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The Regional Democracy Think Tank for West Yorkshire

"It is about checks and balances"

Book CoverWhen we launched our collaborative book of hopeful ideas for Regional Democracy from West Yorkshire, we wanted to promote debate. If you haven't yet downloaded your free PDF, you can do so here.

Thank you to John Sour for providing the thoughtful response below. What do you think? Do you agree with John?

“What Kind of Region Do We Want To Live In?” certainly gives me a better idea of where We Share The Same Skies” is coming from and broadly speaking we share the same aim of achieving regional democracy. Clearly you are coming at the issue from a particular stance, some of which I share and some of which I have some doubts about.

It is a little bit difficult to know where to begin from feeling amused that you use Paulo Freire whose books “Cultural Action for Freedom” and “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” have been on my shelves for 40 years (approx.) to wanting to argue with some of your contributors that either the issues they raise are per se nothing to do with regionalism or that within existing powers something might already be done about them.

So, let’s look at differences – basically, as you will be aware, inequalities in the UK extend beyond regions so e.g. the outcomes of racial inequality spread across the UK as a whole. Arguing that these can be tackled best through regional democracy or what specific role could be played by a regional government is debateable. Either way and this is absent throughout your text is any discussion of the relationship between central government and regional government.

In the same vein, your view of power following upwards rubs against the grain of most regional government systems I know anything about, where important powers are always reserved for the centre. Here is something I would disagree with you about since I believe that while regional democracy is good in itself, I am aware within the broader scale of things it can be either “progressive” in reducing inequality or “reactionary” in increasing it. So, for this reason I am both a centralist and a regionalist - it is about checks and balances.

Personally on the issue of London I think there is some tension between sentences one and two in para 4 on page 3 (yes I have read it in detail) – although you are right that what we are up against is a combination of history, power and geography, I think to avoid misinterpretation you should use “London”. I could imagine in different circumstances what is essentially a concentration of power in another context might be “Manchester” or “Birmingham”, unless you are following some kind of English origin myth relating to London and the Romans. You could also imagine taking the political centre away from the economic centre as some countries have done.

To take you on a different journey I would begin with constitutional reform which crosses over some of your arguments with mine – reading Vernon Bogdanor’s recent book “Beyond Brexit”, he argues that in many instances the lack of a written constitution lays the country open to a variety of challenges not least in the uneven devolution which has accrued to the nations of the UK leaving a system of governance which is wildly at odds with any other modern nation state. Obviously, you can easily add other elements to this mismatch, such as an unelected second chamber, PR and even the monarchy. He believes that as a country we have reached a crunch point, although whether anything will actually change is an open question.

I know a top down imposition of regional reform does not match your broader democratic agenda, over which again I have some sympathy for but also some reservations, however in terms of government reorganisations of the past I have to say this is how it has tended to have been done if we look back to New Labour’s failed efforts or the 1974 re-organisations. Sadly as I think I am quite a lot of years older than you I am looking for short terms only at present.

John Sour lives in Leeds.

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