Support from Geordie icons only served to whip up tribal conflicts

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Indy Politics

John Prescott overlooked a vital nuance of North-east life when he told the Middlesbrough housewife Jean Anderson that voting for a regional government would stop southerners getting investment she was entitled to. The thought of Newcastle getting all the goods was a far worse prospect for Mrs Anderson, 52, and thousands of Teessiders like her. Her fear of Newcastle empire-building and "Geordies ruling the roost" persuaded her to join the "no" vote.

"There was a feeling here that the assembly would be run from Newcastle for the sake of Newcastle and we would be left out in the cold as usual," she said yesterday - although Durham would have been a more probable location for the assembly.

Tribal hatred meant the "yes" campaign, supported by Newcastle United's president, Sir John Hall, and Paul Gascoigne, was always going to find votes hard to come by in Sunderland too.

Sting, Brendan Foster, "Robocop" Ray Mallon and other "yes" celebrities caused mildly less offence - and might even have flourished had they been given something tangible to proclaim that a regional government would offer: more A1 dual carriageway, for instance, or an extension of Newcastle's excellent Metro rail system. But the regional assembly promised little that was tangible, despite Mr Prescott's last-minute deals with the Transport Secretary, Alistair Darling. "What was on offer simply wasn't good enough," said Peter Barron, editor of the Northern Echo. "The Government assumed the North-east would vote 'yes' no matter how poor the fare on offer."

The "no" campaign was devoid of celebrities, but its message that more politicians would cost more taxpayers' money was far more potent.