Commentary on the latest twist in the Oxfordshire reorganisation saga
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The long-running row over reorganisation in Oxfordshire took a fresh twist today as two of the county’s districts offered to throw themselves on their swords in order to facilitate the creation of a single unitary.
What has so often been seen as a saga defined by two-tiers of government going head-to-head in a bitter struggle to a messy end, it now has a new intriguing dimension to it as the pro-unitary districts of Vale of White Horse and South Oxfordshire prepare to front up to a defiant Oxford City Council in a battle that looks likely to see more blood-letting before peace breaks out.
Just a few months ago it appeared a ceasefire was holding as the six council leaders entered into talks over a devolution bid based on a combined authority headed by an elected mayor.
A previous meeting with Department of Communities & Local Government officials led to the realisation among councils that the government would only entertain proposals with consensus and had no appetite for investing time and effort in brokering peace.
Conciliatory tones were struck by leaders, a collective breath was taken, and all took their seats at the table to find common ground.
It is not clear what prompted the county to bring the relative calm to an end by bringing the single county-wide unitary proposal back to life last month.
Perhaps the county council was encouraged by communities secretary Sajid Javid’s willingness to review competing reorganisation bids. Or the fact a deal was finally struck to secure cross-party support among the three largest political groups on the county council.
While the dynamics of the saga have changed significantly, hostilities have well and truly resumed.
Oxford Labour leader Bob Price’s forthright condemnation of today’s development shows battle lines are being redrawn and consensus is as far off as ever.
Between May 1644 and June 1646 the city of Oxford was under siege as part of the English Civil War.
The city is already being attacked from the south. If Cherwell and West Oxfordshire DCs join the battle from the north, the city will be surrounded.
In the war the city eventually fell to its attackers. Could history repeat itself again even when the city is such a powerful player in the context of the county?