Public Servant Magazine
Subject: press request - can you comment on Nick Raynsford's comments below?
No Campaign Neil Herron's responses in RED
Nick Raynsford MP - Labour regions spokesman
Raynsford: No threshold
Question: Do you have a minimum threshold for what constitutes a legitimate turnout?
Nick Raynsford: We have not had a threshold because there are two unfortunate consequences of a threshold. The first was seen almost 30 years ago when Scotland had the opportunity of a referendum on devolution but a threshold of 40 per cent was inserted by parliament.
Although there was a very clear "yes" vote in Scotland, the "yes" vote didn't constitute the 40 per cent threshold that had been set. As a result devolution in Scotland was delayed for 20 years and the Scots were increasingly impatient of the reluctance of the UK parliament to give them devolved powers which they had clearly indicated that they wanted.
The second, probably more serious problem, is that if you have a threshold people who are opposed to a proposition may well feel tempted not to vote in order to avoid the threshold being reached. Particularly if they feel they can't actually win the argument. So you would have a perverse incentive for people not voting rather than people voting to express the view that they feel whether it is yes or no.
So for both those reasons we thought it was not right to have a precise threshold. We have said that if the turnout was derisory we would not feel committed.
Neil Herron : No minimum turnout was set to ensure that a Yes vote on a low turnout could still see the creation of an elected Regional Assembly. However, the indications are that the turnout may exceed 40% anyway. With four days or so to go we are at 34%.
Question: What constitutes "derisory"?
Nick Raynsford: If I say what the figure is then you have got a threshold. That is the whole point. You cannot be precise about a threshold without creating perverse consequences.
Neil Herron : Raynsford his repeatedly refused to define derisory believing that No campaigners would then use a 'stay at home' strategy. This could not be further from the truth. The fact is that the apathy amongst the electorate is due to the fact that they never asked for this political proposition to be foisted upon them.
Question: Are you anticipating a challenge to the legitimacy of the vote?
Nick Raynsford: Not at all. There was an attempt by some of the supporters of the “no” campaign to challenge the validity of the government’s process in the courts and that was thrown out with derision.
Neil Herron : The challenge through the courts was due to the fact that the Government's 'Have Your Say' information leaflet, which went to the 1,900,000 electorate was factually incorrect and wholly misleading. We went to court because the Electoral Commission would not get involved. The statement which we had asked to be corrected was about the fact that the people were being told that election to the assembly would be by PR when the fact is that two thirds would be elected by first past the post. It wasn't 'thrown out with derision' but we were forced to withdraw after a cost capping order was removed and we faced financial wipeout should we have decided to go further...justice but only if you can afford it and where the Government can use threat of costs as a weapon.
I do not think that there will be a legal challenge to the legitamacy of the result because it will such a clear cut and overwhelming No vote.
Question: Do you have full confidence in the system of all-postal voting following the complaints that were raised in the June 10 elections?
Nick Raynsford: Yes I do have confidence in it and I have particular confidence in it in the North East. The North East, the Electoral Commission itself acknowledged, has greater experience of all-postal voting than any other region .
The surveys that the Electoral Commission conducted show that the public confidence in the North East is greater than in any other region.
There were no problems leading to either court proceedings or any complaints arising from the election in the North East in June whereas there were difficulties in places in both the North West and Yorkshire and the Humber.
It was for that reason that we didn't proceed with referendums in the other regions on the all-postal basis but there is absolutely no grounds to believe that the election couldn't proceed on a sound basis in the North East and that is why it is happening.
Neil Herron : Absolute baloney and Raynsford knows it. There were huge problems in the North East with 600,000 ballot papers going out late thereby compromising advertising strategies. Over 28,000 people were disenfranchised through spoilt or incorrectly filled in papers. The Electoral Commission are inept, incompetent and toothless and incredibly, all the people who complained about the North East election were sent the 'Evaluation Report' ...for the North West! No wonder there were no problems, they were probably in the wrong file.
The referendums were dropped in the NW and Yorkshire BEFORE the Electoral Commission's Postal Ballot report, which surprisingly was brought forward to a Friday afternoon in August...the one before the Bank Holiday.
The recommendation was that all postal ballots were never to be used again. However, we in the North East were considered irrelevant enough not to count.
Question: Is this real devolution? Is Whitehall really going to be giving up powers or are you simply coalescing a number of powers from the region already into one body?
Nick Raynsford: These are very significant powers that are broadly comparable to the powers that the Greater London Authority has.
Neil Herron : Quite simply, this is fake devolution. As you see Raynsford didn't answer the question
Question: Did that not take powers mostly from local authorities?
Nick Raynsford: That is completely untrue. That is one of the nonsenses that the "no" campaign have been claiming.
