Monday, April 7, 2014

Softly, Softly

Angus Macpherson is Police & Crime Commissioner for Wiltshire Police.  He recently told a business breakfast meeting that the police were now working as a region, taking in Gloucestershire, Dorset, Devon and Cornwall, but, he added, “We will not lose Wiltshire Police – neighbourhood members of the police, working and living in local communities.  It will be a collaboration of services, but based in Wiltshire.”  He said that 29 people had been taken out of the management structure by co-operating on a regional basis.

Regional co-operation over policing was only to be expected.  The fire service already has a control room network in place that is shared between four of the brigades serving southern and central Wessex, stretching from Plymouth to Aldershot.  The ambulance service, run for the past 40 years as part of a centralised NHS and therefore immune from democratic local input, has been almost wholly regionalised.

The paradox for the Coalition is that they want to save money but don’t want to admit that one way to do this is to share certain services on a regional basis.  This service-sharing is not widely publicised, because it undermines the repeated claims that England doesn’t need regionalism.  The risk is that England goes on pragmatically building a regional tier of administration while dogmatically rejecting a regional tier of government.  In other words, that the regional tier goes on being managerialist instead of democratic, that it goes on existing outside formal, accountable structures.  It would be better if everyone owned up; then we could start putting in place arrangements to make regions like Wessex a political reality and not just a series of deals in the shadows.

Modern local government was created to join up and make sense of a host of overlapping and conflicting jurisdictions; regional government is needed to do the same at the wider scale.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Berlin Wall II

Aye or nae, Scotland’s debate over its future is laying bare the fundamental structure of the UK in ways that no academic study could have begun to contemplate.  There’s nothing like demanding answers to questions that were always thought too fanciful to ask but have suddenly become part of an urgent reality.

We know what the SNP’s vision is for Scotland.  The rest of the UK is left looking rather smug in that there is no widely shared vision for how it might be changed for the better.  Is it really that perfect?  Shouldn’t the UK minus Scotland be thinking harder about its future?  And what if the ‘No’ camp wins?  There is no consensus over what that means, just a vague expectation of some sort of devo-max to calm everyone down again.  Or maybe not.  Certainly the vacuum is one that benefits the separatist cause, highlighting it as dynamic and aligned with the next chapter of history.

Advocates of small-State nationalism in Europe have come up with a variety of ways to describe their goal, such as ‘internal enlargement’ of the EU.  At a seminar held this week at the European Parliament, Dr Alan Sandry of Swansea University came up with another:

“We will see what will happen in the next ten years, it’s as if a new Berlin wall is coming down.  New states are emerging and Europe should prepare for that reality.  In the UK federalism is gradually being discussed as a topic, but that topic is over, it's 15 years too late.”

Indeed.  Did the opportunity for a federal Britain come and go without us even noticing?  Probably not, since there was always going to be a contradiction between federalism – everyone moving forward at the same speed – and the reality of a multi-speed Britain.  Anyone with a sense of history should have spotted that even at the beginning of the current process we were well beyond the beginning, since most of Ireland left decades ago, an event long obliterated from political and media memory.  Equally the end – an independent England with the last of its empire cast off – is not the end either, since it raises the question of what kind of England that can be.  Centralist – more of the same – or regionalist – radically empowering communities throughout the land?  A federal Britain is dead: long live a federal England?

It’s not just the timing that was wrong.  The English question is routinely under-estimated because it lurks far below the surface.  No-one much cares politically for England, as England, if it can dominate the whole UK, but start to challenge the assumptions of the union and England suddenly matters again.  England is then revealed as the spanner in the works that makes a federal Britain impossible to sustain.  Re-imagine the UK as a federation of four or five nations and England’s vastly greater size dooms the project to fail.  Attempt to equalise the constituent parts by replacing England with regions and the ship of state will sink somewhere between Scylla and Charybdis.

