Wessex Regionalists of today keep faith with the primary aim of a devolved regional government, within a Europe of the Regions, as the only way forward for Wessex. However, we now also advocate policies that address the question “and then what” after a devolved administration has been achieved. While it would be presumptuous to define ‘Wessex values’, there are ‘WR values’ that we seek to apply in government.
At our core is the original Wessex movement first mooted by Alexander Thynne, Lord Weymouth, in the 1950s. By 1974 Thynne had founded the Wessex Regionalists as a response to the then central government’s failure to introduce regional assemblies within England. The 1969 report of the Redcliffe-Maud Commission, established to consider the structure of local government in England, had recommended the establishment of regional provinces based on the existing Standard Regions, NE, NW, SE, SW, etc. However, a further Constitutional Commission under Lord Kilbrandon, reporting in 1973, rejected devolved regional assemblies for England. A minority on the Commission dissented and produced proposals for 5 English Regions (a hint back to the 5 Great Earldoms). Thynne, and his colleagues, wanted to take forward the Kilbrandon dissented proposal, improving on it in the form of a real region named Wessex. The understanding was that, to build a new region which would have appeal and would resonate with its population, it had to be one based on firm historical and cultural foundations.
Thynne stood in the February 1974 General Election as a Wessex Regionalist. The Party fielded 7 candidates in the 1979 election and 10 in 1983, its highest number in any one election. Thynne’s interest in the campaign diminished and in 1992, on succeeding as Marquess of Bath, he took his seat in the House of Lords as a member of the LibDems. The void was filled by members of an even older and more established party – Common Wealth. This party had brought together like-minded people from three left-wing movements that came into existence during the Second World War, all debating the question of “what sort of world are we fighting for when this war ends”.
The first and most influential group was the 1941 Committee, a think tank brought together by Picture Post owner Edward G. Hulton; with social commentators J.B. Priestley, H G Wells, the philosopher Bertrand Russell; Tom Wintringham – leader of the British Battalion in the International Brigade during the Spanish Civil War; and others. Not all of the Committee agreed that the think-tank should transform itself into an alternative left-wing political party and many left, including H G Wells. Common Wealth (CW) was founded on 27th July 1942, as a libertarian-socialist party.
It was immediately joined by the Liberal MP, Sir Richard Acland’s Christian-Socialist Forward March group. The third wing came from the Cairo Parliament, a grouping of British soldiers in North Africa who had set out their own blueprint for a post-war Britain, styling themselves on the 1649 Putney Debates by the Agitators and Levellers within Cromwell’s commonwealth army. CW-influenced members of the Cairo Parliament joined the new Party in 1944. The name Common Wealth, reflected a shared view that the wealth of a future Britain had to be shared in common, not by the few, mirroring the aim of the original Leveller/Digger movements in the first Commonwealth in the 17th century.
CW, between 1942 and 1946, had 5 Members of Parliament. However, Labour’s landslide win in 1945, which swept away all but one CW MP, called into question the viability of – and the need – for a separate left-wing party and in 1946 a significant minority defected to Labour. The remainder continued, campaigning for elections until 1953; and then, as a political movement, until 1993. CW adapted its policies and its tactics to these changed circumstances. As a movement CW was tremendously influential in this period, networking with other campaign groups in many arenas, often taking the lead. Notable were its campaigns for:
- the environment, including (late 1940s) promoting windpower; working on the editorial board of Resurgence; in the Ecology Party (forerunner of the Green Party);
- promoting Works Councils and worker controlled organisations;
- pioneering post-war opposition to atomic weapons which later became CND;
- supporting a policy of Cold War neutrality;
- early involvement in the movement for colonial freedom;
- supporting the creation of Amnesty International;
- pioneering devolution in England as well as providing support within England for Scottish and Welsh devolution.
It was its campaigning for devolution that brought CW into contact with WR. By coincidence many of CW’s leading figures lived within the Wessex region and by the early 1980s prominent members had formally joined WR subtly influencing its outlook thereafter. CW became the hand implicitly inside the WR glove, although the glove remained fundamentally Wessex. The late John Banks, formerly of the Cairo Parliament, became Secretary-General of WR and Douglas Stuckey, the last leader of CW, is still active on the 2020 WR Executive Council.
Between 1985 and 1997, the raised cost of standing in General Elections kept the Wessex Regionalists out but we stood candidates continuously from 1997 to 2017. There were also Wessex candidates in the 1979, 1984 and 1989 elections to the European Parliament and most recently (2016) WR ventured into local politics in Bristol.
The emblem of WR is a stylised hawthorn. Wessex Day is 25th May – the feast day of Saint Aldhelm. At that time of year the most abundant flower is that of the May blossom; the hawthorn, a shrub common in all parts of Wessex. A variety of the Hawthorn is linked with the legends of Glastonbury in the heart of Wessex, adding a historic and mystical dimension to the flower.
At times the official flag of Wessex, a wyvern in gold on a red background, is referenced. The gold is taken from the golden wyvern of Wessex which has been a symbol of the Wessex Region/kingdom since 752AD making it one of the oldest symbols still in use. Although long used within the region it was given official status for use in the UK in 2013.