Friday, July 30, 2004
Journal Letters 29th July
The recent news of the postponement of referendums for a regional assembly in both Yorkshire and Humberside and the North-West might be deemed a little disappointing.
However, it hands the North-East a distinct advantage, With the media spotlight solely focused on the North-East people will be more aware of the arguments and better able to make an informed decision.
My only hope is that we seize this unique opportunity to give a greater voice to the region. The position is clear (post the draft bill_ -the proposed assembly will have significant powers to improve our region and argue our case to central government.
MYTH ..."An Assembly will give a greater voice to the region."
RESPONSE ..."Please tell us where and how? In Brussels? In Westminster? Who will listen? What will the MP's be doing in all of this?"
Sir Tom Cowie, businessman, is a supporter of the 'No' campaign group. " I do believe in the idea of a region - I will always look to the North - but I cannot agree with the idea of a regional government for the North-East.
We are already over-governed and there is enough rubbish coming out of Brussels without someone adding yet another layer of government.
From a businessman's point of view, I feel that there are already enough rules and regulations and that a regional government could only add to that. It is a view which I have held for 25 to 30 years but I believe it is all-embracing and is as true for the general public as it is for people who are in business.
My view, and those who I have spoken to and who agree with me, is that rule by central government is adequate and that a regional government would be a further intrusion into our lives.
I have lent my name to the No group because our worry is that a regional government would have no power, no more money and would add to the tax burden, which is already high enough.
A regional government would be yet another quango and we already have enough quangos in the North-East without adding to them. It would be pointless.
I also feel that the North-East has been doing well enough as it is.
The economy is performing well and has done so without the help of a regional government, so I cannot see a good reason in voting to introduce one.
People I have spoken to have come to the same conclusion that this would simply be another totally unnecessary layer of government.
However, I think it is probably too close to call which way the referendum will go.
It all depends whether or not the "man in the street" has grasped the arguments and feels that regional government would improve things.
Which way the vote goes is anyone's guess but I am sure that you will not see a 90 per cent vote in favour of a regional government. "
I still cannot quite believe the U-turn that has been performed by John Prescott regarding the regional assembly referendums for the North-West and Yorkshire and the Humber.
For the past 10 months the Government has been spending huge sums of taxpayers’ money on their so-called information campaign and yet now, out of the blue, the referendums have been cancelled. And what is the reason given? Well, apparently John Prescott has realised the error of his ways as far as full postal ballots are concerned and he now thinks there is a question mark over the integrity of that particular electoral system.
On this I agree with him. However, thanks to some typical New Labour spin and trickery these concerns are not extended to the North-East which, despite the fact we operated under exactly the same ballot system as the other two regions, we still have a referendum on November 4.
During the European Elections campaign my office was deluged with complaints about the full postal ballot here in our region. The concerns were wide wide-ranging and came from people not able to vote because ballot papers arrived too late, others who found the process of voting far too complicated, some has been bullied and intimidated to hand over blank ballot papers and many just simply wanted the choice to vote in the traditional way. Following the election I forwarded all these concerns to the Electoral Commission.
Of course we all know that the government was running to certain defeat in the other two regions and this was the real reason for throwing the referendum process off the rails.
So, yet again, this Labour government is taking the North-east for granted, just assuming that we will obey its command and vote for a tax raising talking shop. I sincerely hope that this cynical move by John Prescott last week will be rewarded with a resounding "No" in the forthcoming referendum here in the North-East.
Martin Callanan MEP
North East; Conservative
Insistence on vote witnesses added complexity to system
Both Judith Wallace and Stan Smith (Letters, July 26) say that the North-East Assembly referendum should be postponed due to the problems with postal voting in June.
But what caused these problems?
One factor was the delaying tactics of Tory and Liberal democrat’s peers in the House of Lords, which held up the postal voting bill at the last minute and left little time to organise the ballot.
A second factor was the Liberal Democrat insistence (against the advice of the independent Electoral Commission) on having votes witnessed. This added unnecessary complexity to the voting system and led to many votes being declared invalid.
Neither factor will apply in November.
Prior to this year, postal voting has worked like clockwork and in Gateshead it doubled the electoral turnout. Hopefully the referendum will go just as smoothly and the people of the North-East, having listened to all the arguments, will cast an informed vote.
John Bourn BA
Be sure to vote yes for the good of the North-East
With the postponement of the North-West and Yorkshire referendum campaign, the spotlight will now be firmly on the North-East.
