Sunday, October 31, 2004
By Andy McSmith,
Independent on Sunday
31 October 2004
Read online click here
John Prescott's long-held dream of regional assemblies across England, leading the drive to bring jobs to employment black spots and protecting the economic interests of every corner of England, is on the point of being shattered.
The result of what was to be the first in a series of regional referendums, in the North-east of England, will be announced on Thursday, with early signs indicating a heavy victory for the "no" campaign, which is thought to have collected over 60 per cent of the vote.
Defeat will be a personal blow for Mr Prescott, who has campaigned for regional government for more than 20 years. It would be highly unlikely that the Government would risk a referendum in any other region, and that would eliminate any prospect of regional government in England for the foreseeable future. One of the North-east's leading "no" campaigners forecast yesterday that the setback could drive the Deputy Prime Minister into early retirement.
It will also be a dark warning for Tony Blair, who made a campaigning visit to the North-east alongside the Liberal Democrat leader, Charles Kennedy, that he cannot count on victory in any referendum, such as the one he has promised to call on whether Britain should ratify the EU constitution.
If forecasts are correct, a campaign endorsed by every senior politician in the North-east from the Prime Minister downwards, and by a galaxy of local celebrities, has been defeated by a mixed group of political amateurs led by a former market trader.
Neil Herron, head of North-East Against a Regional Assembly, first came to prominence as one of Sunderland's "Metric Martyrs" - traders who were ready to break the law by selling their wares in imperial measures rather than the kilograms and litres required by EU legislation.
His campaign has a single, easily understood theme - that a regional assembly would be nothing but a costly platform for party politics. The "yes" campaign has tried to convey a more complex message about promoting regional employment and gaining control over large planning projects.
Last week, the rock star Sting, who comes from Tyneside, added his name to the celebrity backers of the "yes" campaign., They include former Olympic athlete Brendan Foster, former England international Paul Gascoigne, businessman Sir John Hall and Middlesbrough's independent "Robocop" mayor, Ray Mallon.
But yesterday Mr Herron confidently predicted that the "no" campaign will win.
Blow after blow can be landed on the Yes Campaign now, and there is little or no resistance. The high profile figures have melted into the background and the preparations are being made for damage limitation to the political fall-out.
However, momentum must be maintained by the No Campaigns as certain sectors of the Yes Campaign resort to dirty tactics. Tom Brennan yesterday attempted to link the BNP with the No Campaign, but his agenda most certainly backfired. In the Mail on Sunday today, columnist Harry Blackwood slates the Yes Campaign's tactics of anybody wishing to vote no as a Tory.
The Yes Campaign next week will be desperately attempting to rally the Labour Party faithful, but the uphill task they have is an impossible one.
Saturday, October 30, 2004
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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Holyrood turf war
While agreeing with much of what Ian O Bayne says in clarifying his earlier assertions (Letters, 27 October), which I had challenged, I would like to make a point relating to his statement that "If we don’t like our MSPs’ decisions we have the option of turfing them out." For 73 of our MSPs (who are directly elected to a constituency) this resort is available to the electorate, but what about the other 56 - the "list" MSPs? These are nominated by their parties and, as such, are not directly elected by, nor accountable to, the electorate. This issue was brought home to me when I had a disagreement with one of my list MSPs. When I had the temerity to suggest that, if he was not prepared to listen to the concerns of his constituents then we had the obvious recourse to the ballot box, his reply, "This does not bother me as I am top of my party’s list", somewhat shattered my faith in this element of the so-called democratic process we have in Scotland, and which is soon to be applied to local councillors. Has Mr Bayne any suggestions as to how we might "turf out" these MSPs? GM LINDSAY Whinfield Gardens Kinross
It could all end in tears for Prescott
IN the early hours of Friday, John Prescott's efforts to build a new era of English regional devolution will finally be decided.Simon McGee
Two-and-a-half years ago, his White Paper, proposing a new tier of directly elected government for the English regions was unveiled in a fanfare of enthusiastic constitutional revolution.Scotland, Wales and London had their own engines of change, he argued. Why shouldn't the rest of England have their chance to give London the finger and fight for their own corners of the United Kingdom?And now the chunk of the country believed to be the keenest for a new form of self-government, envious of what the Scots have managed to secure for themselves across the border, is emerging from months of lobbying to decide, not only for themselves but for Yorkshire and many other parts of the country, whether to kick-start the Deputy Prime Minister's vision – or to sink it, good and proper.The all-postal ballot that has been taking place north of these Broad Acres is one of the most exciting polls in years.Let's face it, it's been more than a decade since the result of an important British election was actually in question.Many of the region's civic leaders, business people and academics seem to have lunged at the prospect of having their own elected chamber. And polls over the years have almost unanimously pointed to the North-East electorate as being far keener than those in any other region to develop their own identity.That's why they're holding a referendum and we're not; the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister realised it didn't yet stand a chance of winning over the people of Yorkshire and the North-West with the vision of weak mini-parliaments currently on offer.Suddenly, however, the tide in the North-East seems to have changed radically, in a way that none of the cognoscenti seems to have foreseen.All the recent polls in the region, taken as more and more people have come to learn about the proposals, have shown that the ordinary man and woman in the street is actually sceptical of another tier of government.Maybe it's the result of a general malaise with politicians, maybe it's growing anger with the relentless rise in council tax, which another layer of government would simply aggravate, or perhaps it is the argument that the model of government on the table is actually relatively toothless.Either way, the politically involved élites seem to have grossly underestimated Joe Public's ability to be brutally realistic and not to subscribe to the everything-will-get-better creed of the believers. John Prescott and his lieutenant, in the shape of kindly uncle Nick Raynsford, are both staring into the abyss this weekend.The polls suggest that they have grossly underestimated the fact that voters won't subscribe to another layer of government simply because someone else has one.The justification has to be greater than that. And the support from Cabinet colleagues, to ensure that powers really are handed down from Whitehall rather than sucked up from councils, has to be more robust.If Prescott can't even prise the Learning and Skills Councils away from the Department for Education and Skills to give to the assemblies, how can he ever dream of handing power over things that really matter, like transport, to regional parliamentarians?But it's more than that. The way the whole issue has been prosecuted also undermines Mr Prescott's case.The recent obsession with postal ballots, despite massive flaws in the voting method, was enough to rouse suspicions.But the late cancellation of the referendums in Yorkshire and the North-West was the last straw – ultimate evidence that, despite all the hot air to the contrary, what people here wanted really didn't matter after all.Once it was thought that the people of Yorkshire might not vote their way, it was Prescott and Co in London who decided the region shouldn't have a say after all: the most outrageous and hypocritical decision that could possibly have been made.London will decide whether or not you have a vote on devolution, but Mr Prescott in London will also take this chance away from you if he thinks you won't agree with him.In the end, Mr Prescott, whose political clock is ticking towards retirement, may have actually done his own cause almost irretrievable harm in trying to bulldoze his agenda through, instead of preparing the ground for a successful campaign somewhere down the line, when the conditions might be better suited.The idea was a grand one. What a shame it looks as if it will all end in tears and humiliation.
30 October 2004
On Thursday 9 May the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott MP, will publish a White Paper offering each region a referendum on elected regional assemblies.
Today’s On the Record on BBC ONE reveals that the White Paper will fail to meet the demands of pro-devolutionist campaigners.
On the Record has learnt that the White Paper will:
· limit the role of the regional assemblies so that they will largely be strategic and advisory in function. Assemblies will only have between 25 and 35 members and they will have far fewer powers than, for example, the Welsh Assembly.· insist that before a referendum on regional government is held, the electoral commission will have to come up with proposals to abolish one tier of local government in that region. That means in areas which still have county councils, either the county or the local district would have to go.· Spending limits will be capped more rigorously than local councils.
