The stereotypical Martian, asked to investigate what the Wessex Regionalists stand for, might be puzzled by the answer. At one extreme, we may seem focused on very high level issues, like global justice, including the trial of leading politicians here and abroad for waging aggressive war. At the other extreme, we may seem focused on very low level issues, especially on empowering parishes to be the prime decision-makers for their localities, in place of dictatorial ministers and a despotic parliament.
What links them is what appears at first glance to be missing: the idea of the region. Yet the region is the true focus of our activities that makes sense of the rest. We have endured a decade of fake “regionalism” that has made it quite difficult for our own message to be heard. We are in the process of enduring what could be a decade of fake “localism”. Both have been doled out from above by a cynical, money-grubbing elite when what is actually needed is an unstoppable demand – for the real thing – coming up from below, one with zero tolerance of MPs who vote for the centralist line.
Cleaning up the regionalist ideal after its mauling by the Prescott crew takes time. And an oblique approach is essential if we are not to be tarred with the usual brush, the one that remembers Prescott’s regionalisation plans as the centralisation of cherished local powers, not the real devolution that was being rolled out in Scotland and Wales at the very same time.
So to start at the beginning again means to start at the bottom, at the most local level, insisting that parishes decide everything that they feel capable of deciding, not what some toff in London judges them competent to decide. Only what cannot be decided at parish level should be delegated by the parish to other levels of local government. Only what cannot be organised locally should be organised regionally: specialist health care, higher education, railways and energy grids might be examples of that. Along with the thinking and debating needed to plan for a sustainable future at a human scale. (Because “sustainability” is another word that “they” have managed to turn on its head.)
That leaves next to nothing for national government to do. And hurrah for that! National government is organised for war and the urge to dominate others. Cutting it down to size, treating with contempt its claim to offer the means to a better quality of life for all, is what real devolution is for. And where will the criminals who run the show now run to then? We hope to see them behind bars in the not-too-distant future.
Wessex, like all English regions, is the missing piece in the jigsaw of ideas, allowing localities to achieve more together than they could achieve alone, while at the same time being both small enough to notice local concerns and big enough to be able to stand up for them effectively in wider forums. Alex Salmond has given Scotland a distinctive voice, confident about its future. Wessex, with a population 50% more than Scotland’s, needs a voice just as distinctive, just as confident. It’s time we put an end to our centuries of silent subservience.