The Westlothian question – and answer!

Let us go forward together

When New Labour signed up to the devolution project for Scotland and Wales, Tony Blair seemed to think he was creating a couple of super county councils which would always be Labour controlled and would kill local Nationalism stone dead.

Those of us with a sense of constitutional history could see from the start that this was bunkum and that his Devolution Acts were not a brake on Nationalism so much as a ratchet. From the beginning the ‘system’ created in 1999 had an enormous flaw – it completely lacked an English dimension. Scottish and Welsh MPs could hold ministerial offices which dealt with solely English concerns but (apart from the anomalous Secretaries of State) they could not have any say in 60% of matters affecting their own constituents. MPs who are not ministers from the devolved countries can and do vote on matters affecting only England, but are unable to vote on most matters affecting the people who elected them. This is really the ‘Westlothian Question’ Tam Dalyell posed in the 1970s. Dalyell’s answer was to vote NO to devolution at all. And that answer was honest and logical.

Faced with four general election defeats in a row between 1979 and 1992, Dalyell’s party changed its tune, under the brief leadership of the Scot, John Smith. Blair was not, I think, ever enamoured of the idea but Labour had signed up to it in order to make common ground with the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Lib Dems and isolate the Tories politically in Scotland and Wales for what they imagined would be their political benefit. And in 1997 it paid off big time, did it not?

From that moment on the problems engendered by the complete failure to address the Westlothian Question began to kick in, especially in Scotland as I always thought they would. Looking at the Stormont experience in Northern Ireland it was plain that the terms of political debate in Scotland would soon cease to resemble those in England altogether. A Nationalist party exploiting and fostering a sense of grievance as well as Salmond and his friends have done would soon see to that. A party regarded as the lunatic fringe by many (and Tartan Tories by Labour) in the 60s got the chance to participate in government and to form a Scottish Executive (which it quickly renamed – unlawfully in my opinion – the Scottish Government).

Now it seems that David Cameron is trying to come to terms with the mess Blair created. An old idea about English Votes for English Laws is being recreated, but these votes are to be proposed by UK ministers (who could be Scottish or Welsh and not supported by the votes of a majority of English constituencies) and taken within the UK Parliament.

Sorry to say it – I see this as a non-starter. The only answer to the Question posed above is for English Laws to be generated in exactly the same way Scottish and Welsh ones are, by an English Parliament or Assembly to which English ministers are responsible within a Federal United Kingdom. Tam Dalyell’s answer would be infinitely preferable to me but I can see quite clearly that reviving the constitutional settlement that worked so well for us between 1707 and 1999 is impossible in the present political climate.

This way we could maintain a Federal Parliament much smaller than the present House of Commons and a genuinely UK government with responsibility for matters that concern us all, including federal taxation defence, foreign affairs, the currency, energy and trade. And a flag law – giving the Union Flag the status the Stars and Stripes has in the USA, to be flown either on its own or alongside the flags of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales but not supplanted by them.

Posted in Conservatives, Constitution, Labour, Lib Dems | 10 Comments

Fair access?

It seems that Vince has triumphed over Dave over the appointment of the egregious Prof. Ebdon to head up the ‘Office of Fair Access’ (to universities).

This office was part of the New Labour flock of quangoes set up to provide jobs for its clients and cronies and any government serious about promoting academic standards and freedom and real ‘social mobility’ should have scrapped it and all its works and pomps within nanoseconds of taking office.

That this organisation still exists raises grave questions about the real intentions of the ‘Coalition’. That Vince Cable should want to appoint the Vice-Chancellor (sic) of the University of Bedfordshire to this post shouldn’t surprise anyone, given Vince’s heavily left- socialist leanings. That the ‘Prof’ is a known advocate of the sort of courses I used to advise my own students to avoid like the plague and thus not principally interested in serious scholarship is probably his best qualification in Vince’s eyes.

But the Prime Minister should surely be able to overrule his Cabinet member on this issue, even if he is a Liberal Democrat. This is especially so when the relevant House of Commons committee has refused to endorse the appointment, having interviewed the ‘Prof’ at great length. Yet Downing Street says that DC is powerless! Powerless to stop this man trying to impose his failed social engineering experiments on some of the foremost academic institutions in the world.

DC should watch out, lest people begin to believe either that he really IS powerless, or that he actually supports the continuation of Labour’s failed social engineering, as approved by some but not all Liberal Democrats. Neither of these perceptions will help him become leader of a majority government.

Posted in Education, Lib Dems, Politics | Leave a comment

Happy St. Valentine’s Day!

Happy New Year – yes it is my first post on this blog in 2012. I have been active elsewhere though!

Also happy Valentine’s Day!

I was pleased this morning to read that Baroness Warsi is to see the Pope and agree with him about the marginalisation of faith, especially Christianity, in our society today. She might like to mention one minor contribution the Vatican has itself made to this.

St. Valentine is surely one of the Christian saints almost everybody has heard of and his feast day is known to just about everybody – especially the manufacturers of greetings cards, florists and restaurateurs.  The Roman Martyrology (pre-Vatican 2) lists today as his birthday and says that ‘after many wondrous works of healing and teaching, he was scourged with rods and beheaded under Claudius Caesar.’ This makes him one of the earliest Christian martyrs. My 1962 Roman Missal lists today as ‘Commemoration of St. Valentine’ and researches into the Greek Orthodox calendar also list today as ‘Valentini’.