Louise Ellman MP, former leader of Liverpool Council and long time campaigner for regional devolution, tells On the Record: "I don't think people will vote for a talking shop, but they will vote for a body that will make a difference and they'll want to see changes in, for example, transport, in health, in education, and in the economy, but they have to see a difference and that difference has to matter."
She also highlights the divisions that exist over devolution at the very top of government: "… while ministers like John Prescott have always advocated regional devolution, the Prime Minister has been considerably less supportive and, who knows, maybe the bill that comes forward now will create the hurdles that he hopes will stop it happening."
Trevor Phillips, Deputy Chairman of the Greater London Assembly, calls on the Government to relax central control and give local government greater autonomy: "If people think the local government is really just a sort of shouting match between slightly powerless politicians, what they're going to do is they're going to put people in the council seat, who are protests, they are jokes, they are way out in the fringes. If we want local government to really have a serious purpose, to attract serious and effective people, then you've got to give it the powers, you've got to give it the resources, to carry out the job, and if they fail, then you have to let them answer to the people. Central government can't really be nanny on local government."
Baroness Shirley Williams, Liberal Democrat leader in the House of Lords, warns that there are dangers for the Government if it refuses to devolve real power to the regions of England.
"In the North-east they'll say, if we were Scots it wouldn't be like this. In the south west they'll say if we were Welsh it wouldn't be like this. It's the recipe in my view for very very great tensions, between the different parts of the United Kingdom, and I don't think it keeps the United Kingdom united," she said.
"The Number 10 Policy Unit has become a Prime Minister's department and so what you get is a very great deal of powerful control from the centre and a lot of bright young men and women who feel they justify themselves by coming out with initiatives that they then impose on the people, whatever innovation you get at local level tends to be snuffed out by the structure of central control."
On the Record will be broadcast on BBC ONE at Noon.
Notes to Editors
If you use any of the above quotes in any news story or article please credit BBC ONE's On the Record.
Friday, October 29, 2004
John Prescott, Hartlepool Mail 29.10.04 - "So with a week to go, it's all to play for.... As the campaign enters its last lap, I am meeting more and more people who see the real benefits of a yes vote and the strong voice it will deliver for the North-East.''
Not a breach of purdah, as they're not speaking as Ministers but as parrots.
However, there was more agreement than anything else, the only stumbling block was that elected assembly business, and the fact that it could not deliver on transport...or very much else.
A totally different display to that witnessed outside the NESNO offices the previous day in Durham, and it appears NESNO's referendum tactics have drawn a great deal of criticism from all quarters, including a ranting Ray Mallon on a soapbox.
The People's No Campaign maintained its line and credibility and continued to argue the case about the merits of what is being offered.
There were no hostilities, and it ended with Herron and Moran being invited to the next Boro match with Mallon...don't tell anyone in Sunderland though.
Big guns fire head-on
Oct 29 2004
By Ross Smith, The Journal
The issues were put back to the forefront of the devolution debate yesterday as two heavyweight figures on either side of the argument clashed on the streets.
After Ray Mallon's tirade against No campaigners on their Durham doorstep on Wednesday, the Middlesbrough Mayor turned his focus back to the merits of a regional assembly.
North East No Campaign director Neil Herron met the former detective outside Sunderland station as he made his way up the North-East coast by train yesterday.
And instead of repeating the fierce criticism he levelled at North East Says No activists yesterday, Mr Mallon made the assembly's powers over transport his key argument.
Though neither changed their mind, both men claimed a points victory by saying if they had met earlier they could have converted the other to their side.
Mr Mallon said: "I've travelled to Sunderland by train and it's taken me two hours to get here from Middlesbrough.
"When you look at the regional assembly documentation, it's clear the regional assembly would have responsibility for formulating a regional transport strategy.
"Transport is very much on the agenda in Middlesbrough and very much on the agenda across this whole country. We cannot continue to have the transport policy we've got.
"We've got to change it to get people out of their cars and on to public transport, and the only way we can do that is to improve public transport."
He criticised the current situation, where his council has to get approval from civil servants in the region for its local transport plan.
But Mr Herron claimed the powers on offer to the assembly will not make a difference.
"We'd like to buy into the dream, but the reality is the bill doesn't allow it," he said. "The reality is it's not going to deliver. They've had two years to sell this to the North-East. If you cannot sell the deal in two years, it doesn't matter how many celebrities come on board, they're not going to buy it."
Nesno chairman John Elliott added: "A regional assembly would simply not have the powers over transport claimed by the Yes campaign. Look at the Regional Assemblies Bill - it makes it clear that a regional assembly would not be able to upgrade the A1 and it would not be able to operate any rail franchises. All an assembly would do is express an opinion on proposals put forward elsewhere."
Afterwards, Mr Herron claimed: "We offered to sit down with Ray six months ago, but he didn't respond. If we had done, I don't think he'd be voting Yes now."
But Mr Mallon reckoned: "It's probably a pity I didn't come here a bit earlier, because if I had, I probably would have convinced him."
And he claimed he had only moved away from the issues to "knock spots off the No campaign" for one day on Wednesday.
You know best
Oct 28 2004
Edward Davey MP
The people of the North-east face an important choice now they've been asked to vote on a Regional Assembly.
The Liberal Democrats strongly support a Yes vote in the referendum, and I'd like to explain why.
We believe the people of the North-east know what's best for this area.
An assembly can make a difference to a region on things like jobs, housing and transport.
We agree with Labour on this Regional Assembly because we believe it's in the interests of local people. Only the Tories are opposed.
I'm pleased so many non-politicians are backing the "Yes" vote - like Brendan Foster and Suzannah Clarke - as well as local politicians like Ray Mallon, the mayor of Middlesbrough.
This proves the assembly is not just about more politicians talking: it's about people of the North-east making their own lives better.
It makes no sense that decisions about investments in key industries, major transport developments or regeneration schemes should be taken in London.
Why should somebody sitting at a desk in London take decisions about rail services between Saltburn and Stockton?
Devolution has strengthened the voice of Scotland, Wales and London and I believe it could do the same for the North-east.
When I visit the North-east, I am struck by two things.
First, I notice the real pride that people have in their community.
Second, I get a real sense that people in the region feel they are overlooked by the decision-makers in London.
And the North-east continues to face significant problems in creating good quality jobs, especially for its young people.
These things were brought home to me as I saw the results of an ICM poll on attitudes to a North East Assembly, with massive levels of support among the young.
Young people have their eye on the future and seem to be very positive about what an Assembly might achieve.
The old system where virtually all important decisions are taken in Westminster and Whitehall is outdated.
Liberal Democrats believe in trusting the people and have faith in the people of the North-east to run their own affairs.
A regional assembly can make a difference.
It could assist the regeneration of the Tees Valley and support developments such as that at Middlehaven.
It could help provide high quality training for young people.
It could tackle the region's health problems, particularly noticeable in the Tees Valley.
We are committed to using influence in Parliament to ensure that the legislation which will create an Assembly provides stronger powers than those currently on offer.
I am sure, for instance, that an Assembly will have substantial powers over transport, including the right to invest in road provision.
Like Ray Mallon, the Liberal Democrats are keen that a Regional Assembly will not be politics as usual.
It will be elected by proportional representation which will ensure that no one party or individual will dominate.
The No campaign is distinguished by the poverty of its ideas and the complete absence of any answers to the issues that face the Tees Valley.
