Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

Time for Politicians to Listen to the Clear Voice of the People

Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

Time for Politicians to Listen to the Clear Voice of the People

Article excerpt

Byline: By Peter Young

It was a stunning triumph against all the odds.

But today opponents of a North East Assembly can reflect on a famous victory which has sent shockwaves across the country.

They wrecked Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott's dream of devolved government in the English regions and crushed campaigners who have fought for an elected assembly to provide a powerful voice for the North East at Westminster.

Shattered supporters of the assembly project were left wondering just how it all went so spectacularly wrong.

The immediate reaction of many was that a disillusioned electorate was sending a strong message to Prime Minister Tony Blair that people are fed up with politicians.

They had been asked to vote in favour of an assembly with 25 members, probably based in Durham, costing pounds 25m a year to run, which would speak for the North East, but with strictly limited powers. The answer was a resounding no.

Until the campaign got under way, there seemed little doubt that the idea of a North East Assembly would win overwhelming support.

Opinion polls had consistently shown people in the North East were in favour.

Leaders of the No campaign began as the underdogs.

But when the battle began for real and voters were presented with the options, it was a different story.

Both sides tried to stay non-political and the pro-assembly Yes4theNorthEast coalition led by Newcastle University regional studies expert Prof John Tomaney was keen to stress its broad-based support.

The campaign had the backing of regional heavyweights such as Newcastle United president Sir John Hall, Middlesbrough Mayor Ray Mallon, and Brendan Foster.

But behind the scenes there was growing concern among local politicians that the campaign wasn't making a big enough impression on voters.

The first big shock came when a Chronicle readers' survey in September showed 59% against an assembly and only 27% in favour with 14% undecided.

This was followed by other polls which revealed the No campaign in the lead.

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott spent hours pounding pavements across the region trying to persuade people to vote yes. …

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