Friday, April 18, 2008

Vision of a post British England and it's counties

Our shire based system stretches back well over a thousand years, maybe in an independent England it's time to recognise them again.

Scrap regional assemblies, return to the "county" system

I believe in an independent Kingdom of England our first task would be to dismantle the regional assemblies and the apparatus that has sprung up around them. These various bodies suck hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers money in and return very little. They are thoroughly un-democratic and do not meet the needs of the people.
Our first step in an English parliament would be to return England back to it's traditional "county" structure.
There has already been some attempt by vigilante groups to enforce the traditional counties, Wikipedia details the direct action here.
So I use the term "county" in the loosest possible term, why you ask? Well although the word county was introduced by the Normans to cover the old Anglo-Saxon shire system as well as Anglo-Saxon kingdoms that where merged into England e.g. Sussex and Kent, we still use the term and apply it to areas of England which aren't strictly counties in the Norman sense of the word. From now on when I refer to county or counties I am meaning all subdivisions of England to make things easier.
So an independent England should be looking to re-instate the various ancient recognised boundary systems given to us by our Anglo-Saxon and Norse/Danish forebears each with their rights and privileges.
So in the case of shires - Hertfordshire, Berkshire etc. and in the case of old kingdom marked boundaries - Essex, Sussex and re-instating Middlesex etc.
The Kingdom of England also included duchies. The two duchies are the Duchy of Lancaster and the Duchy of Cornwall. Duchy status should be recognised correctly, and the inhabitants of such areas given a choice on how the Crown should be continued to recognised in said areas with regards to property rights etc.
If counties chose to rename districts within themselves back to their original names such Richmondshire within Yorkshire etc. this should be up to the local people to decide.
By handing the power back from Westminster to the counties and recognising the various powers they where granted over time, we are handing back local democracy to the people.
When doing this we would allow the people to choose how their county was governed, this could allow the substitution of county councils for in the case of Cornwall the Stannary parliament, or in the case of Peterborough recognising it as a Soke and granting it the powers it once held.

So why all this concern over the ancient county system, I'm sure many are thinking, "but it's all in the past" and" not relevant to today" and "things well, change".

Yes things do change, but as often has been the case these changes are forced upon people, laws are ignored and parts of our cultural heritage are lost in the process. People may ask, well does it matter if it's called a county or a duchy... try telling a Cornishman they live in a shire and try telling a Geordie Newcastle isn't part of Northumberland (it may not be under government legislation, but it used to be and for many older folk still is).
How much of our Anglo-Saxon heritage has been lost in places such as East Anglia as the dialects of Norfolk and Suffolk are slowly killed off and they are pushed into an "East of England" euro region?

England does not need artificial boundaries created by bureaucrats in offices far away from the people their decisions effect. Our boundaries have been created through time and are representative of the true diversity of England, not the forced multi-cultural and Euro-British diversity of Westminster.

So what would the revised county system involve? This system would be part of the independent parliament of England's set up. Essentially the new Westminster would be responsible for the matters which the British government handles for England. The new English parliament would then hand back any power to the counties, shires, sokes and duchies that had been removed from them by the British government.
Ideally we would see a situation where in England there was no such thing as licensing hours for pubs as an example. County councils would be responsible for licensing premises and if they deemed it necessary issuing zones where pubs could only stay open to 11:30 if this was in the interest of the local people. Since ideally the county, parish and town council system will be made up of locals, these people are far more likely to understand local issues then a government in London, especially a cabinet in London dominated by MP's from devolved countries.
County councils will also be responsible for local heritage initiatives, history, some areas of education i.e. local English customs, culture and preservation of tradition, control over planning and also the types of buildings and the material that housing firms can use in some cases.
This would prevent the current situation where Westminster forces housing quotas and Eco-Towns on some areas of the country, where they are not wanted. It could also selectively force building firms to use local materials such as flint, stone, wood and slate rather then building identi-kit Lego houses which can damage the scenic nature of an area. This could be achieved through zoning as well. The English parliament along with the county councils should also enforce existing green belt legislation.

County councils could also implement strategies in their areas on second home ownership and property taxes. One thing we have learnt is that one size does not fit all, and the British governments attempts at forcing through legislation that effects the whole of England can have adverse effects on some counties and not on others.
The ability for county councils in places such as Norfolk and Westmorland to limit second home ownership or tax it at high levels could help to cut down the number of empty holiday homes that have priced locals out of the market.

The English government would also be duty bound to remove the vast layers of legislation implemented by Labour. Much of this effects peoples liberties and freedoms and squashes peoples rights. I believe the best way to do this is for the English parliament to be at heart of returning power to the electorate through local county level electable bodies which report back to the English parliament through a combination of ways, including MP's.

Could the above address such issues as:

1.) Resentment in Westmorland at holiday homes,
2.) Prevent Norfolk fishermen being priced out of the North Norfolk coast
3.) Address the calls for Cornwalls recognition as a duchy and trading the county council for a Stannary parliament
4.) Give the people of Middlesex their county back
5.) Hand local planning issue back to the people
6.) Prevent situation like the Monmouthshire and Berwick debacle happening again

I believe so.

Whether Cornwall in the future would chose to separate from England would obviously be down to a democratic means to decide, I would hope they didn't and recognition of their unique history, like the unique history of every county, duchy and shire within a unified England should be guaranteed.

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