Tuesday, May 27, 2008

North-East referendum defeat was Prescott's "greatest regret"

Having closely followed the long debate over North-East regional devolution in my old role as Political Editor of the Newcastle Journal, I was intrigued to read this story in today's Guardian, in which John Prescott speaks of the failure to win the 2004 regional assembly referendum as his "greatest regret" in politics.

It was obvious all along that Prescott attached huge importance to the issue. Unfortunately for him, no one else in the Blair Cabinet thought it was remotely important, including of course the then Prime Minister himself.

Prescott is often derided as a figure of fun, but it is a measure of his underlying seriousness of purpose as a politician that he should regret this policy failure more than, say, the Prescott punch, the Tracey Temple affair, and building on the green belt, all of which had a much bigger impact on the way he was viewed by the press and public.

Regional government is now about as fashionable as a Spam fritter-eating Phil Collins fan in hot pants, but I for one have to admire Prezza for the fact that he is still happy to be identified with such an unpopular cause.

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6 comments:

Anonymous said...

I first came across John Prescott at the Edinburgh local government conference in 1989 at a fringe meeting on the subject of regional government and was impressed with his commitment to it then. At the time he was junior to Richard Caborn at the time and at the meeting.

media scum said...

Ditto. I also remember he commissioned the first real study into reginal disparities in the early 1980's. Unfashonable it may be now, but regionalism will not go away

Anonymous said...

Why did the People in 2004 reject Regional Assembly for the North-East ?

Were they right to do so ?

Peter Mc said...

Anonymous: well they voted it out, so yes they were. John Prescott (and the Government more widely) misjudged the public mood and were in their period when they felt they were masters of the political universe. I live in North Yorkshire just to the south of the 'North east region' and had Mr Prescott dared have a referendum on the Yorkshire and the Humber assembly I daresay he would have been shown the door a second time.

Despite being hugely proud of the county, we are over governed - this village is governed by a parish, borough and county council. We also have the unelected North Yorkshire Moors National Park, Yorkshire Forward and there is a Yorkshire and Humber Assembly which ha no democratic mandate. We have our MP (went Tory in '05) and an MEP or four. An elected assembly would put yet more elected officials in this pyramid and suck yet more money out of us.

Regionalism may not go away, nor can it be imposed. More southern bloody politicans come up here we may have to start digging up Bede and Cuthbert again, carrying their bones around to keep them from the grasp of the invaders.

Paul Linford said...

Anonymous

I would add that, while I would have loved to see a different outcome, I fully understood why the "the people" felt unable to endorse a set of plans that, while adding an extra tier of governance, would not actually have changed much in the short term.

I argued at the time that the NE would be better off getting an Assembly up and running and then trying to add to its powers as Wales has done - but in retrospect, it was unreasonable to expect people to vote for a pig in a poke.

dogstarscribe said...

Paul,
There was no plan to add an extra tier of governance. Local government reorganization was part of the package, starting the bloodletting that led to Labour losing Northumberland this year. The fact that there already was a regional assembly, but unelected and unaccountable, got lost along the way.

Losing the chance to tell that story was an inevitable consequence of the worst run election campaign in history.