Gordon Brown is wrong. We need to scrap Barnett and allocate funding based on need

by David Lindsay

There is no West Lothian Question. The Parliament of the United Kingdom reserves the right to legislate supremely in any policy area for any part of the country. It never need do so and the point would still stand, since what matters is purely that it has that power in principle, which no one disputes that it has.

The grievance of England, and especially of Northern and Western England, concerns cold, hard cash. What, then, of those who bellow for an English Parliament to bartenders who cannot follow everyone else and leave the room? They fall into two categories. There are the Home Counties Home Rulers. And there are those wishing to live under the Raj of the Home Counties Home Rulers.

On the one hand are those from the South East, Essex, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire. Their definition of England is the South East, Essex, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire, or at least a certain idea of that area. Give them something for that, and they would be perfectly happy, at least until the votes started to be tallied up. Everyone gets a vote. Even the people whom they have bawled out.

On the other hand are those from everywhere else. Their definition of England is also the South East, Essex, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire, or at least a certain idea of that area. Although they are often professionally “local” to elsewhere, especially in Yorkshire but also in pockets of other parts of the country, the basis of their political position has always been that they were a cut above their neighbours.

That made them Conservatives until recently, and it increasingly makes them UKIP supporters. That is who the UKIP supporters in the North and elsewhere are. They were never Labour. That is also the context for the fact that there has been a UKIP MEP in Wales for some years and that there is now a UKIP MEP in Scotland, too.

They may never have elected an MP or even a councillor in their lives, or they may live in the only ward or constituency for miles around where their votes ever elected anyone. But enough MPs were returned from elsewhere to make the Margaret Thatcher Prime Minister. That suited them down to the ground.

Quite wrongly, since it would be run by Labour as often as not, they see an English Parliament in the same terms. Their more numerous and concentrated brethren elsewhere would deliver them from the rule of their neighbours. It is very funny indeed that those brethren think that they are those neighbours.

In 1993, 66 Labour MPs voted against Maastricht, far more than the number of Conservatives who did so. Yet there were far more Conservative than Labour MPs at the time. Of those 66, at least three campaigned for a Yes vote in the Scottish independence referendum, including that campaign’s chairman, Dennis Canavan.

While it is true that several of those from Wales went on to be among the strongest opponents of devolution, the 66 also included the late John McWilliam, one of the first campaigners for a North East regional assembly.

So much for the dissolution of the United Kingdom as some kind of EU plot, and I write as an inveterate social democratic Eurosceptic and Unionist. If anything, the pressure for that dissolution is a reaction against the effects of Thatcher’s Single European Act, of Maastricht, and of the Stability Pact to which we are pretty much adhering despite not being in the euro. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership looms large.

If there is one group of people to be avoided at all costs, then it is the ones who go on about some EU map with England divided into regions. If anyone had paid any attention to them, then the toothless and Tyneside-dominated regional assembly would have been set up in the North East, purely and understandably in order to spite them.

City regions are what used to be called metropolitan counties, which Thatcher abolished because she did not like Ken Livingstone. No, that never did make any sense. But that was what she did. Similarly, many unitary authorities bear more than a passing resemblance to county boroughs. These things have to keep going around and coming around, in order to justify the salaries of the people who write the research papers.

But since city regions are now to be revived under that name, whatever powers are proposed for them must also extend to a body covering each of those 40 English ceremonial counties which are neither Greater London, nor the City of London, nor any of the former metropolitan counties.

In many cases, the obvious body already exists. Where it no longer does, then that raises the question of why it no longer does. And where, as here in County Durham, the legacy of the last Government is such as would leave that body unbalanced, with existing local government responsibilities for part but not quite all of its area, then that, too, would be called into question. Leading to the restoration of the former district councils.

This promise of significant devolution to rural communities might go some way to making up the support that Labour has been too lazy to build up during this Parliament by properly opposing cuts in those communities’ services, and by selecting strong local campaigning candidates, with or without prior party allegiance.

Whatever the conurbations are getting, as well they might, then so must the counties. The loyally Labour old coal and steel belts of County Durham, South Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire are among the places that will need to be convinced that our, as often as not Conservative or Lib Dem, urban neighbours quite deserved all of this city regions carry on.

At the very least, we are not having the powers of our own local authorities transferred to them. In fact, since we are fairly populous, we may reasonably demand that whatever they got, then so should we. At least that money and those powers would always be under the control of members of Ed Miliband’s own party.

Will Devo Max really be opposed only by implacable Tory ultras? What about implacable Labour ultras? Or implacable Lib Dem ultras? Labour MPs for Scotland hold the Scottish Parliament in extremely low regard, and they did so even before it fell under the control of the SNP, as it did quite some time ago now.

