Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Devo Min

There are quite a few bright spots for Wessex folk to cheer about in today’s budget – and not just a freeze on cider duty – but look beyond the headlines.  It’s good to see money for children’s A&E in Southampton, but isn’t the rest of the NHS on life support?  A “more resilient train line in the South West” (in other words, dealing with Dawlish) is backed, though this actually only extends to a feasibility study that’s currently stalled.  We mustn’t forget the £20 million to help young families onto the housing ladder in the South West”, funded from the 3% stamp duty surcharge on additional properties.  Osborne says that’s a reward for good behaviour – “proof that when the South West votes blue, their voice is heard loud in Westminster” – but if we controlled our own resources and made our own decisions the cynical bribes wouldn’t be necessary.  With MPs in the South West still being urged to rebel over HS2, it seems they could do with more than a little regionalist help in turning up the volume.

We’ll be studying the financial detail before commenting further on those aspects that naturally fall within the Chancellor’s brief.  Meanwhile, we can comment at once on those that don’t but are there anyway.  ‘Devolution’, so called, can’t be taken seriously so long as it’s viewed as part of some national productivity campaign, no more than a footnote in the Government’s spending plans.  Constitutional change should be about democratic renewal, not the further empowerment of unaccountable business interests.  Are we happy too with the theft of our publicly funded schools in their entirety?  Theft it is, to nationalise the powers of a tier of government closer to the people, without its consent.  Where’s the referendum on that?

That’s why the devolution deals announced today are so pitiful.  If the local councils agree, there’ll be a Mayor for ‘Avon, Mk. II’, on top of the one Bristol already has, and despite the one Bath has just rejected.  Other parts of Wessex are still trying to line up their bids for more of the same.  In East Anglia, councils willing, there’ll be a Mayor too, heading the first region-wide elected administration in East Anglian history.  Like it or not, there won’t be a Mayor of Wessex.  Which is just as well.  We demand the open, transparent debate of a legislative assembly, like Wales or Scotland, not a behind-the-scenes fixer placed beyond accountability for a full four-year term.  The whole mayoral obsession is part of a failure to understand that London’s dominance over England is about the inter-regional distribution of political power, not the fact that it has a Boris and we don’t.

As with the North East referendum in 2004, what’s currently on offer may end up rejected locally as too little to bother with for the democratic and financial costs attached.  We’ve maintained a bold alternative that’s been rejected by all the London parties, essentially for the mortal sin of being ambitious in what we propose for Wessex.  All we need say in response is, where’s your vision then?  End the excuses, start rolling out REAL regional devolution, and do it now.

Monday, March 14, 2016

More, or Less? You Choose

Yes, you do.  Because just when you think that London, after all it’s had so far, can’t get greedier yet, along comes Crossrail 2.

The ‘National’ Infrastructure Commission last week recommended that the scheme – a north-south rail link across the capital – should be funded at once, “as a priority”, so it can open in 2033.  Its Chairman, Lord Adonis, said that London needs Crossrail 2 “as quickly as possible” to relieve congestion on Tubes and trains.  “Crossrail 2 will help keep London moving… we should get on with it right away”.  The smart money is on funding being announced as soon as Wednesday’s budget.

Now, it’s arguable that Crossrail 2 is an excellent scheme that will indeed deliver the benefits promised.  But so too are many others.  Wessex cities don’t have congestion on their underground metro systems because we’re still waiting for them to be built.  Many of our market towns could do with their trains back: many have mushroomed in size since the trains were lost through dodgy accounting under the Beeching axe.

The initial east-west Crossrail cost £14.8 billion.  Crossrail 2 will cost between £27 billion and £32 billion, at 2014 prices.  Adonis’ Commission recommends that London should contribute more than half the money.  Why not all of it, since it’s of no benefit whatsoever to us?  What about getting us moving too?  Why not a moratorium on any new national funding for infrastructure in London until the rest of the ‘United’ Kingdom has caught up?  For how long?  About 100 years should do it.

