This merely confirms what we have been saying all along. The hare raced off with pocketfuls of propaganda money and emotional rhetoric but the tortoise with no money used a pocketful of FACTS to make up the ground. With the finishing line in sight the hare appears to have run its only chance of winning into the ground. The only option left is to attempt to attack the tortoise.
The answer is 'No'
With less than three weeks to go to the historic referendum, an exclusive Northern Echo poll predicts North-East voters will reject a regional assembly.
THE North-East is on the verge of rejecting a directly-elected regional assembly by a resounding margin, an exclusive poll commissioned by The Northern Echo reveals today.
Our poll - released on the day that the first ballot papers go in the post - shows No to have a seven per cent lead over Yes.
Of the 1,013 people interviewed last week by Mori - making this the largest and most authoritative poll to be carried out during the referendum campaign - 42 per cent say they will vote No and 35 per cent will vote Yes.
But the gap widens further still to 23 per cent among those who say they are absolutely certain to vote. Of these, 31 per cent will vote Yes and 54 per cent No.
This suggests that the historic vote on November 4 will reject the assembly.
Last night, a spokesman for North-East Says No said: "This poll shows that the Yes campaign is facing a real crisis, as people can see through their spin.
"They can see that a regional assembly would be an expensive white elephant that would bring higher council tax and more unwanted politicians, but no power to help ordinary people."
But, despite the poll blow, Yes4TheNorth-East insisted the referendum was still to play for.
Campaign director Ross Forbes said: "There is still a long way to go, with nearly a quarter of the people of the North-East to make up their minds.
"Wherever people see the benefits and advantages of voting Yes they switch to our side, we have seen this time and again. This is too good an opportunity for the people of the North-East to turn down."
The North-East is the only region being offered the chance to have its own elected assembly - but the eyes of the country will be watching because, should it vote Yes, similar referendums will be held in Yorkshire and the North-West, perhaps as early as late next year.
A No vote would clearly end this process of regionalisation. Indeed, one Cabinet minister from the North-East told The Northern Echo at the weekend that the region would never be offered such an opportunity again.
A No vote would also be a major embarrassment for the Government. For Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, who has championed the project and who has been tirelessly campaigning for a Yes vote, it would dash a 25-year political dream.
It would also be embarrassing for Tony Blair, whose Sedgefield constituency would be covered by an assembly. However, Mr Blair has never been a whole-hearted supporter of an assembly, preferring to reinvigorate local government through directly-elected mayors. Even when he told The Northern Echo of his conversion to the cause five weeks ago, he chose his words carefully, saying that it would be "quite important".
The Government's idea is that an assembly would provide the region with a single powerful voice and replace quangos and civil servants with elected representatives. The assembly would take control of economic development and job creation, as well as having a strategic co-ordination role in areas such as planning, tourism and culture.
These rather vague powers are clearly proving hard to explain, as our poll shows that awareness is very low. Three-quarters of people say they know "not very much" or "nothing at all" about the proposals.
But the bad news for the Yes campaign is that the results suggest that the more informed a person becomes about the issues surrounding an assembly, the more likely that person is to vote No.
During the five-week campaign, there appears to have been a cooling of public opinion towards the assembly. Polls initially showed people two-to-one in favour, with a large number undecided. These people now appear to be making up their minds to vote No.
This drift is consistent with another Mori finding: in our poll, 29 per cent of North-Easterners support the general concept of a regional assembly, whereas a previous Mori poll, two months ago, found support running at 39 per cent in the region.
This suggests that the aggressive, Conservative-inspired No campaign has had a major impact. It has concentrated on blunt, simplistic messages, such as "Vote No to more politicians", and attention-grabbing stunts, including a white elephant it floated over Teesside last week.
The 1.9 million voters in the region should receive their ballot papers this week and the turnout at the referendum looks likely to be tolerably high. Our poll shows that 44 per cent of people are certain to vote, with another 22 per cent likely to vote.
The other issue in the referendum at stake in Durham and Northumberland is the reshaping of local government that would occur should there be a Yes verdict.
Voters are being given two options - creating one large unitary authority, based on the current county area, or splitting the county into a number of smaller unitaries.
In Northumberland, only 35 per cent back the large unitary, whereas 56 per cent are in favour of creating two smaller unitaries.
In Durham, the picture is less clear, with 46 per cent backing a county-wide authority and 48 per cent supporting the creation of three smaller authorities: south, north and east Durham.
However, when the preferences are examined of the people who say they are absolutely certain to vote, 47 per cent favour the county-wide authority and 45 per cent the three.
Tuesday, October 19, 2004
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