On the one side there is the national problem: that denying England any expression of national identity but cherishing those of the other home nations is simply unfair.  Why should England disappear for Britain’s sake?  On the other side there is the regional problem: that regions can be built up, slowly but surely, from their historic roots, but identities cannot be ordered into existence from Whitehall to match the timetable for Celtic devolution.  Imposed boundaries, for impractical areas, with empty names, will alienate even the staunchest supporters of a decentralised England.

There’s a saying about the fall of Communism in eastern Europe.  In Poland it took 10 years, in Hungary it took 10 months, in East Germany it took 10 weeks, in Czechoslovakia it took 10 days.  We should expect Berlin Wall II to follow the same pattern, with the more confident small nations leading the way for others whose identities have been more drastically eroded.  But the Europe of a Hundred Flags is composed as much of historic regions as of small nations and we should expect them to follow too in due course.  Not into formal independence, but into a degree of self-government that allows them to interact with their small-nation neighbours on terms of practical equality that do not require every question of importance to be referred to London, Paris or Madrid.  Some regions will lead the way; others will follow once they see the benefits.  Wessex has every reason to aspire to be near the front.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Lesser Lands?: A Postscript

“Universal peace will be impossible, so long as the present centralised states exist.  We must desire their destruction in order that, on the ruins of these forced unions organised from above by right of authority and conquest, there may arise free unions organised from below by the free federations of localities into provinces, of provinces into nations, and of nations into the United States of Europe.”
Mikhail Bakunin: address to the Congress for Peace and Freedom, Geneva, 1867

As previously discussed, we reject the idea that our shires are in any way expendable in the regional interest.  The English shires are the building blocks of the English regions, just as they are themselves composed of towns and parishes whose autonomy deserves to be respected and cherished.

From time to time, we find ourselves arguing against those who demand that shire boundaries be disregarded in pursuit of more ‘sensible’ regional areas.  We’re told that we’re over-ambitious to include as Wessex the east of Berkshire or the north of Gloucestershire.  Such reasoning ignores the associations of the word ‘shire’, with ‘share’ and ‘shear’, denoting a portioning of something larger.  A shire cannot have divided loyalties; it cannot be partly in one region and partly in another yet retain its unity, otherwise what is it a shire of?

This is not to say that shire boundaries cannot, and therefore do not, change.  History shows that they do.  Real subsidiarity must allow for whole shires to change region or nation, and equally for their constituent towns and parishes to change shire, if that is the local will.  (Among other things, this argues for the return of Berwick-upon-Tweed to Scotland, it being the original county town of Berwickshire and quite attracted right now by the thought of restored rule from Edinburgh.)

Those who today view themselves as living in occupied north Berkshire, or who reject their supposed legislative transformation from Hampshire hogs to Dorset dogs, may take comfort in the restoration of the Cornish border that occurred on 1st April 1966.  Professor W.G. Hoskins, in Devon, his monumental history of his home county, set out the story down to 1954:

“The western boundary of Devon has a curious history.  If we begin at its southern end, we follow the Tamar for half its length, to a point just north-east of Launceston.  Here a great tongue of Devon, two or three miles wide and seven miles long, thrusts deep into Cornwall; but three miles farther upstream the river becomes the boundary again and continues (except for negligible breaks) to within a few yards of its source near the north coast.  From this point a direct four-mile line down a steep, wooded combe brings one westwards to the Atlantic coast at Marsland Mouth.

The great tongue of land of which we have spoken covers some nineteen square miles and consists of the two large parishes of North Petherwin and Werrington.  These parishes have always been included in the archdeaconry of Cornwall for ecclesiastical purposes, but are still in Devon for all other purposes.  They were already included in Devon in 1086 and as they were entirely owned by the Devonshire monastic house of Tavistock it has been suggested that the abbot saw to it, when the boundary was drawn, that the whole monastic endowment on both sides of the Tamar was conveniently included in the one county.  But until 1066, or shortly afterwards, this large estate had been included in the Cornish hundred of Stratton and was a part of the royal demesne which descended to Gytha, the wife of earl Godwin.  Some time between 1066 and 1068, when Gytha left England for ever, she had transferred the estate to Tavistock abbey.  There is evidence that it was still reckoned to be in Cornwall as late as 1084, but by 1086, when Domesday Book was compiled, the abbey had been deprived of it and it was included under Devon, where it has remained ever since.