Why does this happen?  London’s MPs don’t form a Commons majority.  In fact, 89% of MPs represent constituencies outside London.  Even adding in London’s commuter belt doesn’t take us anywhere near a majority.  So why do our MPs so submissively vote for our taxes to be poured into this bottomless pit?  Why do they soak up the lies from ‘experts’ that this is a good investment from which we all benefit in the end, even as we look around us at our shrivelling community landscape?  It’s time our politics – so good at pretending to represent social class divisions – grew a geographical dimension to match.  The SNP have shown how it’s done.  The revolt needs to come south.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Ourselves Alone

One of the most persistent demands made of us by non-members is that we should work to set up a confederation of decentralist parties, on an all-England or all-Britain basis.  It’s a course of action fraught with difficulties, rather like trying to get the cart to go before the horse.  So let’s take it apart, piece by piece.  Get set for some iconoclasm.

The first assumption is that confederation is the politics of the present.  And that it’s working.

It’s that the UK, or maybe the British Isles grouping, is moving towards a confederal model and that political parties need to organise to reflect this.  There are indeed some institutions arising mainly out of the Good Friday Agreement that appear to be quasi-confederal.  There’s the British-Irish Council, based in Edinburgh, the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, based in Belfast, the North/South Ministerial Council, based in Armagh, and the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, which moves around.

The British-Irish Council meets twice a year.  Would it be missed if it didn’t?  Probably not.  It’s a nice day out of the office but it does nothing that couldn’t be done by email.  Guernsey might want to align its marine energy policy with Scotland’s, but alignment with Brittany and Normandy seems a more practical proposition.  It’s the perfect example of what’s wrong with that form of confederalism.  It starts with the idea that we need an institution to co-ordinate things, and then looks for things for it to co-ordinate, instead of asking what needs to be done and how.

If anything, a confederal Britain is the politics of the past.  It comes in any number of models but they all draw a line round the British Isles to keep them together and to exclude the rest of Europe.  Often there’s a confederal capital envisaged as neatly placed on the Isle of Man.  It might well have worked, circa 1910, but this is a boat that sailed with Irish independence.  Areas with a shared history or language don’t always make for a good confederation.  Especially when some were forced by others to share their history and language whether they liked it or not.  At the expense of other links they could have made, such as a Celtic grouping.  So that just leaves a shared geography, like old television weather maps that ignored the very existence of the European mainland.  Fog in Channel: Continent isolated.  That isolation is not wholly irrelevant – it keeps migrants in Calais who’d rather be in Dover – but the moat defensive is a poor basis for common security in the era of global powers.  The unification of the British Isles was driven by a series of military necessities that have now passed and need not dominate our politics today.

The second assumption is that confederation is the politics of the future.  Or could be, if we all work at it.

This seems highly unlikely.  Those who urge a confederal organisation upon us fail to take into account that the various movements within the British Isles have existed for different periods of time, have established themselves electorally to strikingly different degrees, and have very different ideas about the constitutional solution they’re working towards.  You won’t be seeing Nicola Sturgeon sitting down to chair a coalition of cripples that in Plaid’s case cannot get beyond four MPs and in the case of the rest are still struggling to get into Parliament.  The SNP’s openness towards regionalism in the north of England is a really interesting development but it has to be seen for what it is: Scottish foreign policy in formation.  If the result is a better-governed England then that’s a result for everyone, but a better-governed England, or Wales, or Cornwall is, rightly, not the SNP’s primary concern.  What motivates a territorial party isn’t the rightness of self-government for all, even though solidarity helps share many things.  What motivates a territorial party is the rightness of self-government for us, regardless of what others may think.