So why does the ‘Novus Ordo’, introduced by Archbp. Hannibal Bugnini under Pope Paul VI after Vatican 2 and called by Pope Benedict ‘the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite’ remove this best known of saints from the Calendar altogether?

Under the ‘Ordinary Form’ I should wish you all a happy feast of SS. Cyril and Methodius but it doesn’t quite have the same ring does it?

So come on Sayeeda, tell His Holiness to put St. Valentine back where he belongs and where he has been since Christianity’s earliest days!

Posted in Celebrations, Conservatives, Religion | Leave a comment

One year on….

Almost exactly a year ago I wrote about voting reform, calling for a serious review of the registration system as a starting point.

Not long ago I read that Cornwall County Council is seeking to ban second home owners in the county from registering to vote because they don’t pay full Council Tax and yet can have a full vote for local councillors. The Lib Dems especially think this is costing them seats.

They also assert, rightly in my opinion, that these second home owners are also registered at their ‘main’ address elsewhere and that it would be possible for some of them at least to vote more than once at a General Election. Indeed it would, and who’s to know? Now that anyone can have a postal vote simply by ticking a box on the registration form, are the hard worked registration staffs of each local authority going to cross-check with their opposite numbers in an infinity of other authorities to see that Fred Bloggs of 15 Acacia Drive Birmingham hasn’t also voted in Newquay or Polperro? This when the number of registered postal voters in the recent Surbiton Hill by-election was over 1,700.

Cornwall is reckoned to have 13,600 or so second home owners who would be affected by the ban. But think on this – there are many thousands of voters who don’t pay the Council Tax at all and are transient and temporary residents within every town with a university in it. Most of them will be registered both at their parents’ address and in their university town. I found to my surprise that I was when a post-graduate at Manchester in 1968-9. My Hall of Residence had registered me. At that time, however, the voting age was 21 and so very few undergraduates could vote at all and the numbers of voters was tiny. Then Harold Wilson lowered the voting age to 18 and since that time we have had a government which has had an official target of cramming roughly half the population into some sort of university. This has created a situation beside which the number of second home owners in Cornwall dwindles into insignificance.

At the last GE the Lib Dems successfully tapped this vote reservoir with their pledge to end tuition fees – remember? How many Lib Dem MPs with unis in their constituencies have majorities well less than the number of registered student voters? Quite a few, I think. Now I notice that Ed Miliband is trying a variant of the same theme with a pledge to cut tuition fees (a Labour invention, by the way) to £6,000.

Making promises of this kind to specific interest groups is not new. But never in our history since the abolition of property qualifications has there been so much scope for multiple registration of individuals and for some at least of those individuals to vote more than once without likelihood of detection.

I may be exaggerating and, in a way, I hope I am but I have seen precious little evidence in the past 12 months to convince me that the powers that be are taking this anything like seriously enough.

What do I think would be practical and fair?  For all electors to register once only each year at a place of residence they deem to be their principal one and not to be able to register anywhere else within six months of having made that choice.

Posted in Campaigning, Elections, Politics | 1 Comment

Surbiton Hill by-election

I notice that a lot of people came searching on this site on 16th September, doubtless wanting a quick reaction to the Surbiton Hill by-election.

They didn’t get one. The curious can read what I think on the Surbiton Hill Forum website and the comments made by some others.

I am sad for the ward I served for so long and love so much that, where it formerly had councillors who knew their stuff and fought for their constituents – all of them! – to ensure that at least their concerns were given a fair hearing, it now has three glove-puppets for Derek Osbourne, one of whom has moved out of the Borough.

Posted in Conservatives, Elections, Lib Dems, Politics, Ward | Leave a comment

Lamentable!

What is? England’s performance in the second and third ODIs!

Cook seems to have got Strauss’s disease – an inability to set an attacking field and respond to situations in any other than a purely formulaic way. The usual advice is, if you win the toss on a flat, docile pitch like Headingley on Friday, BAT FIRST!! Fill your boots and make the other lot play catch up later! Malinga can only bowl 10 overs after all. Also, ANDERSON SHOULD ALWAYS HAVE AT LEAST ONE SLIP. He’s a swing bowler and it broke my heart yesterday at Lord’s to see edges go for 4 at third man that would have been down first or second slip’s throat.

My long experience with cricket teams I have coached and managed (sceptics see correspondence with Martin De Kauwe elsewhere) also taught me the following: if you’ve batted first and made a low score, the only way open to you to win is to get the other lot all out. There are no draws in limited over cricket. This means attacking bowling and fields to match. After all, a batsman who is out can’t score any more runs, can he? As it was Cook got it plain wrong at Headingley and at Lord’s – Sri Lanka were never really under any pressure at all.

What to do about it? Put out an A team for the next two matches to win the series. This means dropping Broad and Kieswetter (and perhaps Trott), bringing back Prior and either Finn or Tremlett in Broad’s place as a bowler or another spinner to complement Swann – and look for a captain with some tactical nouse! Why does no-one think of Bell?

Posted in Cricket, Sport | Leave a comment