Beyond Brown’s Britain

One of the most striking indications of the sense of crisis currently engulfing  Gordon Brown’s government is Jackie Ashley’s suggestion that Brown could step down before the next election.

There is still plenty of time for Brown to turn things round, and it is probably too early for talk of ‘Black Wednesday’ moments. That said, the latest polls make grim reading for the Prime Minister, showing the Conservatives on course for an overall majority at the next election.

It is worth giving some thought to what that would mean. For one thing, it would pave the way for the scenario canvassed by Fraser Nelson last week:

The Conservative party is almost dead in Scotland, with just one MP and
no more in prospect, and the two parties are barely in competition.
This opens the prospect of an SNP–Tory axis, an idea which alarms
Labour activists. Mr Salmond could provoke English resentment, which
could help topple Gordon Brown. His reward would be Scotland given
financial independence — an idea once backed by David Davis.

This is Mr Salmond’s obvious next staging post. The Tories could
plausibly claim to be strengthening the union, adopting the fiscal
autonomy model which Spain uses in the Basque country. After agreeing
custody of the fast-depleting oil reserves, Scotland’s budget would be
set at what it raises in tax. It would satisfy the sense of English
injustice, and could hardly be seen as cruelty to Scotland if the First
Minister were lobbying for precisely this outcome. Mr Salmond takes the
idea further. (Spectator)

Fiscal autonomy for Scotland would strengthen the case for an English Grand Committee. With members still elected by first past the post, and Scottish MPs kicked out, the new institution would magnify Tory dominance.

The flaws in this arrangement would not immediately be obvious. However, a constitutional crisis would be likely as soon as the new system was tested by a close election result.

Of course, the current Government is already risking a similar situation. It has constructed a flawed constitutional settlement that is all too clearly identifiable with the vision and interests of one man. By failing to deal with the English question, Labour have provided the Tories with a loose thread with which to unravel the whole structure.

The best way for Labour to prevent a new Tory hegemony would be to deal with that question itself – by establishing an English Parliament elected by proportional representation.

Perhaps that is too much to expect at this stage in the life of the Government, but the dangers for Labour are clear.

Traditionally, Labour has favoured a strong executive, on the assumption that is what will best enable the delivery of the party’s social agenda. Not for the first time, this approach risks putting untrammelled power into the hands of an incoming Conservative government.

The doubtful outcome of the next election makes it all the more important for Labour to deliver a fair and durable constitutional settlement.



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12 responses to “Beyond Brown’s Britain”

  1. WorldbyStorm avatar

    I’m staggered by how quickly things appear to have turned around for Brown. Very very strange indeed. Having said that imagine if the latest debacle had emerged during an election campaign…

  2. Tom Griffin avatar

    Could have been a disaster. On the other hand if the date had been 1 November, as has been suggested, Brown might have been home and dry before a lot of this stuff came out, a bit like Major and the 92 election.
    I’m not sure that comparison is justified yet as far as the public is concerned, but it’s beginning to look as if the media has taken against him.

  3.  avatar

    “The best way for Labour to prevent a new Tory hegemony would be to deal with that question itself – by establishing an English Parliament elected by proportional representation.”
    Not a snowball’s chance in hell. The whole devolution “settlement” was based on, suprise, suprise, devolution which rules out an English parliament by design.
    The principle of devolution is a strong centre devolving power out to the edges. The edges can be political, or based on identity, or on location and in the UK devolution was a combination of all three.
    In the minds of the architects of devolution the centre was devolving powers to the restive celtic fringe of an ill defined UK-cum-Britain-cum-Greater England. The power structures in Westminster and Whitehall and the ill defined boundaries between England, Britain and the UK were pretty much untouched. England never got devolution because you don’t and can’t devolve power to the centre.
    Devolution has installed a powerful layer of local government in Scotland, Wales and NI but the government of England and the major functions of government in the UK have not altered.
    A parliament for England is not devolution as you’re actually altering the structure of power at the very heart of Britain. A parliament for England is federalism and would require a major restructuring of government and the constituion to deal with it.
    Federalism also has the unfortunate affect for unionists of delineating the boundaries between England and Britain. The fuzzy borders between England, Britain and the UK are thrown into sharp focus and Brown’s holy grail of Britishness turns from the illusion of a unitary state into a federal collection of four countries.
    The only way England will get its own Parliament is to wait until the UK breaks up.
    There’s a lot of talk about an SNP-Tory alliance but the Tories are as unionist as the Labour Party. The reason that the conservatives are not pushing for an English Parliament is precisely because it’s a threat to the unity of the UK. It doesn’t matter how big a, “thread”, is dangled the Conservatives will never pull it as evidenced by Cameron’s failure to use the West Lothian Question to attack the legitimacy of Brown as PM.
    Financial autonomy, yes, heard it all before, the poor man’s independence. The devil is always in the detail and there’s never any detail when Financial Autonomy is bandied around.
    “The doubtful outcome of the next election makes it all the more important for Labour to deliver a fair and durable constitutional settlement.”
    The Conservatives have proposed a Grand Committee, and that’s probably a step too far for Labour. Labour will not attempt to change anything.
    The puzzlement for those of us in Scotland who are not members of the Labour fan club and who have watched Brown over the years is not that Brown’s standing has fallen but why it took so long to fall.

