Nick Clegg talks to members of the media during a campaign visit to the market place in Selkirk. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Nick Clegg rejects full English votes for English laws

Nick Clegg, the deputy Prime Minister, rules out "English votes for English laws" - but backs compromise of an English grand committee to amend legislation. 

When David Cameron made his dramatic pledge this morning to end the right of non-English MPs to vote on English laws he made it clear that he hoped to act on a "cross-party basis" (as the parties have done on further Scottish devolution). But it's already looking as if consensus will prove elusive. 

Those I've spoken to in Labour suggest that the party will not agree to a reform that could leave it unable to pass major legislation, and even a Budget, in government (should it be dependent on Scottish and Welsh MPs for its majority). Although the West Lothian question is a genuine constitutional anomaly, most regard Cameron's move as a nakedly political attempt to tie Labour's hands. 

Shadow Welsh secretary Owen Smith tweeted: "The last thing Scotland needs is a constitutional fix which reduces Scotland's voice at Westminster & strengthens Tories' grip on power." He added: "Farage and Cameron united today in responding to yesterday's decision by seeking to concentrate more power in their hands & at Westminster."

Expect Ed Miliband to instead focus on the need for radical economic change and devolution to city regions to solve the problem of political alienation. 

But it's not just Labour that is distancing itself from Cameron's proposals. Interviewed this morning in Edinburgh, Nick Clegg did not fall into line with the Tories' plans. Rather than pure English votes for English laws, he suggested resurrecting the idea of an English grand committee to amend legislation, as proposed by the government's McKay commission in March 2013. This would mean that UK MPs, including those from Wales and Scotland, would still have the final say. 

Here's the exchange:

Interviewer: "How’s this going to work, this English votes for the English?  Does that mean on certain days some MPs from certain parts of the UK will have to step out of the Chamber?  What’s it going to cover?  Is it going to be tax, health?  There seems to be – as this has raised a lot of issues, which people looking at the House of Commons think, 'Well, how’s that going to work in practice?'"

Nick Clegg: "Well thankfully it’s already been looked at, so this government, the coalition government, we commissioned work for Lord McKay who looked at all of these issues and came up with some very sensible suggestions about how you could ensure that where – as powers are – significant powers on tax, welfare, borrowing – will devolve to Scotland, you could also adjust the procedures of the House of Commons such that decisions that only affect England have a new stage, if you like, in the decision-making process by which English MPs and English MPs only can make their views known. 

"So thankfully a lot of the work has already been done.  I think it’s right, as I’ve said before, as the Prime Minister’s said this morning, that we should try and bring these two things together at the same time; namely massive new devolution of powers to Scotland and adjusting the way in which votes are organised in Westminster."

In addition, Danny Alexander echoed Labour by warning against creating "two different classes of MPs", adding that: "There's no party proposing to take away the voting rights of Scottish MPs - that is not part of the agenda. It's not what's going to happen." 

But the Tories have already signalled that if they fail to achieve cross-party support, they will make English votes for English laws a dividing line at the election. William Hague said this morning: "We have to discuss this with all the other parties. Of course if there is no consensus, well then it is something at the general election, the parties will have to stake out their positions." 

While the issue is not one that animates many voters, the Tories clearly see the potential to weaponise it and to frame themselves as the "English party" and Labour as the "anti-English party". 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Leader: The unresolved Eurozone crisis

The continent that once aspired to be a rival superpower to the US is now a byword for decline, and ethnic nationalism and right-wing populism are thriving.

The eurozone crisis was never resolved. It was merely conveniently forgotten. The vote for Brexit, the terrible war in Syria and Donald Trump’s election as US president all distracted from the single currency’s woes. Yet its contradictions endure, a permanent threat to continental European stability and the future cohesion of the European Union.

The resignation of the Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi, following defeat in a constitutional referendum on 4 December, was the moment at which some believed that Europe would be overwhelmed. Among the champions of the No campaign were the anti-euro Five Star Movement (which has led in some recent opinion polls) and the separatist Lega Nord. Opponents of the EU, such as Nigel Farage, hailed the result as a rejection of the single currency.

An Italian exit, if not unthinkable, is far from inevitable, however. The No campaign comprised not only Eurosceptics but pro-Europeans such as the former prime minister Mario Monti and members of Mr Renzi’s liberal-centrist Democratic Party. Few voters treated the referendum as a judgement on the monetary union.

To achieve withdrawal from the euro, the populist Five Star Movement would need first to form a government (no easy task under Italy’s complex multiparty system), then amend the constitution to allow a public vote on Italy’s membership of the currency. Opinion polls continue to show a majority opposed to the return of the lira.

But Europe faces far more immediate dangers. Italy’s fragile banking system has been imperilled by the referendum result and the accompanying fall in investor confidence. In the absence of state aid, the Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, the world’s oldest bank, could soon face ruin. Italy’s national debt stands at 132 per cent of GDP, severely limiting its firepower, and its financial sector has amassed $360bn of bad loans. The risk is of a new financial crisis that spreads across the eurozone.

EU leaders’ record to date does not encourage optimism. Seven years after the Greek crisis began, the German government is continuing to advocate the failed path of austerity. On 4 December, Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, declared that Greece must choose between unpopular “structural reforms” (a euphemism for austerity) or withdrawal from the euro. He insisted that debt relief “would not help” the immiserated country.

Yet the argument that austerity is unsustainable is now heard far beyond the Syriza government. The International Monetary Fund is among those that have demanded “unconditional” debt relief. Under the current bailout terms, Greece’s interest payments on its debt (roughly €330bn) will continually rise, consuming 60 per cent of its budget by 2060. The IMF has rightly proposed an extended repayment period and a fixed interest rate of 1.5 per cent. Faced with German intransigence, it is refusing to provide further funding.

Ever since the European Central Bank president, Mario Draghi, declared in 2012 that he was prepared to do “whatever it takes” to preserve the single currency, EU member states have relied on monetary policy to contain the crisis. This complacent approach could unravel. From the euro’s inception, economists have warned of the dangers of a monetary union that is unmatched by fiscal and political union. The UK, partly for these reasons, wisely rejected membership, but other states have been condemned to stagnation. As Felix Martin writes on page 15, “Italy today is worse off than it was not just in 2007, but in 1997. National output per head has stagnated for 20 years – an astonishing . . . statistic.”

Germany’s refusal to support demand (having benefited from a fixed exchange rate) undermined the principles of European solidarity and shared prosperity. German unemployment has fallen to 4.1 per cent, the lowest level since 1981, but joblessness is at 23.4 per cent in Greece, 19 per cent in Spain and 11.6 per cent in Italy. The youngest have suffered most. Youth unemployment is 46.5 per cent in Greece, 42.6 per cent in Spain and 36.4 per cent in Italy. No social model should tolerate such waste.

“If the euro fails, then Europe fails,” the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has often asserted. Yet it does not follow that Europe will succeed if the euro survives. The continent that once aspired to be a rival superpower to the US is now a byword for decline, and ethnic nationalism and right-wing populism are thriving. In these circumstances, the surprise has been not voters’ intemperance, but their patience.

This article first appeared in the 08 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brexit to Trump