The wrong sort of devolution

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Everyone assumed that the inhabitants of the North-east were the most receptive of all the people in England to the idea of a regional assembly. That they so emphatically rejected John Prescott's grandiose plans in Thursday's referendum, as well as being a major embarrassment for the Deputy Prime Minister will destroy the whole concept of regional devolution for a generation. The Government's other planned referendums, one in the North-west and another in Yorkshire and Humberside, look unlikely to take place now.

The principle of devolving power from Westminster to the regions is a laudable one. But it should be done by reinforcing the present machinery of regional government - local councils - not by introducing an inflated stratum of politicians and bureaucracy. The financial excesses of the Scottish parliament suggest that it would not have come cheap either. But this referendum result means the argument against regional assemblies can now be phrased much more simply: there is no popular demand for them. Mr Prescott must now accept that his "political dream" is not shared by the rest of the country.