I believe people have had enough of negative politics.
A Regional Assembly offers the chance for more decisions about the North-east to be made in the North-east.
Edward Davey MP is Liberal Democrat Shadow to John Prescott.
What do you think about this or any other issue?
If you would like us to consider your passionate views for Crossing the Tees then write to; Editor, Evening Gazette, Borough Road, Middlesbrough TS1 3AZ. Fax 01642 232014 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
The imposition of unwanted elected assemblies has been his 'baby' for many years and he will carry the blame for the abject failure of this unwanted and shambolic referendum campaign.
The cost of Prescott's folly will be borne by the taxpayer, but it is he who will end up with a very costly egg on his face.
Don't be surprised if he moves to the Lords.
Hull Daily Mail
MP SAYS HE HAS NO PLANS TO STEP DOWN
09:30 - 20 October 2004
John Prescott has stepped in to quash rumours he is considering standing down as Hull East MP ahead of the General Election. Speculation has surrounded the Deputy Prime Minster's candidacy following a weekend newspaper report.However, a spokesman for Mr Prescott today emphatically denied the claims and said Mr Prescott would stand again.He said there was never any question of him standing down.But he refused to be drawn on whether this would be Mr Prescott's last election campaign.He said: "Mr Prescott is going to stand again as a Labour Party candidate in Hull East, where he hopes to be re-elected."According to a Labour Party spokesman, the Deputy Prime Minister was officially reselected to stand as the Hull East candidate some months ago by the local Labour Party.He added: "That position has now also been endorsed by the regional Labour Party."The news comes weeks after Prime Minister Tony Blair said he would leave office after serving a full third term, if Labour won the next election.
Where are you Electoral Commission? Should you not be camped out in the region for the duration of this campaign? The integrity of our democracy is at stake and you are conspicuous by your absence!
29th October 2004
Ballot papers 'missing'
About 300 homes in the Darlington area are affected.Hundreds of ballot papers for the regional assembly referendum in the North East have "disappeared".
Royal Mail says it is investigating the situation, which has meant about 300 homes in County Durham are not receiving voting packs.
Officials at Darlington Council are now in a race against time to try and rectify the situation.
The all-postal votes of about two million electors are due to be handed in by 4 November.
A spokesman for Darlington Council said: "We have sent out the ballot papers, the problem is with Royal Mail.
"Somewhere along the line, something has gone wrong and these ballot papers have not been delivered.
"The Royal Mail is investigating to see if they can find out what the problem is."
No-one will not receive their ballot paper as special hand deliveries will take place where necessary
Royal Mail spokeswoman A spokeswoman for Royal Mail said: "We are investigating a problem with the delivery route in the Mowden area of Darlington.
"This is affecting several hundred properties, which have failed to receive ballot papers.
"We are working closely with the council and will do all we can to help rectify the problem.
"No-one will not receive their ballot paper as special hand deliveries will take place where necessary.
"We are unaware of any other problems of this kind to do with the regional assembly vote."
The Darlington Council spokesman added: "Initially we had complaints from a couple of residents in Mowden to say they thought they should have had their ballot papers by now.
"We then made further investigations and it became clear this was a bigger issue."
A spokeswoman for the Electoral Commission told BBC News Online that letters were being sent out to those homes affected.
She said the commission was satisfied that measures had been put in place to ensure all voters received ballot papers in time.
So far a total of 569,072 ballot envelopes have been scanned by bar code at counting offices across the North East.
REGIONAL assembly champion Ray Mallon yesterday went head-to-head with one of its most vocal opponents.
The Middlesbrough mayor met North-East No campaign leader Neil Herron outside Sunderland railway station.
He said: "I have been an admirer of Neil for some time. He speaks in a language the public understand and has earned their trust."
The pair appeared to agree that the North-East deserves a better deal and that any regional assembly would need to attract the right calibre of politician.
Mr Mallon said: "The difference between us is that I believe we can get the right people to step forward, where Neil does not.
"What was very refreshing was that today we had a grown-up discussion about how the North-East can move forward -it is just a shame the official No group is not prepared to act in a similar way to Mr Herron."
Mr Herron said: "We do agree on some things, but Ray Mallon is like a car salesman asking us to fall in love with a car without reading the fine print of the finance agreement.
"We have read the fine print and think this car is a banger."
Mr Mallon joined Yes4the North-East chairman Professor John Tomaney on a train trip from Middlesbrough to Sunderland, taking in Hartlepool.
Prof Tomaney said: "Transport is clearly an area where a regional approach is the best for the future of the North-East."
John Elliott, the chairman of North-East Says No, said: "A regional assembly would simply not have the powers over transport claimed by the Yes campaign."
Mr Mallon continues his tour of the region today with a visit to a Middlesbrough mosque to talk to Muslim leaders.
Thursday, October 28, 2004
Are we too bored to vote?
CHILDREN, children. Purlease... The debate about whether or not the North-East decides that it wants a directly-elected regional assembly is hugely important. Whichever way you look at it, the result of November 4's referendum will be historic.
If the North-East votes No, it will lay the regional question to rest for a generation. If it says Yes, it tears up the accepted map of how we are governed and tries something new - something no one can with any certainty say will or will not work because it is untried.
The North-East is indeed a guinea pig: some find that frightening; others find that exciting.
How it will or will not work is what the debate should be about. Yet, for the last couple of days, all it has been about is whether or not someone hails from the south.
It is an utterly puerile squabble. It means nothing to the voters. It is just one bunch of politicos shouting abuse at another.
This discredits both parties. It destroys both parties' arguments as no one is listening to them. The effect will be that no one will vote - which is possibly why the turnout after eight days is only 25 per cent (historically in postal votes, most people who are going to vote do so within three days of receiving their papers).
It is ironic that both parties profess to love the North-East yet their sterile debate is harming the region's image. Such was the pathetic parochialism of the recent Hartlepool by-election campaign that people outside were mocking the region. The same will happen with this referendum unless both parties grow up.
The biggest losers in all this are the Yes campaign. They may have painted the No lobby as unreformed Tories - which most people who looked at the cast list knew anyway - but they must do more than that.
To win a Yes vote, they must inspire. They must show this is change for the better, that this is a new style of government. They must give real examples of how daily lives might be improved. They must excite people with the potential of what is on offer.
Give us hopes, give us dreams. Don't give us boredom with silly irrelevant squabbles.
Wednesday, October 27, 2004
North East No Campaign
27th October 2004
"People's No Campaign throws down the Gauntlet to Ray Mallon"
Mayor of Middlesbrough is frightened of real debate and has a minimal understanding of what is on offer with an elected regional assembly. His lack of understanding is apparent by his repeated attacks on the official NESNO campaign in Durham and failure to address any of the difficult questions.
Attacking the messenger in an aggressive bully boy fashion is turning the public against him and the fact that he has not read the Bill is an admission that he cares not what the people of the North East are actually being offered, but more about what HE THINKS they are being offered.
His attempt at branding the NESNO operation is a sign of weakness. To attempt to brand the No Campaign as all being Tories is an insult to everyone who has legitimate concerns about what is actually being offered by this political con trick. To polarise the debate into Labour versus Tory as Prescott is also doing smacks of absolute desperation.
So here we throw down the gauntlet..." Come to Sunderland Mr. Mallon, or we''ll meet you on neutral turf, and try and throw the same accusations around here. We at the other No Campaign have offered you the 'No' perspective before you joined the Yes bandwagon.
You chose not to respond.
We gave you the evidence of how the unelected Assembly was misusing public money (including that of Middlesbrough ratepayers) to campaign for a Yes vote...you chose not to respond.
