Thursday, March 31, 2011

Review of 2010

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 2010 Review has recently been forwarded to the Commission and here is what it says:

During 2010 the Party’s on-line presence was maintained and strengthened. The website – – is linked to a Facebook page and to a blog. The latter proved particularly useful during the General Election in permitting a running commentary on the campaign independent of the negative bias frequently displayed in the mainstream media. Page-view statistics show that the blog has attracted readers from across the globe.

Colin Bex was elected Party President in February and at the same time selected as prospective candidate in the forthcoming General Election. It was decided to consider contesting Witney, the only Wessex constituency represented in the old Parliament by one of the three major London party leaders. Initial canvassing confirmed that this would be a good choice and Colin was duly nominated.

A folded A4 leaflet – ‘The Truth in Black & White’ – was distributed by Royal Mail to all constituents. At 50,000 copies, this was our highest-ever print-run. Publicity was also provided by the local press, with coverage in the
Oxford Journal, Oxford News, Oxford Press and Oxford Times. Interviews were given by Colin to Banbury Sound, BBC Oxford (television and radio), CNN and to Dutch radio and by Nick Xylas to Japanese radio. The Wessex Wyvern standard was much used as a visual aid on the campaign trail and was commented on by David Cameron (the Conservative candidate) at the count. Major publicity appeared shortly before polling day in the form of a full-page article in the London Guardian of 4th May. This included a colour photograph of Party members with the Wyvern at Chipping Norton, sadly in bad weather that offered poor conditions for canvassing. The article was by Alexis Petridis, who had been tasked with writing a piece on an attractive smaller party and as a bonus found himself at the heart of national debate in the Leader of the Opposition’s constituency. A further report appeared in the Guardian on the Saturday after the election. Quentin Letts of the Daily Mail also visited the constituency and noted our candidate’s lively presence in Burford. Travelling almost wholly by public transport, Colin visited all the major towns and some smaller villages, including return visits in some cases.

Two public meetings were attended, at Woodstock and at Witney, both organised by local clergy. At Woodstock, all candidates – or their representatives – were accommodated equally and Colin was able to engage with the audience as he wished. In disgraceful contrast, at Witney parties – and others – without recent UK or current EU Parliamentary representation were excluded from the platform – 50% of the candidates – and the audience was forbidden to express disapproval of views expounded. Colin protested vigorously against this curtailment of balanced debate but without success. The organiser’s pre-selection of candidates deemed fit to be heard is symptomatic of the hypocrisy of an establishment that claims to seek wider participation in political and civic life yet increasingly restricts opportunities to do so to ‘approved’ channels only, which include the near-identical major parties.

Whatever discretion may or may not be allowed to the voluntary organisers of a public meeting, much less can be conceded to the public authority responsible for organising the election. West Oxfordshire District Council’s actions were generally fair and efficient but we consider it unacceptable that the microphone at the count was turned off once David Cameron had completed his acceptance speech and while others were still waiting to add their own remarks. This was an appalling discourtesy to candidates who should be entitled to equal treatment. It was also a discourtesy to the counting staff, as it is customary for candidates to thank the Acting Returning Officer and his assistants for their work. It may be that this action was inspired by a desire to allow the major parties to proceed to give media interviews without interruption; if so, it confirms our view that elections in the United Kingdom are not free and fair, because they provide additional facilities to some parties at the expense of others.

The televised debates between the three major London party leaders were another example of this unwelcome trend towards re-inforcing the existing distribution of power by denying critical voices a hearing. This structural bias is compounded by the disproportionate inputs of rich beneficiaries and the disproportional outputs of the FPTP voting system. It is to such factors rather than to any supposed deficiency in our own campaigning that we attribute the results we have obtained at recent elections. In standing, we are in effect acting as a political thermometer, testing the extent to which the electorate has or has not grasped the dire reality of its situation and become supportive of the radical changes needed to correct it.

