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.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

The Tories play Game of Thrones while the White Walkers from Brussels advance

The whole premise of the show is a pretty good metaphor for the current state of British politics.

If you’re a fan of asking “who’s that, then?” and “is that the one who killed the other one’s brother?”, I bring great news. Game of Thrones is back for a seventh series. Its vast assortment of characters was hard enough to keep track of before half of them got makeovers. But now the new Queen Cersei has reacted to the arrival of the long winter by investing heavily in the kind of leather ball gowns sold by goth shops in Camden, and Euron Greyjoy, once a fairly bland sailor, has come back as a Halloween costume version of Pacey from Dawson’s Creek, all eyeliner and epaulettes.

The show’s reliance on British character actors is the only thing keeping me vaguely on top of the cast list: what’s Diana Rigg up to these days in Highgarden? And what about that guy who was in Downton Abbey that time, who now has the scaly arms? (Luckily, the next thing I watched after the Game of Thrones series premiere was the first two episodes of the revived Twin Peaks, which put my confusion into perspective. There, Agent Cooper spent most of his time talking to a pulsating bladder attached to one of those fake trees you get from Ikea when your landlord won’t let you have real plants.)

The day-to-day business of Game of Thrones has always been power – answering the question of who will sit on the Iron Throne, forged by Aegon the Conqueror from the swords of his defeated enemies. But its backdrop is a far bigger threat: the arrival of a winter that will last many years, and the invasion of an army of the undead.

That might seem like an unkind way to think about Michel Barnier and his fellow Brexit negotiators – inexorably marching towards us, briefing papers in hand, while Liam Fox frantically rings a bell at the entrance to the Channel Tunnel – but nonetheless, the whole premise of Game of Thrones is a pretty good metaphor for the current state of British politics.

The current internal Conservative struggle for power might be vicious but it is at least familiar to its contestants; they know which weapons to deploy, which alliances are vital, who owes them a favour. Meanwhile, the true challenge facing every one of them is too frightening to contemplate.

In 2013, this magazine celebrated the early success of the show with a cover depicting one of our terrifying painted mash-ups: “The Tory Game of Thrones.” Our casting has been strangely vindicated. George Osborne was our Jaime Lannister – once the kind of uncomplicated bastard who would push a child out of a window but now largely the purveyor of waspish remarks about other, worse characters. Our Cersei was Theresa May, who spent the early seasons of The Cameron Era in a highly visible but underwritten role. Now, she has just seized power, only to discover herself beset by enemies on all sides. (Plus, Jeremy Corbyn as the High Sparrow would quite like her to walk penitently through the streets while onlookers cry “shame!”)

Michael Gove was our Tyrion Lannister, the kind of man who would shoot his own father while the guy was on the loo (or run a rival’s leadership campaign only to detonate it at the last minute). Jeremy Hunt was Jon Snow, slain by the brotherhood of the Night Shift at A&E, only in this case still waiting for resurrection.

The comparison falls down a bit at Boris Johnson as Daenerys Targaryen, as the former London mayor has not, to my knowledge, ever married a horse lord or hired an army of eunuchs, but it feels like the kind of thing he might do.

We didn’t have David Davis on there – hated by the old king, David Camareon, he was at the time banished to the back benches. Let’s retrospectively appoint him Euron Greyjoy, making a suspiciously seductive offer to Queen Cersei. (Philip Hammond is Gendry, in that most of the country can’t remember who he is but feel he might turn out to be important later.)

That lengthy list shows how Conservative infighting suffers from the same problem that the Game of Thrones screenwriters wrestle with: there are so many characters, and moving the pieces round the board takes up so much time and energy, that we’re in danger of forgetting why it matters who wins. In the books, there is more space to expound on the politics. George R R Martin once said that he came away from The Lord of The Rings asking: “What was Aragorn’s tax policy?” (The author added: “And what about all these orcs? By the end of the war, Sauron is gone but all of the orcs aren’t gone – they’re in the mountains. Did Aragorn pursue a policy of systematic genocide and kill them? Even the little baby orcs, in their little orc cradles?”)

Martin’s fantasy vision also feels relevant to the Tories because its power struggles aren’t about an “endless series of dark lords and their evil minions who are all very ugly and wear black clothes”. Instead, everyone is flawed. In Westeros, as in the Conservative Party, it can be difficult to decide who you want to triumph. Sure, Daenerys might seem enlightened, but she watched her brother have molten gold poured down his throat; plucky Arya Stark might tip over from adorable assassin into full-blown psychopath. Similarly, it’s hard to get worked up about the accusation that Philip Hammond said that driving a train was so easy “even a woman” could do it, when David Davis marked his last leadership campaign by posing alongside women in tight T-shirts reading “It’s DD for me”.

The only big difference from the show is that in real life I have sympathy for Barnier and the White Walkers of Brussels. Still, maybe it will turn out that the undead of Game of Thrones are tired of the Seven Kingdoms throwing their weight around and are only marching south to demand money before negotiating a trade deal? That’s the kind of plot twist we’re all waiting for.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder