Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Blair: Regional identity simply does not exist

The out-going UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair, met with the Commons Liaison Committee yesterday. This committee is quite literally the “mother” of all committees, being made up of the Chairmen of Parliament’s 30 Select Committees.

There was a good spell on devolution, with Sir George Young MP very much on song- asking the Prime Minister about the state of the Union, the West Lothian Question, the Barnett Formula, the Scottish Parliament, tuition fees and English Votes on English Matters. Remarkable, really. The Prime Minister gave rather unremarkable answers to these questions, but when it came to regional assemblies Mr. Blair did say something worth writing down.

When asked by Dr. Phylis Starkey MP whether he wished he had been more bold and imposed elected regional assemblies on England, the Prime Minister said:

“The problem we found in the North East, because we tried to do a regional assembly there, if it was going to work anywhere it was going to work in the North East because of the coherence of the North East, but truthfully we found when we got into the campaign and the referendum that Teesside did not feel the necessary link with Tyneside, that County Durham did not necessarily want to be in the same place in terms of government as Newcastle and even Newcastle and Gateshead did not”.

There you have it. According to the Prime Minister himself, “regional identity” simply does not exist. Even in somewhere like the north-east of England, where the Government thought, of all places, their scheme was most likely to work, they found that people did not identify with their “region”, but with more local identities; with Teesside, Tyneside, County Durham, Newcastle, Sunderland, Gateshead.

This is surely the finishing touch to the argument that regionalism, no matter how you dress it up, is dead and should not be revived. And yet the BBC still promotes regional identity, the media still refers to “north east MPs” when talking about politicians from Newcastle or Sunderland, and parties like the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party and to a lesser extent Labour still cling to the idea. They should listen to the very people they are trying to force regionalism onto, and take this advice:

Regionalism is dead. Stop trying to dance with the corpse.


kevin said...

This is superb. Yesterday I was involved in a very frustrating argument with a new labourite who was real big on Regional devolution. All devolution problems would be solved by the regions, WLQ would be solved by the devolved regions, England did not exist and was only an amorphous 'group'. The North East really wanted the assembly but only rejected it because it wasn't powerful enough. I emailed the coordinator of the CEP in Tyne&Wear about it and received the real story. But it's even nicer to hear it straight from the horse's mouth. I think I mean mouth.

CEP Oxfordshire said...

The regionalists really are a desperate bunch of people, aren't they, Kevin?. Back in 2004, the cloud of regionalism hung over England and looked like it would be here to stay. But as much as they try to revive it, the simple fact is that the idea is DEAD.