Wessex Regionalists of today keep faith with the primary aim of a devolved regional government, within a Europe of the Regions, as the only way forward for Wessex. However, it now also advocates policies that address the question “and then what” after a devolved administration has been achieved.
At its core is the original Wessex movement first mooted by Alexander Thynne, Lord Weymouth, in the 1950s. By 1974 Thynne had founded the Wessex Regionalists as a response to the then central government’s failure to introduce regional assemblies within England. The 1969 report of the Redcliffe-Maud Commission, established to consider the structure of Local Government in England, had recommended the establishment of Regional provinces based on the existing Standard Regions, NE, NW, SE, SW, etc. However, a further Constitutional Commission under Lord Kilbrandon, reporting in 1973, rejected devolved regional assemblies for England. A minority on the Commission dissented and produced proposals for 5 English Regions (a hint back to the 5 Great Earldoms). Thynne, and his colleagues, wanted to take forward the KIlbrandon dissented proposal and put forward a proposal for a real region based on the historical and cultural identity of Wessex. The aim was that, to build a new region which would have appeal and would resonate with its population, it had to be one based on firm foundations.
Thynne stood in the February 1974 General Election as a Wessex Regionalist. The Party fielded 7 candidates in the 1979 elections and 10 in 1983, its highest number in any one election. Thynne’s interest in the campaign diminished and in 1992, on succeeding as Marquis of Bath, he took his seat in the House of Lords as a member of the SDP.
The void was filled by members of an even older and more established party – Common Wealth. This party had brought together like-minded people from three left-wing movements that came into existence during the Second World War, all debating the question of “what sort of world are we fighting for when this war ends”.
The first and most influential group was the 1941 Committee, a think tank brought together by Picture Post owner Edward G. Hulton; with social commentators J.B. Priestley, H G Wells, the philosopher Bertrand Russell; Tom Wintringham – the leader of the British Battalion in the International Brigade during the Spanish Civil War; and others. Not all of the Committee agreed that the think-tank should transform itself into an alternative left-wing political party and many left, including H G Wells. Common Wealth (CW) was founded on 27th July 1942, as a libertarian-socialist party.
It was immediately joined by the Liberal MP, Sir Richard Acland’s Christian-Socialist Forward March group. The third wing came from the Cairo Parliament, a grouping of British soldiers in North Africa who had set out their own blueprint for a post-war Britain, styling themselves on the 1649 Putney Debates by the Agitators and Levellers within Cromwell’s commonwealth army. CW-influenced members of the Cairo Parliament joined the new Party in 1944. The name CommonWealth, reflected a shared view that the wealth of a future Britain had to be shared in common, not by the few, mirroring the aim of the original Leveller/Digger movements in the first Commonwealth in the 17th Century.
CW, between 1942 and 1946, had 5 Members of Parliament including in Barnstaple. However, the Labour Party’s victory in the 1945 election was seen as negating the need for a separate left-wing party and in 1946 a significant minority defected to Labour. The remainder continued, campaigning in elections until 1953, and then, as a pressure group, until 1993.
As a pressure group CW was tremendously influential in this period, networking with other campaign groups in many arenas, often taking the lead. Notable were its campaigns for:
- The environment, including (late 1940s) promoting windpower; working on the editorial board of Resurgence; in the Ecology Party (forerunner of the Green Party);
- Promoting Works Councils and worker controlled organisations
- Pioneering post-war opposition to atomic weapons which later became CND;
- Supporting a policy of neutrality;
- Was in the vanguard of campaigns for colonial freedom;
- Supporting the creation of Amnesty International;
- Pioneering devolution in England as well as providing support within England for Scottish and Welsh devolution.
It was its campaigns for devolution that brought CW into contact with WR. By coincidence many of CW’s leaders lived within the Wessex region and by the late 1980s prominent members had formally joined WR which quickly adopted many of CWs core aims, adapting then to a Wessex environment. CW became the hand implicitly inside the WR glove, although the glove remained fundamentally Wessex. The late John Banks, formerly of the Cairo Parliament, became Secretary-General, and later Leader of WR and Douglas Stuckey, the last leader of CW, is still active on the 2017 WR Executive Council.
Wessex Regionalists fielded candidates at General Elections continuously from 1997 to 2017. It has also fielded candidates in the 1979, 1984 and 1989 elections to the European Parliament and more recently (2016) ventured into local politics.
The emblem of WR is a stylised Wessex Wyvern in gold on a sea-green background. The gold is taken from the golden wyvern of Wessex which has been a symbol of the Wessex Region/kingdom since 752AD making it one of the oldest symbols still in use. An unspecified green had been in use since the 1980s but was later revised to sea-green as a nod to John Rede, a Wiltshireman, the last Leveller from the first CommonWealth.