Come to Sunderland Mr. Mallon and we will shatter every single one of your arguments with FACTS...and without a Tory in sight. Let the public see strong your arguments are then.
This is about the people of the North East, not about party politics.
This is about the people of the North East and not about people who wish to stand for something that the people of the North East never even asked for.
This is about the people of the North East who want facts not emotional rhetoric.
Ray Mallon, you may be the best 'crime fighter' but your understanding of this issue and your arguments leave a lot to be desired.
Come and see us. We will look forward to it."
...and we will buy the coffee!
North East No Campaign
Tel. 0191 565 7143
Mob. 07776 202045
cc. North East Press and Media
NB. The original press release had a deliberate typo error in just to see if Mr. Mallon reads any of the small print ;-)
We at the North East No Campaign will reserve our comments until after the result on November 4th and for the full post mortem. There will be an in depth analysis and some very startling reservations.
Our agenda has always been to achieve a No vote, and the Yes Campaign also respect this, despite being on the opposing side. The deliberate designation of NESNO as the No Campaign by the Electoral Commission played straight into Prescott's hands and the Yes Campaign's plans, leaving them with only one desperate line of attack after failing to win on any of the factual arguments.
The 'after the match' analysis will be very interesting indeed.
27th October 2004
'Tory Boy' joins elephant and 8ft rat in assembly campaign
AFTER giant inflatable white elephants and 8ft rats, 'Tory Boy' became the latest weapon in the campaign battle over the North-East assembly yesterday.
The braying, suited caricature, complete with a Michael Howard mask, arrived at Newcastle railway station and promised to convince Geordies a vote against an assembly would keep power in the south.
The stunt was arranged by pro-assembly campaigners and follows Chancellor Gordon Brown's comments to The Northern Echo on Monday, when he branded the referendum No campaigners as London Conservatives.
With tongue firmly in cheek, Tory Boy said: "I've been sent North to knock some sense into these oiks.
"It's preposterous to think Northerners can be trusted with the power to make their own decisions.
"A Yes vote would give the North-East a strong voice, which would threaten our southern power base. Southerners have to stay in control.
"That is why London Tories know that No is best."
The Yes lobby also criticised two North-East Says No campaign co-ordinators based in Durham -Dominic Cummings and Press officer James Frayne.
Pro-assembly supporters said Mr Cummings was a former Conservative Party spin doctor and said Mr Frayne worked for New Frontiers, a right-wing think-tank with links to the US president.
Julie Elliott, of the GMB union, said: "James Frayne has no links to the North-East as far as we are aware.
"He does have links to New Frontiers, which is linked to the Heritage Foundation and advises George Bush."
Mr Frayne confirmed that he was from London and a member of New Frontiers, but said Mr Cummings was born and bred in Durham.
John Elliott, chairman of North-East Says No, said: "The Yes campaign really are pathetic. They are like children that cannot have everything their own way.
"The fact is that the Yes campaign are doing all this now because they have run a bad campaign and are annoyed that people have seen through their spin to see that a regional assembly just means higher council tax and more politicians."
I WAS astounded to note that you urged your readership to vote Yes to a regional assembly.
How dare you assume, like some totalitarian, to dictate as to how any of us should vote in the forthcoming election?
It is not your business to tell us how to vote. What is your business is to report both sides of the argument, clearly and without bias.
As for not wanting a new regional parliament building, just how long do you think the newly-elected fat cats would put up with a converted office block in Durham?
- J Watson, Washington.
ANYONE intending to vote Yes for an elected regional assembly on November 4 should ponder long and hard on the following:
1 Just why is this Government, which is so addicted to centralised control, almost falling over itself to give us an elected assembly, which could theoretically prove very troublesome to it in the future? Is it for their benefit or ours?
2 In effect, you are only voting Yes for the basic idea of an elected assembly. What will you do if you do not like the detail when it is eventually announced?
3 The possible range of powers put forward at present are only from a Draft Bill prepared by the Government, but which has not yet been agreed by Parliament. The Essential Guide to the North-East Referendum, issued by the Electoral Commission, clearly states that the Draft Bill may change later.
4 Do you believe that we really have been given enough firm information on which to vote for changes which could have such far reaching consequences? There will not be any going back.
5 We are not being offered anything like devolved government or home rule.
6 Two-thirds of the seats on the assembly will be decided by the first past the post system, with only one third decided by proportional representation. That means one party domination.
So forget inflatable elephants and rats as well as the views of personalities and study the facts.
- J. Routledge, Witton Gilbert.
The 'Tory Boys' line is now old hat and the more coverage the People's No Campaign with its grassroots perspective and spokesmen gets then the more foolish 'Yes' becomes.
Both No Campaigns are showing a united front and are co-ordinating stunts and strategies, with the occasional light-hearted dig, and it is working well with both getting coverage.
You only get one Yes Campaign but you can 'pick your Noes' is the line we are taking.
Dressing up campaign issues
Oct 27 2004
By The Journal
The row over the use of southern-based workers in the referendum campaign erupted again yesterday in the wake of the latest pro-devolution stunt.
Labour backers of a `yes' vote yesterday brought out `Tory Boy' - a man sporting a blue rosette and a Michael Howard mask - to run a mock campaign against the assembly.
It is hoped the figure will help exploit the Conservatives' lack of popularity in the region and garner support for an assembly. But on the same day, it emerged that the volunteer who tried to exploit the role of London-based staff in the North East Says No campaign was himself a former London public schoolboy.
He delivered a train ticket back to London to the North East Says No office, wearing a giant rat fancy dress costume and a sign saying "Rather Arrogant Toff Southerners".
The `no' campaign says only its Press officer, who works for think tank New Frontiers, is based in London. And a student newspaper named the rat as Jack Holborn, a Durham University student, who attended the £15,000-a-year Westminster School.
At the entrance to the event there were a few demonstrators with 'Tory Boy' masks on saying that the No Campaign were just London Tory Boys. The No Campaign from the Peoples' Republic of Sunderland politely corrected their generalisation ;-)
The audience cut into Sir John and on a couple of occasions he looked for help to the audience and to an embarassed Professor Tomaney. At one point the Professor went visibly red and stuttered and stumbled when he was forced to explain that the Assembly didn't have the power to cut Council Tax. A question which had Sir John flummoxed. The reality is beginning to dawn on Sir John that this is merely a political project and that an assembly will be politicised despite his best intentions to fight as an Independent.
NESNO's Tooley and Daley were very competent and confident and the only argument the Yes supporters have left is that the No campaign has no alternative.
Well, we have offered an alternative, it was covered in the Journal in a full page article months ago and we are also prepared to sit down with the Yes camp after the region delivers a NO vote.
Wayne endorsed this from the platform and we can maintain the momentum that the referendum has begun to generate...and hope that the people on both sides have the North East at heart and not just political careers.
To read the report in the Journal about how the No vote won the day please click here.
Tuesday, October 26, 2004
North East No Campaign
26th November 2004
"Bookies Refuse No Campaigners Any More Bets"
The Sunderland branch of Ladbrokes was featured in last Sunday's BBC Politics Show and illustrated that the referendum in the North East was neck and neck.
Ladbrokes Area Manager, Don Young was interviewed and quoted prices of 5/6 for both Yes and No campaigns to win the vote.
On Monday, Neil Herron and Colin Moran decided to take up such generous odds and put their faith in their own sides' arguments by laying a bet. However, Ladbrokes were only prepared to take part of the bet at 5/6, and cut the odds to 8/13 for the rest of the bet. The two No Campaigners took the prices offered but Ladbrokes confirmed that they would not take further 'No' bets from us and the odds would be dramatically slashed.
