“Personally I am in favour of extending the mayoral system.
“People say it hasn’t worked but I disagree. I think you would find it quite hard to take it off any city that has got its mayor now.
“For the rest of us, it’s to try to get decision-making down to a local level. That is one of the reasons why we are giving parish councils and local neighbourhoods greater powers to influence their local policing and so on.
“People want to feel that their local voice is heard and that is where I think this will go now.
“The problem always with regional devolution in England is that in Wales and Scotland there is a clear national identity. In Northern Ireland people are aware Northern Ireland is an entity.
“[But] even in the Northwest and North-east, where you probably have a greater regional coherence than anywhere else, they don’t quite feel the same. And that’s the problem with it.
“We said it was a manifesto commitment, we gave people a shot at it, and I’m not saying if people came forward in the North-west or anywhere else and said we want a regional government then we wouldn’t facilitate that, but I don’t notice that happening a great deal at the moment.”
It’s remarkable the way Blair determinedly skirts around the concept of English national identity, almost as if someone had asked him to say the word ‘socialism.’
His choice of words to describe Northern Ireland also carries an interesting resonance, that of Charles Haughey’s telling description of the of the north as ‘a failed political entity.’