The assumption is that we’ll be better-placed to engage with Westminster politics if we pool resources.  A single press office.  A single lobbying machine.  Never mind the complexity of ever agreeing on anything, this gives Westminster a respect it doesn’t deserve.  It only sucks us in and turns us into a supplicant pressure group.  The lesson we should learn from the SNP is that success comes to those who go it alone.  In the film Michael Collins, Eamon de Valera is given the line, ‘We defeat the British Empire by ignoring it.’  The quote attributed to Gandhi about being the change you wish to see is another way of expressing the same idea.  Never under-estimate the opposition, that’s true, but never under-estimate yourself either.  The Wessex Regionalists have a London Bureau but it won’t be in London that we make our breakthrough.  It could be in Bristol.  It could be in Winchester.  It could be in any one of our urban or rural communities.  We guarantee that it won’t be in London, however helpful a London branch might be.  If the metropolitan chattering classes like the idea of a free Wessex then let them spread the idea.  Either way, we don’t need their permission to exist.

A further problem inherent in the idea of pooling resources is that to pool is to mutually recognise.  Three overlapping regionalist groups in Northumbria and at least two in Mercia require some careful judgment.  We shouldn’t be in the business of picking winners on others’ turf but that’s what’s demanded by any co-operation that goes beyond maintaining contact and exchanging experiences.  We could sit down and agree the map with others and feel really good about that, until some new group springs up, refuses to be bound by discussions to which it was not party, and starts the whole thing up again.

The third assumption is that confederation is an idea whose time has come.

Why has English regionalism failed to take root?  One answer is because it fails to nurture those roots.  Every generation comes to regionalism thinking that it invented it.  That no-one had ever thought of it before.  But there is a genealogy of ideas and it’s as fascinating as any family tree.  Among Celtic nationalists, there’s a longer continuity of organisation that enables stories of the earlier stages of the struggle to be conserved and passed on.  They stand on the shoulders of giants, they know it, and they can name them.  They have national libraries, where the pioneers’ papers are preserved, and academics who will treat them as a subject worthy of serious study.

We are the oldest regionalist party in England, launched in 1974 and formally constituted as an organisation in 1980.  Yet we’re still discovering things about those who argued before us for a contemporary Wessex.  Charles Kingsley, William Barnes, Thomas Hardy, Rolf Gardiner.  Amnesia sets in early.  Kingsley and Barnes were both writing in the 1860s about a contemporary Wessex, yet a decade later Hardy introduced the concept into his novels and went on to tell the world it was all his own work. 

Unless we work harder at developing a collective memory, this is the sort of thing that will go on happening.  It happens today because too few English regionalists are fully committed to their regions, viewing regionalism as just one of a host of good political causes, some of which align with regionalism while others cut across it.  Some genuinely fear a descent into ‘narrow’ nationalism, to such an extent that they can’t even see the sense of putting their own region’s interests first.  In fact, such a fear is unfounded: we have a common interest with the north of England in keeping their economy alive so that their population doesn’t drift south and destroy our countryside.  The London regime, supposedly looking after the common national interest, has betrayed us both.

Those who are new to regionalism and can’t understand why there isn’t a national body – co-ordinating, directing and generally bossing the regional parties about – do so probably because they’re unaware of what’s already been tried.  The newcomer’s voice often pipes up that ‘that was then, this is now, we can make it work today’.  In fact, so long as the issues are no different the outcomes will be no different.  If this isn’t grasped intuitively, it just has to be learnt the hard way.

In 1980, Anthony Mockler, on behalf of the Wessex Regionalists, convened a seminar in Oxford to which he invited all the civic nationalist and regionalist movements then active within the UK.  The result was the Declaration of Oxford: “We, the signatories of this Declaration, representing various movements for autonomy, declare that we are joined together in determined support for the right to self-government of communities and nations within Britain and against the centralism of the Westminster Government.”  The signatories besides ourselves were Cowethas Flamank and Mebyon Kernow (both from Cornwall), the Orkney Movement, the Shetland Movement and the Campaign for the North.  Plaid Cymru maintained a semi-detached interest.  The SNP remained aloof. 

