Wednesday, 1 September 2010

The North needs it's own parliament

There is something distinctive about the North. As a Lancastrian who has lived on the banks of the Tyne all my adult life, I love it all from the Albert Docks to the Hull waterfront and up to the moors of Northumberland and Cumberland. I have always felt in discussions of Englishness vs Britishness a crucial link has been missed out. Not whether you are from the Government Office region for the North East, North West or Yorkshire and the Humber. I am a Northerner. I always feel like I have a lot in common with people from the north than I have with other people. A certain wry sense of humour and a pride in our heritage.

All very good but what is the political interest? After Labours failed regional project and the overwhelming vote in the North East against a regional assembly there is still a gap in Britain for an effective voice below the nation state but above that of local councils. I was up in Scotland recently for the Edinburgh festival and the sense that you are in a region of the country that makes the best of its membership of the UK but does its own thing when there is a better local answer was strong. Despite the current coalitions good intentions to devolve power to the citizen and to local councils, it is all too easily a power that can be taken away by the next centralising government, which is most Westminster governments after a few years!

I think the Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) that will replace the Regional Development Agencies will be fine for local business support. However, on areas like how we turn around our great Northern cities, which despite a lot of tarting up of the city centres under Labour lack a strong private sector with enough indigenous companies to mean we can be in control of our destiny, a genuine Northern voice would be useful. A lot of times on issues such as Education and housing the English solution dreamt up in Westminster feels like a solution for London. Until these decisions are taken in the North they will not be right for our distinctive region.

I do not accept the arguments for an English Parliament. There is a need for an English version of the Scottish parliament and the Welsh Assembly to help overturn the centralisation of the UK but England is too large and too disparate for an English Parliament to have any use – the problems of the North are too different to those of the South.

Local Councils need more powers and so do individuals but large areas of public policy, Health, Education and Transport for example need a genuinely Northern answer. Ironically, I think the idea might get more buy in from the public than powers for the North East or other parts of the North. On Teeside, there was a large vote against the assembly and we have seen Tees Valley councils wanting an independent voice from the rest of the North East with call for a separate LEP. A wider northern identity might calm fears that the neighbouring town is taking power away and give the area the scale necessary to differentiate it from local areas but to still keep a distinctive voice.

13 comments:

  1. Devolving power to the county and city level should be one of the English parliament's first isssue to consider. There has to be an English Parliament first, if there is to be an English answer to the English Question. A British answer (see the disasterous attempt at regionalisation) is not acceptable.

    BTW, England is by far the most homogenous nation in the UK, Politically, economically, historically and culturally.

    Compare industrial, modern south Wales to touristy north Wales. Edinburgh has more in common with London and Manchester than it does the Western Isles and the Highlands that are Celtic in language and culture.

    At least we speak the same language in England.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I really think that an English Parliament covers an area too diverse and large to do much better than the UK parliament but have always admired the English parliament people for at least keeping the West Lothian question alive - it wont go away

    ReplyDelete
  3. Every other nation in the world has its own parliament or equivalent, many far bigger than England, so on what basis do you say that England is too big.

    I'm not as parochial as you, I have to say that I feel equally at home in Newcastle as I do in Cornwall. But then my family are from the North, I grew up in the Midlands, and now live on the South Coast. I think England is a fantastic country, but it could be improved upon. An English parliament under a fair electoral system, within a reformed federalised UK.

    I lived in Scotland and watched as the Scottish Parliament helped embue Scots with a renewed sense of national pride and purpose. It really envgorated the country. It wasn't a destructive sort of pride, actually it helped remove some of the chippy antagonism and ethnic hatred that some Scots held against England. England too needs a civic nationalism (witness the EDL, English National Alliance and the BNP's increasing call for an English parliament - resentful nationalism born from feat of 'the other' not disimillar to early Scottish and Welsh nationalisms). Democracy needs to take account of peoples' sense of identity, otherwise non-democratic forces will harness nationalism. As Tom Nairn once wrote:

    "Blair's Project makes it likely that England will return on the street corner, rather than via a maternity room with appropriate care and facilities. Croaking tabloids, saloon-bar resentment and back-bench populism are likely to attend the birth and to have their say. Democracy is constitutional or nothing. Without a systematic form, its ugly cousins will be tempted to move in and demand their rights -- their nation, the one always sat upon and then at last betrayed by an elite of faint hearts, half-breeds and alien interests."

