The politics of devolution
The politics of devolution

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The politics of devolution

6.4 Summary of Section 6

  • The Labour government introduced a Greater London Authority (Referendum) Bill in 1997. The referendum took place in 1998. A Mayor and Assembly for London were first elected in 2000.The eight English regions have a tripartite structure with responsibilities and powers divided in each region between the Government Office for the region (GO), the Regional Development Agency (RDA) and the Regional Chamber (most of which have now renamed themselves as Regional Assemblies).
  • Devolution has resulted in the strengthening of regional identities where they previously existed but it has also contributed to the generation of ‘new’ regional identities where they did not previously exist.

Activity

  • Are you impressed by the arguments for further elected regional assemblies in England?

  • From what you have read, how would you support your answer?

Answer

I am not wholly convinced by the arguments for a further set of regional assemblies in England. It seems logical in democratic terms to have a more ‘symmetrical’ devolution of power rolled out to the whole of the British Isles. But there is a question mark over whether the English regions really want them, perhaps because their sense of identity (and grievance over a ‘democratic deficit’) is simply not as strong as in the nations of Wales and Scotland. I think that the demand for regional assemblies in England, like that for the Scottish and Welsh assemblies, was provoked partly by the increased centralisation of the Conservative governments of Margaret Thatcher and John Major (1979-1997). The Labour governments of Tony Blair responded to these aspirations, as explained above, but their plans for elected regional assemblies have received a severe blow. On November 4th 2004, a referendum in the North-East of England, where demand had been most vocal, voted overwhelmingly against a regional assembly. The vote was 78% against and 22% for, on a turn-out of 47.8%, and the project seems to have stalled. Interestingly, what the assemblies in Scotland and Wales have provoked is some discussion of a separate Parliament for England, presumably in a federal system where only a handful of British matters such as foreign policy would be left to Westminster.

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