Having met, it was agreed to be useful to keep in touch.  The Oxford seminar was the first of 14 held between 1980 and 1994, from Durham to St Austell and Bristol to Norwich.  There was an absolute consensus that links were good, at most a network, but not an organisation that risked replicating the very centralism we opposed.  Paul Temperton, Director of the Campaign for the North, warned against anything that would evolve into some kind of British Regionalist Association with its headquarters, inevitably, in London.

One thing that did emerge from the seminar series was a magazine, The Regionalist, which ran from 1982 to 1992.  Each issue included a feature article about a small nation or historic region and by the time of the last issue every part of the British Isles had been covered, along with Brittany and Normandy.  The seminars and the magazine were seen as a way to involve new people who weren’t members of any existing organisation.  Three attempts were made to get an East Anglian regionalist group off the ground, but apart from some regional flag-flying the East still dozes to this day.

By the mid-90s the original impetus had been lost, though contacts lasted informally into the 21st century.  The usual thing happened: people took their eye off the region.  We had discussions about whether there were different kinds of devolution, cultural, and economic, as well as political, and whether they ought to join up or be kept apart for the sake of balance.  This was about as far removed from the integrated vision of Wessex Regionalism as it’s possible to get.  And we said so.  We had a longstanding debate too about general decentralism.  Should we involve the Greens, or limit ourselves to movements with a specific territorial basis?  That debate still hasn’t gone away, with the SNP and Plaid backing the English Greens in last year’s election.  They could at least have pointed out that in Cornwall and some parts of England there’s another choice, one that doesn’t involve a party who in Scotland and Wales are the nationalists’ rivals.

Meanwhile, in 1999, we helped to establish a new focus of joint activity, all-English this time rather than all-British.  The Confederation for Regional England also included groups from Kent, Mercia and Northumbria, all signed-up to yet another high-sounding document, the Stourbridge Declaration.  We left after three years, alarmed at the time and expense involved in national meetings that offered us nothing and only diverted energy from the regional campaigning that alone can make regionalism work.  Worse still was the pressure to agree a unified English regionalist position on policy issues.  We struggled to get across the point that if one size fits all, you don’t need regionalism.

The Confederation proved to be one of those luxury items that it’s nice to have but isn’t necessary, or indeed helpful if its role is undefined.  Using it to try to plug gaps in the regional map is a noble idea, except in so far as this can become a case of ‘prompting the witness’ as to what regions there should be.  A better way to generate allies in currently unorganised areas would be to set the example of a strong movement in Wessex for them to emulate, rather than through national co-operation between existing movements all of which currently are relatively weak.  Especially if all are constrained to proceed at the pace of the weakest.

The fourth assumption is that confederation is a good reflection of where we wish to be.  So that, regardless of whether or not the UK is perceptibly moving towards confederalism, this is the solution we ought to favour.

In some ways, this is a repetition of the second assumption and is flawed to the same extent, namely that it perpetuates a discourse about the good governance of the UK that is increasingly alien to those who reject the UK.  And what can be said of the UK can also be said of England.  The idea of confederation is a kind of comfort-blanket for those who aren’t really ready for regionalism.  It reassures them that there’s some safety-net, some mechanism for enforcing the common good, for reining-in those who actually do want to set their own priorities.  For those who aren’t convinced of the Scottish nationalist case, it holds out the hope that the UK can survive in some ghostly form that continues to exert influence from beyond independence.

A region-centred view of the world isn’t bound by past alliances.  Yes, there may be cultural issues on which a free Wessex would wish to work with other English regions – as well as English-speaking areas elsewhere or areas with related languages, like Frisian.  Yes, there are geographical issues on which a free Wessex would wish to work with others throughout Great Britain, such as transport links.  But neither England nor Britain defines a Wessex-centred world.

