Mr Clegg’s proposal to devolve a bit of power to some English cities is no answer to the pressing need for a fair settlement for England. Nor has it been popular in the past. In 51 referenda to create more powerful elected mayors, 35 have resulted in a rejection of the proposal. 2 elected mayoralties that were set up have subsequently been abolished following another referendum.
There are three proposals before us to deal with the problem of England in the new devolution settlement we are now contemplating. The first is the proposal for an English Parliament. The second is devolved Assemblies for the European regions of England favoured by some in Labour. The third is this very loose Nick Clegg proposal for more devolution to English cities.
The case for an English Parliament is overwhelming. Breaking England up into unloved and in some cases unknown Euro regions would be most unpopular. Labour tried this in office, and got a dreadful result in the North East when they asked the public there – normally a Labour area – to endorse it. Devolution to anything less than England cannot solve the main reason for an English Parliament – the need to settle taxes and tax rates that will be separately decided for Scotland in the Edinburgh Parliament. We do not want different Income Tax rates for Birmingham and Bradford, or for the rest of the south east.
The idea of devolving more power to cities over their budgets and ambitions may well be a good idea. It is no substitute for an English Parliament and could best be done by an English Parliament. It is all the people of England, whether in cities, in the suburbs or in the countryside, that need better representation and more self government.
The unpopularity of elected mayors shows that the electors of England do not see this way of making local government more powerful and more interesting as a good way forward in most places. Mr Clegg does not seem to have much in mind by way of devolved power. He does not seem to want English cities to set different Income tax rates for example, the main new power Scotland will enjoy.
England this time will not be fobbed off with third class devolution or no devolution at all. The Scottish vote and attitudes changes things fundamentally – for England as well as for Scotland.