room for diverse oppositional politics in a time of revolutionary change is not unlimited. We’re aware of at least five groups – or possibly lone individuals – claiming to speak for Mercia, which is one reason why any formal alliance of English regionalists isn’t practical, because who do you recognise or not recognise as a legitimate ally?
WR has emerged stronger from the 2015 election, especially in terms of social media interest. This blog attracted some 3,000 visits last month, twice the figure seen during the Eastleigh by-election in 2013. However, one of the features of social media is the absence of any financial or organisational commitment. It costs nothing to like on Facebook or follow on Twitter. That’s why our cyber membership is growing a lot faster than the actual membership by which we are, unfairly, judged. This is not a sustainable model in the long-term: it’s the actual membership whose subscriptions pay for the website that serves as the hub of our media operations.
Real-world politics – standing in elections as committed challengers to the status quo – costs real money, for deposits (£500 a go for Parliament), for leaflets (expect 50,000 of them in a Westminster contest) and for all the expenses of canvassing and travel to media locations. Being a Wessex Regionalist is free. Being a member of the Wessex Regionalists is not, and for good reason. That’s why wishing for a free Wessex is nowhere near as effective as applying for membership today. It can be a great party, but bring a bottle.