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FRONT LINE FIRST - NO REASON FOR REGIONS

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John Prescott omitted the best argument for regional government when he presented the government's white paper to t...
John Prescott omitted the best argument for regional government when he presented the government's white paper to the House of Commons - the geo-political case.

Let me explain what I mean by this suspiciously continental-sounding expression. At present, Scotland and Wales enjoy their own Parliament and Assembly respectively. England is governed through the 'imperial' Parliament in London. Scottish and Welsh MPs, relieved of a large share of the representation at home, nonetheless have their full say on English issues.

At the moment, this does not matter - Labour's majority is solid in all the constituent countries of the UK. But let us imagine a situation where a Labour government in London rules England, which itself has a Conservative majority by virtue of its Scottish and Welsh MPs.

'So what's the big deal?' comes one reply? Didn't the Tories rule Scotland and Wales in exactly analogous circumstances. Well, no actually, because that was before devolution.

Devolution has marginalised the importance of UK-wide elections for Scotland and Wales. But they are still everything for England. So the question of how England is governed will eventually become inescapable.

That is where regional devolution has its role to play. I believe that, at least, a semi-federal system is the only one capable of delivering peaceful co-existence between the nations of Britain.

An English Parliament created openly, or by stealth through excluding all but English MPs for certain votes, would, I fear, create such disequilibrium in the UK's balance of power, propelling us towards the break-up of the union.

But Mr Prescott didn't say that. It touches too many raw nerves. He may not even believe it, but it is difficult to think he believes the reasons he did put forward - those related to economic performance

and accountability.

The Regional Development Agencies were introduced to reduce regional disparities in economic performance. In fact, those disparities have increased.

How the creation of a new political structure will make a difference is beyond me - especially when the government scrupulously failed to mention any revision of the public funding directed to the regions.

Is the north east really to be launched into competition with the Scots with the present disparity both in per-capita GDP and public spending per head?

And as for accountability, it is difficult to conceive a greater parody of democracy (at least this side of the next House of Lords reform) than the proposed regional assemblies.

Is it seriously suggested that representative democracy is served by getting rid of the tier of government closest to the people and instituting a superior level based on assembly members representing either a quarter of a million voters or, if they are elected on the list, none at all?

Perhaps we will begin to see in England that great French phenomenon the cumul des mandates - the accumulation of mandates in a few hands. Will the leaders of the unitary councilswhich will be the prescribed form of sub-regional government, or the directly-elected mayors fancy their role as regional members?

I can hear them now saying how indispensable it is that the 'voice' of the city or the 'interests' of the rural areas should be heard.

The regional establishment will certainly be fearful that the public's taste for mavericks, evident in the recent mayoral elections, should be on further display at the regional level.

If Hartlepool BC can elect a monkey, just imagine what the entire region could come up with. If I ran the party organisations, I would be beating a

path to Kevin Keegan's door.

David Curry (Con)

MP for Skipton and Ripon

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