Article for the Guardian... 'Why the North East Will Vote No.'
On Thursday 22nd July we witnessed one of the most bizarre U-turns, even for this Government, in recent times. In a statement to the House of Commons that would have made Pinocchio blush, Nick Raynsford confirmed that the Referendums on Elected Regional Assemblies in the artificial EU regions of Yorkshire and Humberside and the North West were to be cancelled because of concerns over Postal Ballot, but the referendum in the North East would still take place on November 4th because, 'there were no such problems.'
Prescott sat silent as his Region's Minister attempted to cover the humiliating climbdown in a veil of spin that was as transparent as a gossamer prophylactic. John Prescott's regionalisation dream had now turned into a nightmare of Elm Street proportions.
The real reason was for the cancellation was the fact that the Government faced certain defeat in those two regions. Nothing at all to do with the Postal Ballot. Everything to do with the growing disquiet among Labour MP's who did not wish to face another 'kicking' so close to a General Election. Even the Leader of the Yes Campaign in Yorkshire, Lord Haskins, stated last week that,"the referendum was not winnable."
The situation in the North East has however, been totally misread. No concerns over the Postal Ballot? Well, the Electoral Commission report due to come out on the 27th August (the Friday before the Bank Holiday surprisingly) will take into account our 'no problems.' Problems such as 600,000 Ballot Papers for the Local Government and European Elections arriving at the Royal Mail a week late due to 'printing problems,' and over 28,000 people whose votes were rejected or spoilt because of the complexity of the 'Witness Declaration' forms. There were the same concerns expressed here over security and multiple voting as the other regions.
So, we have a date, 4th November. The national media spotlight will shine on the North East...if the referendum is not cancelled meantime or postponed with a snap General Election. Oh, and buried amongst the cancellation announcement we finally had the Bill defining the Roles, Powers and Responsibilities of an Elected Assembly. The most important piece of information that we all required, and we get it with just over four months to get out and campaign. An absolute disgrace.
The No Campaign arguments are simple. We are positive about the North East but we are completely negative to an elected Assembly. No power over health, education or transport. An Assembly could produce 'strategies.' It could 'influence.' It could scrutinise the Regional Development Agency. It would have a budget of £350m, which is less than 3% of the Government spend in the region. No real power. No more or new money. Another layer of politicians and another tier of bureaucracy with the only real power which is to precept the Council Tax, fixed at 5p per week...for the first year!
This is fake devolution. A mere shuffling of the North East's political deckchairs, and an agenda which would ultimately lead to the break up of a nation with region fighting region.
So, the shambles continues with a Government 'Information Campaign' launched just a few weeks ago but before any information was available It will run through the summer on buses and on TV. Adverts with 'Yes' or 'No,' but not even the most basic piece of information...a date. The millions spent in the other two regions will not be recovered from the drain down which it was poured.
A shambles which if it wasn't so serious it would be laughable.
The 'will of the people' for Elected Regional Government is a manufactured concept drawn from manipulation of polls and statistics. At a time when politicians are held in such contempt by the people another expensive talking shop full of them and their ilk will not be endorsed.
'No' is not just a possibility in the North East. After this disgraceful display of deceit and duplicity and contempt for the people of the North, the resounding No vote is now guaranteed.
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