In the
New York Times of 9th June 2010, Stephen Farrell's 'Peace Protest, London-Style' included reference to Colin's candidacy and his view that the only reason Britain may pull its troops out of Iraq or Afghanistan would be on the basis of saving money. It would have nothing to do with legality, let alone morality.

In November, two WR officers who are also members of Mebyon Kernow – the Party for Cornwall attended its Annual Conference in Bodmin. We consider it important to support other movements for autonomy on the principle that a rising tide lifts all boats. In the case of Cornwall, success also helps to establish in the public consciousness both what our own borders are and the historical basis for them. We have nevertheless continued to resist all calls for any federation of efforts under an all-England organisation or philosophy that would simply mirror the centralism we oppose.

We were particularly concerned during the latter part of 2010 at the implications of the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill. This, by requiring cross-border constituencies in order to meet an inflexible electoral quota, will prevent both ourselves and Mebyon Kernow fielding candidates across our respective territories, the whole of those territories and nothing but those territories. The defence of local and regional integrity is at the heart of our world-view and we are ill-served by Jacobin arrangements that treat politics simply as a question of which brand of a single global ideology should dominate the House of Commons.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Localism, R.I.P.

We have long been critical of the Coalition’s localism agenda. Not because we disagree with it in principle. Far from it. We would devolve power further and faster, and instead of dismantling those anti-democratic regional institutions we would democratise them in the form of a Wessex Parliament – the ‘Witan’ – an accountable voice for the region able to mount an effective challenge to Whitehall bullying.

We disagree with the Coalition’s plan because we don’t believe a word of it. It was always going to be a one-way street. (For example, giving communities the power to allow more housing than the local council wished to see but not less.) Now we are hearing phrases like ‘guided localism’ to describe what the Coalition really wants. Nick Raynsford, a former Labour minister, said that “for all that ministers want to talk the localism talk, they find it hard to resist interfering in local decision-making when it suits their wider public relations agenda”. And as a former Labour minister, Raynsford knows about that temptation, all too well.

The Localism Bill is still making its way through the Commons but George Osborne admitted this month that the Tories, like Labour, may promise people-power but all they will deliver is profit-power. What he is reported to be saying is that he wants to make it much easier for companies to obtain planning consent for new projects – even if they go against the wishes of local residents. When this sort of thing happens in China there’s an almighty stink about human rights violations. When it happens here, protesters are labelled ‘deficit deniers’ and plainly told that there’s no alternative to rebooting the same failed system that got us where we are.

There you have it. Did you vote for these crooks? Will you be doing it again? And again? And again?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Must Try Harder

One of the authors of the Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report, published by the World Economic Forum this week, has branded Britain an ‘appalling’ tourist destination. Though coming seventh out of 139 countries studied, poor marketing, among other factors, let the country down.

Seventh place was earned largely by high standards of public health, the current level of air services and availability of car hire, as well as an improvement in price due to the lower exchange rate of sterling over the past two years. Set against this, the UK was placed 84th on government expenditure on travel and tourism, at 43rd on the effectiveness of its marketing and branding, and at 46th even on the timeliness of providing tourism data.

Reactions are as expected. VisitBritain hit back (rather weakly) to defend its tourism strategy, claiming that, with the Royal Wedding, the Diamond Jubilee and the 2012 Olympics coming up, there has never been a better time to come to the UK as a tourist.

The idea that anywhere outside London might be worth seeing in its own right is obviously a difficult one for these folk to process. Their timeline of British history manages to stretch 'Romano Britain' to 1065, neatly avoiding any mention of those troublesome Saxon chaps. (Please remember that our taxes are paying for this rubbish.) Meanwhile, Britain’s top 10 regional foods are said to include 3 from Scotland, 2 from Wales and 1 from Cornwall. After deducting the generic category of ‘British cheeses’, that leaves just 3 from the whole of England and 2 of those are from the Thames estuary. Ten words about Cheddar cheese are all that we get.

