Wednesday, May 25, 2011

When Will Wessex Flag Ban Cease?

We are the dispossessed. Dispossessed of our liberties by the Norman Conquest. Dispossessed of our livelihoods by the enclosures. And now dispossessed by the Coalition as it flogs our communities’ assets to pay bankers their bonuses. Bonuses then spent squeezing us out of our homeland to make way for commuter mansions and weekend cottages. The speech of King Alfred is mocked as that of rustic idiots, while quislings in our councils try to gag users of our dialect. Today is St Aldhelm’s Day, still unacknowledged by the UK authorities as the feast day of our patron saint, as important to Wessex as St Andrew is to Scotland and St David is to Wales.

At least we can freely fly the flag of Wessex, the Wyvern, recently added to the Flag Institute’s UK Flag Registry, the first step towards its long-awaited official recognition. Surely we can?

No. We can’t. We can freely fly the Scottish flag in Wessex. Or the Welsh flag. Or the Cornish. Or the national flag of any country anywhere, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. But it is technically an offence to fly the Wessex flag in Wessex, unless planning permission has been obtained. Which can cost up to £335 and has to be renewed every five years.

This month the Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, announced his “intention to launch a consultation to allow a wider variety of important and historic flags to be flown by people keen to celebrate their local and national heritage and culture”. We can’t wait. The last time the rules were reviewed, under Labour, county and saints’ flags were deregulated but regional flags were not. East Anglia’s flag, dating from the early 1900’s, has continued to be widely flown regardless. The Wessex flag is also flown by a growing number of individuals and organisations, including local councils. Labour, control-freakery at Warp 10, refused to decriminalise these harmless expressions of identity and continued to levy what is in effect a ‘stealth tax’ payable on our patriotism.

Pickles too has chosen his words with care: “local and national heritage”, not ‘regional’. His press release tells us that the Coalition will “make it easier for communities wanting to celebrate the contribution of our armed forces by easing rules on flying local regimental flags. Other local flags, and projects like environmental awards, could also all be freed up from existing bureaucratic restrictions.” The man himself says, “If people want to celebrate something that is important to them by flying a flag they should be able to do so without having to fill in forms or paying town hall officials for the privilege. We will make it easier for people to celebrate their allegiance to a cause, a county or a local organisation if they choose to do so.” The ‘R’ word we are looking for is still conspicuously missing. Ominously, the press release ends with the warning that any flags outside the extended categories will “continue to be prohibited without express consent.” No doubt Pickles, deluded fool that he is, genuinely believes that the United Kingdom is a model of human rights and democracy. One where it is expected that folk will ‘celebrate’ the contribution of the Queen’s Own British Murderers to the needless deaths of tens of thousands of innocent civilians. But that it must remain out of the question to allow an oppressed minority the freedom to fly our own flag in our own land.

We can and will fight back. Fly your Wyvern with pride. Drop Pickles a line. Let him know that our region is here to stay. And that he cannot fine or jail everyone who cares for Wessex.

UPDATE 1: here

UPDATE 2: here

UPDATE 3: here

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

We & They

Our website currently includes a page of links to movements for autonomy among our neighbours – the Cornish, the Welsh and, within England, the Mercians. Our southern neighbours the Bretons and, within France, the Normans, are not neglected either. In a Wessex-centred perspective, within the Europe of Regions, we have no false loyalties to wider unities that do not, or will not, work for us. Cross-channel ferries are part of our economy, generating jobs in our coastal communities. Tartan tins of shortbread are not. In theory, what goes on in East Anglia or Northumbria, let alone Scotland, should be no more relevant than what goes on in Poitou and Picardy, our other neighbours’ neighbours. And as for Scotland, it might as well be on the moon.

In practice, what goes on in Scotland is very interesting indeed, because Scotland is the motor of constitutional change within our Disunited Kingdom. Thirty years ago, in the aftermath of a referendum defeat, even a relatively weak Scottish Assembly seemed a pipedream. A Scottish Parliament with an SNP majority was a foolish fantasy. That is not to say that the Union today is in jeopardy. A referendum on Scottish independence may well do to the SNP what the referendum on AV is now doing to the LibDems. Misreading the voters’ mood can have devastating consequences. Be careful what you ask for; ask only if you confidently command the charisma to carry it through.

Mischievous provocations by Unionists, however, such as suggesting a UK-wide referendum that gives English voters a veto over dissolution, will only stiffen Scottish resolve as the 700th anniversary of Bannockburn approaches. Even to float the suggestion is counter-productive and serious politicians will recognise that. The reality is that Labour is in deep trouble whatever form the referendum takes and whatever its outcome. Whether the SNP becomes the natural party of government in a devolved Scotland or takes it on to independence, the prospects for a Labour majority at Westminster are going to be severely dented. English regionalists should not think that Labour will soon be in a position to deliver devolution here, even if it wanted to. This realisation, which cannot spread quickly enough, leaves regionalist parties as the only viable option for those who advocate decentralisation and democracy. There are no shortcuts.

