Thursday, August 26, 2004

A Flagship Integrated Strategy

If a horse suffered from this, they'd shoot it to put it out of its misery. But no such relief for the people of the North East. That is what they are going to get if the North East Region agrees to an elected assembly in the referendum on 4 November. So said Caroline Stewart, a member of the North East Environmental Forum, introducing a "Your Say" environment debate yesterday evening at the County Hall, Durham.

And that is the game they are playing. As does the EU promise environmental nirvana if we commit to further political integration, so does the "yes" campaign for the regions promise the same heaven if only people are wise enough to vote for John Prescott's construct.

"We want to give regions more decisions", echoes John Tomany, leader of the North East "yes" campaign. London is a "million miles away", so we want to bring decisions back from the men in Whitehall and give them to the regions.

Yet, not a mention did we hear from Tomany that environmental policy is an EU competence, and that all policy is decided in Brussels. And if London is "million miles away", how far on the same scale is Brussels?

But such trivia did not worry our John. He really does want to bring decision-making closer to the people, by creating a regional structure of 2.5 million souls, considerably larger than many countries in the EU, served by a mere 25 elected assembly members.

Many of us are old enough to remember the 1974 local government reforms, which broke up the matrix of rural and urban district councils, and created those vast and wholly un-loved second tier authorities which incorporate both town and countryside.

Their existence has presaged a continuous decline in popular support for local elections, to the extent that turnouts for council seats in some places fall below the ten percent mark. So we now have a situation where, as local authorities have got bigger and more remote, voters have disengaged from the political process. And what is the answer? Ah, create even bigger local authorities which are even more remote from the population.

This has to be the biggest no-brainer in the history of the universe. Next thing you know, they'll be wanting an EU constitution.

No comments:

Post a Comment