Devolution for England, a modest proposal

Here’s my submission to Compass’s How To Live In The 21st Century project:

Devolution for England

“It’s worked in Scotland and Wales!”

Contrary to the opponents, an English parliament would provide constitutional balance within the UK; an English parliament would have a progressive majority.

2. How does it fit with Compass’ core beliefs of equality, solidarity, democracy, freedom, sustainability and well being?

An English parliament would give England the same kind of representation that Scotland and Wales were granted in the late nineties and put an end to the anomaly of England-only laws being voted on by MPs whose constituencies lie in Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland.

It would allow the articulation of a civic conception of English national identity – based not on race and exclusion, but on place and participation – as has happened to some extent in Scotland and Wales.

The arguments against: it would make no difference to ordinary people; it would encourage the break-up of the UK; and it would reduce England to Tory domination.

3. How does it build the institutions of social democracy, like social groups and collective and cooperative forms of ownership and control?

An English parliament will provide a focus for those issues that are currently decided by the British government – which is comprised of MPs from across the nations of the UK – issues such as healthcare and education.

The establishment of devolution involved referenda in both Scotland and Wales; there is every reason to expect that there would be a public vote within England on the question of a national parliament and this will reinvigorate a sense of popular soverieignty, perhaps leading to more decisions being made through the use of plebisites.

4. How much will it cost or raise and where will any cost come from?

An English parliament could sit in the Commons at no extra cost.

5. Which groups in the electorate are likely to support or oppose this measure? Is there any polling evidence you have on this?

In November 2006, an Ipsos Mori poll for the Sunday Telegraph found 68% support. In January 2007, a telephone survey conducted by ORB (Opinion Research Business) for the BBC last year found that 61% of people in England were in favour. In April 2007, an opinion poll conducted by ICM for the Campaign for an English Parliament found 67% in favour.

Opponents have long suggested that an English parliament would lead to the break-up of the UK, but polling suggests greater support in Scotland and Wales for an English parliament than for either nation’s idependence!

6. Is there a place or country where it’s worked? Please provide some information.

As above, it has worked in both Scotland and Wales.

7. What are the three main arguments in favour/against it?

The arguments in favour: it’s popular amongst the general public who have seen the benefits in Scotland and Wales; it would allow decision-making on issues specific to England; and it would lead to the transformation of the UK into a federal republic.

For a democratic banking sector!

Gerry Bates writes on the national debt in the AWL’s Solidarity:

Sack the bank bosses! Bring finance under democratic social control

Bank of England and government support for the banks so far totals something like the equivalent of £18,000 for every child, woman, and man in the UK.

The Bank of England’s Financial Stability Report of 27 October 2008 gives the figures: a total of £1107 billion.

It can’t be right? After all, the average household in the UK is about 2.4 people. That average household doesn’t have £43,000 (£18,000 times 2.4) to give to the banks, even if it wanted to.

Indeed, the Government and the Bank of England have not been packing up £1107 billion in banknotes to hand over to the banks. The entire total of bank notes and coins in the UK is much less than that, about £50 billion.

The Government has been extending credit and guarantees to the banks. Across the system, a lot of the dodgy assets “cancel out”, so not all the £1107 billion in guarantees can be called in.

That is why the figures for Government guarantees to banks are so huge; yet still may be not enough. But there is more to it all than the huge notional figures.

As Anatole Kaletsky put it in The Times: “The provision of £100 billion of state guarantees to a grossly mismanaged and insolvent mortgage bank [is] a gross insult to the hundreds of thousands of workers in businesses from coal, steel and textiles to performance cars and advanced electronics whose jobs could have been saved with Government guarantees or ‘temporary’ nationalisations costing one-tenth or even one-hundredth of the £100 billion”.

Also, in real money the bail-out policies mean a much increased total debt from Government to the public, and therefore, as Marx put it in another context, “with it, pressure of taxes, the rise of the vilest financial aristocracy…”

£200 billion increase in the national debt looks likely. Assume the rate of interest the Government pays on that debt is about 5%. That is £10 billion a year extra in interest payments — equal, for example, to one-quarter of the Government’s total schools budget.

Meanwhile Government-supported or even Government-owned banks are run in just the same way, by the same people or the same sort of people, as the pre-crash privately-owned banks.

Ron Sandler, put in by the Government to run Northern Rock, gets £90,000 per month — £1,080,000 per year — more than the £690,000 basic salary of Northern Rock’s previous chief executive, Adam Applegarth.

Northern Rock workers are losing their jobs, and Northern Rock mortgage-holders are being evicted from their homes.

The Government does no more than plead and cajole with the banks to continue lending and to hold off on evictions.

The vast guarantees for the bank bosses, without anything in return, are indeed an insult; and, with jobs bleeding away and evictions mounting, an insult we can’t afford.

The labour movement should demand that the Government:

• nationalise all the big banks and high finance, without compensation for the big shareholders;

• sack the bank bosses;

• reorganise high finance as a public banking, mortgage, and pension service, under democratic and workers’ control;

• organise the allocation of credit, under democratic control, to safeguard jobs and homes, and to expand public services.

Tribune survives

Good news for Tribune:

THE owners of Tribune this week agreed to a sale of the magazine in order to safeguard its future and open the way for increased investment and development. The decision was taken at a meeting of the Board following three months of negotiations with a prospective purchaser, a Labour Party activist. It will entail the transfer of a 51 per cent stake in Tribune Publications Ltd, currently owned by a consortium of trade unions represented by Unison, T&G (Unite), Amicus (Unite), Community, ASLEF and the Communication Workers’ Union.

The unions came to the rescue of Tribune five years ago when the consortium was created and sustained the title through a reverse in circulation decline and a dramatic reduction in its losses. But in order to survive investment was required to shed historical debt and finance a marketing strategy to increase sales. Under the terms of sale, the unions agreed on Tuesday at a meeting in the House of Commons, to pay off existing liabilities before sale.

The purchaser is offering to buy the 51 per cent stake for £1 and is offering to underwrite the magazine’s losses with an annual £40,000 “cohesive, properly resourced, ring-fence-funded marketing strategy to underpin a three-year drive to move Tribune into a break-even position”.

Any surpluses after that will be ploughed back into the magazine, which will be run as a not-for-profit venture with existing staff.

The board received a written commitment to “keep Tribune as a left-of-centre publication, retaining its roots in the labour movement but broadening the readership to include non-union and Labour Party members as well as non-members who sympathise or vote with the Labour cause”. The magazine will also expand to cover the legislative importance of the European Union, especially in the area of employment law, in conjunction with a marketing push into European institutions, politicians and activists. The unions have agreed that historical levels of advertising and current levels of subscriptions will be maintained “provided that the editorial integrity and political orientation of Tribune as a labour movement journal is maintained”.

The unions are holding urgent talks on the discharge of liabilities as Tribune went to press. Lawyers representing the two sides are expected to take several weeks to seal the deal which, it is hoped, will come into effect at the start of the new year. The prospective purchaser, who praised the unions for their “critical role” in keeping Tribune alive and providing it with a chance to begin a fresh phase in its 70-year history, has requested no publicity until the sale is completed.

Editor Chris McLaughlin said: “This is an exciting prospect for Tribune. The lawyers have a few wrinkles to sort out, but if this deal is successful the magazine promises to be bigger, better and more influential than ever.”