We’re now into the last week of the Power2010 online vote and there appears to be just one competition.
In fifth place with just under 4,000 votes is "A fully elected second chamber" and close behind is “English Votes on English Laws” (EvoEL) trailing by just 50. EvoEL had been in the top five for the entire duration of the online consultation until yesterday when a personal appeal from Peter Facey was sent out to all Unlock Democracy supporters calling on them to support just one reform, a fully elected second chamber. This followed on from last week’s email shot by the Campaign for the English Regions which urged their supporters to vote for any reform but EvoEL.
It is a short-sighted tactic by Peter Facey because our constitution needs to be addressed in the round, and the territorial – national – questions are vitally important not only to the future of our Union state, but also for the formulation and implementation of the other constitutional reforms on the Power2010 agenda. Taking Peter’s new favourite reform as an example, if we move to a fully elected upper house then the West Lothian Question is replicated in the second chamber which will increase England’s democratic deficit (see The Upper West Lothian Question) and make our democracy more unfair.
Short-sighted on not, those who are opposed to an English dimension to our system of government have mobilised. The question now is, do we care enough to rally to the cause of EvoEL?
It has been a tough sell to persuade the English Parliament lobby to vote for English Votes on English Laws. And with good reason. An English parliament is the ideal and EvoEL is a very poor substitute. But to those who do support an English parliament and who have not yet voted I say this: EvoEL at least gives voice to English discontent with the Status Quo and provides an English dimension to what is otherwise a very British affair.
The recent IPPR study into MPs attitudes to the English Question found that MPs are not satisfied with the Staus Quo.
“The overwhelming majority of MPs believe that it is time to reform the way that England is governed. Keeping things as they are is MPs’ least favoured option, attracting slightly less support than the radical option of establishing an English Parliament. However, while there is a clear mandate for reform on this issue within the House of Commons, opinion is divided over what to do.”
With a clear mandate for reform within the House of Commons, inclusion of EvoEL in the Power2010 Pledge would send a strong message to our politicians that the decade long statusquoism over the small matter of England is not acceptable.
From the Scottish Conservative Conference in Perth, the Times has brought us news that Ken Clarke’s solution to the West Lothian Question (dubbed English Pauses for English Clauses) is to be carried forward as Conservative policy and that these changes would take effect “in the first few weeks” of a Conservative government because they did not require legislation.
Ken Clarke’s solution will allow non-English constituency MPs to continue voting on English legislation, and to have a potentially decissive say on English-only legislation. Indeed, the proposed Tory reform would not have altered the outcome of the foundation hospital or tuition fees vote, had it been in effect. This watering down is despite Cameron’s vow to give English MPs the decissive say on English legislation, and despite the promises to England made by made by the three previous Tory leaders (Hague, IDS and Howard) who pledged to introduce English Votes on English Laws rather than English alterations at Committee Stage (for a fuller understanding of the Tory plans please refer to this pdf).
It is vitally important that the English Question is fully debated in the next Parliament and prior to the next General Election. Inclusion of EvoEL in the Power2010 pledge is a very good way of making this happen, and it is for that reason rather than any love of EvoEL that I urge you to vote for this reform. Otherwise, without debate, the Conservatives will tell us that they have a mandate, and that we should not complain, when they introduce a procedural change to the Westminster voting system as their answer to the English Question (they’ve never really understood the difference between the West Lothian Question and the English Question).
When I wrote to my prospective Conservative MP, Jason Sugarman, to inform him of my disatisfaction at Ken Clarke’s solution, he told me:
"I know one way of removing a Scottish born MP from Parliament. By voting Conservative in Lewes!"
Sugarman’s reference to Norman Baker being born in Scotland is a feeble attempt to make light of a democratic deficit that his party promised to fix and now will not. If Sugarman’s thinking is typical it indicates that the Conservatives believe that English nationalism is essentially based on anti-Scottish feeling. Much of it is, but it is an anti-Scottishness that springs from an inherent democratic unfairness that they promised to fix but have now reneged on that promise.
A Tory General Election win would remove much English resentment (assuming they were able to form a government) but it would not address the root cause of that resentment, and neither would Ken Clarke's attempt at mitigating the West Lothian Question. It is vital that we discuss this now, before more powers are removed from Westminster to Holyrood, Cardiff and Stormont, increasing again the English democratic deficit that gnaws at the heart of our constitution.
With the exception of EVoEL the Power2010 top ten reads like a Liberal Democrat's wet dream, or the Charter88 manifesto. The trustees at Joseph Rowntree House will all be nodding sagely at the wisdom of Joe Public if EVoEL doesn't make the cut. But if English Votes on English Laws doesn't make the cut it's all too predictable, too anodyne. It lacks credibility.
Date that boy that your mum warned you about. Go out and buy that motorbike. Inhale. Throw a brick through an establishment window. Vote for the joker in the pack, vote for the one that will cause debate and controversy, vote for English Votes on English Laws.