Conference 2014: Labour is losing credibility on devolution

On English votes for English laws, Labour has been caught like a rabbit in the headlights.

On English votes for English laws, Labour has been caught like a rabbit in the headlights

In his annual pre-conference interview with Andrew Marr, responding to questioning on Labour’s position on English votes for English laws, Ed Miliband declared “we can’t do it in a back-of-the-envelope, fag-packet way”.

Let’s make no mistake about it, David Cameron’s statement just after the referendum in Scotland in which he called for action on the English question to proceed at the same time as further powers being devolved to Scotland blindsided both Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

It shattered the consensus that led all three main UK party leaders to issue their vows as Scotland considered divorcing the rest of the UK and opened a political trap which Labour is in very real danger of falling into.

First and foremost, the devolution package and timetable pledged by the leaders must be sorted out and kept to strictly. To do otherwise would lead to another referendum much sooner than anyone thought, with a near certain vote for Yes to independence rather than No.

But on English votes for English laws, Labour has been caught like a rabbit in the headlights.

The simple reality is that, for all the talk of Cameron playing politics with the issue, which he undoubtedly has, the argument that things are being rushed is simply not credible.

It was in 2013 that the former clerk of the House of Commons, Sir William McKay, published his report for the government on the consequences for the Commons and how it votes within the context of the devolution settlement.

In 2012, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) published its ideas on the topic, which in many respects were reflected in the McKay Commission.

And ultimately, we have known since 2012 that Scotland would be going to the polls to determine the fate of the UK and plans should have been in place for a comprehensive response whatever the vote was.

One wonders what the party has been doing all this time if it hasn’t been figuring out a plan to answer the West Lothian Question given the wealth of material that has been published on the topic.

With roughly eight months to the general election, rather than opting for the long grass option of some sort of vague constitutional convention, Ed Miliband must give more concentre indications as to how Labour would deal with what is undoubtedly a lance that needs boiling.

The Labour chairman of the Local Government Association, David Sparks has already warned the party leadership of ingoing the anger that English people feel over being under-represented. Meanwhile recent polling by YouGov has shown that 71 per cent of the public would support the idea of English votes for English Laws.

Although those around the Labour leader are frustrated that that their agenda is being hijacked by what they view as constitutionally geekery, the reality is that the issue goes to the heart of Labour’s problem.

Having stolen the ‘One Nation’ mantra last year, Ed Miliband is fast looking like someone unable to command the attention of any part of the UK. In Scotland Labour remains’ in dire straits, as recent polling on voting intentions north of the border indicates, whilst south of the border it is the Conservatives who are positioning themselves as the guardians of the English interest.

Giving evidence to the McKay Commission, the former Welsh Labour MP and minister Kim Howells admitted that the government of which he was a part had made a “conscious decision” to “stay well away from” the West Lothian questions.

The danger for Ed Miliband is that history is repeating itself with all the electoral damage it could ultimately inflict on the party next May.

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24 Responses to “Conference 2014: Labour is losing credibility on devolution”

  1. Mike N

    So simple to move on, Ed Milliband just has to promise (and standby) to have Scottish Labour MP’s abstain from the votes in question until the laws have been implemented. Either do this or explain why. Keir Hardie, a hero of the people, Ed Milliband?? All I know is drinking your Bolli from a pewter tankard does not make you a man of the people.

  2. glynbeddau

    AH so its clear this is a Left Wing English Nationlist Blog . Nothing wrong with that In fact I welcome it. But go on admit it.

  3. Kryten2k35

    Milliband quite rightly doesn’t want to lose the Scottish MP’s votes, because it would put the Tories in a much stronger position than they already are.

    If anything, the one throwing a spanner in the timetable is Cameron. The issue is the Scottish want a devolution timetable, and Milliband, et al, are willing to do that, but Cameron is insisting on the West Lothian question being handled as well. Cameron knows what he’s doing, and fucking the Scottish people around in the process.