Don Young confirmed that the No Campaign appeared to be moving into the lead, citing latest opinion polls. They would however continue to take bets from people wishing to vote 'Yes.'
Neil Herron, Campaign Director for the North East No Campaign states, " It was great that Ladbrokes entered into the spirit of the campaign and offered such generous odds. I am disappointed that the odds have now been slashed dramatically and to such an extent that Ladbrokes will not another bet from us. We were just about to iron our shirts to put on! If the message is that even the bookies aren't confident I wonder if the Yes Campaign have the confidence in their argument to take up Ladbrokes very generous odds for a Yes vote? I have heard that they are only looking for an each-way bet."
It appears as though 'Prescott's Folly' is about to go the same way as 'Devon Loch' as the people get ready to reject what has been the biggest political con trick ever foisted on the people of the North East.
North East No Campaign
Tel. 0191 565 7143
Mob. 07776 202045
www.northeastnocampaign.co.uk and www.neilherron.blogspot.com
Notes to Editors:
After visiting the excellent run facility at Stepney Bank Riding Stables the two No Campaigners have agreed to hand over a percentage of their winnings to Susan Tron, of the facility. The Stable provided the facility and horse for the photo shoot showing the Senior Citizen's Party changing horses and joining the No Campaign. To see that coverage please click here
Press coverage in the Northern Echo click here and the Journal here.
Press Release...see below:
North East No Campaign
EMBARGOED UNTIL 9am. Monday 25th October, 2004 (Photo op. Monday 12 noon)
Yes Campaign Group Moves Over to Join the No Campaign
"Don't Back a Donkey. Get on the Right Horse"
Today sees a massive coup as the Senior Citizen's Party moves across the floor and backs the People's North East No Campaign.
Registered with the Electoral Commission as a Permitted Participant for the Yes perspective, they have decided not to back a donkey, and to get on the right horse, and join the No Campaign.
The Senior Citizen's Party which represents 20.6 million people aged 50 or over throughout the UK - 43% of the voting population (figures in the NE ... 43% of 1.9m is 817,000people), originally intended to support the idea of a regional assembly in the North East because it believed that the Government genuinely intended to devolve current central Government powers to the regional assemblies and to devolve county council powers to the much smaller unitary authorities which would bring decision making much closer to the people.
Grahame Leon-Smith, Founder and Senior Citizen's Party Leader says, " We believe in the restoration of genuine democracy and the reversal of the increasing centralisation and emasculation of local government that has been carried out in recent years. We believe that more power should be given to the people by ensuring that all decision making should be taken at the level closest to the people and by their own elected representatives who are democratically accountable rather than by non-elected quangos. The failure of the government to give more power to the people has been a major factor in the electorate's disillusionment of politics and the decreasing number of people who bother to vote. The Government is now proposing that whole counties should become unitary authorities so if the people in the North East vote Yes and for option A they will lose all the local democracy that they now enjoy. It is a thoroughly hypocritical scenario disguised as an increase in democracy which will increase centralisation and removes the very local councils that the people know and appreciate. We are therefore now recommening that a Senior's vote with a resounding No to this appalling attempt to destroy local democracy."
Neil Herron, Campaign Director of the North East No Campaign, " Our long standing arguments are winning through. We may have been seen at the start of the race as a rank outsider up against a very well funded and well trained Government backed horse but it can be seen that the Government's fancied favourite was nothing more than a donkey. The People's No Campaign has had the stamina, breeding and tactics to come good at the end backed by the 'smart' money. It is great to have the Senior Citizens on board. This is about the people of the North East and their democracy, and having an expensive twenty five person talking shop to represent 1,900,000 is not bringing democracy closer to the people. There are many Senior Citizens in the North East on fixed incomes who will not relish rises in Council taxes to pay for a political talking shop. We are urging them to use their vote to VOTE NO and send a clear message that we do not wish to have another cost burden imposed upon us."
PRESS CONFERENCE AND PICTURE OPPORTUNITY:
12 Noon Monday 25th October, 2004
"Don't Back a Donkey. Get on the Right Horse."
Stepney Bank Stables
(Note: Stepney Bank Stables are merely providing the location for the photo opportunity. They do not have an opinion on the referendum)
North East No Campaign
Tel. 0191 565 7143
Mob. 07776 202045
Senior Citizens Party
Tel. 01932 874 303
Mob. 07956 111 848
To View the Senior Citizen's Party website click here
Denise has always been a supporter of a Yes vote, but was very concerned that it might lead to the break up of the country.
It now appears that she and her name has been well and truly used by the Yes Campaign who have now been forced to apologise. To read the story please click here or view it below.
Campaigners say sorry to Denise
Oct 26 2004
By The Journal
The campaign for a regional assembly has been forced into a climbdown after one of its high-profile supporters described comments attributed to her on a leaflet as "rubbish".
TV agony aunt Denise Robertson, a backer of Yes4theNorthEast, was outraged at remarks on a Yes4theNorthEast mailshot.
Mrs Robertson, whose husband and son both support a no vote, was quoted as saying: "Most people who are against us are from London."
But yesterday she said: "I didn't say that, nor do I believe it. I'm ashamed of being associated with that.
"It's entirely contrary to my beliefs. I can only apologise that my name is linked with this rubbish. But I still back the campaign. I still think a yes vote would be good for the region and I accept their apology."
Yes4thenortheast director Ross Forbes said: "In the heat of the campaign, we made a genuine mistake.
"We apologise unreservedly for any inconvenience or embarrassment this might have caused her."
Scot to ‘ sell’ regional devolution to English
Scotland’s First Minister has been recruited to sell regional devolution despite its opponents using the huge cost overruns of the Scottish Parliament as a main weapon against the plan.
Jack McConnell will visit the North East of England next Monday to encourage the electorate to vote for the decentralisation of government being driven by John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister.
Yesterday Russ Forbes, director of the official Yes Campaign admitted: “The Scottish parliament is undoubtedly our Achilles’ heel. “
Neil Herron, of the No Campaign, said: “Bring the guy down from the most expensive building in the country. The people of the North East realise John Prescott’s folly and that a regional assembly would be nothing more than an expensive talking shop.“ If the Scottish example is anything to go by, then it is going to be kicked into the long grass.”
BBC Radio Scotland
Five minute interview on the Breakfast programme over comments made in the Mail that the No Campaign welcomes Jack Mc Connell's visit because it will yet again shine the spotlight on the outrageous expense of the Scottish Parliament building...and expose the blatant disregard for the purdah period.
Why aren't they checking who is paying for Ministerial visits?
Why aren't they recording the statements made by Ministers?
Why aren't they advising local press and media to preface Ministers statements with "I am speaking as a Labour Party member and not a Minister..."?
Why aren't they pulling out more stops to get people to return their ballot papers? The response so far has been sluggish to say the least so come on Electoral Commission...get some of that £41m spent. Not sure whether they are aware of where the North East is yet, especially after all the other clangers they've dropped. They might be booking advertising space in the Manchester Evening News.
However, the No Campaign is very grateful for the visits of these Ministers and luminaries. Jack Mc Connell from Scotland today will simply highlight the great expense of the Scottish Parliament building.
Ken Livingstone's visit yesterday served to illustrate how council tax has risen in London. Gordon Brown's visit was another sign of desperation, but with no substance.
David Miliband's understatement" We are going to have to work hard to convince people of our case for an Assembly," is one of the best yet. Where have you been David?
