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Poor Old Prescott, Trying to Do His Best

April 2004
John Prescott was in Kendal last week for a public meeting and discussion on regional devolution. This caused a crowd of demonstrators to gather to protest about, what else but bloody foxhunting? At first Prescott quite reasonably refused to talk to them, feeling no doubt as I would have done, that he was here to discuss a serious subject with far-reaching implications, and all these thick-headed farmers want to do is safeguard the livelihood of their dogs. Eventually he did talk to the leader of the bunch, he reiterated the government’s position and that he was here to talk about regional devolution; one or two of the protestors threw eggs at his Jag and he went back to London feeling, no doubt, somewhat pissed off with it all.
His visit generated a string of letters to the local newspaper about regional devolution. Did you know, for the letter writers are fully informed in this, that regional devolution is a plot by the EU to remove all national power and decision making to Brussels? It says so, they confidently tell us, in EU documents. It says that forming smaller and more autonomously administered regions throughout Europe will lead to a breaking down of regional inequalities and closer integration to the European economic ideal. Some the peripheral areas within the EU boundaries are notably poor and have been left behind, for example Southern Italy, Southern Spain and – but of course – North West England, parts of which fall into the top-level EU assistance categories for economic regeneration aid. It’s this the people who write to the local paper see as a plot. Our farmers are going to be put out of business by all this imported meat that we’ll have no power to stop, see. And the government is doing nothing about it. Letting it happen. The moment we kick this lot out and get a government like the French have, that supports its farmers, we’ll . . . er wait a minute
Britain has serious overproduction of beef and sheep meat and the prices are greatly depressed partly as a result, if there are any imports then it won’t be because of lack of government support, it must be due to something else – plop, a great mountain of pig dung has just fallen on my head from the county’s letter writers. Not allowed to say things like that.
As for the French, it would seem from a short-sighted position that the French government fights hard on behalf of its farmers and for their subsidies to be upheld, in effect for the French farmers’ livelihood to be maintained by ongoing German war reparations. This cannot continue though. Chirac is just hoping that he can stay out of gaol to the end of his days through a well-practised policy of political manoeuvring, and then the inevitable problems that are being stored up can be dealt with by his successors.
Second only to dentist and vet, peering into peoples’ gobs or up dogs’ backsides, could there be a worse job than politician? Though I have to admire Tony Blair. Twice this week I’ve heard things that made me think what a shrewd chap he must be, a kind of will-go-far on the school report. The first concerns the book that has just come out in the States about Bush and the Iraq war. It seems that when it looked at one point like national unease about Britain’s role in Iraq might bring down the British government, so leaving Bush with no allies anywhere, Bush suggested to Blair that British troops might drop back to performing a solely peacekeeping role and not a combat role, and so keep Blair in popular power. Blair refused the offer and said no, we’ll go in full and I’ll face the consequences at home, which greatly impressed Bush, apparently, but which was far from reckless, for had British troops gone solely to peacekeep for the Americans, they’d have become embroiled in the mess that the Americans were sure to make for themselves, whereas by taking control of a small and relatively compliant part of Iraq, the Brits stand at least some chance of coming up smelling of roses. Very clever.
The other clever move has been the so-called U-turn on the referendum on the EU constitution. This is a total sham because if the country votes no, all that happens is that the terms of the constitution go back for further debate. It’s highly unlikely that the question on the referendum will be whether the EU should have a constitution at all, since that’s not something that a member state can actually have any say over. So a referendum would be about something that is either a ratification, or a rethink, that’s all it could p;ossibly be. But what announcing one does do is to force the Tories, and some of the press, to debate the issue rather than harping on about let the people decide, and this has been something the Tories desperately want to avoid as it is the thing above all else that’s likely to expose internal divisions. And by saying first of all that a referendum is unnecessary and than acquiescing to one, Blair can say, when everyone says what a sham it is, that it wasn’t him that thought it was a sensible idea in the first place. Very clever. And impressive. And I’m so glad I’m not a politician.
As to whether regional devolution or referendums on EU treaties are a good or bad thing, one welcome spin-off is that they generate lots of letters to the local paper to make it temporarily readable, for the people who write these letters tend to be all over the place in their thinking and so make a very amusing read.
For example last week there was a man who began quite well by pointing out that there are crises in Iraq and momentous changes in the political structure of Europe at the moment, and all half the MPs in the house of commons seem to be bothered about is a man on a horse chasing a fox. This is a view I have some sympathy with. However, the writer then went on to say that of those MPs who are pressing for a ban on foxhunting, only one represents a Cumbrian constituency, and if we have a regional assembly for the North West then all the decisions will be taken away from Cumbria and be centred in Liverpool in Manchester, and Cumbria’s say on foxhunting will no longer be heard. And you read this and think, hang on a minute, he was there, and now he’s here, wherever did he fly to in between?


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