It is almost certain that the Tamar had been the original boundary along its whole length, except for the parish of Maker at its mouth, and that the transfer of these nineteen square miles from Cornwall to Devon took place silently when Baldwin de Brionne, sheriff of Devon, held the farm of Harold’s and Gytha’s lands in Devon.  As Werrington (the political name of this territory) was Gytha’s only considerable Cornish estate, it too fell under his administration.  Such an arrangement suited the sheriff of Devon financially, for he paid an inclusive rent for the farm of the Devon lands and should have paid a further rent if Werrington had been officially known to be in Cornwall; and since the Exon Domesday returns were drawn up at Exeter under his supervision he had the opportunity also to set the official seal upon a deliberate fraud of the exchequer.  The estate was therefore described under Devon in the final Domesday return, and as recently as 1929 a Cornish bill to restore the status quo of 1066 was defeated in a committee of the House of Lords.”

Now we know that 37 years later the boundary was restored to its proper place, with the consent of every council affected.  It pays to take the long view.  We act in the belief that England more generally can be the kind of place where local boundaries are determined by what local folk agree upon and are not something to be imposed by self-proclaimed experts in London.  And what goes for local boundaries may also go for regional ones.  If Cornwall can get justice after some 900 years, then so too can Wessex.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Lesser Lands?

Still, after all these years, we get comments to the effect that regionalists don't understand the English love of the shires and therefore the instinctive resistance that is provoked by regionalism.

It’s a straw man argument, based on what may have been said by the Labour Party about phasing out county councils.  We have always been clear that the shires of Wessex are part of our heritage, to be carried forward into our future, and that their identity needs to be not just protected but massively strengthened.  In this, we go beyond what is promised by any of the main London parties, all of whom are content to see traditional identities eroded.  We are particularly proud of our shires in Wessex, which is where the whole idea started.  Shires may have existed here as early as King Ine’s reign (688-726); their names were familiar to Ælfred and as England became a single kingdom during the 10th century they were rolled out across Mercia and Northumbria.  Not at the expense of regional government though, which survived until the Norman Conquest, when it was eliminated as too great a challenge to the tyrannical royal power we still experience in its modern, parliamentary form.

Today marks the 40th anniversary of a local government reorganisation widely believed to have changed the boundaries of many traditional shires, including all but two of those in Wessex.  In fact, a Government statement made at the time and published in The Times – and reiterated since – claimed boldly that this was not the plan:

"The new county boundaries are administrative areas, and will not alter the traditional boundaries of counties, nor is it intended that the loyalties of people living in them will change despite the different names adopted by the new administrative counties.”

That isn’t what happened.  We were robbed.  Everything from the maps on the television news to the names of local newspapers quickly fell into line, and stayed that way.  A number of us were drawn to regionalism precisely because of the outrage we felt.  Others long ago retreated into nostalgia, deciding that arguments about optimum administration under modern conditions of life were not for them.  Others again retreated into paranoia, deciding that Englishness had been singled out for destruction by the Communists or the Eurocrats, despite all the evidence to the contrary.  We have always been the ones to ask more searching questions.

Foremost among those questions is what alternatives were considered.  Could we not have kept the counties and county boroughs as they were, and had some other means of dealing with issues that spill across urban boundaries?  We could, and that is progressively where we’ve all been heading since the 1990s, when cities and larger towns like Bristol, Plymouth, Bournemouth and Reading regained their civic independence.  But if disputes with their neighbours are no longer referred to County Hall, where do they go?  They go to London, or to its regional offices.  They don’t go to the regional assemblies that have often been mooted as part of any rational system of government but have always been rejected.

They have been rejected largely through an unholy alliance between the Town Hall and Whitehall, presenting them as unnecessary interference in local affairs and an undermining of London’s responsibility to rule for the benefit of the whole nation.  (That would be quite funny if it weren’t so sick.)

