Friday, 7 May 2010

The English Question

One thing is certain this morning: the Conservatives have won a resounding majority in England, both in seats and, even more strongly, in votes. If there were a devolved English parliament, it would be dominated by the Tories. Any "anti-Tory coalition", bringing together Labour, the Lib Dems, the SDLP, Caroline Lucas and whatever else could be assembled by a defeated government in denial and in defiance of the clearly expressed will of the people, would be an anti-English coalition. It would be made possible only by the anachronistic distribution of seats in Scotland and Wales, which massively favours Labour. That alone would make it a democratic outrage. But it's worse even than that, because large areas of policy - education, health, the police, justice, local government, most of the bread-and-butter issues that determine many people's votes - are devolved to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Scottish and Welsh MPs unable to influence policies on their own countries would be attempting to impose them upon and English populace that had clearly, decisively, rejected them. This is not on.

For such a government to have a majority it have to obtain at least the acquiescence of the SNP and Plaid Cymru. Both parties, however, as a matter of principle do not vote on English matters. This means that (assuming they can rely on the support of the DUP) the Conservatives would be able to defeat any measure brought forward by a putative anti-Tory coalition that applied only to England. On the other hand, even with a minority of seats in the UK as a whole the Conservatives would be able to rule England. This fact has been rather overlooked amid all the talk of deals and Parliamentary arithmetic, but it is really quite basic and obvious.

"English votes for English laws" has never been more urgent. As a matter of principle, Scottish and Welsh MPs should not be able to impose their will on the people of England who have voted for a Conservative government - at least not in areas where English MPs have no power to legislate for Scotland and Wales. Furthermore, a coalition of the losers are not in a position to do so even if they wanted to. England has, de facto, a Tory government this morning. If the other parties refuse to recognise this, there will be deadlock.