A Welsh government minister has warned the “English exceptionalism” of the coalition in Westminster poses a substantial threat to the future of the union.
A minister in the Welsh government last night warned the “English exceptionalism” of the Clegg/Cameron coalition in Westminster poses a substantial threat to the future of the union.
Speaking to an audience at the annual Institute for Welsh Politics lecture at Aberystwyth University, education and skills minister Leighton Andrews also hit out at the “born to rule assumptions” of the public school system, taking England as the norm and everywhere else as a deviation from that norm.
“The UK coalition government presumes that it can speak for the whole of the UK.
“It is clear that they have not thought through the detail of their policies and the implications for the whole of the UK, particularly where their UK-wide policies may require active co-operation from the devolved administrations.”
In what was a wide-ranging keynote address, he went on to underline the Welsh government’s approach to university fees formed part of the European mainstream of resisting higher fees for students.
He continued by issuing a warning that Michael Gove’s ambitions to reform the A Level and GCSE systems amounted to a dismantling of the three-country system across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. In doing so, Andrews noted Northern Ireland’s education minister, John O’Dowd, had also criticised Gove’s proposals.
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Seeking to highlight the failure of the UK government to engage properly with the devolved bodies, Andrews continued by accusing Gove of having failed to consult Welsh ministers effectively on the remit for the School Teachers Review Board whilst attacking the failure of Whitehall to implement bilingual policies when it was acting on a UK basis.
Meanwhile, having last week called for UK work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan-Smith to resign over “callous” remarks made about Remploy workers, the minister was no less complementary about the rest of IDS’s welfare reforms.
“The UK government takes England as the default model for service delivery, and is still unable to answer key questions we have as to how they intend to mandate people on to devolved services or withhold training allowances including Welsh government training allowances, from trainees who have a benefit sanction imposed or pending.”
“What is happening is deeply cultural. UK coalition government ministers often have UK-wide responsibilities.
“But sometimes its ministers are largely ministers for England; sometimes they exercise cross-border England and Wales responsibilities; sometimes they operate in an environment where policies have traditionally been developed, as with GCSEs and A-levels, on a tri-partite basis.
“The coalition government’s response reflects the timeless born-to-rule assumptions of the English public school system that trained administrators to run an empire – the imposition of an English exceptionalism that today threatens the unity of the United Kingdom itself…
“Under the coalition, it is English policy that is moving away from the other constituent nations of the UK. English exceptionalism is the political practice of this Conservative-led coalition.
“I think increasingly we have a stark choice before us. A new vision for the UK – as the first minister has proposed – or the policy of English exceptionalism, which seeks to build walls around the Tory heartland.”
Whilst critics would argue Andrews, as a Labour minister, would say that anyway, his remarks highlight a very real problem for the coalition – namely, that increasingly, particularly following recent local elections, it is coming to be seen as representing a very narrow segment of southern England.
As Nick Clegg himself wrote in the Guardian the weekend after devastating results for his party:
“The coalition must work harder to show that we are governing for the whole country.”