Municipal leaders who go along with this will find themselves supping with the devil.  In always favouring a weak rather than strong assembly – unelected rather than democratic, advisory rather than executive, legislative or tax-gathering – they fulfil their own prophecies.  An assembly with no actual services to deliver will inevitably try to intervene in those run by others, because that is how it will interpret its co-ordinating brief.  Give it enough to do and it will be delighted to leave local government alone, especially if subsidiarity is enforced by making it dependent financially on the local councils themselves.

By opposing strong regionalism, local leaders hand power instead to London, and via London to global financial elites.  The only question then left for ‘normal’ politics to grapple with is whether that power is exercised via regional offices and agencies at finger’s-length, the repeated Labour solution, or directly by ministers and civil servants in London, the solution currently favoured.

We would never argue that our cities and counties are lesser lands, to be subjugated to the wider will of Wessex.  What we want for them are the kinds of constitutional guarantee that have always been unthinkable under a Westminster Parliament that greedily guards its sovereignty.

In return, we invite them to consider what powers are beyond them, but not beyond the capabilities of a Wessex Witan.  Health, higher education, tourism, transport and the utilities, the regional framework for sustainable agriculture, energy and housing, crisis management, the research and strategic thinking needed to get us through the 21st century.  Scotland and Wales provide some pointers, as do the practices of other European countries that are no strangers to letting folk get on with deciding their own futures.  Regionalism is no big ask.  It just means the London regime getting out of the way.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Review of 2013

Every year when we submit our accounts to the Electoral Commission we are also required to provide a ‘Review of Political Activities’ covering the year just gone.

The 2013 Review has recently been agreed and here is what it says:

“The Eastleigh by-election in February provided an unplanned but welcome opportunity to raise the Party’s profile.  This was fully taken up, despite the attempts of pro-establishment groups such as 38 Degrees to deny us a legitimate share of the platform.  Our candidate, Colin Bex, canvassed voters, attended hustings and gave interviews, one of the highlights of the campaign being an appearance on BBC2’s Newsnight in which he exchanged jibes with Paddy Ashdown of the FibDems.

The wyvern flag of Wessex appeared in some shots and was given an added, official boost in May when the Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, arranged for it to be flown outside his London headquarters to mark St Ealdhelm’s Day.  ‘Today,’ announced his press release, ‘the only way is Wessex’.  We agree, and look forward to these cultural concessions being backed up by solidly political ones.

Paradoxically, our vote at Eastleigh – the Thinking Thirty – was much less spectacular than the publicity.  Like all the smaller parties, we were squeezed by a well-oiled UKIP effort to mop up the protest vote.  In the long-term, the publicity gained will matter more, since media interest has been sustained through the course of the year that followed.  This has since borne fruit in the form of several interviews with the BBC, including two local radio stations, focused mainly on the implications for England of the Scottish referendum on independence.

There is a well-founded perception that ‘politics-as-usual’ is no longer an option in Scotland, whatever the outcome of the referendum.  The fact of holding the referendum has changed the nature of Scottish politics.  It has also begun a debate over whether other parts of the UK can also benefit from a tide that is now moving towards radical constitutional change.

For the first time in perhaps a decade, the national debate about England’s future is not just about the merits of an English Parliament.  With London’s wealth and influence continuing to massively outstrip those of the ‘provinces’, a self-governing England that lacks a regional tier is being exposed as an idea offering ‘more of the same’.  We expect the idea of regional assemblies to be revisited and will be doing all we can to prevent Labour once again imposing their ill-considered vision of an ‘Iron Curtain’ between eastern and western Wessex.

Colin Bex has continued to manage our London bureau, attending meetings on our behalf on matters such as the HS2 railway, which we oppose.  He has also raised concerns that London’s Mayor, Boris Johnson, is seeking to pioneer repressive methods, such as the use of water cannon by the Metropolitan Police, that may then be extended to other areas.

