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.