Sinister plot

If this is the best that opponents of democracy for the North of England can come up with then we will be laughing all the way to the regional assemblies.

Samizdata’s David Carr, taking time off from opposing the banning of rape drugs, has discovered that the proposals for referendums in the three Northern regions are in fact a sinister plot from those evil Stalinazis in Belgium.

“The real drivers behind this are in Brussels. The regional assemblies are being created as civilian Gauleiters in order to ensure that the laws and directives of the EU Commission are administered and enforced at local level and to jockey with each for the chunks of redistributed largesse handed out by the various arms of the Euro-state. Their job is not to represent the will of the people to those in power, it is to ensure that the will of those in power is applied to the people.”

It is not the first time that I have come across this conspiracy theory – for some time it has been doing the rounds among the cranks of the UK Independence Party , who of course enjoy some crossover with the Libertarian fringe.

As someone who was once part of the movement within the Labour Party to push for a a manifesto commitment to regional devolution for the North of England (and someone who wanted more power than the limited Prescott plans will offer) I can assure David that there was no garlic-breathed Belgian bureaucrat operating in the background.

It is true however that the EU recognises and deals with regions. It does so as part of its commitment to a Europe of diverse traditions and cultures and also for the simple political reason that countries like Spain and Germany already have well-established, powerful regional government which cannot be ignored.

We already have had some devolution of course. Scotland has a parliament, Wales a national assembly and London has its own assembly. Were all these part of the same EU conspiracy David? Or is it just when the North gets a chance of a referendum that outside interference is presumed?

I suspect much London opposition to regional assemblies comes from sheer prejudice and bigotry but in the case of Carr I have the feeling it is more political fear of the chances of success for devolved democracy.

It is much easier to make the case against the ‘nanny-state’ etc if it can be portrayed as a cartoon cumbersome, centralised bureaucracy, wasting cash and distant from the population.

How much harder for the libertarian case against an effective political system if local democracy, the decentralisation of decision-making actually works and succeeds in reinvigorating democracy and politics, giving fresh legitimacy to the state and the political process.

No wonder the libertarians, like the central-state Tories are opposed to regional democracy – it is their worst nightmare.