Ed Miliband is giving his own “Vow” today, for English devolution. He pledges that a Labour government will pass an English Devolution Act, which would involve transferring £30bn of funding, over a five-year period, to England’s cities and counties.
He is proposing a new English Regional Cabinet Committee, which would be chaired by the Prime Minister, held regularly, with the relevant cabinet secretaries and city and regional leaders present. There is also a promise to give cities and counties more autonomy over their public transport networks – bus services feature heavily in Miliband’s plans.
LabourList reports Miliband’s speech unveiling these plans in Manchester today:
Labour has a radical plan for spreading power and prosperity across England’s city and county regions, so that the recovery reaches your town square – not just the Square Mile of the City of London. Our plan already goes further than anything this Government can offer and today I am announcing the next steps which build on the work of the Adonis Review to help city and county regions drive growth in their areas.
For too long, powers to regulate and integrate bus services have been enjoyed only by London. For too long, the other regions of England have been unable to plan ahead or join up their transport networks to help secure the prosperity they need. For too long everyday working people have found their journey to work made harder and more expensive than it needs to be by a deregulated system that fails to serve the public interest. And for too long this issue has been ignored by Westminster: prosperity in one party of the country; power devolved in one part of the country; services not run for the public interest everywhere else. That stops today.
Although Miliband has been plugging away at empowering the cities and regions for a while now, long before the Scottish referendum, there are those in the party who see his reticence over addressing the “English votes for English laws” conundrum as having led Labour into a bit of an “English crisis”.
Its conference this autumn was so dominated by the Prime Minister’s promise to answer the West Lothain Question, and his condemnation of the Labour leadership’s rather limp response proposing a Constitutional Convention but nothing more detailed, that the situation apparently reduced one Labour spinner to tears. The party had to hold back policy because its announcements were being overshadowed by the devolution debate – for example, I heard from one shadow frontbench insider that Labour’s plan for football fans on boards was going to be part of Miliband’s keynote speech, but had to be postponed.
There are those in the party who see Labour’s delay in detailing a proper devolution plan as not only a weak response to “English votes for English laws” but also a longer-term failure to grasp the importance of listening to the concerns of those in the English regions, hence letting Ukip gain ground in traditionally Labour-leaning areas. One shadow minister reveals to me that, for 18 months or so, there has been a “recurring drumbeat” of Labour MPs warning their leadership to “go out there and understand how people are thinking and feeling. We need to be more radical, and articulate in public what we’d do about English devolution.”
They add: “We’ve recently been pleading with Ed’s office to be the first person to acknowledge England – the issue in England needs to be addressed.”
Will Miliband’s offer today, with its worthwhile but rather unexciting focus on regulating bus services, be radical enough for his party to be trusted on the English question? Or is it too late?