Meanwhile, the next four years at Holyrood will be interesting times. Thatcher hated Livingstone for building, across the Thames, a working model of everything she most despised. Salmond will be giving Cameron the same delightful treatment. The prospect of two Scots with two very different visions facing each other from their respective Parliamentary bastions will enliven political life for everyone. Abolition won’t be a way out for the PM this time. The lessons start with that simple fact, that devolved government is a constitutional, not simply administrative device. Nothing less than a civil war could remove it now. That is the kind of security against Westminster bullying that Wessex too so desperately requires.

That the SNP now dominates the Holyrood Parliament is another outcome we can welcome. Not because we care who the Scots elect to govern themselves, but for the boost this gives to a re-territorialised politics. More nationalist – and ultimately regionalist – MPs at Westminster would mean fewer Conservative, Labour and LibDem ones. That is the politics we support, because it is bottom-up politics, in which MPs work as advocates for the communities who sent them there, not for ideological factions manipulated by London-based think-tanks, funded by creeps and crooks, whose primary objective is the smoothing-away of the differences and distinctions that give variety and value to life.

A well-informed Cornish blogger, commenting on the AV referendum result, has suggested that the ‘No’ campaign won partly because UK politics overall are insufficiently ‘Scottish’ in outlook, in the sense of putting community first. (This defect was to lead AV to defeat even in Scotland itself.) There is something in this. The LibDems and all their works were punished, but in a range of cruel and unusual ways in different areas. They alienated their most ardent and hope-filled supporters by allowing themselves to become Tory glove puppets. They alienated floating voters by not providing a more responsible lead on over-population and over-development. Where they were strongest they suffered huge losses; where they were weakest they ended up entrenching still further the peculiarly nasty politics of the sado-monetarists, the slavering, reptilian denizens of a Daily Mail world of imperial destiny, swivel-eyed xenophobia and the mine, all mine social Darwinism that stalks the southern shires.

Such a stereotype also happens to be that of the typical campaigner for a ‘one-size-fits-all’ English parliament, gleefully envisaged as the means to spike all regionalist guns. We do not campaign for an English parliament. We cannot, because we cannot put the interests of England, or anywhere else, ahead of the interests of Wessex, nor put the latter ‘on hold’ indefinitely for the sake of somebody else’s priorities. If Celtic independence-all-round delivers an English parliament by default then we shall work within it, but the job of removing power from London goes on regardless. Without Celtic pressure, the decentralist cause within England would undoubtedly suffer a setback, which only a renewed drive for Europe-wide regionalisation might be expected to reverse. For Wessex to succeed, it must be seen as the equivalent of Scotland and Wales on the European stage and folk must be willing to look for such an equivalent. Instead, viewing the world from a truly parochial perspective, they will sometimes complain today that Wessex is ‘far too big’, then paradoxically declare that they prefer an English parliament that would be seven times bigger!

The task of differentiating Wessex from its neighbours, while working with them to undermine the foundations of uniformity, is acknowledged to be huge. It is also hugely worthwhile and, pursued with passion, can be hugely enjoyable too. The region is going to become the key political, economic and cultural unit of the post-oil age as old state structures render themselves irrelevant. Those who regionalise first will be those best placed to make the inescapable transition in a humane and democratic fashion. The Scots are way ahead. We’ll need to run if we’re to keep up.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Borrowed Labour

London academic Lord Glasman is one of those leading Labour’s latest attempt at re-invention. He’s calling it ‘Blue Labour’, an appeal to small-c conservatives and to all who grasp the point about democratic collective action, to defend the places and traditions we cherish, to resist the rapacious appetites of global market forces. It sounds like a value-set that we ourselves might endorse. Apart from certain significant details found lacking. Notably the one called consistency.

These are values that we have proclaimed for decades, while Labour has been all over the shop. We protested when Labour wanted to concrete-over tens of thousands of Wessex acres to house a new working class of cut-price immigrants and the crashing waves of London overspill they generate, a policy it now considers a mistake. (Indeed it was, but a shamelessly deliberate one.) We spoke out against the agenda of unprecedented growth, with its maniacal excesses of road-building and airport expansion. We challenged Labour’s fawning acceptance of whatever deregulation and privatisation the City’s financiers demanded. We did what we could to slow the destruction of what few democratic checks and balances our feudal constitution offers us. We warned that there would be tears before bedtime.

Blair had no time for tradition, nor purpose for perspective: “New, new, new, everything is NEW.” So ran the people’s premier’s demented mantra. New, for better or for worse. Why should any of that lot have cared which? The trappings of power were all they craved. And what’s changed since? Labour is still out on loan, borrowed as the front door key to Number 10 by yet another generation of centralist control-freaks pretending to be what they never can be.

Sometimes Old. Sometimes New. Sometimes Borrowed. Sometimes Blue. That’s Labour. As changeable as a chameleon. And as trustworthy as a rattlesnake.