As for the purdah period...it seems like there is no-one to even raise the issue...except the No Campaign. Today's and yesterday's breaches can be read below:
'London Will Back You' read about Ken Livingstone's visit here
'Brown's Visit Boosts Yes Vote Bid' read it here
'Labour Won't Screw Up This Time - Ken' can be read here
and 'Miliband Supports Yes Vote' here.
Chancellor Urges Yes Vote here
25th October 2004
A north-east assembly will not work
The Guardian Your endorsement of a north-east regional assembly (Leaders, October 23) is based on a false premise: what seems, perhaps, a "strong sense of identity" is, on the ground, a very distinct set of inter-regional identities, often at odds with one another. A regional assembly would most likely be dominated by the voices and concerns of Newcastle, to the detriment both of urban Teesside and rural Durham and Northumberland.
As a Teessider currently living in western North Carolina, I've seen the effects of being a neglected outpost of regional government. A more sensible option would be to strengthen local government structures in those areas where common interests outweigh regional rivalries. Let's save the open antipathy seen at Tyne-Tees-Wear derby matches for a few Saturdays each year. Nick SweeneyAsheville, N Carolina, USA
I have been an advocate of a north-east assembly for more than 20 years. But I would go further and create a federal Britain in which parliament did little more than run foreign affairs and defence, leaving regions to do the rest. But I will be voting no.
What sways me is the local Labour party in action. The north-east assembly concept was a reaction against rule from London - a statement that we have our own way.
The problem is the evidence. Our local politicians have no distinctive agenda. Our MPs are the most enthusiastic supporters of Blairite privatisation, and north-east councils have been the most enthusias tic at selling off their council housing stock and embracing the private finance initiative on everything from schools to streetlighting.
Stephen Townsley Gateshead
Your support for a yes vote in the north-east assembly referendum is misguided. Far from being a move to decentralisation and localism, this is a move to concentrate power in the centre and remove it from the people.
It will involve, for all non-urban areas, the abolition of one of the current tiers of government, and replace it with an assembly which will gain no extra powers from Whitehall, but which will, indeed, be further constrained by Whitehall veto powers.
Mark AustinMorden, Surrey
Monday, October 25, 2004
Charles Kennedy and Tony Blair have made a desperate appeal to North East voters to vote Yes in the assembly referendum on the basis that England is an over-centralised state. That is certainly true.However, the reality is that this devolution sham does not change the fundamentals at all. The health service, policing, education and all areas of legislation and financial controls will remain in the hands of Westminster.
It is not honest that the ballot asks people to vote for a North East assembly on the grounds of devolution, when there is no significant area of economic or political power being devolved. The only change will be the back door abolition of many local councils and powers being centralised upwards.We urge all voters to cast a No vote against this plan.
Cllr STEVE RADFORD
President of The Liberal Party
Electoral Commission incompetent? Of course not...they are simply a 'learning organisation.'
Well just to add weight to their ineptitude, this time it's Black and White!
Just when you thought that the incompetence of the Electoral Commission couldn't get any worse...they go for the big one (in the red and white Cinderella City of Sunderland at least).
We are often accused of having a chip on our shoulder for being the poor relation to Newcastle. The Cinderella City relying on hand me downs and treated as second class citizens by the Tyneside dominated North East political mafia has been given another kick. But this time we spotted it...and we are very well balanced here...we have a chip on both shoulders!
But this time a price will be paid by those who made the mistake. And the price will be yet another embarassing headline for the incompetent and inept Electoral Commission. To see tonight's full page article in the Sunderland Echo click here Unfortunately the colour photographs and vox pops are not online, but the Electoral Commission have simply played straight into the No campaign's hands by confirming that even they see the Newcastle domination as a done deal.
We have yet to find anyone in Sunderland who is voting Yes.
Confusion and concern over ballot paper envelopes gaffe
by Kate Bowman
VOTERS have been left worried and confused by the inclusion of a charity gift aid envelope in their ballot papers for next month's referendum for an elected regional assembly.
The envelope, marked World Cancer Research Fund, has been found in a number of ballot packs in Darlington, in place of the envelope needed to return residents' postal votes.
Darlington Borough Council yesterday assured people that their votes would still get to the authority's electoral office, even if posted in the charity envelope marked with a Sunderland address.
Caleb Mohon, from Middleton St George, near Darlington, said he thought the mix-up would prevent some people from voting.
"At first I thought it was an advertising stunt, but quickly realised there was no envelope to return my vote," he said.
"I think the worrying thing is that anyone posting their paper back in the charity envelope will not know if it gets to the right place, or whether their vote will count.
"It is important to us in the North-East to make clear what we want. Your democratic right does not seem important until you realise it does not exist because the vote is invalid."
Royal Mail has posted 1.9m ballot papers to addresses across the region in time for the referendum on November 4.
Votes will be returned to counting offices in each local authority before being collected and announced in Sunderland.
Darlington Borough Council blamed a printing error for charity envelopes ending up in the ballot papers, but were unsure how many packs have been affected.
"Votes posted in these envelopes will still get here and will still count," said a council spokesperson.
"Royal Mail is redirecting them to Darlington's Town Hall because our bar code is visible through the window in the envelope."
People can call the council to request the correct envelope on (01325) 388351.
Meanwhile, a Welsh MP who hails from County Durham is the latest supporter of the proposed assembly to urge the North-East to vote Yes.
Preseli Pembrokeshire MP Jackie Lawrence, who was brought up in the village of Gainford, near Barnard Castle, feels a regional assembly will give local people a real say on local services.
Mrs Lawrence said: "The existence of the assembly in Wales has given a real voice to the people of Wales on how their health, education and other services are delivered.
"Vital decisions in these areas are no longer made in London but by local people with local needs in mind."
Greater London Authority
When the Government published its White Paper on a London Assembly and Mayor, it pledged, ‘the cost of running the GLA is expected to be about £20 million per annum. Most of this will be met by central government from existing resources, but Londoners will contribute a small amount, for example, about 3p per week for those with a Band D council tax bill. Overall, there will be no increase in public expenditure’ (DETR, A Mayor and Assembly for London, CM 3897, March 1998).
Yet in reality, the administrative cost of the London Assembly and Mayor has soared to £60 million with London taxpayers footing the bill, costing triple the rate promised in the White Paper (administrative cost excluding TfL, MPA, LDA and LFEPA, source: GLA, Consolidated Budget 2003-04, February 2003, p.15).
This year’s GLA precept increase is £241 a year in 2004-05 on Band D bills (GLA Press Release, 18 February 2004). By contrast, in 2000-01, the precept for GLA services was £123 on Band D. Thus, the council tax precept has nearly doubled under regional government in London.
The GLA’s City Hall building is costing the taxpayer over £120 million (DTLR Press Release, 16 May 2002 explains City Hall is being paid for via a 25 year lease, with a 130,000 sq. foot net lettable floor area, at £36.50 per sq. foot, with rental increases at 3.5 per cent per year).
The White Paper stated that City Hall would employ ‘about 250 staff’ (CM 3897, March 1998, p.17) – yet every year since its creation, the number of staff has risen – from 280 in 2001 to 678 by 2004 (GLA, Budget and Business Plan 2004-05, April 2004, p.27). There are now too many officials in City Hall to fit in the purpose-built building.
Before it was established, the Government’s White Paper estimated in 1997 that the additional costs of the Assembly would be ‘in the range £15-20 million, in addition to the running costs of the Welsh Office of around £72 million a year’ (Welsh Office, A Voice for Wales, 1997).
Yet the total running costs of the National Assembly for Wales and the Wales Office in 2002-03 were £177 million – an increase of 146 per cent (Richard Commission on the Powers and Electoral Arrangements of the National Assembly for Wales, March 2004, p. 215).
