Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Quintarchy

“[The accepted code of behaviour in politics] may be stated as follows: Talk about problems. Never mention a solution. Solutions make people mad as hell... Never excite a minority. Therefore all solutions should be anodyne, even if public affairs need bold and imaginative solutions. Never tell the truth. The people are too weak to accept it, and they will only turn on you if you do.”
Derrick Hearne, The Joy of Freedom (1977)

We’ve tried as hard as we can to avoid discussing regional matters elsewhere in England and our aim generally is to continue to do so. We do get comments to the effect that we should set out the bigger picture into which Wessex fits. Often the comments come from Celtic nationalists, who see nothing wrong in the idea that their nations should steam ahead without waiting for England to make its mind up about its constitutional future. But still think it strange that Wessex should steam ahead of other English regions and not proceed at the pace of the slowest, perhaps even diverting its precious resources into getting them up to speed. We don’t apologise. That’s how it is. We don’t want some English Constitutional Convention to clip our Wyvern’s wings.

Yet the clamour continues, with all the wrong questions being asked. What’s the best way to decentralise power in England? Wrong question, because there’s no letting-go of the wider area’s overbearing demands. So what’s the best way to achieve autonomy for Wessex? Now that’s much more like it. England needs Wessex if it is to become a sane society organised at the human scale, one in which the negative influence of London, politically, economically and culturally, can at last be overcome. The only proper response from Wessex is therefore to assert itself and not be too bothered by the bigger picture, clinging concern for which is simply a sign that others just don’t get it. After all, a greater concern for the sum of the parts than for the parts themselves is precisely the doctrine we oppose.

That all said, the bigger picture is there. We want to see other regions asserting themselves too, because we benefit from the questions that raises about the bigger picture as seen from their perspective. We have worked closely with regionalist movements in the Midlands (Mercia) and the North (Northumbria) and from time to time said encouraging things to those in East Anglia who would join the effort. Which leaves just London and its inextricable hinterland. What would you call it? Londonia? It’s as good a suggestion as any, and trips off the tongue rather better than Greater Greater London. And if that’s the outcome, then there would be five.

Another question we get asked is why we don’t revive the Heptarchy. Winston Churchill remarked in 1954 that it might be a good thing for England to become a heptarchy again “but that is something I must leave to Anthony [Eden] to think over for the future.” Part of the answer to the question is that the Anglo-Saxons themselves abandoned the Heptarchy, linking the three smallest of its kingdoms to the Crown of Wessex. That is why so many historical atlases run the word ‘Wessex’ across to Thanet. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, however, is clear that sharing a king didn’t make Essaxons and Sussaxons into Wessaxons. The territories remained geographically distinct and kept their own laws and customs. It’s a misunderstanding we often battle against but Wessex really does stop at Hampshire.

Whatever lies to the east is certainly not Wessex. Its transport links run overwhelmingly towards London, and from a very different direction than those crossing Wessex heading east and north-east. Buckinghamshire too, has road, rail and canal links to London and relatively little that faces towards Oxfordshire. We don’t argue our boundaries on what made sense a thousand years ago. We argue that the pragmatic definition of Wessex is that region, out of all those sets of boundaries for which there is historical precedent, that also makes sense today, grouping historic shires around an industrial-era geography. Those who would rather insist that we pick up precisely at the point where Earl Harold left off in January 1066, even if we could know such a thing with certainty, have no sense of the broad appeal that is essential for our success.

For the same reason, it is possible that shires will find themselves on a different side of other regional boundaries than history might at first suggest – between East Anglia and Mercia, or Mercia and Northumbria. As we’ve often repeated, history is our inspiration, not our blueprint, and certainly not our straitjacket. We want to take our past with us into the future. That is why we will have no truck with the Prescott zones. But we are a party whose focus is on the future, not the past. We value our past for its ability to energise our future, a task at which the Prescott zones were always bound to fail. Wessex needs Wessex because the alternatives, in a resource-constrained world, are dire. The stakes are too high for arguing over angels on the head of a pin when we’ve a real-world region to build.


cornubian said...

You write: "But still think it strange that Wessex should steam ahead of other English regions and not proceed at the pace of the slowest, perhaps even diverting its precious resources into getting them up to speed. We don’t apologise. That’s how it is. We don’t want some English Constitutional Convention to clip our Wyvern’s wings"

Please forgive me for the tone I'm about to take but...

Yes you are doing everything right aren't you. "Steaming ahead" is exactly the term. Just look at those election results and your high level of media visibility. Without this wouldn't it be so much harder to get your ideas and proposals across? Thankfully though you get your voice heard in the hostile world of UK politics when future constitutional arrangements are discussed.

Just imagine if you were a tiny ignored minority of dedicated individuals? Just think how hard it would be for you to be taken seriously, even by the people of your own region. Trust me, I know, I'm Cornish.

David Robins said...

Tone forgiven, of course. Trust us, we've engaged with UK politics and we've heard all the excuses for inaction. Building our own alternative, however slowly, is still faster than working to divert the mainstream. That's why the Celtic nations grew nationalist parties. Because nothing else delivered.