Martin Vander Weyer Martin Vander Weyer

Regional forecast

Martin Vander Weyer says that Labour is introducing regional government by stealth

If John Prescott needed an easy-to-read précis of the Electoral Commission’s findings on all-postal ballots, published last week, a brave civil servant could have given it to him in four words on a Post-it note: ‘Whoops, not enough fraud.’

The Commission was expected to report widespread hanky-panky in June’s pilot all-postal Euro-elections — especially among Labour activists in the West Yorkshire Asian community, who were alleged to have saved their neighbours the bother of walking to the post-box by collecting their voting papers, helpfully completing them, and delivering them in bundles. Prescott and his ministerial sidekick Nick Raynsford used this rumour as the excuse for postponing all-postal referenda on regional assemblies for the north-west of England and ‘Yorkshire and the Humber’, but decided a poll should go ahead in November in the north-east, where no significant irregularities had been suspected in June.

In fact, the Commission concluded that all-postal ballots are generally a bad idea, but found much less abuse than the rumours had suggested, resulting in a ‘low’ number of prosecutions in Yorkshire and the Humber and no more in the north-west than would have been expected in a conventional election. Nevertheless, since it was the fraud stories that were used to justify the postponements, those of us who like living in Yorkshire might be inclined to raise a glass of local bitter to our Bradford brethren for their vote-gathering initiatives, real or imagined, and on however small a scale. Inadvertently, they seem to have saved us from a wholly unwelcome local government upheaval, in which our counties and districts would be rehashed into ‘unitary authorities’ subordinate to a new regional centre of power.

But only for the time being. Regionalism is a many-headed beast, impossible to kill.

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