Now is the chance for us to lead the debate and show how this progressive democratisation of power in the region will help get our economy back on its feet and give the North-East its own distinctive voice.
Other regions where bureaucrats and Whitehall still set the agenda will be envois of the North-East having increased powers in key areas such as learning & skills, transport and services for small businesses.
The doom mongers and critics will say that it still won’t be able to really change and improve the region.
I say when have we ever really been given the chance?
Many of the businessmen and their Tory mates lined up against the assembly haven’t been able to create the wealth and replace the thousands of jobs lost to manufacturing in the region over the last 20 years.
Government initiatives have brought big players to the region funded by the taxpayer who up and leave at the first sign of trouble.
The new assembly will help grow new business in the North-East grounded firmly in the North-East.
Anyone wishing to respond firstname.lastname@example.org
Thursday, July 29, 2004
"Will Neil Herron of the North East No Campaign please stop wittering on about such peripheral matters as the Government’s information campaign, and engage in some real debate about regional government.
I believe that an Elected Regional Assembly will give the North East the stronger voice that it needs to take control of decisions that affect the lives of people here in the region. It will also give us the capacity to attract investment and jobs to the region.
Surely Neil Herron must want that for the region. And if not, why not? We need to hear some proper reasons from him and not just petty whining."
Anyone wishing to respond can send to email@example.com
My reply is posted below.
Lisa Campbell (letter above)
The Sunderland Echo Letters Editor
Obviously ex-pat Lisa Campbell from Fenham, Newcastle of the Yes Campaign (Echo Letters 23rd July) is a newcomer to the regional assembly business because I have repeatedly engaged in the 'real debate.' We have been running the No Campaign here in Sunderland for two years.
Regular Echo readers will know that I have repeatedly stated why we are saying 'No.' Perhaps a little more research Lisa, or do you not normally read the Echo?
I am sure that Katy Schmuecker from Ipswich who runs Yes4theNorthEast will help you next time.
Supporters of an elected Assembly continue to try and sell visions and dreams instead of addressing the reality of what is being offered and telling us how it can deliver.
If you say, "We believe an Assembly will give the North East the stronger voice" you must qualify how?
And to say, "It will also give us the capacity to attract investment and jobs to the region." Tell us how it will do that, Lisa?
I too am passionate about the North East and my city. An assembly will not create a better region, or a better Sunderland.
Here is why, apologies to regular Echo Letters readers for repetition...
Fact. It will have no more money. The same £350m bloc grant will simply be shared out by a different set of politicians.
Fact. It will have no real power except to increase Council Tax to pay for itself.
Fact. It will have no power over health, education or law and order and will not create one extra nurse, teacher or policeman.
Fact. It will create another layer of bureaucracy.
Fact. It will not have the tools to create economic regeneration. No tax incentives or grants.
It will however,be able to produce strategies and consultations. Glossy brochures, politicians and talk...lots of it.
And if we get an Assembly, every other region will eventually end up with one and we are back to square one...but with a nation broken and divided into squabbling little regions.
So Lisa, put some substance to the dream because the people of the North East ain't gonna buy an empty box no matter how shiny the wrapper, and the people of Sunderland will take some convincing by Newcastle United's Sir John Hall to vote for what many are calling a 'Geordie Parliament.'
North East No Campaign
48 Frederick Street
For those supporters of regional government who think that there is no European agenda then perhaps they can look at how the EuroRegions are planning to bypass our own elected Government in Westminster to deal directly with Brussels and other EuroRegions.
They are trying to ignore the elephant by putting a handkerchief on its head, whilst whistling with their fingers in their ears.
The document below produced by the Regional Development Agency ONE ( One North East ) GONE ( Government Office of the North East ) and NEA ( North East Assembly )
Click below to download the full paper
A Regional European Action Plan For the North East of England
Excerpts from the paper...
"In order to compete in a Europe of the Regions, the North East needs to understand and influence the European agenda!"
"Promoting New Forms of Governance"
The region needs to play a more active part in influencing the policy making progress in order to help shape the future European policy and legislation, taking into account the needs and experiences of the North East. There are also clear linkages between governance, the role of regional bodies and the current debate on English devolution. The increased role given to Regional Assemblies to strengthen the regional accountability of Regional Development Agencies, and linkages to regional governance will be important factors in helping establish our distinct identity within a wider Europe of the regions.
