I had long intended to write a post on the founder of our party as part of the Wessex Political Thinkers series. The sad news of his recent death makes a reflection upon his contribution to Wessex Regionalist thought even more timely.
Alexander Thynn–then Viscount Weymouth, later Marquess of Bath–first became interested in formulating a democratic theory of government in the 1950s, while studying at Oxford. The son of a Lord and recipient of an expensive education, he was keenly aware that he owed his position purely to an accident of birth, and used his privilege to campaign for a world in which everyone would enjoy the same opportunities that he had, This included the abolition of private education and hereditary titles, despite having personally benefitted from both.
His ultimate vision was of a world divided into three tiers of government: firstly a world government based in the Sinai Peninsula, which would be purchased from the Egyptian government and made into international territory for that purpose. The location of Sinai was chosen because it was close to the geographical centre of the Afro-Eurasian continental landmass, and because he was keenly interested in the geopolitics of the Middle East. More could be said on the latter, but it falls somewhat outside the scope of this article.
Below that would be continental or subcontinental tiers of government. Thynn was a European integrationist, but a somewhat unenthusiastic one. For him, the continental tier was merely a stepping stone towards full world government, and the least essential of the three tiers.
Finally, there was the regional tier. Regions would have a maximum population of around 16 million, and a minimum population of around 100,000. Of the world’s 195 sovereign states, 70 exceed the maximum population, and would need to be subdivided, while 13 fall below the minimum, and would need to seek joint representation with neighbouring regions. Each region would have a representative at the Assembly of Equals at Sinai.
This global vision dovetailed with a speech he gave in 1969 to the South West Tourist Board, representing Longleat, in which he proposed a Wessex region as a tourism brand. This would have been somewhat larger than the region defined as Wessex by our party, also including Buckinghamshire, Cornwall and Herefordshire. The speech apparently attracted quite a hostile reception, though Thynn was never quite sure whether this was due to its contents, or to his bohemian appearance.
Thynn continued to bang the drum for Wessex in a spate of letters to the press following the Kilbrandon report in 1973. The following year, he decided to put his money where his mouth is and stand for election. And so, the Wessex Regionalist Party was born.
Thynn stood again in 1979, but following that election, and the creation of The Statute of Wessex–a document detailing the nuts and bolts of how a Wessex regional government would work–he felt that he had gone as far as he could with the Wessex Regionalists, and declined to participate in the 1983 election, in which the party fielded 10 candidates. He took his place in the House of Lords as a Liberal Democrat peer in 1992, later losing his seat as a result of the House of Lords Act 1999, a development he did not object to. He remained, however, an honorary member of our party for the remainder of his life.
Whilst the Wessex Regionalists have never been purely a vehicle for Alexander Thynn’s vision (the world government based in Sinai has never to my knowledge been party policy, for example), he was the animating spirit that gave the party life. Whilst he resented his privilege, and campaigned tirelessly for a fairer world, there is no doubt that his establishment connections helped to ensure that his voice was heard, especially in the early days of our movement. Whilst in the 1970s, the name Wessex had become more or less synonymous with Hardy Country, his promotion of a Wessex identity helped give it a wider application. Wessex Water was founded in 1973, the Wessex Regional Health Authority a year later, and there was a Wessex European Parliamentary Constituency from 1979-84. It seems unlikely that these would have come about spontaneously without the platform that his title gave him, though as he himself noted in a 1986 letter to The Regionalist magazine, Stephen Ross, the Liberal MP for the Isle of Wight, had also argued in Parliament for a Wessex regional authority.
Lord Bath’s passing leaves the world a poorer place, but his legacy will live on as long as the party continues to campaign for his vision of a devolved Wessex within a Europe of the Regions. And a world government? Well, who knows?