John Prescott genuinely believes in devolved regional government. Now, because the punters in the north-east of England voted No to a regional assembly, some are demanding his head. How stupid can you get?
I thought the Deputy Prime Minister's plans were badly thought out and reflected fears of an English backlash against the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament, rather than any real clamour for regional government. Most people probably weren't at all surprised at the result, but why should Prescott take all the blame? He is one of the few people in Tony Blair's cabinet who has the power and the bottle to come up with a fresh idea and then try to sell it to the voters. Virtually everyone else relies on focus
groups and does as the Great Leader says.
The PM has little time for Prescott's plan. He sees it as his deputy's train set, which Prezza can play around with while he Blair gets on with big things, such as wars.
When it is pointed out that the vote for the Welsh Assembly was even worse first time out, some commentators just scoff. But it's true. The timing of the vote in the north-east, with the government so unpopular, hardly helped the cause. If the vote had taken place just after the 1997 election, it would have been a landslide.
I agree that the proposed assembly would not have had enough power, and was thus thought to be a waste of money. The same mistake was almost made in Scotland, where some argued against the Scots having the right to raise or cut income tax. The power hasn't been used, but the pressure is still on for the Scottish Parliament to have complete fiscal autonomy. It is only an elected body which can take decisions which affect people's pockets that really matters.