I enjoy a good number.
There’s a rhythm, a roll about all those clear, clean, exact numbers. A fascinating symmetry. If they’d taught maths as poetry I’d have done better at school.
Numbers pull you up short; give you fresh perspective. Here’s quite a big one – 1,664,436. Let it roll off the tongue – ‘one million six hundred and sixty four thousand, four hundred and thirty six.’
There’s a number that could change our world.
The Scots have set things in motion.
Last month an unprecedented 84.5% of them voted in their referendum. Irrespective of the result, Scotland has won greater powers with a commitment from both Coalition Government and Opposition to extend devolution and publish plans this month.
Furthermore, they recognise that the entire British Constitution faces historic change.
Unfortunately, this week the Government and a few council leaders will sell short our historic opportunity for change with new announcements on divisive and undemocratic City Regions.
This is an attempt to embed unfairness and inequality. Why shouldn’t the North East have the same as Scotland? Real devolution delivers real resources, a fair share of the nation’s assets and real power; democratic, accountable power, for all of us, right here.
With proper devolution for North East England we could decide to end unemployment, pay everyone a living wage to do some useful work. We could stop wasting money on 12 disempowered councils for 2.5 million people and invest in improving care. We could reduce bureaucracy, integrate health and social care, invest in public health and prevention. We could plan our region for ourselves. We could establish the best communication and transport systems available rather than being third rate in England.
We could build on our North East values of family and community and ensure that we provide nothing but the best for our children.
A devolved North East would emphatically be open for business, providing the private sector with a host of opportunities and challenges. Without needing permission from Whitehall we could properly revive that North East spirit of practical hard work and ingenuity; apply it to modern times to a modern Europe, a modern world.
Instead of being the smallest, least regarded part of England we could set an example of enterprise. Through a devolved assembly, elected by proportional representation we could speak with one voice, consensual, sustainable and clear.
I happen to like politicians but in future we’d have fewer of them. That grotesque, undemocratic anathema, that monument to cronyism and elitism, the ever burgeoning House of Lords will have to go. Its 800 odd members replaced with a much smaller revising chamber, elected and accountable to us. The House of Commons too could be reduced; with reserved powers limited to the big issues of foreign policy, defence, macro-economics, international development, human rights, the things that the UK does proudly well.
Of course we’d have a Regional Assembly, say of 43 members with real power to decide policy. There’d be five councils rather than 12, less flummery, fewer councillors, fewer meetings but real power to implement and make change to do the job we elect them to do. There’d be towns and parishes and a thriving community and voluntary sector with a direct line to region to hold services to account, to demand excellence everywhere in North East England.
Durham, Northumberland, Teesside, Tyneside, Wearside – let’s actively build on those football rivalries and challenge those communities to compete. They can help drive North East progress through their intensity and passion.
Let’s strengthen our identity, treasure our language, music and culture. Let’s celebrate the unsung and unrecognised as well as some of the best regarded assets of the whole world.
Let’s own and enjoy our history and landscape and protect our precious environment even as we move on.
There is nothing too good for North East England; nothing that in the 21st century every single person in our region shouldn’t be able to enjoy. If this is a crucial moment of history, let’s sieze it.
Of course, some will say this is too hard to do.
Thousands of us know Turkey; many enjoyed their holidays there this summer.
As I write there are women fighting on the south east borders of our holiday destination, fighting for human rights, for selfdetermination, fighting to the last bullet, blowing themselves up at the end because they know that capture equals torture and hideous murder.
In Kurdistan it’s hard.
In North East England we can join a discussion in peace, debate vigorously but politely, campaign hard and go quietly home. In privacy, with the utmost backing of the law, we have the infinitely precious right to mark our ballot paper.
Only one step outside our region the people of Scotland have shown us the way.
That delicious number of 1,664,436, ‘one million six hundred and sixty four thousand, four hundred and thirty six’ is 84.5% of the entire North East electorate.
If we turn out like Scotland at elections and at a new referendum the politicians will quake and history will record that our world began to change.
Go on. It’s easy.