How to solve the English question?

An English parliament is a non-starter. But we could soon see "English votes on English laws".

One consequence of the debate over Scottish independence is a renewed focus on "the English question": the question of how England should be governed in a post-devolution era. English voters are increasingly resentful of a settlement that allows Scottish and Welsh MPs from the three main parties (SNP and Plaid Cymru members abstain) to vote on English-only laws (the problem that became known, after the anti-devolution Tam Dalyell, as the West Lothian question).

John Reid used to quip that the answer to the West Lothian question was to stop asking it but, largely unnoticed by the media, the government has set up a new commission to examine it. An ippr poll out today shows that 79 per cent of English voters agree that Scottish voters should be barred from voting on English laws, with an absolute majority (53 per cent) in strong agreement. When offered a range of constitutional options (the status quo, English votes on English laws, an English parliament, regional assemblies), 34 per cent support "English votes on English laws" and 20 per cent support an English parliament. In other words, a majority of voters (54 per cent) now oppose the status quo.

In a speech on Saturday, Simon Hughes made the case for an English parliament but he was slapped down the next day by Nick Clegg. With English voters accounting for 80 per cent of the UK population, few senior politicians believe they require the protection afforded by a separate assembly. Moreover, no Prime Minister would ever accept the creation of a body that, owing to the size of its electorate and its wealth, would act as a genuine rival to Westminster.

There is, however, a strong chance that this government or the next will introduce some version of "English votes on English laws", a reform that would amount to the creation of an English parliament within Westminster. Indeed, every Conservative manifesto since devolution has included a pledge to introduce this reform. Deprived of the votes of Scottish and Welsh MPs, a future Labour government could struggle to pass contentious legislation, one reason why it has already denounced the West Loathian commission as "partisan tinkering with our constitutional fabric".

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Jeremy Corbyn sat down on train he claimed was full, Virgin says

The train company has pushed back against a viral video starring the Labour leader, in which he sat on the floor.

Seats were available on the train where Jeremy Corbyn was filmed sitting on the floor, Virgin Trains has said.

On 16 August, a freelance film-maker who has been following the Labour leader released a video which showed Corbyn talking about the problems of overcrowded trains.

“This is a problem that many passengers face every day, commuters and long-distance travellers. Today this train is completely ram-packed,” he said. Is it fair that I should upgrade my ticket whilst others who might not be able to afford such a luxury should have to sit on the floor? It’s their money I would be spending after all.”

Commentators quickly pointed out that he would not have been able to claim for a first-class upgrade, as expenses rules only permit standard-class travel. Also, campaign expenses cannot be claimed back from the taxpayer. 

Today, Virgin Trains released footage of the Labour leader walking past empty unreserved seats to film his video, which took half an hour, before walking back to take another unreserved seat.

"CCTV footage taken from the train on August 11 shows Mr Corbyn and his team walked past empty, unreserved seats in coach H before walking through the rest of the train to the far end, where his team sat on the floor and started filming.

"The same footage then shows Mr Corbyn returning to coach H and taking a seat there, with the help of the onboard crew, around 45 minutes into the journey and over two hours before the train reached Newcastle.

"Mr Corbyn’s team carried out their filming around 30 minutes into the journey. There were also additional empty seats on the train (the 11am departure from King’s Cross) which appear from CCTV to have been reserved but not taken, so they were also available for other passengers to sit on."

A Virgin spokesperson commented: “We have to take issue with the idea that Mr Corbyn wasn’t able to be seated on the service, as this clearly wasn’t the case.

A spokesman for the Corbyn campaign told BuzzFeed News that the footage was a “lie”, and that Corbyn had given up his seat for a woman to take his place, and that “other people” had also sat in the aisles.

Owen Smith, Corbyn's leadership rival, tried a joke:

But a passenger on the train supported Corbyn's version of events.

Both Virgin Trains and the Corbyn campaign have been contacted for further comment.

UPDATE 17:07

A spokesperson for the Jeremy for Labour campaign commented:

“When Jeremy boarded the train he was unable to find unreserved seats, so he sat with other passengers in the corridor who were also unable to find a seat. 

"Later in the journey, seats became available after a family were upgraded to first class, and Jeremy and the team he was travelling with were offered the seats by a very helpful member of staff.

"Passengers across Britain will have been in similar situations on overcrowded, expensive trains. That is why our policy to bring the trains back into public ownership, as part of a plan to rebuild and transform Britain, is so popular with passengers and rail workers.”

A few testimonies from passengers who had their photos taken with Corbyn on the floor can be found here