Along with the Secretary-General, David Robins, Colin attended the Annual Conference of Mebyon Kernow – The Party for Cornwall, at Truro in November.  It is always good to be able to cheer on those further up the political ladder and learn from their achievements.  We have also continued to develop our online presence, with visits to our blog again breaking records.”

Love the Land, Live the Life

It would make such a great slogan for our Wessex.  It is in fact already taken, as the English-language slogan of the Normandy Tourist Board.

There is such a thing, based not in one of the great cities – Caen or Rouen – but in a much smaller place, Evreux.  It exists despite the fact that officially Normandy doesn’t exist.  Officially, it is two separate regions, Lower Normandy, based in Caen, and Upper Normandy, based in Rouen.

Although there is a long-standing campaign to re-unite the two half-Normandies, there are also deep-rooted Jacobin desires to magnify, not lessen the harm to regional identity.  Both half-Normandies live under the constant threat of reorganisation by a centralist State that regards regional geography as malleable in the interests of its own survival.  There is the recurrent possibility that one will be merged with its Celtic neighbour to the west and the other with the area round the national capital.  Sounds familiar?  Can we learn from Norman regionalist resistance to this?  The WR Secretary-General, David Robins, recently made a brief visit to investigate.

French vehicle registration plates are wonderfully colourful, including besides the actual number an area code for the département and the regional logo.  You can buy stick-on labels for the département and region of your choice.  And, for once in France, choice means choice.  At Carrefour in Ouistreham you can buy stickers with the Lower or Upper Normandy logos.  Or you can be a true Norman patriot and prefer a sticker that displays the ancient ducal banner of two gold leopards on red.

(You can even buy a sticker that has the number 44 – for Loire Atlantique – beneath the Breton ‘gwenn-ha-du’ flag.  Even though, in the eyes of France’s leaders, Loire Atlantique isn’t in Brittany, because they say it isn’t.  In Wessex terms, ‘région Bretagne’, without Loire Atlantique, is like ‘the South West’, without Hampshire, since in both cases the historic capital is excluded.)

That Norman flag gets everywhere.  In Ouistreham it flies over one of the largest hotels, and over the wartime German blockhouse that towers above the port.  Even where you don’t spot the flag, you see not-so-subtle references to it in red-and-gold colour schemes, on buildings, in furnishings and on road signs.

Yes, the road signs.  Tourists are welcome in Normandy and their needs aren’t neglected as they are in Wessex.  The authorities know what they’ve come to see and are pleased to remind them.  Drive along the main roads to and from Caen and you’ll see the signs.  Images from the Bayeux Tapestry or from Norman architecture, done in pastel shades of pink and yellow.  Pointing out Caen – the city of Guillaume le Conquérant, Falaise – the birthplace of Guillaume le Conquérant, Bayeux – the tapestry of Guillaume le Conquérant.

Now imagine something similar on the A34 or the A303 – Winchester, the city of Alfred the Great, Wantage – the birthplace of Alfred the Great, Athelney – the refuge of Alfred the Great.  You have to imagine them because they don’t exist.  We don’t want tourists to come to Wessex, because there’s nothing to see here, right?  Because there’s no such place.  There’s the London commuter belt, and beyond that there’s the deckchairs and donkey rides.  A Wessex Tourist Board?  Perish the thought.  The next thing we know the locals will be saying they want to cast off the London yoke.  Queue for the Brittany Ferries service at Portsmouth and you can watch the attractions of Normandy unroll slickly on the big TV screen.  What do we offer our visitors queuing on the Ouistreham side?  ‘South West England’.  They’re not even there when they disembark, but in the other ‘region’ next door, ‘The South East’.

