Saturday, 23 November 2013

Guest article countering calls for 'parliament of the North' by Eddie Bone & James Black Campaign for an English Parliament

Disclaimer. Eddie Bone & James Black article opposing my support for (following the printing of Paul Salverson article here last week) devolution for the north of England. The views below are those of the authors. Just for clarity, my own view is for regional devolution.

Campaign for an English Parliament: Labour Needs to Grab English policy making by the Collar and accept that the English do not want regionalisation

The Labour Party currently has two choices, it embraces Englishness and nurtures a progressive civic English national identity or it simply falls on its British sword, chanting ‘One Nation!’ as it disappears from England in much the same way as the Conservative Party have disappeared in Scotland. That statement might seem a tad over dramatic but the future prosperity of the British Labour party in England will be dire if it doesn’t adapt to changing attitudes towards Britain by the English.

The Labour party needs to accept that a problem exists in its relationship with England, that it is not just a scratch but a deep wound that will turn sceptic if left untreated. The first step of treatment must be an assessment of why Labour regionalisation policy lost its way and how it has damaged Labours relationship with its traditional English core vote.

Labour's policy makers have to acknowledge that the form of regionalisation chosen was always going fail in the UK, especially in England. This was largely due to its creators making two fundamental mistakes when the concept was given political life.

They thought that it wouldn't matter if both Wales and Scotland retained their historical and national identity within their regional borders whilst England due to her size and diversity would happily regionalise into smaller pieces, with no attempt made to retain her national identity. Unfortunately, for the Labour creators of UK regionalisation, the opposite has happened by default Englishness has grown and is now increasingly demanding her own political voice.

Labour needs to accept that they have mismanaged the first opportunity to decentralise Britain’s powerbase due to their unbalanced approach to devolution, meaning many in England now distrust them because of it.

It could have worked had both the Welsh and the Scottish national identities been deconstructed at the same time as they attempted to deconstruct England. For example, Southern Wales could have been made into a region with Devon and Cornwall, the north of Wales placed into a region with Liverpool or the Scottish lowlands made into a region with Northumberland.

If this had occurred then a truly ‘British regionalised state’ would have emerged, but this did not happen, begging the question; Why didn’t the Labour party implement full regionalisation to all the nations in 1998 when they had the chance to realign the UK’s national boundaries?

The answer to that question has some obvious, painful implications for English Labour supporters - but it could also help the Labour party find the solution to its English problem.

When they introduced regionalisation, Labour allowed themselves to be overly influenced by Scottish and Welsh MP's, succumbing to their desire to retain and re-establish their own distinct ‘national’ identities from their larger ‘neighbour’. This approach would of course have been fine, had the same consideration been bestowed upon the people of England.

As a result, a large section of Labour’s traditional English voters now perceive that the party no longer identifies with English concerns and are starting to look elsewhere in a bid to find a party that represents them.

Labour urgently needs to alter this perception if they are to have any chance under the current political climate to establish a flourishing powerbase in England. They need to realise that a number of essentials must change now that Scotland and Wales are devolving nations, not just regions.

England, being the largest and most dominant country within the UK, requires a solution that is suitable to her needs and that recognises the research which clearly shows her people have no desire to be broken up into bite-sized ‘regions’.

Bringing power closer to the people only enhances decision making if it has the cohesive, integrated direction of an overseeing group, otherwise each region will fight with one another for jobs and money. Why would a rich region share with a poor region if they do not have a connection, a shared responsibility and a sense of togetherness? Just look at Boris Johnson and the Greater London region within the British setting. Already questions have been raised as to finances going elsewhere. Devolving power simply has to be balanced with a collective voice and an English First Minister working within an English parliament could accomplish this.

Taking regionalisation into super regions, i.e. creating a parliament for the north of England just accentuates the problem and would lead to unanswerable questions about where the north of England ends and the south of England starts. Also if you begin that process then why not have a parliament in the west, the south and the east of England as well. Then we are back into regionalisation and massive layers of government which has been rejected by the people of England.

Many in the Labour party would rightly state that it is important to ensure the smaller nations of the UK are politically and economically protected. However, simply having separate Scottish and Welsh Labour parties, in the absence of a separate ‘English Labour’ Party, is no longer acceptable. Establishing an English Labour Party, that produces its own English manifesto with English policies, working in conjunction with pre-existing Scottish and Welsh manifesto’s is absolutely essential.

If they can take control of the English policy, giving it the love, care and attention that it craves and deserves, then Labour might just be a master worth being loyal to…

Eddie Bone & James Black
Campaign for an English Parliament