As the Westminster parties concentrate on trivialities and box themselves into a converging programme of cuts and austerity by engaging in a competition to see who can raise the least in taxes, the more interesting stuff is happening on the fringes. In this final blog in the series on minority parties standing in the forthcoming election we discover a new phenomenon – English regionalism, hitherto thought to have been dead and buried.
Maybe that’s a bit unfair on the Wessex Regionalists, who have been banging the drum for Wessex for decades. The party has a radical decentralist agenda as befits its origins back in the more laid-back 70s and calls for cooperation not competition, with ‘a ‘long-term environmental perspective’. These eminently sensible policies have yet to strike a chord with the peasantry of Wessex however, who seem to prefer David Cameron to devolution. So far only a single candidate from the Wessex Regionalist Party is intending to stand, whereas Cameron’s southern English regionalist party has hundreds in place.
Will it be different in the north? The largest electoral intervention here comes from Yorkshire First, a regionalist party launched in advance of the 2014 European elections. It gained 1.5% and 19,000 votes in Yorkshire in that election but hasn’t allowed that to dampen enthusiasm. With former Labour activists and even a previous Lib Dem MEP in its ranks it’s attracting some considerable political experience among its 13 candidates declared so far. It calls for ‘decision-making powers’ for Yorkshire similar to Scotland and Wales and says it’s neither left nor right, ‘just Yorkshire first’.
Typical. You wait for ages for another English regionalist party and then two turn up. Just up the A1 is the North East Party, also formed last year. This party, founded by a former Labour MP, espouses a more radical set of policies than Yorkshire First. It supports a land tax and property tax to fund higher public spending and the replacement of the existing unitary authorities in the north east with an ‘accountable North East government’. It’s unclear whether this means local government in the north east will be abolished or re-appear in another guise. Although pledging to stand a dozen candidates in the election, so far only four have appeared.
English regionalist parties shade down into locally based parties. Several of these and a good number of the expected 200 plus Independents will be standing on a resolutely local basis. These include the Lincolnshire Independents, who call for better planning and higher standards from councillors, support for local businesses, opposition to the TTIP but also to ‘intrusive wind turbines’, which are (gasp of horror) ‘subsidised’. Sharing some common ground therefore with Ukip, also relatively strong in Lincs, the Lincolnshire Independents put up three candidates in 2010. One of them saved her deposit. This time they’re aiming for five. First Lincolnshire, then the world!
It makes sense for parties like the Lincolnshire Independents to stand in the general election to gain publicity that might spin off into the local elections being held simultaneously in English districts. Thus for example we have the Southport Party standing on a platform of freeing Southport from its association with the more disreputable Bootle in Sefton Metropolitan District. Or the Guildford Greenbelt Group, which concentrates on planning issues and campaigns for ‘local need not developers’ wishes’.
Finally, we might include with territorially based sub-state parties in England the All Peoples Party, again founded by a former Labour activist and councillor in 2014. This party has its base in Southwark. It calls for ethnic minorities, women, the young, working class and disabled all to be equally and proportionately represented at the top, which obviously couldn’t be allowed or it would lead to chaos. It has a raft of policies for all levels and, although vague on the taxation required to pay for the implied increase in public services, they look fairly progressive. It also encourages ‘community leaders’ and has been active on the streets of south London for some time. It’s now announced a fifth candidate for the election, standing like the other four in the Greater London area. With its particular appeal to ethnic minority voters and its ‘celebration of diversity’ it’s not expected to compete with Ukip for votes.