The end of cheap oil will happen within the lifetime of many now living, so if anyone is going to see the world they may as well do it now. With its history and landscape, music, food and drink, Wessex has plenty of wonderful opportunities that cry out for creative marketing. If our tourist industry would just get up off its knees, stop pandering to a London-centred view of Britain and start selling Wessex for all it’s worth. And not just abroad. Watch television for any length of time and lush advertisements for Scotland or Wales will show up. Where’s Wessex in all of this? Largely silent and invisible, as ever, by our own suicidal choice. Let's pull together and put Wessex on everyone's map. If we want them to come, the least we can do is let them know that we're here.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Fool's Gold

On Tuesday, the Coalition announced that it would no longer be giving money away to China, Russia and a long list of other countries. Opinion polling suggests that two-thirds of voters query the priority given to foreign aid during this gloomy ‘age of austerity’ at home. (After all, this is money we borrow in order to give away and therefore have to pay interest on.) Labour, having espoused ‘joined-up thinking’ while in office, now denounces the targeting of aid to achieve security and other foreign policy goals. A surer target might have been to point out that the Coalition wants a Pig Society at home, where charity replaces the State and bankers pocket the difference, but wants to not only ring-fence but increase State intervention in other peoples’ countries.

We have reason to be suspicious of all the wildly whirling agendas. Tying vulnerable economies into providing us with the food and other resources we won’t provide for ourselves is not an ‘ethical’ foreign policy. It would be far better to leave well alone so that others can choose for themselves their relationship with development. Instead we underwrite with guns the elites who seize the crops to keep us fed. And then we wonder where Third World immigration comes from. Wouldn’t you want to follow the crops to see where they go?

The latest wheeze, to link aid to security, has all the markings of Danegeld. Don’t bomb us or we won’t pay you not to. So for how long do we pay? We paid the Vikings until they decided to help themselves to England. We paid the Barbary pirates for two centuries, so it looks as if the Somali ones need never work again.

But the biggest part of the big picture is that which describes our place in the global economy. We are told that our quality of life must be sacrificed to enable UK plc to ‘compete’ in world markets. We must join the race to the bottom, striving to match the costs of economies that rely on what is little better than slave labour. The word ‘compete’ is used in quotes because we are told that China, India, etc. are our competitors in this life-and-death struggle, yet we have been happy to subsidise their space programmes and nuclear weapons development, however indirectly, through foreign aid. If the competition were genuine, we would not be doing all in our power to enable their industries to undercut ours. The reality is that UK plc is a monstrous myth. No British government has any interest in our prosperity. It only cares for its own.

The alternative is protectionism, which ticks all the boxes. Especially, it accustoms us to an economy less dependent on moving goods around, which will become less of an option as the Oil Age ends. Nothing scares the financial class like the ‘p’ word. Which is why we are not allowed to mention it in polite company. But we have. We have ever since our 12-point programme in 1979, which argued for current revenues from our natural resources to be invested in building a region self-sufficient in energy, nutrition and all essential manufactured goods. Since then, Wessex has lost 32 irreplaceable years, lost in a Maggie-in-Wonderland world of ever-increasing prosperity and ever-expanding credit for which the first of many bills has now arrived. So don’t dare say you weren’t warned.

Naturally, as regionalists, we are not talking about ‘Imperial Preference’ here. Goods imported from, say, Brittany or Normandy imply a smaller carbon footprint than those from Northumbria or Scotland, let alone Canada or New Zealand. We cannot have jingoists in London or Paris imposing malignant barriers to trade with our neighbours. But trade rules that reflect the true cost of burning precious oil to bring us what we could have obtained locally, regionally or inter-regionally cannot come soon enough. Many good trends are becoming evident right now - Wales has voted for more powers, oil prices are rocketing, London politicians are looking increasingly out-of-touch with reality. Now is the time to seize this opportunity and make the case for local life and regional rule. Here, there and everywhere.