How do we get an English parliament?


This is the most daunting question of all. It would be heartening to think that a new English party advocating an English parliament could arise which would sweep rapidly to power. Sadly, that is a romantic fantasy. The British political system is so constructed that the sudden rise of a  party is next to impossible. Any new party would have to find  650 odd suitable candidates to stand for election. It would have to be prepared to lose 650 deposits. It would need time for credible leaders to emerge. It would have to overcome the sociological inertia of electors – the large majority of voters are still not floating voters. The media would have to be persuaded to give considerable airtime and space to the  party and its doings.  That and a hundred other political bridges would have to be crossed. If it could be done at all, it would be the work of a generation. That is far too long, because it is probable which will make it virtually impossible for any party advocating an English parliament to gain an overall Commons majority.

Who then shall speak for England? It is a melancholy fact that at present  none of our major parties  offers any hope  of gaining an English Parliament through  normal constitutional means because of  the embedded Eurofederalism and Internationalism of their leaders. Nonetheless, the only realistic hope of gaining a devolution settlement fair to England lies in turning either Labour or the Tories towards a recognition that the present unbalanced situation cannot last in the long term.  The question then arises of which could most easily be turned.

The Tories could do so most easily. They have been reduced what is  effectively an English Party in electoral terms and they would experience the  least  ideological or emotional turmoil because of their strongly nationalist past . Labour appears to be in an entirely different position because they are both internationalist  in principle and heavily dependent on Parliamentary seats outside of England.  Nonetheless, there is a scenario where they could be brought round to the idea of an English Parliament.  Imagine that the AV referendum fails and the Labour Party slump very badly in the polls.  They might make the political calculation that their way back to power is to pose as the party which will look after English interests by creating an English Parliament.

Any party advocating an English parliament would have to achieve a Commons majority on English seats alone, because electors in Celtic seats could not be expected to vote for a party which they knew would ultimately  remove  English  subsidies. Achieving such a majority is difficult at the best of times: in the landslide of 1997, Labour won  only 329 English seats. It means gaining 330 out of 525 English seats  for a bare majority. A working majority would require 350-360 seats.  If the Labour vote stays constant in Scotland and Wales,  Labour can achieve an overall majority by winning a mere 230 English seats. Thus the Tory party would have to win a majority in England  alone.

Barring the victory of an established party committed to an English parliament, the only other parliamentary means of achieving that end  would be through a coalition of English MPs. However,  party discipline is so rigid that  this  is improbable. Moreover, a party which held a Commons majority through the status quo, that is,  with the help of Celtic seats, would have a vested interest in not supporting an English parliament.

As things stand, there is very little prospect of an English parliament coming about through mainstream political action. What might be done to alter matters? The ideal would be to frighten the entire political mainstream into believing that it is in their electoral interests to support an English parliament. More realistically, the strategy should be to  persuade the Tory Party to adopt an English parliament as a policy and to cause enough concern in the other mainstream parties to get them to offer some concessions to English national feeling and interests, such as an English Grand Committee.  Although such concessions would have little practical effect, they would be an admission of the need to observe English interests and a recognition of an English desire to govern their own affairs. Those would be important propaganda gains.

The most vital task for the English in the immediate future is the breaking of the public censorship of the subject. This might be done by a political party advocating an English parliament, but only if it can stand candidates in all English constituencies and has substantial funding behind it. . Although it would stand no chance of forming a government, with a decent electoral showing it could place considerable pressure on the major parties to change their  policies.

Such a party would be most effective if it offered a full range of policies rather than standing on a single issue. It might have a platform which included, for example, not only English self-government, but such policies as  withdrawal from the EU, a national rather than an international defence policy and a specific pledge to end English subsidies to the Celts.

An  English constitutional assembly set up by  private individuals could also have a part to play. It would undoubtedly  raise the public profile of the campaign. But such an assembly could also be the means of creating a pro English party with some electoral punch. The primary problem for any Englishman or woman wishing to work for an English parliament is knowing where to start in the absence of a mainstream party taking the lead. An English constitutional assembly would provide a means by which likeminded people drawn for across the country to meet and clarify their ideas.

Civil disobedience has its part to play.  This includes  such nonviolent actions as illegal demonstrations and occupations, a mass refusal to pay tax and a General Strike. Breaking the law en mass does not come easily to the latterday English, but there are times when it becomes necessary. Those times are when the political system develops a constitutional bottleneck. Examples from English history are the civil war, which destroyed the notion of the king as sovereign,  the Glorious  Revolution which created the  conditions  for parliamentary government,  the agitation for  the Great Reform Bill which made the first breach in the concept of parliament as an aristocratic club,  and  the fight for women’s suffrage which completed the transition to full adult suffrage. All involved criminal acts as defined by the law of the time. 

But it is important for a democratic society that any breach of the law should be made within the moral context of restoring meaningful democratic control.  I suggest that to do this a breach of the law  must meet the following criteria: the matter must be of great importance and the political and social system  must offer no meaningful opportunity to  challenge the status quo. Urgency and the difficulty of reversibility also come into the equation when assessing whether a breach of the law is justified. The action is given greater moral force if (1) a policy is being pursued which will cause either great damage or immense change, (2) a policy cannot be legally reversed,  (3) a policy cannot be practically reversed and (4) a policy can be reversed only with immense difficulty, 

I have left till last the hulking question of electoral reform, both of the Bill offering AV and  greater equalisation of  constituency sizes and of the House of Lords. If AV takes place the likelihood is that Britain will have coalition government as the norm. The Tories would  benefit from the equalisation of constituency sizes,  but the general psephological opinion is that they would lose more from AV. AV would be unlikely to assist the cause of parties outside the present Westminster coterie, because it would still unduly favour established parties. It is also probable that a coalition of Labour and the LibDems  would in most instances be the outcome of an election under AV. It is conceivable that the Labour and the LIbDems might both try to portray themselves as the party for English interest out of cynical electoral advantage, but it is improbable. What could conceivably happen is that the Tory Party makes a decision to promise an English Parliament and this is a sufficiently persuasive issue to produce a Tory majority even under AV. Nonetheless, if AV does get through this may spell the end for any realistic hope of  an established party bringing about an English Parliament

As for Lords Reform, this is much more nebulous because there is still no definite proposal in the offing. The Lords has  been partially neutered as an independent body by the removal of most of the hereditary peers, but if it becomes either a house entirely of political appointees or an elected house based on first-past-the-post or AV, it will become in terms of policy outcome  simply a mirror of the Commons.  If PR was used it might provide an entry point for  new parliamentary parties.   If the Lords remains as it is, then it provides a useful channel for demands for an English Parliament.

This entry was posted in Devolution, Nationhood and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to How do we get an English parliament?

  1. Miss Ruby Akhtar says:


  2. what she said ^ ^ ^ ^

  3. francis says:

    Scottish devolution was brought about by international pressure using Russia at the UN. Dont believe google Scotland UN Committee. It is a myth that Labour was the party of devolution. The elites are terrified that we English might use the same methods. Why else are they refysing to release the devolution cabinet meetings minutes.

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