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.