So what impressions remain of Normandy?  Devastated after D-Day, Caen today is largely a modern, practical city, with, like many cities of the European mainland, an entirely new tram system, opened in 2002.  Purists will call it an electrically-powered guided bus and it’s due to be replaced with a real light rail system rather shortly.  George Ferguson, Mayor of Bristol, was interviewed on BBC Radio 4's Costing the Earth last week.  He said he'd love to spend billions giving Bristol "a fantastic new tramway system" like the one in its sister city of Bordeaux – the regional capital of Aquitaine – but Bristol doesn't have that sort of money.  And why ever not?  Answer that one George and you could be on your way to becoming the first Wessex Regionalist mayor.

Then there’s Bayeux.  Which has a lot more to offer than just the Tapestry.  No reproduction of that can ever convey the impact of the original.  The final scenes are full of revealing detail, once you get up close to the stitching that shows the two wyvern standards, the first fallen, the second held up defiantly against the imminent victors.  The first is gold, the second is red with a gold underbelly.  And so the registered colours of the Wessex flag too are red and gold, echoing both the Tapestry and the chroniclers’ references to a golden dragon.

We share rather more than you might expect with the old enemy.  Just as Cornwall and Brittany share black and white as their flag colours, so we share red and gold with the Normans, as we share geology, climate, a love of apples and pork, cheese and cream (though our cooking lags a little behind), caution, and a justifiable distrust of the national capital’s intentions.  They invaded us once.  We invaded them many more times in return.

It’s a bit like Scots-and-English at times.  You emphasise the differences or the similarities according to the agenda.  For every unionist who reminds us of Britain’s shared cultural and political heritage there’ll be a nationalist reminder that Scots have a shared cultural and political heritage with France.  It’s one that’s arguably been much more important in defining Scottishness – in terms of distinctive architecture, law, a sense of being European that is still resisted in England, and so on.  In a European context, Wessex, bound by its ferry routes to the mainland, has at least as much reason to make common cause with Bretons and Normans as with Scots or Northumbrians hundreds of miles away, the other side of Mercia.

And Wessex has a lot to learn.  Ouistreham’s high street has a small shop devoted solely to all things Norman.  It sells flags, foods, drinks, books, badges… well, just explore the website.  It’s the sort of thing that might be found in Cardiff or Edinburgh, and these days possibly Truro too, commercially focused but with definitely a nationalist crust to the artisanal loaf.

Despite it all, despite the occasional insistence that Normans are not to be considered as French folk, Norman nationalism is not, yet, mainstream.  It may not need to be.  Reality could in fact run ahead of ideology if budgetary pressures upon France force Normandy’s re-unification.  If the broader-based regionalist campaign to achieve that goal succeeds, to whom does a Norman regional government then look for reciprocal arrangements on our side of the Channel?  Who will speak for Wessex?

If we want to 'think Wessex', we have to be willing to look beyond jingoistic Britain for issues that resonate in the context of an entirely Wessex-centred geography.  Today, while we’re all thinking our brains out about what Scottish independence might mean for us if it comes to pass, let us not forget the much older associations of Europe’s Atlantic and Channel facades that have shaped us too.  ‘Fog in Channel; Continent cut off’ is a misconception that can raise a smile; too often it seems a political fact of life that does us no good at all.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Housing Whom?

Oxford professor Danny Dorling is the rising star of radical sociology.  Some of us heard him speak in Witney during the 2010 election campaign.  He has his critics, but he has an impressive grasp of statistics and deploys them with devastating effect.

A review of his latest book, All That Is Solid: The Great Housing Disaster, appeared in Metro last week.  Did you know that in 2012 one in every four new jobs in Britain went to a new estate agent?

What’s that?  Yes, someone’s definitely doing alright.  And those who aren’t still hope to.  Dorling wants to challenge the idea of a home as something for which we incur titanic debts in the hope of profiting from buyers even more desperate than us further down the line.  For him, as for any sane person, homes are shelter first and assets second.  Yet we seem to have lost sight of the idea that they are something basic, like education or healthcare, whose provision public policy could address.  The loudest complaints are not about homelessness but about being unable to get on to the ‘property ladder’.  The London parties have no answer because they too are wrapped up in the idea that the job of government is to enrich competing individuals and families, rather than to enrich society and so spare them the trouble.