"Priorities for Action"
- Influencing the European Policy Agenda
- Developing strategic alliances with other European regions
So, when the politicians and supporters of an elected regional assembly say that it has nothing to do with Brussels you can help them with their journey of enlightenment.
To further assist them you can direct them to The Consolidated Treaty Establishing the European Community Articles 263, 264, 265.
Wednesday, July 28, 2004
Will there be cries of , "Lettuce Alone?"
The Letters Editor
Dear Sir /Madam
Local Labour MP Jim Cousins MP pointed to the difficulties of persuading the electorate in the North East to vote for an institution that only had the powers of a London Assembly saying: I do not think the people of the region would vote for a lettuce leaf (The Journal [Newcastle] 31st July 1999).
It will be interesting to see if his 'Little Gem' of a quote has come back to haunt him yet, as we most certainly do not have a 'full salad box.'
The rest of the North East's MP's have also been incredibly silent on the subject since the laying of the Bill defining the powers last week. Perhaps they do not wish to have the spotlight shone on their inability to adequately speak for the region. Ignorance is no longer an excuse for fence-sitting for our Westminster representatives and we look forward to highlighting their position on the subject for all the electorate to see.
I wonder if Jim's alone in his doubts or is he just the 'tip of the iceberg?'
North East No Campaign
48 Frederick Street
Reinventing Democracy Paper No.6
Empowering the English Regions
John Tomaney and Michelle Mitchell
The report by the EC on the Local Government and Postal Ballot fiasco has been brought forward for release from Monday September13th to Friday 27th August.
Cynics would say a Friday before the August Bank Holiday Weekend is a very good time to bury bad news. At a meeting with the Electoral Commission in Newcastle last night a spokesman from the EC declined to comment. Last time he did say something (about the date of the referendum being 4th November which Prescott had slipped out) he had local journalists chasing him round a Sunderland Hotel all night after it accidentally slipped out in conversation ;-)
Suffice to say that by the time that Parliament returns from Summer recess the story will be lost in the post or buried in sun tan memories and holiday photos.
For more details on the Postal Ballot chaos that Nick Raynsford said the North East never experienced see articles below
"The big postal voting farce"
"Postal vote fiasco fury"
"Boxing clever as wait goes on"
"Ballot Papers Delay Shambles"
"Printer in Poll Delay 'Exhausted'"
"Postal Ballots will Miss Deadline"
"Voting is a Shambles"
"Postal Vote Row Erupts"
"Fraud fears as Voters go to the Polls"
"Watchdogs to Probe Votes"
Tuesday, July 27, 2004
Supporters of elected regional government are taking beating after beating as more of the public start to wake up to the complete shambles that is Prescott's 'Baby.' The Yes sides best shots have been fired already. Even the BBC couldn't even put the biggest shake-up in North East politics as lead news item. It was briefly mentioned half-way through the programme the other night.
If anyone care to respond to Richard Simpson's letter here is the Journal's e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org
LettersPage Newcastle Journal 27th July
Features are blighted by use of the term "home rule"
As the leading regional newspaper, The Journal could play a vital role in explaining and debating the issues surrounding the creation of a North East assembly.
Unfortunately you have chosen to blight your features on the subject by constantly referring to the "home rule" issue, the "home rule" debate, and the "home rule" referendum.
When a state achieves "home rule" it is then able to decide its own constitution, governance, and legal system to decide how to tax its citizens, how to educate its children, and how to protect its borders and its populace, amongst many other functions.
Nothing remotely like this is being offered to our region.
What is being offered is a reorganisation of local government; a huge upheaval of existing councils in Northumberland and Durham in order to accommodate a new regional council which will have no real powers, provide no services (other than running the fire brigades currently run by existing councils) and have little real influence on the regions quangos.
No intelligent person could honestly term this "home rule".
I can only assume that the constant use of that highly emotive and persuasive term is designed to encourage those who only take a passing interest in what is happening to vote "Yes" in the coming referendum.
The cry of "Home Rule for Geordieland!" may well succeed in its objective, but makes a mockery of your claim to portray yourselves as the honest broker in this debate.
Give elected assembly resounding thumbs up
Yorkshire and the North West’s loss is the North East’s gain.
In order to cover its embarrassment over postponing regional referenda in two regions, the Government has significantly improved the powers that an elected North East assembly will have. The assembly will now be able to develop policy in relation to skills and training; transport; small businesses; economic development; housing; fire and rescue services; culture; tourism and sport; public health; tackling crime; the environment; and rural policy.
