I am just back from a special meeting of Gateshead Council Cabinet. This all-Labour body met today to decide whether or not to accept the devolution package that is on offer to the North East. It's a package that includes control over skills training, transport, planning and economic development. All areas that need regional direction and control. The price of the devolution package is the creation of an elected mayor.
I am no fan of elected mayors but they were a key commitment in the Conservatives' manifesto. And in case anyone missed this significant point, the Conservatives won the general election last year. Whether we like it or not, if we want devolution, we have to have elected mayors. Details of the devolution package can be negotiated, but the government has made absolutely clear that there will be no negotiations on elected mayors. We can have devolution AND elected mayors, or no change.
Meanwhile, the dinosaur wing of the North East Labour party has swung into action to fight the mayoral plan. They view any change to the current system as a challenge to the Labour Establishment. They have run everything in the North East for too long and exist now to continue controlling the Establishment rather than to do anything beneficial for the people and the region.
Indeed, one of the loudest complaints from the Labour Establishment about the devolution package was that it could challenge the North East as "a Labour region." Labour talk of wanting "democracy" but drill down through their statements and what Labour means by "democracy" is everything run by Labour.
Sadly, the reactionaries and the dinosaurs have won the day in the Labour party today. The cabinet unanimously threw out the devolution proposals. This was a totally and utterly mad decision. It's about internal Labour politics, posturing at other people's expenses. There are lots of bad for the people of Gateshead in this decision, but no benefits.
I've already been interviewed by the BBC. Here's my news release:
Anger as Gateshead Labour reject devolution
Liberal Democrat Leader of the Opposition in Gateshead, Cllr Jonathan Wallace, has described the Labour Council Cabinet’s decision to reject the proposed devolution package to the North East as “utterly mad.”
The Cabinet met today, 22nd March, for less than half an hour to discuss the package that had been negotiated by the 7 council leaders in the region with the government.
Despite months of negotiation by Gateshead Council Leader Mick Henry, his own Deputy, Martin Gannon, moved that the plans be rejected as he opposed the creation of elected mayors.
Speaking after the Cabinet meeting, Cllr Wallace said, “This decision is completely the wrong one. We have on offer from the government control over skills training, economic development, transport and planning. There is even the possibility of taking on some health powers.
“This has all been sacrificed by those in the Labour party who view elected mayors as a threat to their own establishment and control of the region. Labour have now put party interests before the people’s interests.
“Labour have not even put Gateshead into the Slow Lane. Instead they have put us in the No Lane – no extra powers, no extra investment, no hope.
“There were many smug grins on the faces of Labour cabinet members this morning after the meeting. But smug grins won’t held fill the skills gap, develop the economy or sort out our transport. Labour have set back Gateshead and the North East. It is difficult to see how the region can recover from this wholly unnecessary, Labour-inflicted wound.”