Labour MP backs calls for devolved English parliament

He’s not the first, but I get the feeling Derek Wyatt won’t be the last – especially with the growing anger at the “perverse” method of dividing public finances between the nations in the UK. Also, it’s an easy issue for New Labour MPs with English constituencies to make a stand on.

Demand ‘growing’ for English parliament
Wednesday 18th June 2008 at 12:12 AM

The United Kingdom is in a “constitutional muddle” and demand is growing for an English parliament, a Labour MP has said.

Speaking ahead of a Westminster Hall debate on parliamentary representation in England, Derek Wyatt told ePolitix.com that four lower houses of equal powers should be established in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

A new upper house of representatives should be set up with responsibility for issues such as the environment and foreign policy, the Sittingbourne and Sheppey MP said.

He said: “We’ve devolved to Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, but we’ve not devolved the same powers to the one assembly and two parliaments. And by default, we have not given anything to England.

“We tried to do elected regional assemblies and they failed; now we’ve got unelected regional development agencies and we’ve still got some form of regional assembly – unelected. So the largest economic unit in Britain has no democratic representation.”

Wyatt, who is the parliamentary aide to culture minister Margaret Hodge, said that England was becoming increasingly disillusioned with the Barnett formula which allocates funding across the United Kingdom.

“English people are tired really of a Barnett formula that spends more money in the [other] three countries and doesn’t give them the same rights and the same responsibilities and the same treatment,” he said.

“I think it’s time we stopped and thought about what we’re doing.”

He added that demand for an English parliament will grow within the next five years to 10 years.

“People are tired of hearing that Scotland’s got better facilities when the Barnett formula gives them more per head for education, for instance, than in Kent where I live,” he said.

And since I was so amazed at this news, I checked Derek Wyatt’s own website:

Labour MP calls for five UK parliaments: “the United Kingdom is a half-built house,” says Derek Wyatt.

In a Westminster Hall debate tomorrow morning (Wednesday June 18) Derek Wyatt MP (Labour, Sittingbourne & Sheppey) will compare the United Kingdom to a half-built house where no one lives the way they want to and everyone argues about the household bills.

Setting out proposals for wide-ranging long-term constitutional and financial reform, he will call for a replacement of the “Barnett formula” which determines public spending in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland: “arrangements set up in the 1970s for reasons no one can now remember with results no one can now understand.”

Mr Wyatt will propose a constitutional convention, representing all the parties and peoples of the United Kingdom, to agree a ten-year plan for major reform of Parliament. At the end of the period the convention would present proposals for five separate Parliamentary chambers, one for each of the nations of the United Kingdom and one for the United Kingdom as a whole. Each nation would choose the issues it wanted to handle in its own chamber – and finance its policies from its own tax revenue. Other issues would remain with the UK chamber and financed from UK-wide taxation. The final package of proposals would be put to all voters in a referendum.

He will say: “I believe that all the peoples of the United Kingdom should have the same power to shape the laws and services which shape their lives, but they should also have the same responsibility for paying for them. We cannot carry on as we are. The present constitutional and financial relationships cannot endure. They are arbitrary and opaque and they allow everyone in the United Kingdom to believe that the system is unfair to them. The resulting mutual resentments could well lead to the break-up of our country in confusion and acrimony.”

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About that North-South divide

[Wednesday]

Dividing lines
The Institute for Public Policy Research’s northern branch put out a press release on Monday, trailing research to be published in an upcoming report (The Northern Economic Agenda by Howard Reed, Olga Mrinska and Michael Johnson), and berating the government for being in denial about the North-South divide:

[S]ince 1997, the North East, the North West, Yorkshire and Humberside and the Midlands have all moved further away from the national average, on the Government’s favoured measure of output per head (known to economists as ‘Gross Value Added’). Over the same period, London has out paced the rest of Britain.

[T]he Government’s target (which was set by Gordon Brown in 2002) has only been to reduce the average rate of growth between two groups of regions:

• on the one hand, the North East, the North West, Yorkshire and Humberside the East and West Midlands and the South West, and;
• on the other hand, London, the South East and the East of England.

At first I thought it odd that a think tank aligned to New Labour would be so critical. But it appears that this is cheerleading in disguise.

The IPPR North’s director, Sue Stirling says:

“The Government needs to get real on the north-south divide. At the moment, it is in denial. The Government has not explicitly targeted the gap between rich and poor, nor the gap between north and south. As a result, the work of Labour’s Regional Development Agencies has only succeeded in reducing the north’s relative decline.

