The leading article today in The Times (a London newspaper) is about the north-south divide. It reports a call – actually made back in March – from Paul Hackett of the Smith Institute for a ‘Council of the North’ to be established, “a body that would bring together politicians, business leaders and academics to speak for the region as a whole. Such a body last existed between 1484 and 1641. It was set up by Richard III to give more power to the north after centuries of depression. Mr Hackett pointed out that London had representation that was becoming increasingly strong, and Scotland and Wales were also able to argue their cause. He suggested that bringing together the North West, Yorkshire and Humber and the North East would strengthen the whole region’s voice.”
The history is broad-brush but the political point is well made. The figures reproduced are damning – especially that transport spending per head in London is three times higher than up north.
What does this have to do with Wessex? Plenty. The case for centralism is that it allows resources to be shared out fairly by an impartial elite seated in Whitehall. It is demonstrable nonsense. All it does is thwart regional initiative and favour those closest to the metropolitan power-base. In 1971, John Banks, later our Party’s President, wrote in his book, Federal Britain?: The Case for Regionalism, that centralisation “has meant the concentration in London of the best jobs in government and business, and the corresponding drain of talent from the provinces and smaller national areas. High incomes have been earned in the metropolitan region, which have then been taxed in order to subsidize the regions from which enterprise has been attracted to the high income area, in order to persuade some of it to go back again. It is ‘Alice through the Looking Glass’ economics, from which nobody can ultimately gain.”
We advocate a regional solution that can begin to redress unfairness in a dynamic and lasting way. We are regionalists, not separatists, and work with those in the Celtic nations and in other areas of England – even with ordinary Londoners – to dismantle the structures of arrogance that suppress us all. There is no place in our Party for those who wish to whine about Scots or northerners getting their hands on money that could have been spent in Wessex. Much of the money that apparently needs to be spent in Wessex is only needed because of reckless population growth outstripping the capacity of our public services to cope. Centralism has delivered a ‘lose-lose’ scenario where the older industrial regions are gutted and abandoned while Wessex disappears under concrete. Regionalism can hardly do worse than that.
Our Party puts Wessex first, always. But we seek to do it in an intelligent way, one that builds successful alliances that will benefit us at least as much as they benefit others. We have always been the Wessex Regionalist Party: proud of the fact that we view Wessex as a region – a community of communities that joins with others to form still larger communities as the need arises, in every case upon the basis of enlightened self-interest, not empire-building, nor uniformity for its own sake. In this view, we stand shoulder to shoulder with so many good folk throughout the length and breadth of Europe. We follow their progress with interest, as we hope they follow ours. A rising tide lifts all boats and, as we pursue our goal of self-government for Wessex, we trust we shall never be so blind to the world that we miss the signs of the turn, nor so deaf that we cannot listen and learn from the struggles and successes of our friends and neighbours.