Today Graham Booth MEP, surely one of the longest-running campaigners against the unelected, EU-subordinated Regional Assemblies, will speak to my own particular Assembly (the SouthWest) for what will hopefully be the final time. The UKIP MEP for the Southwest has been the ‘thorn on their inside’ for years and has been subject to heckling and censorship when attempting to make speeches during their meetings. But to day he must feel vindicated because it seems that Gordon Brown has bowed to the intense pressure from campaigners such as UKIP, Neil Herron and many others and has pushed over the first of the Regional Assembly dominoes.
For the uninitiated, the Regional Assemblies are the ultimate quango. They consist of individual local councillors from the authorities under its jurisdiction and ‘stakeholders’ – with the proportions carefully selected to make sure that the completely unelected stakeholders have the majority. These Assemblies are in control of huge swathes of affairs which were once in the purview of local or county councils – my own local area has had the beautiful site of St Catherine’s Hill under threat of deforestation for some time with the decision resting not with our elected representatives but with the SWRA in Exeter – ‘the Capital of the South West’ as signs on the motorway leading up to it inform us! No delusions of grandeur from the SWRA members who ordered the signs put up there then…
However the SWRA has been subject to enormous pressure from local campaigners from UKIP and the Freedom Association for some time, who demonstrate in scores outside each meeting. That pressure stepped up even further when it emerged that the SWRA had hired staff on permanent contracts and racked up pensions liabilities of a million pounds which it was not legally entitled to do. That may be why Brown has chosen this particular domino to push over first.
Annabelle Fuller from UKIP’s Press Office had this to say when I spoke to her this morning:
"We are absolutely delighted and we hope that Gordon Brown will now close the rest of these unelected Regional Assemblies and give full power back to the people’s elected local representatives. We also hope he will get rid of the Regional Ministers as well!"
Its not all good news of course. The Regional Development Agencies will remain and may even be strengthened, but the Government claims they will now be more accountable to Local Authorities. We shall see.
But let’s not dampen the mood. Early in the day or not, please raise a glass to the good men and women who have spent huge time and effort on gaining this significant victory over the bureaucrats who want to grow fat off the body politic at the EU’s behest. Oh, and wish you could be there this morning to hear Graham Booth’s victory speech to the red-faced members of the SWRA as they contemplate a future with much smaller expense accounts in it…