Just back from Westminster, where the Constitution, Parliament and Citizenship Associate Parliamentary Group hosted a talk by Professor Vernon Bogdanor entitled ‘Is there an answer to the English question.’ (Thanks to the CEP for the heads-up)
As it turned out, Bogdanor’s answer was basically the Blair/Brown one, i.e. dont ask the question. According to him, "the English accept devolution, but do not want devolution for themselves."
Bogdanor argued that was little evidence that the English want their own separate Parliament, but didn’t mention the polls which show rather stronger support for some form of English votes for English laws (EVEOL).
If he had, he might not have been as surprised as he was when both Labour and Tory MPs told him that the English question featured significantly in their postbags. (According to Andrew Tyrie it was coming up in the context of hospital closures).
One point by Bogdanor which I think was well taken was that EVOEL was unworkable and would effectively mean a Parliament within a Parliament.
That didn’t impress several of the Tories on the Committee, who seemed convinced that EVOEL would be in their manifesto. Sir George Young said: "If it was wrong for the English to impose the poll tax on Scotland, it is equally wrong for the Scottish to impose foundation hospitals on England." David Curry on the other hand, pretty much agreed with Professor Bogdanor’s analysis.
Among the Labour MPs, committee chairman Tony Wright felt the English question was becoming a live issue, while Gordon Prentice argued that the the votes on foundation hospitals and tuition fees had not caused much public discontent, and that they would have ‘triggered’ a wider debate if anything was going to.
(I think the issue is already significant, but if a trigger is needed, Gordon Brown’s ascent to the premiership may well provide one.)
It was an interesting if short debate. I was, however, somewhat disconcerted by the way that Professor Bogdanor lamented that the public were not interested in constitutional issues (or his books), while effectively suggesting we ignore what is a major constitutional anomaly.
The English question isn’t as boring as Professor Bogdanor would like us to think it is. Over the next year, if that, it is going to get very interesting indeed.