For Dorling, the solution isn’t to build more houses everywhere, at the expense of the environment and primarily for the benefit of landowners, developers and the banks.  His claim is that Britain has plenty of housing but doesn’t use it efficiently.  It’s a bold claim, undoubtedly over-stated given that the population really is growing and really is spreading out, with average household size declining.  But let’s examine his solution, which could make some inroads into the problem, however big it happens to be overall.

The answer isn’t the so-called ‘bedroom tax’ but heavier taxes on multiple properties.  Why is that politically a non-starter?  Dorling’s claim, reasonably enough, is that MPs won’t vote against practices that benefit them – and, we might add, benefit them probably more than any other group.  He brings up an interview in which David Cameron appeared to forget just how many homes he owned.  (Regional government, allowing almost all legislators to live within commuting distance of their assembly, would be a very much better bargain for the taxpayer than Westminster.)

The social problems caused by multiple home ownership don’t correlate with economic and political power, do they?  Where are the holiday second homes?  Largely on the peripheries: Cornwall, Wales, the Lake District, coastal East Anglia, and some parts of Wessex (the south coast, Exmoor and the Cotswolds).  And where do their owners live?  Largely in the south-eastern quadrant, we suggest.  The power certainly isn’t where the homes are, nor where the desperate, badly housed locals are.  So we need to take it back through meaningful devolution and start putting people before property.

As well as the homes that are empty for most of the time, there are the homes that are empty the whole of the time, the long-term vacant properties, some of which in Wessex have been empty for 30 years.  Why?  To free market theorists, such a waste of assets is inexplicable.  Their economics textbooks say it can’t happen.  The reasons why it happens are complex.  One can be that the owner has died and their estate hasn’t been sorted out, or there are family disagreements or joint ownerships where the owners no longer speak to each other.  The owner may be in prison.  Or aged or in poor health and just not bothered.  Sometimes there may be negative equity, and so difficulty in funding any necessary improvements.  Yet these are assets that could be providing shelter, without damaging the environment.  Why is more not done to fill the empties?  Why are we so tolerant, equally of so many wasted opportunities AND of the wholly needless destruction of farmland that results?

Taxation is a relatively benign way of rebalancing the housing market in favour of local need.  It falls short of the outright confiscation that might appeal to some of the market’s most scarred victims.  But it would give them enough hope not to reach for the petrol can and the matches to make their views felt.  Dorling suggests removing the limit on council tax banding so that the wealthiest pay in line with the value of their multiple properties.  A land tax would address a whole range of problems, while higher inheritance tax would do something to tackle the huge accumulation of unearned wealth in London and its suburbs.

The next question is what to do with the money raised.  If local communities need affordable housing, why not provide some?  Not necessarily by building new houses, which often come at an environmental cost, remember.  But by buying up existing ones and letting them out to the sons and daughters of the parish.  It’s not beyond the wit of lawyers to devise a system of lettings, leases, covenants or parish council consent to guarantee that the recycling of such housing always prioritises those with a local connection.  Through such means it would be possible to build up a two-tier housing market of the kind that helps keep the Channel Islands as they are, relatively undeveloped, with enough housing for the locals, plus a few to spare, in their case for rich tax exiles.

Instead of doing what’s right for us in the round, we currently provide affordable homes by imposing them as a requirement on housebuilders.  And to sweeten the pill we let them build two market houses for every affordable one.  We need a new model that allows the affordable ones to be built, if suitable sites exist, without the market ones coming along as the ball-and-chain.  We could let local councils build them, and call them ‘council houses’.  That way, housing misery need never be a source of private profit ever again.  Which, of course, is exactly why a solution as obvious as that enjoys no mainstream political support.

It’s through formulating such policies that we can begin to envisage the ‘reconquest’ of Wessex assets from the London and global interests that have failed us.  We need to take back our housing, our water, our electricity, our trains, our land, in short, our future.  Can this be done without devolution, given the legal and financial screws that the London regime continually places on local expenditure?  No.  That is why we need devolution.