“The standard Government line on the north-south divide is that inequalities within regions are as dramatic as those between regions. This is true but just because you deal with inequalities within regions it does not mean you should ignore inequalities between regions.

“This October’s Comprehensive Spending Review will almost certainly scrap the Government’s current target, and not before time. But we need a proper target to replace it that explicitly focuses on the gap between north and south.”

Don’t answer the question!
The electoral importance of the south east of England for governing UK does not explain Labour’s failure to tackle the North-South divide. Rather, the changes in British capitalism necessitated the continuation of the managed decline of manufacturing: the financialisation of the UK economy has continued in the last decade, moving north and south further along the road of uneven development.

Regionalisation was a way for Labour to sidestep the English question, which is a necessity for both the party and the capitalist class. The argument that a North East Assembly would help develop the region’s economy was rejected by the voters, and the plan for elected regional assemblies was halted, though the assemblies themselves did not cease to function as unelected bodies.

Brown has signalled that there is to be a revival of the elected regional assembly plan, the existing assemblies are to be disbanded, and the Tories might counter regionalisation with support for an English Parliament, if they can get over the Union. In the past, Tory talk of an English Parliament resulted in the solution currently proffered by Dangerous Dave: English votes on English matters. Will there be a change?

Tories and signatories
Tory MP Mark Field has come out in favour of an English Parliament:

I must confess I am wary of the Party adopting an ‘English votes for English Bills’ policy and playing to English nationalism. There is obvious inequity in our current constitutional arrangements as a result of devolution, and there is increasing disquiet from many in England who are concerned about the imbalances left by Labour’s political settlement. But attacking Scottish MPs comes across as partisan and negative. Our mission should be to maintain and strengthen the Union and avoid promoting a solution that could be portrayed by our opponents as putting that Union at risk. This would play badly not only in Scotland (which many Conservatives too easily regard as a lost cause) but also amongst middle class, Middle England voters who continue to value the Union and all it has meant for us. It also runs directly counter to the positive, optimistic messages that the Party is trying to cultivate elsewhere.

[…]

Since the expulsion of most of the hereditary peers, I have, in principle, favoured the option of a fully or largely-elected House of Lords. However, I recognise that such an outcome is unlikely to be within the realms of practical politics, not least as the House of Lords as currently constituted is likely to be hostile and there would be little agreement as to the timing or form of elections. I would prefer to see the creation of a completely new federal parliament. Four, full, national parliaments in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland with most of the existing powers of the House of Commons and over them a federal United Kingdom parliament, which would debate defence and foreign affairs, make treaties and administer a cohesion fund for the poorer parts of the UK. It would be funded by a per GDP levy on the national parliaments. There would be no need for extra politicians, as the national parliaments would send representatives to the UK parliament and meet together for its debates, which could be held in the old House of Lords chamber. [Emphasis added.]

Labour MP Frank Field initiated an Early Day Motion on the English question in January, which has so far been signed by only nineteen parliamentarians:

this House notes that those polls that have questioned the English report a clear majority in favour of an English parliament; and further notes that it is this issue, and not Scottish independence or even House of Lords reform, that is the issue that voters now put at the top of their priorities for constitutional reform.

Gordon Brown obviously doesn’t care for Scottish independence and has opted for the House of Lords as his focus for constitutional reform. It is not just because it’s the only option left; there is some political expediency in reforming the Lords. The cash for honours scandal further eroded confidence in political representation, a loss of legitimacy that the political elite can ill afford.

Reformed character
The heredity of political preferences which benefited Labour no longer exists – the party is no longer viewed in class terms and this has resulted in millions of traditional Labour voters giving up on the ballot box. Voting for Labour is no longer something that is learned – as abstention rises, so Labour’s turnout declines.

From the perspective of the ruling class, this means that New Labour has helped kill off class politics, though the party is still seen in class terms – only this time it is representing the interests of the super rich.

This positive development for the British capitalist class is offset by the damage in legitimacy that comes with millions of people dropping out of political participation – be it as party members or as loyal voters.

An English parliament with a fair voting system and recallable MPs on the wages of the average worker, would accelerate the independence struggles in Wales and Scotland, advance self-government in Cornwall, and give positive nationhood to working class people in England. All of this would be a blow to British and US imperialism, the military conquest of the Middle East, the European Union, and the privatisation agenda.

The establishment of an English Parliament will be the last choice for the ruling class in answering the English question, for all of the positive points I listed. There is no reworking the Union, it died when Ireland left.

This is not to say that they won’t try. Yet again the corpse of the British Empire will be reheated.

A done deal?

[Saturday]

The EU superstate advances, Tories tackle private equity, and I assess the potential of the next six months… Not a bad post for a spare hour’s work.