    He’s engineered it wonderfully, because no Labour look like they’re the ones at fault, but they’re not.

    Another reason I fucking despise the Conservatives.

  4. Leon Wolfeson

    “the argument that things are being rushed is simply not credible”

    Yes, it is. Moreover, taking 6 months to establish a proper federal solution would be fine.

    Ed’s problem isn’t devolution. It’s that he keeps moving right.

  5. Michael Simpson

    Surely the point here isn’t that Labour and the Liberal Democrats haven’t been blindsided in any meaningful constitutional sense, which is where the debate should be, but rather protecting English interests or England for the English is complete hokum of the basest kind – sort of like when people complain about there being no white history month. An English Parliament will be every bit as unrepresentative as Westminster for vast swathes of the nation.

  6. Ges Rosenberg

    It was also depressing to hear Ed Balls on Today defending what is an unsustainable and electorally untenable position. Labour needs to be bold and seize the initiative on issues of the day, rather than following the current leadership approach which clumsily tries to impose it’s own agenda in defiance of the contemporary debate – yes get the party message across, but also be confident enough to engage with issues of the day. On the issue of English MPs voting on English only issues, the party needs to be guided by fairness and equity, not narrow nationalism, and to frame its policy in terms of ‘representation goes with taxation’ (sic). So yes to English MP’s voting on English laws… but this is a necessary but not sufficient reform. Labour needs to learn from the success of Gordon Brown’s intervention by making the moral and practical arguments for a process of devolution, and set out down with a timetable to achieve it. Without this we risk being left high and dry with Cameron’s half-way reform – just like Lords reforms stalling with a half-baked reform only in place. Then what do we have – all of England under a Tory led Government for the foreseeable future. The last time the North-East voted in a regional assembly referendum voters will have thought why bother – we already have the left leaning Government we want so save the money. But now learn the lessons from the Scottish referendum. Act now – don’t let Cameron gain the initiative. Labour has everything to gain, providing it is willing to go further and commit to an ongoing process of devolution – it can still compete at the national level in all-UK elections, and also gain power in its heartlands of the North, Scotland and Wales and represent and govern for its voters in these areas. Unfortunately, the Labour leadership have adopted a weak ‘jam tomorrow’ position, that offers nothing tangible and no concrete response to an immediate political problem.

  7. robertsonjames

    “Milliband quite rightly doesn’t want to lose the Scottish MP’s votes”

    I did at first think that was a typo, but no, you actually wrote it.

    By the way, the fact that you and ideological zealots like you “fucking despise the Conservatives” and so think wholly biased arrangements which have the happy effect of preventing English voters getting a Conservative government even if (as in 2010) they elect a clear majority of Conservative representatives, does not constitute a rational, defensible or viable basis for a lasting constitutional settlement.

  8. Jay

    Its all quite easy – devolve powers to english regions – MPs still set overall policy and regions work within it – its the Tories trying to fix an English (southern) bias on the country – not Labout or LibDems – roll on PR again – do we really want any Westminster gov’t elected with 33%?

  9. Kryten2k35

    Eh the point is Scottish devolution can be a totally separate issue from the West Lothian question. By trying to force it now and delaying the devolution of Scotland, they’re risking losing Scotland entirely, and shouldering the blame on Labour, when it’s their doing entirely.

    It’s a totally different debate to devolution and doesn’t need to be within the same scope.

    And call me names if you like, but this country does not need another Tory government slowly dismantling the common peoples rights.

    This is a left wing website, and Labour are more left than the Tories.

  10. robertcp

    There is a very good case for English votes for English laws (Wales and Northern Ireland would be included for some votes). I have done calculations and Labour should at least be the biggest party in England if it won a working majority in the UK as a whole.

  11. David Lindsay

    If an English Parliament, or “English votes for English laws”, would be so popular, then put it to a referendum of the people of England.

    It would pass in the South East, although I only suspect that, just as I only suspect that it would pass by far less in East Anglia and perhaps also in those parts of the South West that were not too far south and west.