Wessex has a number of neighbours.  They don’t include the Scots.  As well as the Londoners to our east there are the Welsh and Mercians to our north, the Cornish and Irish to our west and the Bretons and Normans to our south.  Which of these should we refuse to work with because they don’t neatly fit the priorities of Westminster politics?

In a Europe of regions, our friends could come from even further afield.  Our founder, Alexander Thynn, proposed that Wessex should be promoted “as the political and economic ally of all other agricultural regions within Europe, to operate in defending common interests against their transformation by those regions which are more highly industrialised”.  He also highlighted the interests of coastal regions as contrasting with those of the continental interior.  Nor are our links as a region confined to Fortress Europe: Wessex has important cultural connections with Newfoundland, Massachusetts and Virginia, among others.

Those who urge upon us the necessity of formal co-operation do so with the best of motives.  Experience and reflection show that it can be not a springboard to success but a straitjacket that curbs the aspirations of any authentically regional group.  We’ll cheer-on our neighbours but we can’t do their job for them.  Any more than they can do ours for us.  While remaining ever-aware of our surroundings, we need to reach deeper, not wider, to grasp the essence of Wessex.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

South By Southwest

Guest contribution by Nick Xylas, WR Council member and prospective candidate for Bristol City Council, Eastville Ward

As someone who has lived in both Wessex and the American South, I can’t help but be struck by certain similarities between the two.  Both are primarily rural and agricultural regions.  Both have low-status accents that provide a lazy comedic shorthand for ignorance and backwardness.  And both have areas that have been hurt economically by the loss of their textile industries, whether it’s the Cotswolds or South Carolina, where I lived for 6 years.

There is, however, one major difference in their regionalist traditions.  The main regionalist / Celtic nationalist parties in the Disunited Kingdom are all on the Centre Left.  The Southern patriot movement, on the other hand, is a creature of the fringe far Right.  That master of the political dog whistle, Ronald Reagan, used “states’ rights” as a euphemism for segregation: an extension of Nixon’s Southern strategy to woo mostly (though not exclusively) Southern racists, who had abandoned the Democratic Party over the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, into the Republican fold.  The success of this strategy can be seen today in the current popularity of Donald Trump, who has become the Republican front runner by proposing to deport Mexican immigrants en masse and to strip American Muslims of their constitutional rights (though it should be pointed out that Trump leads a very crowded field, and only enjoys the support of some 25-30% of Republican primary voters). 

As a result of this, support for the right of the federal government to override the will of individual states has become a totem of liberal orthodoxy, and there is no left-of-centre decentralist tradition to speak of.  Anyone on the Left supporting states’ rights in a literal, rather than a euphemistic sense, is an aberration: an isolated phenomenon like the handful of monarchists that exist in the USA, in defiance of that country’s entire history.

Like Wessex Regionalists and Celtic nationalists, the Southern patriots identify themselves through the use of a flag.  In this case, they use the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, commonly (though incorrectly) referred to as the Confederate Flag.  Based on the Scottish saltire, to reflect the Scots-Irish heritage of many Southerners, it was incorporated into the state flag of Georgia in 1956, two years after the Brown v Board of Education court decision that led to the desegregation of American schools and, since then, has become a symbol of defiance against Yankee destruction of “traditional Southern values”.  The flag was still flying outside the South Carolina Statehouse in the state capital, Columbia, when I lived there, but public protests have since forced its removal.

There have been attempts to forge a Southern identity that isn’t entirely based on racism.  Some revisionist historians have suggested that the “recent unpleasantness” (the tongue-in-cheek way that Southerners refer to the American Civil War, aka the War of Northern Aggression) wasn’t really about slavery at all, but about supporting a confederal over a federal form of government.  This seems to be based on wishful thinking, however, as it completely ignores the fact that every single Confederate state included a clause in its constitution protecting the institution of slavery and prohibiting its abolition.