Protect me from protectionism!
The latest EU summit has ended after two days of negotiations with consensus on the way forward for the 27 states that make up the alliance. The need to review the functioning of European governance supposedly arose from the recent enlargement of the union, but plans to introduce a Constitution for the organisation were shelved when referenda in France and Holland returned “no” votes.

A few hiccups appear to have been dealt with; one concerning the voting rights of Poland, the other the references to the free market, which were problematic for the French. It is not that France has a firm commitment to the free market – well, its government might, but evidence suggests the people do not.

The new French President Nicolas Sarkozy may talk like a Thatcher, but he cannot walk like the Iron Lady. After the calamitous results in the recent French parliamentary elections, where his party did worse than under Chirac the last time and failed to secure hegemony over the legislature, Sarko is in no position to sign up to the “Anglo-Saxon” economic model.

No one is seriously worried about the death of free competition within the internal market of the EU. What is meant by “free competition” is the transfer of publicly-owned utilities and enterprises to capitalist control, the ending of import controls and the outlawing of protectionist measures.

The French insistence on reference to a “social market” and an aim towards full employment arises from the “anti-liberal” movement in France and the current weakness of Sarkozy’s regime, which compels him to tread carefully in matters of European integration.

Now that the terms of the treaty have been agreed all that remains is for the ratification process to take place. In the UK, this will be by a vote in Parliament unless there is a referendum.

Listen!
The 2005 rejection of the EU constitution was not accepted, European public opinion (largely Euro-sceptic) is ignored, and now there is a constitutional treaty in all but name. The building of a single European state continues…

The Prime Minister in waiting (so far, over ten years), Gordon Brown is being championed by the Murdoch press as the man who urged Blair to stand up to France. Oh, really? Blair might have come out of the summit with his red lines intact, but what does it all mean?

The red lines (or red herrings, as sceptics have called them) are:

1. UK control over criminal justice policy

2. No transfer of powers to the EU concerning taxation or benefits

2. The retention of Britain’s “independent” foreign policy, separate from the EU Foreign Ministry

4. An opt-out of a new charter of rights which would give workers in the UK the right to take strike action

Blair declared since that both Germany and France now have Atlanticist leaders (Angela Merkel and the aforementioned Sarko), the EU Commissioner Jose Manuel Barroso is a “reformer”, and his red lines had been kept, the treaty was in the UK’s best interest.

Brown responded by rejecting calls for a referendum on the treaty, since a promise of a public vote on the constitution had been made in previous years. He knows that the government would lose a referendum on Europe and is not willing to let that happen – especially now that he is in sight of Number 10.

Benito Brown
Gordon Brown has displayed his democratic credentials: he has tried and failed to appoint two unelected Lords to ministerial posts in as many days. The first, Lord Ashdown, is not even a member of the governing Labour party and the second, Lord Stevens, is the former Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.

Neither men are elected representatives – they are both state functionaries, paid up members of the Establishment, appointed by previous Prime Ministers.

So even without knowing of his record as Chancellor of the Exchequer (of which, more in a moment) it is plain to see that Brown is not committed to democratic participation in government any more than his predecessor, Tony Blair.

His attempts to advance British Nationalism commonly thought to derive from the West Lothian Question posed by his becoming PM, but whatever the reason for his flying of the butcher’s apron and his defence of and support for British imperialism, there is no doubt that this is to the detriment of working class people in England, Scotland, and Wales, the majority of whom do not support Labour’s Middle East wars and support fraternal relations between nations.

The desire of Gordon Brown to form what he calls a “government of all the talents” that includes Lords, Liberals, and policemen has not yet been fulfilled. The necessity of introducing more anti-terror legislation and thus further eroding civil liberties arises from the difficulties faced by British imperialism.

Revolting at home and abroad
Ordinary working people in the UK are being squeezed by rising inflation and mortgage repayments, low pay, high utility bills and rent, long working hours and increasing job insecurity.

New Labour may have promised an end to “boom and bust” economics, but they have been fortunate that the crisis has been emerging gradually. Brown faces co-ordinated public sector strikes against privatisation, below-inflation pay, and job cuts in which hundreds of thousands, if not millions of workers may walk out.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, the British armed forces face increasing casualties at the hands of the anti-colonial resistance – and the fact that both wars are being fought without public support or sufficient resources has led to a crisis of moral, recruitment, and retention.

The growing inequalities domestically and the arrogance of the capitalist class are starting to cause panic. That people earning millions of pounds each year pay no income tax while Brown plans to hike taxes for the low-income workers cannot be ignored, not even by the corporate press and Her Majesty’s Opposition.