It will have control or influence over more than £1bn of expenditure a year.
This gives the people of the North East a fantastic opportunity shape their own destiny and reverse the relative decline of a region that has suffered more than any other from the over-centralised system of government that has evolved in the UK.
I hope readers appreciate what an exciting opportunity an elected assembly represents for the North – east and will give it a resounding thumbs up in the referendum on November 4.
Poll should be postponed for thorough review of structures
You report that the Government has shelved plans for referendums in the two other northern regions (on what has been reported as lack of support and uncertainty in those regions), but will proceed to a vote in the North East.
While personally welcoming the policy of strong regional accountable devolution, it would appear that we are being presented with rather ambiguous definitions of the role of the North East Assembly, especially in terms of its crucial relationship with future local government.
At present local government is currently being redefined in terms of its powers and responsibilities. This is especially the case in both service provisions and partnership with other stakeholders, and the nature of representative democracy and accountability.
Accordingly, in the North East, we should request that the referendum be postponed.
There should be an immediate and thorough review of proposed devolved structures in relationship between the proposed assembly and effective delivery of local government responsibilities. This was not explained in your report. This would give time and assurance for people and local government in this region to consider their priorities, and in particular, the promotion of clear lines of accountability in a sub-regional decision – making environment.
Government contempt, deceit and political expediency
The government’s decision to postpone the referendums on regional assemblies in the North West and Yorkshire but go ahead in the North East is a mixture of contempt for the electorate, deceit and political expediency.
The contempt lies in expecting us to believe that the postponements were because of concerns over postal voting, when in fact it was fear of losing.
The deceit lines in concealing the fact that England is being broken up into regions at the behest of Brussels. We must punish the government for its arrogance with a resounding "no" to regional assemblies.
Local authorities in the North East will now be very reluctant to break the 'unofficial moratorium' that exists on compulsory metrication after the headlines in the Northern Echo today.
To read the story in full click here.
There have only been four prosecutions in four years under the Metrication Regulations. The few attempts by rogue authorities have been thwarted after the Metric Martyr's Defence Fund's intervention, with the authorities in Doncaster, Colwyn Bay, Worcester and Lewisham deciding it was not in the public interest to proceed. The Conservatives, now holding the Chair at the Local Government Association, have recently made a statement saying any attempts at enforcement would not be a wise use of public money.
All we await now is their Election Manifesto pledge. However, I do not think any local authority would dare end up with another 'Metric Martyrs' court case to create and embarrass the Government so close to a General Election, so if you know of any trader who is being harassed and intimidated by local Trading Standards get them to call us on 0191 565 7143 and we will do the rest.
We exist because of the generosity of the public. To help support the campaign click here
Monday, July 26, 2004
We forecast this would happen over two years ago. If the authorities think that someone who paid a couple of hundred quid for a runaround will then fork out to pay to dispose of it, they have another thing coming. By the look of the statistics from the report below in today's Northern Echo no-one has a grasp on how to solve the problem. As the DVLA system is flawed all the 'last user' has to say is that he sold the vehicle to someone else. Who then can prove he didn't?
To read a more in depth analysis "Yet another benefit of EU membership," click here.
Seems like Labour are struggling to find a high profile local figure to stand as their candidate in the Hartlepool By Election following Mandelson's impending departure. Local convenience store and bar owner, Leo Gillen, who was famously beaten in the Mayoral Election by a Monkey, has decided he has 'too many business commitments,' to consider it. He obviously feels like 'Chicken Tonight, Chicken Tonight,' which were rumoured to be on special today in his stores...B.O.G.O.F.
Moss Body, who lost his seat on the Council in the June elections, is the only party member to declare an interest in running. Times must be hard off the 'gravy train.' Does he not realise that he may be seen as a liability to the Party's chances if he couldn't even win a council seat?
The run-up to the election will most certainly have the national spotlight shone on the North East...and the chances of an upset are most certainly on the cards.
However, the landscape be wide open should local 'fuel protestor,' Andrew Spence also throw his hat into the ring as an Independent, and Kilroy-Silk decide to confirm that he will stand for UKIP. There is no truth in the rumour that our telephone line has been hot to 'have a go.' As it stands, I have no intention to contest Hartlepool on an anti-EU, anti-Assembly ticket ;-)
It has just been a few days since the announcement that the North East is to go it alone and after a little excitement Thursday / Friday the subject has all but died. The North East's biggest selling Sunday, the Sunday Sun had just one paragraph buried in one of the inner pages. In the Journal today there is nothing except in the letters pages and apart from one 'dreamer' the rest are scathing. Here they are some of them...
