A chance missed or an opportunity to gain?

On the question of an English parliament, Labour has a critical choice to make.

What's happening? Is democracy for England trying to reassert itself?

In the past few months, and especially since the general election, a number of Labour MPs have talked openly about a new politics for England. Now David Miliband and Jon Cruddas have gone public about what the public in England has known for some time: that Labour, in its love affair with multinationalism and its rushing through of devolution, had forgotten England and English needs. Most people accept it was Labour that created the current unstable and unbalanced Union of nations laughably still called the United Kingdom.

As we await Labour's new dawn, the question has to be whether the party is willing to correct this -- or will it become a marginalised pressure group within the UK, with only Welsh and Scottish interests at the party's heart? The party needs to rediscover itself in England, as England is home to 55 million people and is the power base for establishing real change and influence within our group of nations and Europe. In short, Labour needs England.

Devolution didn't just fail England; it failed the UK and all the nations within her. The future in England could easily be Labour's if it tackles this subject. We all know that democratic accountability has to be protected and the current situation has to change. Labour's denial of this situation will rob us all of stability and democratic cohesion.

With Labour out of government, the party now has the perfect opportunity to take over the Conservative ground of expressing English concerns. What's to say that if more Labour MPs started to engage in meaningful debate on the subject the people of England wouldn't embrace them and the party again?

The coalition, or potentially the new evolving "Liberal Conservative Party, has failed to capitalise on this new public awareness and mood. Nick Clegg's focus is more towards voting reform, and for him, constitutional reform for England is on the back burner. He said as much at Hay-on-Wye when he rejected out of hand the need for an English parliament.

What Clegg fails to realise is that he now speaks for a government which includes traditional conservatives, and yet this group of conservatives procrastinates about what to do or say. A wiser Labour Party can step in, not so quietly, and take up the baton for English democracy.

If Labour waits too long, the procrastination will end and the party's opportunity will be missed when the Conservatives establish a clear mandate for England. Labour needs to be brave, because along with the public having had enough of empty words and MPs' expenses scandals, the wounds of partial devolution have cut deep.

It will be interesting to see which of the leadership contenders takes up the baton and expresses England's mood, because finding the courage to do so might win not just the leadership race, but also win back the people of England. It's easy to forget that the Liberal Democrats finished third in the elections and didn't have much English support.

Many academics are privately saying that the referendum on AV will fail, because the public wants simple solutions to restore political faith and AV isn't understood or wanted. A federal system is a much simpler solution to restoring political faith and it gives long-term stability for the future of the UK.

Let Labour boldly campaign for English democracy and the party may be resurgent far earlier than pundits expect.

Eddie Bone is a council member of the cross-party Campaign for an English Parliament.

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Northern Ireland election results: a shift beneath the status quo

The power of the largest parties has been maintained, while newer parties running on nicher subjects with no connection to Northern Ireland’s traditional religious divide are rapidly rising.

After a long day of counting and tinkering with the region’s complex PR vote transfer sytem, Northern Irish election results are slowly starting to trickle in. Overall, the status quo of the largest parties has been maintained with Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party returning as the largest nationalist and unionist party respectively. However, beyond the immediate scope of the biggest parties, interesting changes are taking place. The two smaller nationalist and unionist parties appear to be losing support, while newer parties running on nicher subjects with no connection to Northern Ireland’s traditional religious divide are rapidly rising.

The most significant win of the night so far has been Gerry Carroll from People Before Profit who topped polls in the Republican heartland of West Belfast. Traditionally a Sinn Fein safe constituency and a former seat of party leader Gerry Adams, Carroll has won hearts at a local level after years of community work and anti-austerity activism. A second People Before Profit candidate Eamon McCann also holds a strong chance of winning a seat in Foyle. The hard-left party’s passionate defence of public services and anti-austerity politics have held sway with working class families in the Republican constituencies which both feature high unemployment levels and which are increasingly finding Republicanism’s focus on the constitutional question limiting in strained economic times.

The Green party is another smaller party which is slowly edging further into the mainstream. As one of the only pro-choice parties at Stormont which advocates for abortion to be legalised on a level with Great Britain’s 1967 Abortion Act, the party has found itself thrust into the spotlight in recent months following the prosecution of a number of women on abortion related offences.

The mixed-religion, cross-community Alliance party has experienced mixed results. Although it looks set to increase its result overall, one of the best known faces of the party, party leader David Ford, faces the real possibility of losing his seat in South Antrim following a poor performance as Justice Minister. Naomi Long, who sensationally beat First Minister Peter Robinson to take his East Belfast seat at the 2011 Westminster election before losing it again to a pan-unionist candidate, has been elected as Stormont MLA for the same constituency. Following her competent performance as MP and efforts to reach out to both Protestant and Catholic voters, she has been seen by many as a rising star in the party and could now represent a more appealing leader to Ford.

As these smaller parties slowly gain a foothold in Northern Ireland’s long-established and stagnant political landscape, it appears to be the smaller two nationalist and unionist parties which are losing out to them. The moderate nationalist party the SDLP risks losing previously safe seats such as well-known former minister Alex Attwood’s West Belfast seat. The party’s traditional, conservative values such as upholding the abortion ban and failing to embrace the campaign for same-sex marriage has alienated younger voters who instead may be drawn to Alliance, the Greens or People Before Profit. Local commentators have speculate that the party may fail to get enough support to qualify for a minister at the executive table.

The UUP are in a similar position on the unionist side of the spectrum. While popular with older voters, they lack the charismatic force of the DUP and progressive policies of the newer parties. Over the course of the last parliament, the party has aired the possibility of forming an official opposition rather than propping up the mandatory power-sharing coalition set out by the peace process. A few months ago, legislation will finally past to allow such an opposition to form. The UUP would not commit to saying whether they are planning on being the first party to take up that position. However, lacklustre election results may increase the appeal. As the SDLP suffers similar circumstances, they might well also see themselves attracted to the role and form a Stormont’s first official opposition together as a way of regaining relevance and esteem in a system where smaller parties are increasingly jostling for space.