    Whereas I know with absolute certainty, as do you, that it would not obtain one third of the vote anywhere else, that it would not manage one quarter anywhere beyond the Mersey or the Humber (or, I expect, in Devon or Cornwall, either), and that it would not scrape one fifth in the North East, or in Cumbria, or, again, in Cornwall. If anyone doubts this, then bring on that referendum.

    As for Labour’s needing Scottish MPs in order to win an overall majority, certain grandees of the commentariat need to be pensioned off, or at the very least to have their copy subjected to the most basic fact-checking by editorial staff.

    In 1964, fully 50 years ago, MPs from Scotland delivered a Labour overall majority of four when there would otherwise have been a Conservative overall majority of one that would not have lasted a year.

    In October 1974, MPs from Scotland turned what would have been a hung Parliament with Labour as the largest party into a Labour overall majority so tiny that it was lost in the course of that Parliament.

    In 2010, MPs from Scotland turned what would have been a small Conservative overall majority into a hung Parliament with the Conservatives as the largest party and with David Cameron as Prime Minister, anyway.

    On no other occasion since the War, if ever, have MPs from Scotland, as such, influenced the outcome of a General Election.

    In any case, with the Government committed to the Barnett Formula, there cannot be any such thing as exclusively English legislation, since it all has knock-on effects in Scotland and Wales. What “English laws”?

  12. <--Ed balls dressed as a Nazi


  13. Benzyl

    At least if you boil that lance it will be sterile and suitable for purpose or was its destination going to be up ‘down south’?

  14. Selohesra

    There may be complexities and subtleties to the solution but for Milliband & Co to repeatedly refuse to acknowledge when pressed during interviews that there is a unfairness is current assymetric powers of English & Scottish voters immediately puts him on the wrong side of the argument. Defending the indefensible makes him look silly – handing advantage to Cameron who will be encouraged to play even more politics with this issue

  15. robertsonjames

    The notion that Scottish devolution, which created the “West Lothian Question”, as Tam Dalyell has been pointing out to you for 40 years, is “a totally different debate” from the “West Lothian Question”, is jejeune.

    Frankly, weak arguments like that, with deny both the recent constitutional history and the structural logic which bind the two together inextricably, really just highlight that the root of your objection to English people being governed by a majority of the elected representatives for whom they voted is a loathing of your political opponents, not any attachment to democratic principles.

    Leaving aside for a moment whether having your political analysis twisted and distorted by an unhealthy pathologial hatred, it’s worth remembering that viewing your opponents in essentially the same way as the Khmer Rouge regarded anyone wearing spectacles is not a good basis for constitutional reform.

  16. Andrew Morton

    As a Scottish independence campaigner who remembers the gross inequity of pre devolution Government when English MPs could impose or impede Scottish legislation at will, I have to say that I am in complete sympathy with those who want English votes for English matters.

    The best way to deal with that short of Scottish independence is Devo Max. Unfortunately Westminster will never countenance that.

  17. Andrew Morton

    After the next election in 2015, Labour will no longer have any Scottish heartlands. In its disgraceful Referendum campaign it wrote the longest suicide note in history.

  18. sarntcrip


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  21. sarntcrip

    LEFT WING nationalist?? blimey what did you have for brekkie

  22. SeanieRyan

    The British nationalism that reeked from Labour over the last month or the English nationalism of the Tory party.

    Personally I hope that England gets devolution, anything that leads to a breaking up of the United Kingdom is a progressive step.

    It may not suit the Labour party though.

    As for not being blindsided, they were, you just think it is not relevant, it is however a serious threat to them. As is, an awful lot of people see them as red tie Tories and this may cost them enough votes to lose an election.

  23. SeanieRyan

    Not as far fetched as it sounds. A contradiction in many people, especially in the Labour party.

  24. SeanieRyan

    Labour were dicking around in the same manner with Scotland for the last 6 months. They can hardly complain when the Tories do the exact same thing.

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