Land News

Prescott oversees Britain's silent metamorphosis

The Telegraph , 15th August, 2004

One of the best kept secrets of British politics is the extraordinary power wielded by Mr John Prescott, through his "Office of the Deputy Prime Minister" (ODPM). When Mr Blair trots off on his August round of freebies, it is customary to treat the man he leaves minding the store as something of a joke. What gets overlooked is the extent to which Mr Prescott is transforming how Britain is governed, mainly by arbitrary fiat.

A symbolic instance last week was Mr Prescott's issuing of his Policy Planning Statement (PPS) 22, the edict giving central government the power to override the wishes of local councils in ramming through proposals to cover hundreds of square miles of countryside in wind turbines. The Government can only hope to meet its EU-agreed target of generating 20 per cent of our energy from "renewable" sources by 2020 by building some 20,000 more turbines.

This can only happen, as Mr Prescott realises, by ditching our existing planning rules and allowing the Government to brush aside the views of local communities.

Mr Prescott is using similar methods to push through his plans to see 1,400,000 new homes built in the south-east of England over the next 20 years. This is equivalent to nearly 30 new cities the size of Oxford or Cambridge.

Again Mr Prescott can only get his way by scrapping existing planning rules wholesale, notably those designed to protect the green belt. This in turn relates to the way that Mr Prescott is railroading through the greatest revolution in local government that Britain has ever seen. Its centrepiece is his plan to divide the UK under 12 regional governments, as part of the creation of a "Europe of the regions".

He has already given four regions their governments: Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London. He hopes to embark on the final stages of the process in November, when the first referendum on creating similar governments for the eight remaining English "Euro regions" is held in the North East.

Prescott's further plan to create "sub-regions", which willoverride much of the existing county and borough council structure, is still largely under wraps. The starting point is four "sub-regional" bodies for London. It is a condition of the new regional governments that county councils be abolished, to be replaced by "unitary authorities". Contrary to their name, these will be subordinate to two tiers of regional government above them.

The masterstroke in the engineering of Mr Prescott's revolution has been to make sure that he never explains clearly what he is up to. His hope has been that, by setting about it piecemeal, no one will cotton on to his grand plan. His error, however, may have been to include "the people" in the equation, by allowing referendums on his regional governments. Until now, by a combination of stealth and chutzpah, he has got his way. But if he loses that referendum in the North-East, which looks possible, his bluff will at last be called, That is why November's vote should be viewed not just as a local issue but as an event of national significance.

More news >

RSS Feed - Really Simple Syndication
What is RSS?

Sponsored Links