    Either we create a progressive civic Englishness, or we leave Englishness open to ethnicisation by the far-right....The best way to create a civic and progressive Englishness is for everybody - regardless of ethnicity, race or religion - to be a stakeholder in England through the ballot box. This means creating an English parliament and government so that Englishness is constitutional. It's really very straight forward. It's also, according to the polls, what the people want.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Fair enough Toque - I just think that a parliament representing 84% of the UK population will be a bit too close to the size of the UK. Unless we all support one world government we could all be accused of parochialism, I just don't see how an English Parliament would add more focus to the problems of the North of England and not be dominated by the South and the Midlands. Also you mention Cornwall - my friends down there want a Cornish parliament! But the debate needs to be had.

    Anyway your points about English identity not falling into the hands of extremists is a valid one - I am thinking about these issues and will probably post something soon.

    ReplyDelete
  5. An English Parliament in the Commons and a new British Grand Committee instead of the House Of Lords. Equal representation of British MP's regardless of size of Country.
    However, if the English would like an English Parliament outside London so be it. Unless a Northern English Parliament and a Southern English Parliament as such as you suggest has the same law making capacity as Scotland and soon Wales, it is a none starter

    ReplyDelete
  6. I don't believe the north is a distinctive "region" any more than the "south" or "south east" is. Instead of an assembly for the "North" ( who will benefit most, manchester and liverpool? ), why not campaign for an independent England with decentralisation to the cities and the counties of England. I wonder whether the biggest threat to the "North" is in fact the United Kingdom.

    ReplyDelete
  7. How is it that for some people, the only answer for ANYTHING to do with England is to split it up,strange is it not?

    ReplyDelete
  8. Very curious how so many of the chattering class who approve wholeheartedly of parliamneatry institutions for Scotland wales and just about every other country in the world, including Tibet,do a U turn whenever England is mentioned.

    Suddenly, its not correct for the ancient parliamentary country of England, you know.

    Too big ( though a lot smaller than many other countries with parliaments), too expensive( they never said that about the Scottish parliament and anyway it needn't be),England is too diverse( Scotland is a lot more diverse, encompassing two completely different languages and histories).
    Anyway, they always say, there is no demand for it though survey after survey shows the opposite.

    With luck, Salmond's dash for a referendum is likely to increase the push in England for like treatment ie our own parliament and our own government. At present we are occupied by a ruthless British state which goes out of its way to ignore or disparage the English.

    JH - from Cornwall.

    ReplyDelete
  9. 'I just think that a parliament representing 84% of the UK population will be a bit too close to the size of the UK'.....

    That's YOUR opinion - and according to the latest opinion polls, you Sir are in the minority. The MAJORITY of English people want an English Parliament, 68 people out of every 100! The people want it, so let's have it. I believe the process is called 'democracy'..

    'Also you mention Cornwall - my friends down there want a Cornish parliament!'....

    Well no, actually, they do not! Where's your proof? Otr are you talking about the 50k signatures?

    They got 50,000 signatures in support of a Cornish Assembly. The population of Cornwall is around 500,000. Taking out those not eligable to vote (kids, etc) that leaves around 300,000 voting adults.... 50,000 in favour, 250,000 not in favour. Now I'm not that brilliant at sums, but I reckon the 'NOES' have it, don't you? In fact, if you put those figures into percentages,those 'FOR' the proposition number less than the miserable 18% in favour of the NE Assembly - making in excess of 80% of people in Cornwall AGAINST the formation of a Cornish Assembly.

    The case for an English Parliament is 100% legit'... If national democracy is good enough for Scotland, Wales, France, Germany, Iraq and Afghanistan then by God it's good enough for us too. My national democratic right as described by the UN charter is not something that can be pencil-sucked out of existence or kicked into the long grass by the Westminster Stasi.

    And if you remain to be convinced, why not actually ASK US what WE want via a referendum?????

