Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Bones Commission: goodbye Devon & Cornwall, hello South West?

Before I start, I should note the wise words of a Party insider, who has reminded me that the Bones Commission report is only an advisory one, and far from binding on anyone.

Deep in the executive summary is a suggestion that the Party's regions in England be realigned with the European regions used for elections to Brussels. As a bureaucrat, believing in neat organisational pyramids, I can see the attractions of such a move. Indeed, one of the impacts of the move to regional lists was the creation of South Central and East of England regions from the former Hants & Wight, Chilterns and Eastern regions.

However, there is an irony in using that as a reasoning, in that there are many who believe that we've never taken European elections seriously, have under-resourced them and then underperformed accordingly.

As a Londoner, such a proposal has little impact on our effective city state. However, it will impact on four regions with varying circumstances. Devon & Cornwall, Western Counties and South Central are, in relative terms, quite successful, with a sizeable Parliamentary presence, and a record of success in local government. South East has a comparatively strong funding stream, yet has just one MP and is generally an area where we are the lead opposition but no more than that.

The simplistic argument against merging Devon & Cornwall with Western Counties, and South Central with South East is one of geography. I am sympathetic but would note that Watford to Norwich (East of England) and Chester to Workington (North West) are hardly a breeze either, yet little fuss is made in either instance.

I would argue, however, that the question of purpose and effectiveness is more salient. We clearly need regional parties that have sufficient scale to be effective in terms of resource use, but we also need to provide an effective level of internal governance that fills the gap between the English Party and local parties. Too big a region risks alienation of the fringes but, more importantly, makes it difficult for regional officers to fulfil their monitoring and enabling roles that are so clearly needed.

Size is not everything in terms of funding either. As important is the ability to bring that funding to bear effectively. Indeed, some smaller regions, such as Devon & Cornwall, are probably more successful at raising funds per head of membership than some of our larger ones - having MPs and running councils evidently helps.

So, on the whole, I'd probably be against the suggestion of the Bones Commission unless a strong case were to be made. And when we see the whole report, maybe we'll see that argument...

1 comment:

MatGB said...

I think, overall, I'd welcome the idea contingent on the party also campaigning to get the Govt to also sort out the bloody stupid Treasury Region set up in the 1950s and still used.

I still want some sort of English regionalism/provincialism, but there's absolutely no way it would be voted for i it was for the "South West" including Wiltshire and Cornwall in the same area. The SW is one of the biggest both geographically and by population, and includes the plainsland of Wiltshire, the trading port of Bristol and the hills and coasts of D&C.

Having lived all over the area, completely different needs and diverse identities, Gloucestershire is closer to the Midlands in most requirements.

But, given I don't have much contact with regions (until recently), I now live in Yorks and Humber, and just lived in London. It makes sense to organise the party based on Govt organisational boundaries, especially ones we fight elections for.

The SW is too big for one region, yes, but that's the fault of the Govt sticking to daft boundaries, not us. So organise based on their daft boundaries for efficiency, but campaign to change them at the same time?

And I really dread getting home and having time to try to read the whole thing...