Life is changeable, but you can trust the Labour Party to run true to form. It has an enduring ability to come up with what it thinks is a bright and progressive idea, and everyone else thinks is a pretty dim and reactionary one. Like its new wheeze, part of its 2015 election proposals, of “regionalism”.
Labour is proposing going back to regional ministers – ministers with particular responsibility for major cities – and a strategy designed allegedly to alleviate regional inequalities. It’s a return to the Labour position before the 2010 general election, which you don’t have to be a historian to know that it failed to win. It is wrapped up in devolution to the so-called English regions and to major cities.
The idea is unusual among Labour proposals in that it runs counter to Conservative policy. The Conservatives and their Coalition buddies opted for the abolition of regional development agencies and planning bodies, which they scrapped after 2010. But that doesn’t make Labour’s plan any better. Much is made of addressing regional strategies and resolving regional inequalities. All achieved through building an unnecessary and additional layer of government on top of existing local structures.
We have been here before. In the mid-2000s the strategy to create regional assemblies such as in the North East was overwhelming rejected by mainly Labour voters. The North East still has a long list of self-proclaimed wannabe “Prime Ministers of the North East”.
Apart from London, most Labour strongholds dumped the Blair imposition of city mayors at the first opportunity. London has three borough equivalents of Boris Johnson. Two are independent Labour supporters, both “Sirs”; the other is fighting allegations of links to Islamist and sectarian politics.
The election of regional ministers and mayors is part of a European Union strategy and is aimed at the further disintegration of England and the wider British constituents of Wales and Scotland.
Regionalism is embedded in the European “project”, with a large and expensive Committee of the Regions housed in a suitably grandiose building in Brussels. It scrutinises all EU proposals for regional correctness, and tut-tuts about any promotion of nations.
Under the guise of addressing regional unemployment, poverty, poor housing, poor investment and destruction of traditional industries, the strategy is about breaking up a broken industrial nation even further.
Instead of regionalisation and fragmentation what is needed is a national industrial plan for rebuilding and redeveloping Britain’s industrial heartlands. It would be a strategy of unity rather than fragmentation; integration rather than separation; collectivity rather than competition.
What is not needed is a further layer of state bureaucracy, phoney partnerships, privatisation and cherry picking by the crooks in the private sector. Instead we need a national strategy of renewal for local democracy and local government.
Attempts by successive governments to disintegrate over 1,000 years of local government and local tradition, and real control by local people, have produced more alienation, disenfranchisement, and disengagement from local government politics. A proper rejuvenation of local government would not apply another layer of bureaucrats but return to adequate funding and the proper application of the values of public service answerable to the people. ■