I go to London today in the knowledge that we face a period of constitutional upheaval. The new Parliament has to complete the settlement for Scotland, offered by all three main parties of the 2010 Parliament. It has to deal with the growing powers of the European Union, as the Euro area seeks to complete its political union on top of its currency union. Above all the new Parliament needs to tackle the problem of England.
The General election was mainly fought around the issues of the UK economy and England’s health service. The Labour campaign largely missed the main points that the new Parliament has to settle. The English NHS was not under threat of privatisation and cuts in the way Labour claimed. Labour’s popular offer of a freeze on energy bills was overtaken by tumbling oil and gas prices, and recommended a solution which is likely to make the energy position worse.
The Conservative campaign concentrated on the economy, with a popular offer of tax cuts. Conservatives also mentioned the question of England and the need for a renegotiation and referendum on the EU, though this did not become the main issue of the election.
Today the reality needs to set in. The UK’s union has been badly damaged by Labour’s lop sided devolution policies of the last 18 years, with Labour once again providing a lead in offering a more lop sided devolution in the Scottish referendum campaign which was cross party. Conservatives have proposed English votes for English needs. The official party position offers England a veto over all English matters. I wish to see a positive power for England MPs to propose and decide budgetary, tax and legal matters that apply only to England ( with Wales and Northern Ireland where the matter is only devolved to Scotland).
Labour and Lib Dem wishes to delay justice for England by a constitutional convention should not be allowed to hold up English votes at Westminster. Nor should England accept just devolution to cities and counties. England herself needs to settle the distribution of the England block grant, to fix her own taxes where they are devolved elsewhere in the Union, and pass her own laws.
As pressing is the need to engage the Euro area in discussion, to ensure the UK is not dragged into their political union, and to extricate ourselves from many powers which have already been given away without referendum endorsement under Nice, Amsterdam and Lisbon. As these Treaties are no longer separate documents, we need to review the full consolidated Treaty and seek exit from its federal controls, or negotiate trade arrangements and other co-operation agreements in place of the Treaty.
The Greek crisis is revealing that of course the richer parts of the Euro area have to come to aid of the poorer parts. The rich parts have to stand behind the banks of the whole. The UK did the Euro a great service by staying out. Had we been in during the 2007-8 UK banking crash, I suspect we would have brought the Euro down, just as surely as we brought down the Exchange Rate Mechanism. It is now time the Euro area showed its appreciation of that wisdom, by agreeing we should not be part of the many controls and financial arrangements that a single currency area needs.