Sunday, August 29, 2004

Pigs Flying over Durham Cathedral

Sunday Telegraph
Christopher Booker's notebook(Filed: 29/08/2004)

Prescott's ballot is a special case
Never again, says the Electoral Commission, can a British election be held on an all-postal ballot - with the sole exception of the very next election to be held, the North-East's referendum on an elected regional government, on November 4.

The Commission's excuse for making this exception was so lame that its announcement was brought forward from September 13 to last Thursday, in the hope that, as Britain's thoughts turned to a bank holiday weekend and Kelly Holmes, no one would point out how unconvincing it was.

John Prescott is anxious for the referendum to go ahead by postal voting because he sees it as the only chance of saving his plan for an England divided under eight regional governments.

Originally he had been hoping that the three safest Labour heartlands, in the North-East, the North-West and Yorkshire, could be relied on to vote Yes, and so set off a domino effect across the rest of the country.

Mr Prescott's desperation is evident in the latest "information leaflet" put out by his office, in eight languages, to the North-East's 1.9 million voters. Although this paean of praise for the benefits of regional government purports only to be giving "information", the game is given away by its carefully staged illustrations.

These contrast young, attractive, affluent-looking Yes voters, giving the thumbs up to an elected assembly, with "typical" No voters, such as an old man with a cloth cap and a stick, a diminutive Asian shot in shadow and an Afro-Caribbean lady: a selection so blatant it should earn Mr Prescott an interview with the Commission for Racial Equality.

On Friday, as the media again tried to raise a flicker of interest in this campaign, the BBC showed a Lib Dem spokesman on Palace Green in Durham waxing lyrical about how the people of the North-East were about to rise up en masse to vote for regional government.

When the programme cut to Neil Herron, the director of the North-East's No campaign, the interviewer asked him why he was gazing up into the sky. He replied: "I'm looking for the pigs flying over Durham Cathedral."

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