Regional Elites and Regional Identities?
Although amongst some of the political elite themselves there were 'people who are passionate about regions' (Regional Minister), the vast majority of our respondents perceived that the public in their own official regions lacked any real sense of regional identity. 'There is no sense of belonging here … no loyalty to the region' (Regional Government Office CEO); they have a 'very poor sense of regional identity' (Regional Director); 'The counties that make up the region don't have much in common … There is no sense of identity' (local politician); 'The region was created by someone drawing a line. So it is an artificially created entity. Once a line has been drawn you have to make the best of it' (Local Authority CEO). Despite the vast majority denying that there is any great coherence to their own regions or that their populations have any strong sense of regional identity, there is 'a recognition that there may be strong and powerful regions elsewhere' (Regional Minister). Specific reference was made to a number of other regions, cities and counties which were believed to have a distinct identity. The North East, despite the referendum result, is seen as one. 'We don't have a regional identity in the same way as the North East does' (Regional Development Agency Regional Director); 'If you talk about the North East of England there is a regional identity but if you come to our region it is less of a regional identity' (Local Authority CEO); 'You do get notions of Regional Communities elsewhere, like in the North East which reflects an industrial past, but even then the culture only reflects a limited part of the whole region'(local politician); 'If you define it as a sense of place and identity then you can say that Newcastle is absolutely a City and … has been for over a 1000 years, whereas the big towns here, for instance, are a big urban area but not a city. They do not have that identity and sense of pride in the same way' (Local Authority CEO). The Yorkshire and Humberside region was also seen as having a distinct identity. 'People just don't run around the place saying: “Hey, I'm from this region”. Yorkshire is an obvious exception but here there isn't a sense of regional identity' (local businessman engaged in regional activity). Finally, London is picked out in this regard. 'They [the regions] are so big that there aren't many apart from London that have a unified coherence' (Regional Government Office CEO); and 'what Ken Livingstone did in London
can't be replicated' (Director of Regional Partnership).
At the sub-regional level, a number of other areas were spontaneously identified as having distinctive identities. 'There is a regional identity of East Anglia but it excludes [large areas of that region]'(local politician); 'The old East Anglia region, although it wasn't all the counties, gave a sense of working together. There is a strong East Anglia identity … it is a historical region' (3rd Sector CEO). Similarly with Cornwall, which is seen as having 'a very strong sense of being a region, some would say a separate country' (Local Authority CEO), so 'most people would see themselves as Cornish first.' One 3rd Sector respondent had his own particular take on Cornish cultural history 'The Cornish do have a unique history as an engaged merchant class in England going back to the Phoenicians'. Then
of his own city, 'there is a sense of this city. Its identity is really, like Cornwall, a European identity reaching back … in terms of trade.'
However, acknowledgement of the existence of a sense of identity didn't always mean approval for it as a locus for a regional administrative structure. 'Some of the Cornish just want to put up a toll booth '(3rd Sector CEO); 'The Cornish have their own language. However, they are not big enough to make regional government work' (Regional Minister). Similarly, 'Counties like Norfolk are calling themselves the economic sub-regions and comparing themselves with Bavaria but there is no possible comparison' (Regional Administrator). So, while some areas of England below the level of region were thought to have a sense of local identity, they were also thought to be too small to be effective in regional matters. One national and regional politician did hark back to another Anglo-Saxon kingdom as a cultural entity wider than existing regional boundaries: 'There is a notion of Mercia. It is a bit East Midlands, a bit West Midlands. A Mercia kingdom in the middle of all those buggers from the south who have acquired all the power!' However, this was around about the time of the discovery of the Mercian Hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold, which may have affected his opinion.