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The Labour candidates on an English Labour Party, a constitutional convention and a written constitution

Labour leadership candidates responses on an English Labour Party and the Constitution.

OurKingdom Ourkingdom
5 August 2015
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Flickr/lizsmith. Some rights reserved.

On the 20 July Graham Allen MP wrote letter to Labour Leadership Candidates signed by a number of other members of parliament, asking especially about their views on the creation of an English Labour Party and giving them a chance to address constitutional issues as a whole. The letter and their replies are below:

Dear Liz, Jeremy, Andy and Yvette,

We are writing to you to ask that you put your view on an English Labour Party into the public domain.

We believe that the concept of a Federal Labour Party and a Federal UK is something that our party should explore as part of Labours offer and vision for 2020.

There is no doubt if we look back in 10 or 20 years’ time we will see that the devolution struggle is a series of steps on the way to a federal structure which is commonplace in most Western democracies. We hope you will undertake to encourage this debate to range far and wide before settling on a clear party position, the debate should encompass those who believe that a written settlement is essential for our democracy to those who just want to take a little further a good old British evolutionary approach.

To facilitate this we would ask that you commit not only to the idea of a Constitutional Convention but take the lead now in establishing one [while in opposition]with all elements of political and civil society who will participate.

Our policy position coming into 2015 failed to seize the excitement around devolution generated by the Scottish referendum and missed the chance to have a clear position of opposition to the stifling, overcentralised Whitehall model. We should oppose separatism as strongly as over centralisation and have a clear model of devolved power to each of the nations of the Union with a Labour party structure strong enough and flexible enough to deliver it.

At one level it is already happening, England could evolve through the next 5 years until half the local authorities are devolved, similarly devolution in Wales is moving swiftly. However both  in England and in Wales we are in danger of repeating Labour’s recent story from Scotland. A hope that things will turn out ok, the party in some places being the conservative establishment, not responding to people’s wishes but appearing to be  centrally designed and above all a failure to really believe with a passion in devolution such that electors will look  elsewhere.

That is why this is a Party as well as democratic question. Our party structures need to facilitate and reflect the separate national debates that are necessary and home grow the distinct devolution answers that each nation in the union will be most comfortable with. This requires the  pre-requisite of a revived federal labour party where Scotland, England, Wales can each find their voice and representative capacity but nonetheless are still part of the  transcending architecture of a federal party with a more generalised manifesto and all the party conference governance structures etc. A devolved party structure will feed a devolving democracy and vice versa.

We are therefore asking the leadership candidates whatever their personal views to lead the debate on the big concept of a federal labour party and a federal UK. We and the many supporters of this view in the council chambers and ward parties will happily help organise this discussion. We and our Party look forward to hearing your view on these issues and how we can take this forward together.

Best wishes,

 

Graham Allen, MP for Nottingham North

  • Jon Cruddas, MP for Dagenham and Rainham
  • Joe Anderson, Mayor of Liverpool
  • Sir Richard Leese, Leader Manchester City Council
  • Judith Blake Leader Leeds City Council
  • Chuka Umunna MP for Streatham
  • Chi Onwurah MP Newcastle upon Tyne Central
  • Jon Collins Leader Nottingham City Council
  • Frank Field MP for Birkenhead
  • Sarah Champion MP for Rotherham
  • Steve Reed MP Croydon North
  • Rob Flello MP for Stoke on Trent South.
  • Keith Vaz MP Leicester East
  • Stephen Twigg MP Liverpool West Derby
  • Rosie Cooper MP West Lancashire
  • Matthew Pennycook MP for Greenwich and Woolwich
  • Andrew Smith MP for Oxford East
  • Justin Madders MP for Ellesmere Port and Neston
  • Catherine West MP for Hornsey and Wood Green
  • Rob Marris MP for Wolverhampton South West
  • Jo Cox MP for Batley and Spen
  • Jonathan Reynolds MP Stalybridge and Hyde
  • Gavin Shuker MP for Luton South
  • Simon Letts, Leader Southampton City Council
  • Peter Box, Leader Wakefield Council
  • Jim McMahon, Leader Oldham Council, Leader LGA Labour Group

Response from Andy Burnham

"Not opposed to it but needs to be looked at as part of wider review of party structures in regions and nations."

 

Response from Jeremy Corbyn

Dear Graham,

Thanks.