"U-Turn will not win Tony what he might expect."
So 'President Tony' has done another U-turn and scrapped the regional assembly ballots in Yorkshire and the North West, leaving the North East on its own.
Is he doing this because he thinks that he will get an easy YES vote up here? Think again Tony."
Robin Thompson, Amble.
"So, wasn't our postal ballot just as much of a mess?"
Addressing the House of Commons on the subject of the regional assembly vote, Local Government Minister Nick Raynsford displayed arrogance and ignorance.
Delaying the vote in Yorkshire and the North West, he said with regard to all postal ballots that, 'none of the concerns related to the North East.' Does he not realise that the same possibilities for fraud, misuse and intimidation exist here as well as in other areas?
Does he not know that over 17,000 people here had their votes disallowed in the European elections?
Is he unaware that four local authorities here had severe problems getting the ballot papers out, and were behind schedule?
For any vote to command respect, the electors must have full confidence in the system of voting, and that is lacking with an all-postal ballot.
Judith Wallace, Chairman, North East No Campaign, Sunderland.
"Mr. Prescott seems to think we are more gullible."
It makes me ashamed to be a North-Easterner to read that the North West and Yorkshire / Humber are to have their assembly referendums postponed whereas the North East's will go ahead. We are obviously presumed to be stupid enough to vote for Mr. Prescott's idiotic dream.
I W Aitchison, Longhorsley.
Sunday, July 25, 2004
The proposed date for the Hartlepool by-election...4th November is the same date for the Elected Regional Assembly Referendum. I wonder if the intention was simply to bury the bad news of a resounding 'No' with the result from Hartlepool? However, there may be all to play for as Kilroy Silk may throw his cap into an arena (read 'Kilroy Could be Here.') where UKIP returned its highest constituency vote in the European Elections, and there is also Mandelson's nemesis Harry Blackwood...a very well-respected local figure who may decide to stand. If there is no Electoral 'monkey business' with the Postal Ballot we can look forward to a real firework display with a double-up of bad news for New Labour. I bet there is more than one bonfire with effigies of Prescott and Mandelson perched on the top around the region on November 5th and many a glass raised as the fireworks explode.
Saturday, July 24, 2004
Pro elected Assembly Editor, Paul Linford states,"Now it is not often that I have found myself in agreement with Neil Herron, the anti-metric campaigner who thus far has headed the no campaign against regional government..."
To read the full article click here. But it appears as the penny is starting to drop that the referendum charade is a political dog's breakfast that even a pack of bulimic mongrels would turn their noses up at. Even the overtly pro Linford has now dropped the grossly misleading tag of 'Home Rule' from his pieces and is resorting to accurate journalism...now calling it elected regional rule. He also states that the Government has not been candid about the reasons for shelving two of the three referendums, hence the agreement with Herron.
Hopefully it will not be long before he also realises that I am not an anti-metric campaigner!
Friday, July 23, 2004
Not as exciting as The Bill, the Bill, slipped in quietly yesterday underneath the guffaws and goading from the opposition can be digested at you leisure. Click here to read how a NE Ass and the production of nothing but hot air will be a greater threat to Global Warming than the increased sunspot activity.
The North East Press are live with the subject of Prescott's humiliating climb-down today.
The Northern Echo's front page leads with 'Referendum on Track Despite Poll U-Turn.' Inside we finally find out what everyone has been on the edge of their seats for...'Powers of Assemblies Revealed,' and then 'Disappointment and Joy on Both Sides of the Debate.'
The Journal's front page lead reads, 'It's All Down to You Now,' and the Evening Chronicle, 'Strategies Set to Empower Region.'
The Sunderland Echo is up with the pace as well with a report on page 4, 'North East Alone in Vote For Assembly.'
After all the press and media excitement the question is whether the debate for the North East public will be raised from tepid to luke warm? Our office was inundated with a phone call from a member of the public today.
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.
"The Government's decision to postpone referendums on regional assemblies in two out of three parts of northern England", it writes, "is a belated recognition of reality". It goes on:
The "great North vote", due on November 4, has been cut down to size. In fact, it will take place only in the Prime Minister's back-yard, the North-East: a curious anomaly, given that Tony Blair has barely concealed his distaste for this extension of the dogma of devolution inside England.We can only say that we will do our best to live up to the Telegraph's hopes.
