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.