Good idea and support. I think we, in opposition, should hold a constitutional convention and allow a serious discussion on national, regions, House of Lords, voting etc.

All best,

Jeremy

 

Response from Yvette Cooper

Dear Graham,

Thank you for your letter regarding an English Labour Party.

I believe that the Labour Party must have a response to the issues that are fragmenting communities and whole parts of our country.

I think the answer, in part, goes beyond our own party structures and involves devolving power to all parts of our country - not just to cities, but to towns too. Rhetoric about devolution, while shelving major regional transport for example, is just not good enough. We need sustainable investment and devolution for every region and for all parts of the country and it should go further than government plans - so that energy, skills and policing are all included too.

We must strive to build a sense of things that we have in common, rather than those that pull us apart. I therefore think it’s time to set in train a constitutional convention to draw up a written constitution. Our scattered and unwritten constitution of conventions has been stretched and torn – we need one written constitution that talks about the values we share and to uphold the integrity and importance of our Union.

As part of this, and as Leader of the Labour Party, I will consult on ways we can strengthen the distinct voices of English, Scottish and Welsh Labour within the UK-wide Party. There is certainly more that can be done to explore how more power can be better devolved to our regions and our nations, to facilitate and reflect the separate national debates that are necessary and grow the distinct devolution answers that each region and nation need. I want to see this happen. 
 
However, I do not believe, at this point, that we should have separate Labour Parties for England, Scotland and Wales. Although there are clearly distinct national identities that our Party needs to be in touch with and shaped by, I believe we should care as much about children growing up in poverty in Leeds as in Lanarkshire. We are united by our belief in equality, social justice and solidarity. We draw strength as a movement from the talents and experiences of Labour colleagues from across the UK.

I look forward to discussing these ideas with you as we move forward.

Best wishes,

Yvette Cooper MP

 

Response from Liz Kendall

Dear friends, 

During this leadership campaign I have set out very clearly my strong support for the guiding principle of devolution as part of a wider agenda aimed at giving people more control over their own lives and communities and tackling the massive over centralisation which is at the core of so many our economic and political problems.  This is at the very heart of what I stand for.  We must  devolve decision-making out of Whitehall because - as most western democratic nations already know and practice - decisions taken closer to the people they affect are better decisions. Taking responsibility through devolution will liberate our local entrepreneurialism, build our social and political institutions, & revive our self-confidence  and innovation. 

Nowhere is this principle more necessary than in respect of our Union. The different countries of the United Kingdom draw strength from each other in a union that benefits us all.  Citizens of each country are right to be proud of their own unique national heritage and culture and to seek more powers to take decisions for themselves. The principle I follow is ‘devolution by default’;  decisions should always be taken as close as possible to the people affected by them.  

Devolution cannot be imposed from the top in the way the Tories have tried to do; nor can it stop at a different level of government in the way the SNP have done by centralising power in Holyrood. The Westminster/Whitehall model is not fit for purpose. The right way to find a model that fits every part of the United Kingdom is to call a constitutional convention that will lead a national debate about the future governance of our country.  It is important this is led by civil society and that it is as wide-ranging and engaging as possible.  I will call together those groups and organisations who have an interest in leading such a convention and will support them in getting it started.  I want to see the Labour Party play a significant role in the convention alongside the rest of civil society in our country. 

I share the frustration of many that Labour at a national level has lagged behind on devolution ever since our great achievement in setting up the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.  We must now also recognise the right of England to have a clear voice of its own.  Labour in local government is leading the current devolution debate, and it’s high time the national party caught up.  In moving to a more federal structure for our country, we must also move to a more federal structure for our party.  We already have a Welsh Labour and Scottish Labour parties.  We now need an English Labour party that speaks for the people of England.  Our party can grow stronger by reflecting the needs of the separate countries of the UK within a federal structure that also recognises our role as a party of the entire United Kingdom. 

Some in our party have sought to win power at the centre so they can wield it over others.  But there is a deeper Labour tradition, stretching right back the founding of our party, which believes in the values of self-reliance, accountability and co-operation.  Its rallying cry was ‘power to the people’.  That is the tradition I come from, and I look forward to working with you to give people across our country the power they need to build the fairer society and better future we all want to see.

Regards, 

Liz

Don't miss Anthony Barnett's full analysis of these answers.

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