Demographics in the South are changing.  Whilst de facto segregation continued long after its de jure abolition, the old racial barriers are breaking down, and the younger generation are far more accepting of a diversity of races, religions, nationalities, genders and sexual identities.  The current Republican governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley, is a woman of Indian extraction, elected by the general public against stiff opposition from the good ole boy network within the state party.  The challenge will be to reflect this new reality without erasing the South’s identity and heritage altogether.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

History is Sunk

“My Lords, a nation gets awarded the character that it deserves.  By neglecting to promote some aspect of this character, that aspect becomes increasingly insignificant within the image which other nations regard as our worth.  And this might also hold true for the way future generations of our own nation come to regard what we ourselves were worth…
There is a danger if the arena for artistic performance is permitted to become too centralised, with the regions required to focus upon what is going on within the capital city to discover the potential of their own individualistic excellence.  The situation will become healthier if we can revive the notion of there being a thriving local culture within each region, proud of its own traditions, and of its aesthetic potential.
Government should therefore assume the responsibility to promote the re-emergence of the English regions, so that they are encouraged to create their own local artistic excellence in distinction from one another, and in competition with one another to draw the maximum number of tourists to come and be entertained in the significant regional manner.  But this should involve the creation of regional assemblies, whose main purpose will be to tailor the quality of life within that territory, so that its true individualism can be perceived for what it best might become…
Then finally there is the question of improved display: a display at sites of easy access for the region as a whole.  It should not be necessary for an aspirant artist to visit the capital city to discover the inspiration for his native art.  The finest collections should be on his very doorstep.  And the regional assemblies should be in a position to allot funds to transform existing museums so that they can fulfil this required function – funds which should also be used to put on arts festivals where the special character of the region can be publicly proclaimed.
The artistic potential of the nation is thus indirectly linked to the Government’s ability to enable the English regions to re-emerge in a spirit of their most colourful individualism.  So the most significant step which government could take today, in the encouragement of the arts, will be in the creation of our regional assemblies; and I urge that this step should be taken without delay.”
Alexander Thynn, Marquess of Bath, addressing the House of Lords, 18th March 1998

Not a lot to ask, you might think.  After all, the provincial cities of Germany and Italy are cultural powerhouses, attracting tourists in their millions.  In contrast to France or Spain, theirs is the legacy of not being unified politically until late in the 19th century and so continuing to benefit from particularistic patronage.  In England, sadly, few listened to our founder’s words, and today the curtain is coming down on culture in the provinces.

Nowhere more so than in Northumbria.  Last month, we drew attention to a spate of museum closures in Lancashire, contrasted with continued spending on a vacuous vanity project designed to really ‘put London on the map’.  Lancashire is not alone.  Across the Pennines, Bradford’s National Media Museum is facing the asset-stripping of its photographic collection, to be removed to London.  Cumbrian Melvyn Bragg has spoken out on radio against the closure of small museums.  In Co Durham, closures planned, threatened or implemented include the Durham Light Infantry Museum at Durham, the Monkwearmouth Station Museum at Sunderland and Bede’s World at Jarrow.  The last of these was an ambitious project to regenerate the town through tourism.  A new museum was built to re-interpret the Golden Age of Northumbria for today, complete with a reconstructed Anglo-Saxon settlement in the grounds.  Whatever that blighted area has been promised to make up for jobs lost in heavy industry – whether it was to be call centres, hi-tech manufacturing, retailing or tourism – has been promptly ripped from beneath its feet.  It’s now being robbed of the means to understand itself.  ‘History’ will be owned by the victors of one inter-regional power struggle, making another that much less likely to succeed.

Identity is inseparable from continuity: a place without a past lacks the materials from which to build its own future with confidence.  According to Historic England, 64% of folk in England value their local heritage.  Breaking this average down by Prescott zone, we find the figure rises to 71% in the North East, 69% in the South West and 68% in both London and the South East.  Four of the five below-average zones are where the Danelaw used to be.  Coincidence?  Maybe, but the fact is that where Alfred was acknowledged as overlord there was continuity of government and a physical survival of heritage on a scale that wasn’t true of Viking-devastated areas.  You value more where there’s more to value.