  4. DougtheDug avatar

    The above post by Dougthedug.

  5. Tom Griffin avatar

    I’m trying to suggest what Labour should do rather than what they will do, on which point I suspect you’re right.
    Incidentally, I would be interested to know what you think will be the impact of a potential Tory victory on Scotland?

  6.  avatar

    “I’m trying to suggest what Labour should do rather than what they will do…”
    Yes, apologies if it came over as a bit of a rant but across a lot of comment and articles there is a general failure to understand that an English Parliament implies a federal UK with changes to all the existing power structures in place in Government. A Parliament for England is not a continuation of the devolution process as it’s a major step change in the way that Britain is governed and a step change in the establishment mindset that conflates the UK, Britain and England.
    Devolution to Scotland, Wales and NI was based on the philosophy that Engand and Britain are effectively the same entity. An English parliament and federalism destroys that linkage and threatens the UK. The Labour Pary don’t want one, the Conservatives don’t want one and the Lib-Dems wanted one but are now backing off as fast as they can.
    Read paragraph 6.3 in
    “The impact of a potential Tory victory on Scotland?”
    It’s difficult to say. The assumption was always that Labour would hold Scotland forever and that there would be a lot of conflict between the Labour Executive in Scotland and any new Conservative Government in Westminster. I suspect that the Labour party regarded this as a way to consolidate their support in Scotland.
    The SNP victory has upset that cozy assumption and as an SNP supporter, Conservatives taking power in Westminster means you exchange one Unionist Government in Westminster for another of the same stripe. Here comes the new boss same as the old boss.
    I don’t think having the Conservatives in Westminster instead of Labour will have a huge impact in Scotland as Scots have already become used to the fact that Holyrood and Westminster are ruled by different parties. The only difference that may occur is that Labour supporters in Scotland won’t have any sympathy with the new Westminster government so they could turn to the SNP.
    How will the Conservatives deal with the SNP?
    Conservatives are as Unionist as Labour so they’ll try and stop the SNP and save the Union exactly as Labour are doing.

  7. DougtheDug avatar

    The above post by Dougthedug. I’m going to have to try a different Browser. This one keeps losing my name.

  8. WorldbyStorm avatar

    Tom, that’s interesting. It’s hard to judge from Dublin. But certainly the Major comparison is apposite if not quite right yet. Brown doesn’t have the hapless look that Major had, although… given time….
    Dougthedug, that’s also very interesting. I tend to agree that further devolution or an English parliament are a long way away. The failed attempt at a Northern regional thingy seems as close as they’d go. And Brown certainly is a British Unionist. Still, who knows what may happen as the Conservatives try to gain advantage over Labour by playing off the SNP.

  9. Tom Griffin avatar

    I suppose it is the financial issue that would be most likely to see a significantly different approach under the Tories.
    The worst-case scenario is that they simply keep control at Westminster and squeeze Scottish spending, as Labour has begun to do since the Holyrood election.
    However, that would risk making the case for independence.
    I think some kind of fiscal devolution might be in their interests, although obviously the devil will be in the detail.
    Are you having that problem on any other sites or just this one.

  10.  avatar

    Just this one, but I don’t post on many with typekey logins. I think it’s a function of how long there is between logging in and sending the post.
    I’ll try writing the comment out somewhere else and then signing in and cutting and pasting into the Comments: box and sending quickly.

  11. DougtheDug avatar

    And it did it again. I’ll switch to Firefox for this blog and see how that goes next time I comment.

  12. Tom Griffin avatar

    Would it be easier to fill in your personal info without signing into Typekey?

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