Lets go through the powers. The first and probably the most important is over economic development where the assembly will take powers that are currently discharged by the secretary of state for trade and industry.
That includes appointing the regional development agency and overseeing the work of the regional development agency, which has a sizeable budget for economic development in the region, devolved from central government.
There are planning functions, establishing the regional special strategy, currently discharged by a not directly elected body which is made up of people who are appointed by local authorities and others in the North East as in other regions. That will become directly accountable to people in the North East.
Thirdly there is the power over housing. Currently the budgets for housing association development come through the Housing Corporation, a quango, and through the government offices to local authorities.
Those in future will be controlled by elected regional assemblies. People in the North East electing people who will be responsible for those powers.
These are all powers currently discharged by central government or by quangos like the Housing Corporation and they are being devolved to the region.
The claim that this is all powers coming from local authorities is quite simply untrue, wrong and typical of the misinformed and negative tone of the "no" campaign.
Neil Herron: Oh Mr. Raynsford. You would make Pinnocchio blush.
Take Economic development. Section 43 of the Draft Regional Assemblies Bill Policy Statement says that the ultimate say rests with the Secretary of State...even appointments to the Board of the RDA. An assembly could not make economic decisions which go against the national interest or affect another region.
Planning...taken up from local authorities, but with the final say still in the hands of the Secretary of State. It was taken away from the Association of North East Councils and given to the unelected North East Assembly. Now he uses the argument that it is in the hands of an unelected body. Statements and arguments such as this beggar belief. Total and utter deception and duplicity.
Therefore, we can see that there are no powers being 'devolved.'
Question: If as you say it is comparable to the London devolution process, why not have a Ken Livingstone-style mayor to act as a real figurehead for the region?
Nick Raynsford: There is a difference, that London is a single city. In that context it was felt that it was right to have a single mayor.
But I don't think you have any problem in the North East with very significant people coming forward as potential candidates for an elected regional assembly.
For example Sir John Hall, an extremely well known industrialist in the North East, has already indicated that he is likely to be a candidate.
So I think you will find forcible people who could well act as very effective advocates for their region, in the event of the elected regional assembly going ahead.
Neil Herron : Back to the real world. Even if Sir John Hall stood, the voting system with the majority of people being elected first past the post would mean few independent voices and no independent control. The reality is that the main political parties, who are in the election business, would end up with the majority of seats. In the North East the majority party would be Labour and the majority party would choose the leader and cabinet. So forget the dream of 'new politics'. This is a political project by a political party for political reasons.
Question: Are you not then going to end up with a constitutional mess with different levels of power devolved to Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, London and the other English regions? Would it not be easier to give them all equivalent powers?
Nick Raynsford: No because Scotland is a country which has its own parliament. No one has suggested other than people who want an English parliament, which is not a very sensible suggestion, that there should be parliaments with legislative powers in the English regions.
The London assembly doesn't have legislative powers and as I said, the powers for the North East assembly will be broadly comparable to those in London. So all the English regions will have the opportunity of an assembly with powers relating to economic development and quality of life issues, including some of those that I have described. Those will be comparable to other English regions.
Yes the position is different in Scotland because Scotland is a nation in its own right and similarly Wales.
There is a logic behind these proposals that relate to the nature of the United Kingdom, which is a grouping of four nations, of which England is one and within England there will be devolved regional bodies with broadly comparable powers.
Neil Herron: There will be no 'mess' in the North East because a No vote is certain. What will be guaranteed is that the spotlight will continue to shine on the 30 North East MP's and a Government that has failed the region.
Question: Can you give a guarantee that the electorate in the North West and Yorkshire will get a vote regardless of the result in the North East?
Nick Raynsford: Yes.
Neil Herron : This seems to contradict what John Prescott said a few days ago. Seems like the Ministers are not speaking.
Question: So why then not go ahead with the vote this year, it if was just a matter of the electoral arrangements? Why not hold a normal ballot box poll?
Nick Raynsford: As I explained to parliament, the Electoral Commission has set out its proposals for a new approach to voting which would combine the benefits of postal voting but with some additional safeguards. The model they are developing they expect to publish in March of next year.
So I explained to parliament that we would make a further statement in March next year when we have seen the Electoral Commission's proposals about the timetable for referendums in the North West and Yorkshire and the Humber.
It is purely because there were complaints about the probity of the June poll both in the North West and in Yorkshire and the Humber. For that reason we didn't feel it was safe to proceed.
Neil Herron : The Government has ignored every recommendation by the Electoral Commission but now it awaits their report.
They knew they would get beat in the two other regions and it would be very damaging before a General Election. I predict that there will be no referendums in the other two regions before a General Election, and that the chances of a vote ever being held are about as slim as Lord Lucan riding Shergar to victory in the next Derby.
The problem of dismantling and removing the unelected assemblies will be the next task on the agenda.
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