Private equity, public scrutiny
The successful campaign by the labour movement to raise awareness of the growth of private equity and its implications for the economy and workers’ rights has led to discussion of the industry in the mass media in light of the revelations about “taper relief”. (See A taper relief and A din of inequity.)

This focus on private equity’s tax situation follows financier and Brown associate Sir Ronald Cohen’s remarks that if the widening wealth gap is not narrowed, there could be riots. There is a dawning realisation on the part of the capitalists that, as they have massively increased their wealth, they have not adequately bribed or subjugated those below. The petty bourgeois and the aristocracy of labour have their own interests, and if they are not met, they may join together with those who really have nothing to lose but their chains to demand radical change. It is this fear, and not concern for those less fortunate, that is leading men like Sir Ronald Cohen, Nick Ferguson, and Guy Hands to speak out.

In an attempt to gain ground for the Tories, the Shadow chancellor George Osborne has pledged that they would impose higher taxation on the private equity “industry”. As the right-wing Daily Mail commented:

“The Shadow Chancellor’s decisive promise contrasts sharply with the tentative approach of Gordon Brown and the Treasury.

“The Prime Minister-to-be has asked Her Majesty’s Customs & Excise to review the issue and hinted that there could be some changes proposed in the Pre-Budget Report late next autumn.

“Labour has been anxious not to be seen as anti-business and does not want to see the private equity business, which includes substantial party donors, driven offshore. [My italics.]”

Osborne supposedly fears that small businesses will be affected if there are changes to the tax system, but this is throwing out a small capitalist to catch a big one. I doubt very much that the Tories would disturb the rampant growth of private equity, but they must be seen to be in line with public opinion. Indeed, the Mail continues:

“Mr Osborne has commissioned the European School of Management, a leading British based business school, to conduct a review the issues.

“He wants the review to investigate how the UK can improve the environment for enterprise and venture capital.

“He wants to avoid damaging Britain’s competitiveness, reward risk-takers and those that take a long-term view on investment. It will report back this autumn, before the Treasury is due to publicise its own findings from an 18-month long examination.

“Guy Hands, one of Britain’s most prominent financiers, is calling on firms to take fight back by lifting the veil of secrecy.

“He issued a dire warning that the private equity industry was viewed ‘somewhere just above politicians but definitely below traffic wardens’.

“Mr Hands, who is poised to take control of music company EMI in a £2.4billion deal next week, said firms should emulate entrepreneurs such as Sir Richard Branson or easyJet founder Stelios Haji-Ioannou, who run their companies in a similar way but have succeeded in courting consumers.

“He added: ‘We have to be counted. We can’t run and we can’t hide.’

“Industry bosses have admitted that the light tax on their ‘carry’ – their stake in buyout deals – is overly generous.

Meanwhile, the industry’s trade body, the British Venture Capital Association, challenged politicians to haul in the banks that grant them risky loans.

“So called ‘covenant-lite’ loans, which have fewer financial heath checks built in, have drawn criticism from Bank of England Governor Mervyn King.”

2007’s Got Potential
The capitalists will destroy the planet before they give up their power and in the UK the only way of dealing climate change, crime, inflation, poverty, and unemployment, is to depose the ruling class, and act that can be achieved by working people in England, Scotland and Wales. In the coming year, there exists the possibility of inflicting a series of defeats on the ruling class: militarily, constitutionally, and economically.

First of all British military participation in any war against Iran must be prevented and a withdrawal of Anglo-American imperialism from the Middle East must be guaranteed. The challenge for the anti-war movement is to build ties with national liberation movements in the Middle East and to publicise the anti-imperialist struggles in this region.

Secondly, a referendum on the “amending treaty” must be forced – which will lay the framework for a further centralisation of power and the building of a European capitalist state – and there must be a victory for the “no” campaign. The case for Scottish independence must be made by the labour movement, and support must be given to the granting of full legislative powers to the Welsh Assembly if there is a referendum on the issue. The national question in England cannot be ignored by socialists, and the answer is unmistakably the establishment of an English Parliament. In this Cornish nation must not be forgotten, and socialists should also endorse self-government for Cornwall.

And thirdly, there has to be co-ordinated strike action in the public sector – if not parts of the private sector – the labour bureaucracy must not be allowed to use the planned strikes as a bargaining chip with Brown, they must go ahead unless the neo-liberal policies are reversed. Given the unpopularity of the corrupt New Labour government, arguing for the strike in explicitly political terms makes sense, even if it makes the trade union hierarchy uncomfortable…