    ReplyDelete
  10. Well this has been a popular thread. Alfie, yes that is my opinion and I'm entitled to it. As to whether it is a popular viewpoint, I couldn't comment. As for the Cornish issue - I would say there is widespread support in Cornwall for a Cornish assembly - 10% of the population filling in a petition is very good.

    English independence is a perfectly legitimate argument (not one I agree with however) but I remain to be convinced what distinctive English only policies could be effectively passed at an English parliament as part of the UK. I am not a nationalist, I want a legislative body which fills the gap between the nation state and councils. 83% of the country having the same sub parliament/assembly wouldn't produce anything distinctive and would just be a rival body to the UK parliament - in my view.

    As to getting a referndum, I am not part of the Westminster "stazi" as you put it but if people were to get a petition equivalent to 10% of the UK population like they have done in Cornwall then I think a referndum would be possible.

    Personally I think we live in a representative democracy and you elect people to make the decisions so I do not approve of referenda.

    If you want people who place an English parliament as a priority then stand candidates and pursuade people to vote for them, then there would be no question of it happening.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Regarding the stasi thing.... I was referring to people such as Falconer, Blair, Brown (G), Kennedy, Clegg, Cameron, Irvine, Reid, Balls, Cooper, Straw, Rifkind, etc, etc, etc.. and not your good self.

    And presumably, as you reckon we live in a representative democracy, you had no problem that former PM G. Brown could action the building of 3 million houses in England, the building of 20 new nuclear power stations in England, the building of God knows how many new runways in England - and yet within his own constituency, he didn't have the power to get a shed lean-to built?

    Those examples are pertinent to Planning and Infrastructure - but the same can be said about all the other great domestic portfolios, Health, Transport, Education, Local Government...(70% of all Westminster business is England specific)..

    Oh yes, I'm just loving that representative democracy at work!!!

    The current system is an asymetric three legged camel. A mature administration would be trying to address the situation pdq rather than endlessly finding long grass to kick those akward little questions into..

    Rest assured, the longer this situation is allowed to continue, the bigger will be the backlash and the more extreme the solution. Don't you just love those Labour politicians when they would get up and tell us that the union is stronger because of devolution....

    Yeah, that'll be why all three devolved administrations are either partly or wholly run by nationalist parties..

    And finally, if you haven't already seen this little gem, have a butchers at Andy Burnham's pathetic response to a question about an English Parliament.... Just take a moment to analyse what he actually says - it would embarrass a 3 year old... Thick as a brick or what?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OTjgz6Dr8Ns

    ReplyDelete
  12. Well I think we agree on a few things - 1. the outgoing Labour administration was incredibly arrogant but only outdone by the current leadership candidates (stock answer - "I always really opposed Brown and Blair despite being totally dependent on them for patronage for 10 years"), 2 - the current lack of a Federal system of government for England leaves a big hold in governance, 3 - this country is not a perfect representative democracy. I think we need a federal system below that of the English level and I think we need massive political reform, including full PR, replacement of the House of Lords with an elected chamber.

    I wouldn't hate an English assembly but just don't think it would solve many policy issues. I think my part of the world needs a different economic programme to that of the South East and London quite urgently.

    ReplyDelete
  13. "I think we need a federal system below that of the English level". Is that below the English level or the British level, as you said in your post? I think that's the nub of the whole question.

    First, we have to acknowledge and define an 'English level' as such. But if your view is that 'Britain' is the 'nation state' and that what is needed is regional / sub-national government, including a Northern Parliament, then you are by-passing and ignoring any sort of English-national level of governance, which is what Westminster politicians of all hues have consistently done since devolution.

    The problem is that Scotland is not a region of the nation of Britain, as you describe it, but a nation. England is also a nation, with aspirations to national self-government just like Scotland. An English parliament won't duplicate the British parliament but will simply take over all its present England-only responsibilities and govern in the interests of the English people as expressed through the ballot box.

    There's still a role for a British / Union parliament; but this will be a much smaller beast with responsibilities only in reserved areas. I say 'only', but as we both know, these areas are vast in importance, and if the interests of the UK's nations are properly served by the UK state, the UK will persist.

    ReplyDelete