Wessex hasn’t been exempt from closures.  Bristol’s award-winning Empire & Commonwealth Museum, housed in Brunel’s original terminus at Temple Meads, was closed in 2008.  This was done with the specific intention of re-locating the collection to London, where, of course, ‘more people can see it’.  The logic is unassailable, at least for those too lazy to get a train to Bristol and walk a hundred yards.  Fortunately, the deal fell through.  Most of the collection was donated to the city of Bristol.  But the museum never re-opened.

Wessex hasn’t been exempt from closures.  Scotland and Wales have a choice.  Their national museums and galleries are devolved matters and they have devolved administrations to defend them.  We suffer from the affliction that is England, not the England of us all that values all, but the one-size-fits-all England that in practice means London.  All the key decisions are taken in London by those who live, work and play in London, who can grasp no other perspective and who feel deeply offended by the idea that one can even exist.  And, as Simon Jenkins pointed out last week, BIG projects are protected while it’s the little folk who suffer.

It might be argued that, in times of austerity, culture should take a back seat.  We don’t need to argue back that austerity is a posh word for corporate bailouts and tax evasion on an unimaginable scale.  Even if austerity had a credible justification, it would still be unfair that we’re not exempt from it but London is.  Loss-making museums in the provinces are being shut.  Throwing them a lifeline would be subsidising failure, we’re told.  Yet as taxpayers we all pay to keep London’s ‘national’ museums and galleries free to visit.  Even though there are national museums in Wessex that are not.  (For example, both the National Army Museum and the RAF Museum in London are free, but not Portsmouth’s National Museum of the Royal Navy.  How fair is that?)  Free admission to London’s attractions is somehow considered a service to the whole nation.  We’re even treated to patronising half-truths: “Arts Council funding for museums is lower per capita in London and the South East than in any other part of the country.”  We should hope so, given the millions London’s national museums receive as direct funding that bypasses the Arts Council pot.  How can there ever be a level playing field when money for London’s pets is top-sliced and the rest are left to fight over the crumbs?

Shouldn’t we expect this?  Isn’t being kicked and punched by the London regime part of being English?  Mustn’t grumble, must we?  Up north, regionalisation has been an on-off issue for over a century.  That’s a century in which to organise a political party to achieve real, lasting change.  A century of votes cast instead for the monkey with the red rosette.  And we’ve been as bad, even if our monkey’s rosette is blue, or sometimes yellow.  He or she is still more interested in a career in a London-obsessed system than in defying convention on our behalf.

Recent media coverage has been sure to present the museums story as one aspect of a north-south divide.  That’s a convenient narrative that can be played around with, baiting northerners about deprivation in pockets of inner London being just as bad.  It’s a narrative that actually helps to obscure something much deeper – the London-rest divide that no amount of ‘benign’ centralism or ‘socialist’ redistribution will touch.

It’s inevitable then.  Let’s move on to the ‘real’ issues instead.  No, it isn’t inevitable.  When Northumbria and Wessex strode the stage, London was on the periphery of events: Frank Musgrove’s The North of England: A History identifies no fewer than four eras of northern pre-eminence.  History reminds us that there are alternatives.  That’s why the teaching of history is being so heavily discouraged.

Richard Carter, Leader of Yorkshire First, commented on the museum closures as follows: "We are not against a strong capital, but this has to change, for the good of the country and for London too."  We’d go further.  The capital’s strength is both the cause and the effect of our weakness as it recirculates across the generations.  If London disappeared into a vast sink-hole tomorrow, Boris and all, we’d get by well enough without it.  There comes a point when patience with pretty promises from on high should no longer be judged a virtue.