Listing the members of the British royal family and aristocracy is a good way to discover England’s regions. The likes of Wessex, Cornwall and York, Kent, Gloucester and Norfolk all sport their own Duke; and Durham is known as the Land of the Prince Bishops. From history, we know that relations between these areas were not always friendly, with stories of wars and battles littering England’s ancient fields.
Yet as the governance of England developed over the centuries, its sub-national characteristics changed, and changed significantly. Today in 2011, we find ourselves at another watershed as the waves of regionalisation ebb and flow with one government’s policy diluting that of its predecessor, or sweeping structures aside in a flood of fresh thought.
For the time being, England has eight official regions, plus London. The eight regions are North West, North East, Yorkshire and The Humber, West Midlands, East Midlands, East of England, South West and South East.
- Does size matter?
Luxembourg and Malta are small countries. Despite various vote weighting measures in the European Union, they still have an influence disproportionate to their size. But that is alright for countries, and no-one suggests that the smaller EU Member States should link up with other small countries to form groupings of an equal size. While that might please statisticians, particularly neat and tidy ones, it is not going to happen.
Yet at the sub-national level it is a different story. With perhaps the statisticians’ hands deftly at work, EU Member States have been carved up into ‘Euro’ regions – ostensibly for funding purposes ironically termed NUTS. In their defence, existing sub-national structures were a primary consideration in drawing the lines on the map; but the urge to make them all the same size was clearly irresistible. Many smaller entities – like the English counties of Northumberland and Lancashire that had an ‘identity’ – found themselves lumped together with scant attention paid to cultural, geographic or even economic considerations.
- Artificial regions
It was, of course, easier to administer a group of similarly-sized regions. It made comparisons easier and possibly contributed to a fairer distribution of EU regional development funding. But in public relations terms, it did nothing for local identity and even enhanced people’s feelings of disenfranchisement: For someone in Middlesbrough, a policy decision taken in Newcastle is in local terms as far removed as a decision taken in London.
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* Published in the Fifth Issue of Political Reflection Magazine (PR).