The Welsh Assembly’s new building is costing £55 million (BBC News Online, 24 June, 2003), yet the financial memorandum to Government of Wales Bill stated clearly that the costs to set up a new Assembly building in Cardiff would be just £17 million. This figure was reiterated by then Welsh Secretary, Ron Davies, who said that it would be ‘strictly adhered to’ (Press Association, 13 March 1998).
The Scottish Parliament’s new building yet was originally forecast to cost between £10 million to £40 million: ‘Because of the range of sites under consideration and the variety of funding methods potentially available it is necessary to express the cost as a range of between £10 million and £40 million’ (Scottish Office, Scotland’s Parliament, July 1997, para 10.7). Yet the cost of the new building has soared to £431 million (Audit Scotland, Management of the Holyrood building project, June 2004).
The administration costs of the Scottish Office administration and then as succeeded by the Scottish Executive administration have soared from £149 million in 1997-98, to £194 million in 1999-00, to £242 million by 2005-06 – an increase of £95 million (Sources: Serving Scotland’s Needs, CM 4215, 1999, Scottish Executive, Investing in you: The Annual Report of the Scottish Executive, ch.9 and Scottish Executive, Annual Evaluation Report 2005-06, p.91).
Government Offices for the Regions
The Government Offices for the Regions were originally established to promote light touch, inter-departmental coordination. Yet this aim has been lost, and they have resulted in a significant increase in regional bureaucracy and regional secondary legislation. Even the Government has admitted, ‘among the array of separate regional and sub-regional bodies, the purpose and remit of some of these can be unclear, incomplete and sometimes overlap with others without clear reason’ (Cabinet Office, Reaching Out, February 2000).
The running costs of the Government Offices for the Regions for 2003-04 are now £124 million (Hansard, col. 1646W, 1 April 2004), compared to £86 million in 1997-98 (Hansard, col. 555W, 12 July 2000) – a rise of 44 per cent. The programme expenditure budgets have similarly grown in size, with ever-greater interference in the work of local councils.
Regional Development Agencies
Following their creation in 1999, Regional Development Agencies in England spent £76 million on general administration and £95 million on staffing in 2003-04 (Hansard, col. 247W, 11 May 2004).
COST OF REGIONAL GOVERNMENT – TO COME
Running costs of regional assemblies
Based on the per capita administrative cost of the London Assembly & Mayor, regional assemblies elsewhere in England would cost £360 million a year (Cost of regional assemblies outside London based on per capita cost of the London Assembly & Mayor of £8.41 per person - based on GLA net revenue expenditure in 2003-04, cited in GLA, Consolidated Budget 2003-04, February 2003, p.15).
Even the Government has conceded the cost would be high: ‘the annual running costs would be between £24 million for the smallest region in terms of the electorate and number of members and £33 million for the largest’ (ODPM, Draft Regional Assemblies Bill, July 2004, p.214). Yet given the fact that the London, Scottish and Welsh bodies have wildly exceeded their original government cost estimates, the final bill would invariably be far higher.
Set up costs of regional assemblies
The Government have stated that the introduction of elected regional assemblies would require the abolition of a tier of local government in two-tier areas – admitting ‘there will also be up-front costs of restructuring’ (ODPM, Draft Regional Assemblies Bill, July 2004, p.220).
During the last local government reorganisation, abolishing Humberside County Council (John Prescott’s local council) and restructuring local district councils, cost £53 million in one-off reorganisation administrative costs (Hansard, col. 658W, 18 November 1998). Using Humberside as a benchmark figure, abolishing the remaining 34 county councils in England could cost up to £1.8 billion in 1999 figures – equivalent to over £2 billion today.
In addition, academic research from Cambridge University has estimated that imposing unitary local government would cost £110 in transition costs per resident, with ‘no reasonable prospect that there would in fact be on-going savings except with unitary counties’. The estimated costs of recognising local government for all 34 counties in England would be £1.0 billion if replaced with unitary counties, £1.9 billion if there were two unitaries per county, £2.6 billion if three unitaries per county, and £3.5 billion if there were five unitaries per county (Michael Chisholm, Cambridge University in ‘Reorganizing Two-Tier Local Government for Regional Assemblies’, Public Money and Management, April 2004).
In addition, it is likely that a regional assembly will want to build itself a grand and expensive ‘palace for politicians’ like the Welsh Assembly, London Assembly and Scottish Parliament.
Funded by a regional council tax
Ultimately, taxpayers would foot the bill for the regional assembly, via the levying of its regional council tax – as in London.
The Government has explained, ‘the simplest means for an elected assembly to raise money from people within its region is a precept on the council tax. This is the means by which the Greater London Authority can raise additional funds and by which various other public bodies, such as county councils and police authorities, are partly funded. An assembly will set the level of the precept, but the money will be collected by councils in the region as part of the existing arrangements for collecting council tax… An elected assembly will also be allowed to set a higher precept within the region to fund additional spending if it considered this desirable. Regional assemblies will be accountable to their tax-payers and voters for the precept levels that they set and, as with council tax levels in local government, we would be reluctant to intervene in these decisions by placing a limit on an assembly’s precept’
(DTLR, Your Region, Your Choice, Cm 5511, May 2002, p.45-6).
Sunday, October 24, 2004
Mr. Mallon led off with the Tory NESNO Campaign stuff and then into the lying staff at the NESNO UKIP Preston call centre, and finished off with the statement that an assembly could cut crime with zero tolerance policing.
Graham Robb did well in the onslaught by staying composed and looking like the victim of a crime BUT where was the box of Milk Tray?
What was very clear was that there was nothing from Mallon other than rhetoric and the attack on the messenger.
Nationally, Roger Knapman (UKIP Leader) was head to heead against Prescott after the Tories declined the invitation. Bizarre? I would have thought that it was an ideal opportunity for the Conservatives to use the national platform to beat up Prescott, but it was not to be, and the debate was neither something or nothing.
Not long to go....
Saturday, October 23, 2004
I am sure Gillian Swanson's excellent letter is the first of many pulling together the crass incompetence, inadequacy and ineptitude of the Electoral Commission.
John Elliott, Chairman of NESNO has agreed to co-operate fully after the result on 5th November in what should be avery uncomfortable time for Mr. Younger and his fellow Commissioners.
Judicial Review or disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act...whichever avenue is pursued, the net is closing.
Nice to see Dominic Cummings of New Frontiers descending on the North East every week-end to desperately hold NESNO's campaign together.
Tyne & Wear,
22 October, 2004
Mr Sam Younger,
The Electoral Commission,
Great Peter Street,
Dear Mr Younger,
Conduct of the Electoral Commission in Relation to Referendum on Regional Assembly
Thank you for the reply dated 18 October to my letter of 29 September. I see that this has been written on your behalf by your Public Information Officer, Lisa Howse, and reproduces word-for-word most of the text of a previous letter, dated 28 September, written to me on your behalf by Doug Stewart of the Referendum Team.
Once more you have consumed several pages of good-quality, expensive writing paper while managing to avoid the specific issues I raised.
I did not ask what guidelines you were required to follow in making your decision, or for laboured interpretations of the perfectly clear English in which they were framed. I asked you to make the evidence upon which you based your decision public.
To be precise, I want to know what it was about NESNO’s application that convinced you that they, and not the well-established campaign led by Neil Herron, more adequately represented the outcome which those against an assembly sought. I know your job was to assess the extent to which it appeared that each applicant represented the full range of No arguments. What I want you to tell me are your reasons for concluding that a campaign which was hastily put together two months before you made your decision fulfilled that requirement better than one which had been representing grass-roots feeling in this part of the country for some two years.
