Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The lone voice

I expect most bloggers will disagree or even laugh at this, but there is a certain, magnificent stubbornness about John Prescott which I can't help but admire. While the New Labour project as a whole has been all about shifting with the political wind, that is one thing you can't lay at Big John's door.

Two years and three months ago, the people of the North-East dealt a death-blow to the prospects for English regional government by voting 4-1 against plans for an elected North-East Assembly. It immediately became clear that the idea was dead in the water as far as other regions were concerned and it swiftly disappeared off the political agenda.

Those of us, amongst whom I include myself, who initially supported the idea as a way of rebalancing our lopsided constitution, were forced to reappraise our position. I eventually concluded that an English Parliament represented a more promising way forward for English devolution, and recent polls seem to have borne that out.

Yet, to listen to his speech to the New Local Government Network yesterday, none of it seems to have made the slightest dent in Mr Prescott's belief in the inevitability of his regionalist dream.

"A regional level of administration is necessary alongside the need for the new localism. Regional planning is an essential part of the accountability that is needed from elected representatives rather than appointed regional civil servants," he said.

"I'm sad that regional government was rejected in the North East, but I believe that England will eventually move to elected regional government - just as Scotland and Wales originally rejected devolution and then voted for it."

Some might call it contempt for the electorate. Others might call it losing touch with reality. Both would be justifiable accusations, but for me there is still something admirable about a politician who is prepared to say what he thinks in defiance of the conventional wisdom.

He may be wrong, he may even be stupid - but at least he's genuine.

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Richard Bailey said...

The less said about Prescott the better but I genuinely think that regional govt has only been knocked on the head in the context that it was perceived as being added to the wealth of govt and tax funded interference rather than replacing other layers.

The other reason he batters on is that regions have been given the whip hand in decision making by central government. We have regional govt whether we like it or not, especially where health provision is concerned.

Government potentially exists at Parish, District, County, Region and National levels. The debate he should be focussing on is what combination of these works best and delivers best value for money. God knows we don't need them all.

I suggest District and Regional myself. Get rid of Parish and County. This maintains a really local link through District and improves the effectiveness of delivering Govt policy from Westminster to Regions.

MorrisOx said...

Quite a few things have been 'layed' at his door. Mostly by him...

james higham said...

Yes but there's a point, Paul, when it becomes sheer bloodymindedness.

MorrisOx said...

Having got the cheap shot out of the way, I've now thought of something more meaingful to say.

Did Prescott want to bring 'power' back to the regions? This is the man responsible for Regional Development Agencies, bodies responsible for directing the spending of huge sums of regional aid and European funding. Their 'regional accountability' consists of boards made up of the usual public and voluntary sector suspects. They meet once a month and do so in private. If you're lucky, they'll issue some minutes a month or two after they meet, documents that detail decisions and the factors affecting them but NOT discussion or disagreement. To cut to the chase, these 'regional' agencies dance only to a tune set by Whitehall.

Regional assemblies? Currently unelected, unrepresentative and a total, complete and utter waste of taxpayers' money. Most of the people thse assemblies claim to serve do not even know they exist.

If Prescott was ever committed to this shambles, why did he let it degenerate into a poodle of Whitehall?

Blamerbell said...

Regions are dead, long live city regions. Actually they are dead too - multi-area arrangements anyone?

Northwing said...

Prescott's motives for 'regionalisation' have as much to do with EU compliance as any desire to enhance local democracy, and he has shown total contempt for the electorate throughout his term in ODPM.

The latest initiative, West Midlands City Region has been far from transparent, and I think the net result of his personal approach has been a massive inflamation of nationalist tensions in England.

Having a hard head to see decisions through is one thing, but having contempt for people and public opinion on constitutional matters is another.

The man has little vision, and also seems unable to articulate whatever vision he does have. He leaves a pretty abysmal legacy IMO.

David Gladwin said...

I'd sooner have Prescott as an opponent than most of his fellow Cabinet members.

He's too thick to lie, and too ugly to make the truth attractive.

Anonymous said...

For me Prezza is a bit of an unsung hero of British politics for several reasons.

The regeneration money, and the improvements made in our inner cities went largely through his department. The difference that has made to towns and cities across the country has been nothing short of immense.

He had an unmanageably wide brief, how he kept it from falling apart altogether was pretty amazing, yet on his watch there weren't too many cock-ups until the press turned on him. Not many ministers could have handled that brief as long as he did, and as well as he did.

He was credited, at the time, with swinging the clause 4 vote, and his party function with all the TB/GBs going on always seems to get overlooked.

Lastly, is it stubbornness or a need to bow to the inevitable when he campaigns for regional assemblies? The EU will impose it anyway, surely?

Paul Linford said...

Having argued for years along similar lines, I was very saddened that Prezza made himself such an easy target in the end. He has always hated the press and it was inevitable that if they ever got something big on him he'd be crucified, so why did he give them the opportunity? The end result is that someone who should have gone down in history as a working class hero is going to be remembered as a national joke.