From the first, regional assemblies have been John Prescott's end-of-the-pier show. His one-man act has kept going without visible means of support, either in his party or among the public. When the Government held its own consultation on these assemblies, the meagre response gave a five-to-one majority against the idea.
Alastair Campbell told journalists that the Government needed them like a hole in the head - and on this issue, at least, he spoke as his master's voice. Yet the Deputy Prime Minister's Ruritanian fantasy has so far been indulged.
Now the patent unreliability of all-postal ballots has given Downing Street an excuse to put a custard pie down Mr Prescott's pantaloons.Is there much gnashing of teeth at this news up in the North-West? Are they drowning their sorrows over in Yorkshire-and-Humberside? The putative architects of new regional Tammany Halls, the members and officials, the chauffeurs and the chefs, may lament the deferment of their dreams.
For the rest, however, we surmise that the North will take the news cheerfully. Mr Prescott's assurance that his talking shops would cost each voter the equivalent of a pint plus fish and chips never did sound plausible to those who would foot the bill.
They already have four tiers of local government, and have noticed the tendency north of the border for devolved institutions to expand. They are familiar with the corruption that is inseparable from a one-party state. Unlike Scotland, the North would have to pay for its legislators' extravagance.
So Two Jags must content himself with one assembly, and the postponement of the others is indefinite. What this suggests is that Mr Blair is flexing his muscles, after seeing off both leaders of the opposition - Michael Howard and Gordon Brown. It is only when the Prime Minister is feeling vulnerable that he throws his deputy a bone, as a reward for loyalty. Regional assemblies were just such a concession.
It is safe to assume, however, that Mr Blair has neither forgotten nor forgiven Mr Prescott's "tectonic plates" remark, which precipitated an unhelpful discussion about the leadership. The discomfiture of the Deputy Prime Minister is entirely intentional. Nor is Mr Blair keen to give so many voters a chance to blow a raspberry at the Government. The North-East, we hope, will do just that.
Thursday, July 22, 2004
The screech of 'Two Jags' U-turn was louder than the start of the Monaco Grand Prix as the Commons heard that the proposed referendums on the subject of Elected Regional Assemblies were to be 'postponed' in Yorkshire and Humber, and the North West. This was because of the 'problems' experienced with the Postal Ballots. The North East however, would still go ahead because we 'liked' Postal Ballots, and there had been no such problems here. Even Pinnochio blushed!
Neil Herron, Campaign Director of the North East No Campaign states,
" Perhaps Mr. Mr. Raynsford and Mr. Prescott think that the late delivery by four Local Authorities of 600,000 was not a problem. Perhaps they think that over 28,000 disfranchised voters whose votes were rejected was a small price to pay for an increased turnout. The concerns about security and secrecy it seems do not apply to our region.
What we are witnessing is a desperation by the Government to avoid certain defeat in the referendums in advance of a General Election. We predicted this precise scenario on May 1st. but were told that it was, "wishful thinking."
The bad news which has also been buried well and truly is the detail of the Powers, Roles and Responsibility of an Assembly which has been overtaken by the main headlines of the postponement. It is an affront to the people of the three Northern regions that we have been treated in such a way by an arrogant, contemptible manner by the Deputy Prime Minister.
What is also significant is the fact that the Electoral Commission report on the Postal Ballot has been brought forward...to August 27th... the Friday before the August Bank Holiday! Me a cynic? We look forward to being the only region to hold a referendum, but we will still not believe it until it is actually here. An ill-thought out, ill-conceived shambles is what we have repeatedly said. Today it was confirmed."
The North East however, 'was used to Postal Ballots and there had been no complaints or problems in the Local Government and European Elections'... try telling that to the 28,000+ people who were disfranchised and the four Local Authorities who had 'printing problems' (involving the very late arrival of 600,000 Ballot Papers).
A denial was issued by the ODPM on May 1st that there would be any cancellation or postponement of the referendums. A spokesman said that it was simply, 'wishful thinking by Mr. Herron.' Perhaps John Prescott will now not be taking up his new position in the Cabinet Reshuffle as Minister for Clairvoyants due to unforseen circumstances.
The DPM (meaning Deputy Prime Minister, but in military circles it also stands for "disruptive pattern material" - the camouflage fabric used in Army uniforms) now says he welcomes the fight.
Aye lad, and so do we. The difference is that we're going to win.
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