I am sure that very good evidence led you to support NESNO’s appointment. The problem is that nobody bar yourselves has seen that evidence. Please tell us ordinary voters in the north-east of England exactly what, for you, tipped the scales in NESNO’s favour. You must understand that unless you and your fellow commissioners are completely frank with us, nasty suspicions of government manipulation or, at the very least, a snobbish contempt for ordinary, non-establishment people, must linger on.
Please do not ask one of your underlings to reply to this letter. As you yourself said, in a letter to the Sunday Telegraph, the Commission, and the Commission alone, was responsible for making the decision, and only the five of you are privy to the evidence on which it was based. Nobody else can be of assistance - neither Mr Stewart, nor Ms Howse, nor any other member of your staff. To convince us that there was no outside interference involved in your decision, therefore, you and your fellow commissioners must share your rationale with us. If it is as persuasive as you yourselves seem to believe, why hesitate? Put the evidence up on your website, or in our regional newspapers, so that we too may be persuaded by it.
No doubt you remember how your maths teacher at school was never satisfied if you just wrote down the answer to a problem. You were expected to show, step by step, how you arrived at that result. Likewise, it simply isn’t good enough to say "In the view of Commissioners, North East Says No Ltd represented to the greatest extent those campaigning for a ‘no’ outcome". We want to know the steps by which you reached this conclusion. Otherwise, we may suspect that you cheated, somewhere along the line.It seems to many of us in the north-east of England that we are being exceptionally ill-served by you and your fellow commissioners.
You have palmed us off with a postal ballot deemed unfit for use in any other part of the country. Even if no fraud took place up here at the time of the European elections, isn’t it likely that even we thick Geordies may have learned a thing or two about how to manipulate a postal vote from well-publicised incidents in Yorkshire and Lancashire? Perhaps the only reason that you failed to detect similar occurrences in the north-east was that we are not actually quite as thick as you think we are, and managed to cover our traces more successfully …
At any rate, your decision to impose upon us, and us alone, a system open to all kinds of abuse is indefensible. You have let us down badly and, whatever the outcome of this referendum, it will be difficult for anyone to believe that there has been no hanky-panky. Already Neil Herron has received no fewer that four voting packs at the house of which he is the sole occupant. A good thing that he, at least, is honest!
It is ridiculous to tell the public that they are responsible for handing in supernumerary voting packs. Most people, no doubt, will do the right thing; but the opportunities for fraud are abundant, and there is no way of knowing how many have succumbed to temptation.
Another failure on your part is your complete refusal to stop government ministers and other public figures prancing around our towns in their official capacity, touting for an assembly, in what were meant to be 28 days of purdah. The rules have been blatantly flouted, most notably by Peter Hain, John Prescott, Gordon Brown, and Rhodri Morgan. Did these people really pay all their expenses out of their own pockets, as private individuals, when they travelled north to influence the vote? Have they cost the public purse nothing in terms of security and police protection during these "unofficial" visits? The media, at any rate, make no bones about referring to their public roles. Where were you, when this abuse was taking place? Why didn’t you intervene?
It’s no excuse to say that the government will have taken legal advice, and must be in the right. Your job is not to kow-tow to the powerful, but to ensure fair play for those the powerful might just possibly wish to exploit. This you have miserably and consistently refused to do.
The drive for regional government is a non-issue pushed to the top of the agenda by professional politicians in the face of widespread public indifference. We should at least be guaranteed fair play in this referendum imposed upon us from above.
Why weren’t you there, fighting on our behalf, insisting on a private ballot, and sending arrogant politicians who disregard the rules back to Westminster with their tails between their legs? Why did you play into John Prescott’s hands and encourage a vote along party-political lines by awarding funding to the campaign that had official Conservative backing? Why didn’t you seek a fair outcome to the referendum by demanding that there should be a two-thirds majority of the total electorate in favour of an assembly before any drastic constitutional changes were made?
You have let us down again, and again, and again.
Please do not send me a third copy of your guidelines. I have no difficulty with them, only with the way in which you choose to apply them.
I look forward to receiving answers to all the points raised in this letter (in particular, why you recommended a postal ballot for the north-east alone, and why you did not stop government ministers’ blatant abuse of the purdah period), and to your frank and open presentation of the evidence on which you based your decision to fund NESNO as the official No Campaign.
Cc Members of the Electoral Commission, North-east media, warmwell.com, etc.
The Electoral Commission's response to the first letter is below...
Answer 2 from Electoral Commission, received 22 October, 2004
Dear Ms Swanson,
Thank you for your letter of the 29th September 2004 regarding the designation of permitted participants at the regional and local government referendum to be held on 4 November 2004. The Chairman has asked me to respond on his behalf.
Part VII of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (PPERA) regulates the activities of individuals and organisations that campaign during referendums including those held under the Regional assemblies (Preparations) Act 2003. Under PPERA, the Commission may designate one permitted participant per outcome as the lead campaign organisation in a referendum.
Section 109 of PPERA requires the Commission to decide whether an applicant adequately represents those campaigning for an outcome to the regional referendum. PPERA states that an application must:
‘show that the applicant adequately represents those campaigning for the outcome at the referendum in relation to which the applicant seeks to be designated’. (PPERA s. 109(2)(a))
If only one organisation applies for designation on one side (and the Commission is able to designate on the other side), the Commission must designate that organisation unless:
‘they are not satisfied that the applicant adequately represents those campaigning for that outcome ...’ (PPERA s. 109 (4)(a)).
If more than one organisation applies on one side, and the Commission is not prevented from making any designation (as above), the Commission must appoint whichever applicant:
‘appears to them to represent to the greatest extent those campaigning for that outcome, unless they are not satisfied that any of the applicants adequately represents those campaigning for that outcome.’ (PPERA s. 109 (5)(a))
The Commission has produced explanatory guidelines which are available from the Commission’s website. However, I have summarised the approach outlined in the guidelines below.
The Commission takes "those campaigning" for an outcome to include not only permitted participants, but also other organisations, and significant groups within such organisations. The Commission will take into account the extent to which these organisations themselves represent others.
As a general guide, the Commission takes "represent" to mean:
that a range of those campaigning for an outcome support the application (being either closely associated with the application organisationally, or not so associated, but nevertheless expressing support);
that the applicant’s intended campaign messages embrace a range of reasons for supporting the outcome; and
that the applicant has in place organisational structure and planning to allow it and those it represents effectively to deliver its campaign messages to the voters.
The Commission must decide whether it appears that an application adequately represents those campaigning for the outcome the applicant supports. For this purpose, the Commission will need to assess the extent to which it appears that an applicant represents those campaigning for that outcome. As part of the assessment, the Commission will take into account the range of those campaigning who support the application and the range of reasons for seeking the outcome that is embraced by the applicant’s intended campaign messages.
"To the greatest extent"
If it appears to the commission that more than one applicant adequately represents those campaigning for the outcome it seeks, the Commission will designate (assuming it is also able to designate an organisation on the other side) the organisation that appears to the Commission to represent to the greatest extent those campaigning for that outcome. For this purpose too, the Commission will further consider the range of an applicant’s supporters, and the range of reasons for supporting the outcome that is embraced by the applicant’s campaign messages.
In the view of Commissioners, North East Says No Ltd represented to the greatest extent those campaigning for a ‘no’ outcome. This decision was made solely by Commissioners on 13 September on the basis of the process described in the designation explanatory notes. There was no involvement by Government or any body associated with government in their decision.
Public Information Officer
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