Region For The Stars

I was very glad to hear that nice Mr. Raynsford tell us that the proposed, possible, putative, inchoate, just-maybe Assembly (if we want it) will not necessarily rule out three-tier government. Tiers For Souvenirs, as Ken Dodd would have it. What's the point of a Region if we can't have a really cracking bureaucracy? The diagram of power wouldn't be very interesting if it only had three tiers. What we want is a highly sophisticated system of levels, all with their own rules and regulations, and based on what ducks and drunks might call the bottoms-up approach.

There is plenty of time to sort this out. The jubilee's over, there is no eclipse this year, you're bored with the World Cup already - admit it, you've stopped filling in the wall-chart - and the best thing we can look forward to is Christmas, which will be in the shops shortly. How better to spend the remaining few months of the year than having a forum about whether to have a regional forum? This is the sort of excitement that gets the blood pumping round the political system.

Of course, the first thing we need to do is to get ourselves a good name. Somerwestworld springs to mind, but according the Patents Office, someone else has nabbed that. But there are bound to be some plausible alternatives.

What about Phwoarset? That would set the tone nicely - no more stereotypes of straw-sucking, mud-booting, fox-strangling hardies. We'd be advertising ourselves as the Hot And Steaming centre for Britain.

Or Hayshire, as in Hayshire Major and Hayshire Minor. The happy land of fields and bales, where smocked yokels scrump their sheep, and combine harvesters roar across moorlands, churning up cream and jam. That would stop the stereotype of us being Hot And Steaming.

What about The Nether Region? Sanderland? Weffolk? Touritania? Somercornidevodorsetexeywiltsandglosia? Or, as I've suggested before, Hobbitat. Imagine the Tolkienistas coming down to pat us on the heads. We could show them a thing or two - like the wrong way to eat a tractor pasty.

But I see I am racing ahead. The first thing to do would be to nominate a monarch and a capital. There is no point having a region unless you can have a few robes and garters, a crown, a bit of a civil list, some tax deals, and the right to run a decent railway (everyone else has tried and failed, so some DIY wouldn't go amiss). Obviously, I'm not thinking about titles like Kings and Queens. That would be tactless, so soon after the jubilee. It would lay claim to too much power.

No, what I had in mind was something more modest, like Emperor or Supreme Being or Timelord or Celestial Majesty. This individual would be appointed for Five Glorious Years, and enthroned in a city fitting to the status of the incumbent, may he reign forever, well five years with an option.

Where should this be?

I have to say this has exercised me, because you have to take in the opinions of everyone from Swindon (don't say "Where?") and Bristol to Dorchester, Penzance and Plymouth. It seems to me that it would have to be a city that had, say, a cathedral, a castle, and a football team supported by one of the world's greatest rock stars. Someone like Val Doonican, or Des O'Connor, or Bob The Builder, say. It could be Exeter, if only -

Oh, has he? Who, that Michael Jackson?

He never! Has he? I didn't recognise him, he seems to have changed, somehow.

Yes, yes, I suppose it's logical, the Prince of Pop coming to support a third division football team. Happens all the time. Uri Geller must have Michael wrapped round his little finger, like a fork.

Well, that's fixed then. Exeter it is. Let the imperial trumpets sound. Let the robes be placed on the capacious shoulders of Empress Saxon I, which would mean we'd have a Saxon in charge for the first time since Norman the Conqueror. And now let's get down to business.

If you have an emperor, you need a court, a church (Cheriton Bishop and Morchard Bishop and Stoke Bishop are usefully available), and a few committees. These committees will need to have sub-committees, and these, I suggest, should be put in charge of the county and unitary councils. Now the councils have committees like Planning, Amenities, Education, Sewage, Marketing. Transport, Mass Tourism, etc. etc., and it would be silly to invent new ones. Instead, all the existing committees should be replicated by regional court committees, and of course the Empress's Privy Council.

If you had a problem, you would be able to ring up your MP, MEP, parish councillor, city councillor, county councillor, courtier, minister and privy councillor. Many hands make light work, they say. If you wanted a bollard shifted, or permission to put up a shed, you'd be doubling the chance it would be done.

Indeed, in the excitement, it is quite likely that you would get two or three bollards moved, and permission to put up several sheds. You may tell me this is bureaucracy gone mad, but I call it good sense. If you are a child, you ask as many relatives as you can if you want something, don't you? So what if you get two of what you ask for.

Imagine you wanted a "centre of excellence". (You won't get anywhere nowadays if you ask for a school or a car-park or a wonderful town centre. You need a centre of educational excellence, an centre of off-road vehicular excellence, and a centre of centre excellence excellence). You'd have regional officers falling out of their trees, competing with one another to do your every bidding.

And what's it going to cost, this region? Roughly.

Well it'll be in the region of ..... look, who cares? What does it matter? We are talking here about local pride, the chance to wear regional costume (a bikini made of local thatch, a Devon Wild Life truss, a parka-and-ride), and to chop down as many trees for paper as possible.

Devo-lution. It'll get my vote.

Bill Greenwell

From Express and Echo