By Robin Tilbrook, Leader of the English Democrats
I am very grateful to Iain for this opportunity to appear on his blog as his guest.
Iain, whilst remaining always a loyal member of the Conservative Party (in its best traditions), has also been a good friend to the English Parliament cause.
I also was once a Tory, having been so since my student days (and my father and grandfather before me!). I was quite active in the Party, including standing as a local candidate. If a referendum on Labour’s prospects for National Devolution for Scotland and Wales had been put to all the people of the UK in 1998, I would have voted against it. But, and it is a big BUT, now it has happened and all parties concede that it is not going to unhappen. Indeed it is only in England that discussion on revoking National devolution for Scotland and Wales could, apparently sensibly, take place. In Scotland and Wales it is recognised that their devolution is a process which is not yet complete. All parties there, including the Conservative Party, are promising more powers and a general expansion of status and remit for their National Parliaments and governments. So the outstanding question, to my way of thinking, is what is going to happen in England!
In England, in startling contrast with the British Establishment Parties’ attitudes elsewhere, their attitude is that there should be little or no recognition of England and the English as a separate Nation. The Establishment talk is always about the need “to preserve the Union” of the United Kingdom and that this need overrides English claims to recognition and to fair treatment. This is not acceptable to anyone like me who cares about England.
The English Democrats (in cooperation with the Campaign for an English Parliament) have spent most of our campaigning time so far trying to inform people of the negative effects on England and on the English Nation of their unfair treatment. In doing so we have distributed over 20 million leaflets and the effects are clear to see. In every opinion poll on the subject since October 2006, over 60% of English respondents in opinion polls have said that they want an English Parliament with at least the same powers as the Scottish one. This is shorthand for not only a Parliament but also an English Government and First Minister. The British Establishment’s reaction is an interesting example of the different standards applied to England. The proportion of the Scottish electorate who voted for a Scottish Parliament was 44%. This 44% vote has been accepted by all establishment commentators as “the settled Will of the Scottish people”. Yet the views of over 60% of the English can be dismissed as an irrelevance!
At the moment I believe that the British Establishment could placate English demands for fair treatment by finalising the process of making the UK a federal state with an English First Minister, Government and Parliament to join those of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland; but the time will come when this will no longer be enough. This is because people are getting ever more exasperated by Establishment intransigence. There will then be a tipping point after which only independence will be acceptable. I sincerely hope that the British Establishment will recognise this before it is too late but I have to say that the signs are so far not encouraging. The latest effort by the Tories is frankly pathetic.
Ken Clarke’s Democracy Task Force has produced an obviously inadequate response to what was not the real demand. The real demand is for equal constitutional treatment for England and for Scotland. This includes a Parliament, a First Minister and a Government. This not just a demand for better representation in a legislature. I think Clarke's proposal, which I still call EVEL (English Vote for English Laws), is obviously unworkable under our current constitution e.g. if the UK Government is of a different party to the majority of English MPs. I suspect that it has been cynically produced as a “Populist Positioning Policy” to deceive much of the electorate, and also the many Conservative activists, who are in favour of an English Parliament, into thinking that the Conservatives will do something to make our constitution fairer. In fact all EVEL does is offer a policy which is easy to explain on the doorstep when canvassing but which could not be implemented – that is simply political chicanery.
This chicanery is of a piece with the reasons why I left the Conservative Party. This was because, having lobbied as hard as I could within the Party, I came to the view that its leadership did not want to do anything for England and could not be reformed from within. I also felt that England needed a proper political party to be the voice of moderate English Nationalism on a par with the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru.
I know Iain feels that the cause of an English Parliament is best served by remaining within the Party and I wish him every success but I think that in six years the cause of English Nationalism has been enhanced enormously by the English Democrats and that we are now getting the kind of election results which it took the SNP about forty six years to achieve!
In another 6 years I intend that we will in a position to force the British Establishment's arms up its back (perhaps whilst Iain plays the “nice cop”!? and between us) I hope that we can force a constitutional change that will result in the fair and democratic treatment of England’s legitimate interests to the benefit of all the people of England!
So in the meanwhile I pray to Ken Clarke and the Conservative leadership to:- “… lead us not into temptation, and deliver us from”...EVEL!!!