Labour MPs from the North of England have spent an electoral generation voting powers to Scotland and to Europe, to Wales and to London, to Northern Ireland and to the judiciary, to everyone but themselves or their constituents. It is not as if Scotland has proved loyal to Labour in the way that the North very largely has.

All these years after devolution, Lib Dem MPs see that the Highlands and Islands are the only part of Scotland among the 11 parts of the United Kingdom that are poorer than Poland. Although Cornwall and Devon are both also on that list, as well as both being among those nine out of the 10 poorest parts of Northern Europe which are in this country.

Bringing us to the Barnett Formula, which has been elevated to the status of an article of the Constitution. Lord Barnett has long been on record that it was only ever supposed to last for one year. It is an outrage against social democracy and even against basic justice, being not remotely needs-based.

The canonisation of the Barnett Formula imperils the Union by raising serious questions among the Welsh about why they should bother with a State that treated them so shabbily. Heaven knows, it does no good to the poorest people in Scotland. Their condition is as abject under Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon as is that of their counterparts under David Cameron and Iain Duncan Smith.

Labour MPs from Wales and the North of England need to band together with Lib Dems from Wales and the West Country, and indeed from the North of Scotland, so that, perhaps even joined by Plaid Cymru and undoubtedly alongside all parties from Northern Ireland, they might propose a long-overdue replacement, based on need and organised through direct funding to localities without reference the Nationalist nomenklatura in Scotland.

The areas of Scotland that would benefit most from such a new approach are those which suffer most as a result of the old one. Outside the rural Lib Dem strongholds, those are mostly the areas that return devosceptical Labour MPs to Westminster. As much as anything else, this offers the possibility of taking Holyrood seats from the SNP, by correctly presenting it as the party that hordes money away from the communities that need it.

Devo Max will pass. In order to force these concessions in the course of that Bill’s parliamentary progress, there should be 200 votes against it at Second Reading, perhaps even 250, and possibly even 300. There ought to be. But will there be? If not, why not?

David Lindsay is a writer and activist based in Lanchester, County Durham

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11 Responses to “Gordon Brown is wrong. We need to scrap Barnett and allocate funding based on need”

  1. swatantra says:

    Gordon Barnett!!! Even Joel doesn’t believe in the ‘Formula’ any more!

  2. Madasafish says:

    There is no West Lothian Question. The Parliament of the United Kingdom reserves the right to legislate supremely in any policy area for any part of the country.”

    So the Westmister Parliament is going to run Scottish (and Welsh) budgets and NHS?

    Talk about living in la-la land..

    Not worth reading the rest.. the message is clear: Labour does not want to lose the votes of its Scottish MPs.

    Try that in the nest GE and you deserve to lose lots of votes in Labour constituencies to UKIP = or the Tories.

  3. aragon says:

    Yes: the problem from long experience, that none of the population trust the Westminster establishment to run a whelk stall. The way that money is distributed is ‘the’ issue with the wealth concentrated in London and the South East (with Scotland third!), but regionalisation might lead to fairer regional budgets, and a fairer distribution of wealth.

  4. Madasafish says:

    If you want a “fairer ” distribution, let London keep more.

  5. We are surprised to see this article classified as ‘grassroots’ on this website. David Lindsay is not a member of the Labour Party at any level, grassroots or otherwise. This link to David’s blog explains who rejected his application to rejoin the Labour Party http://davidaslindsay.blogspot.co.uk/2013/12/not-let-into-party.html

    The reviews for the first of David’s self-published books are indicative of some of the common problems that people have with David and his work. Here is a link to the Lulu.com website tinyurl.com/pwoskpg

    David has published this article on his personal blog http://davidaslindsay.blogspot.co.uk/2014/09/based-in-lanchester-county-durham.html apparently “those who have been able to read it have been very impressed”. Enjoy the anonymous comment saying “This is an amazing piece, you are a brilliant man.”

  6. Florisuga Fusca says:

    Why is Labour Uncut allowing this evil, vicious man to write on here? Take a look at what the charming Mr Lindsay had to say about a couple of journalists on twitter:


  7. John Reid says:

    Florisuga, I’ve a had a few runnings with Mr Lindsay before and Lancashireblad, who cares what anonymous thinks in his blog,it doesn’t matter if his application to rejoin was rejected as away of dissing this article, for once I agree with mr Lindsay’s article

  8. James says:

    I am baffled as to why David was not re-admitted to the Labour Party. From what I know of him, he is supportive of local labour movement events and wants to see a Labour victory in 2015. In person, he is polite and can disagree with you without being at all disagreeable. His contribution to discussions are informative yet concise – quite an achievement for an academic.

    This article draws attention to the erosion of local government, correctly pointing out that there are parts of Scotland and England which are affected by the centralisation of power and resources. As David states, further devolution could result in this over-centralisation being corrected.

  9. Stephen Alexander says:

    David Lindsay is NOT an academic. He has never held any academic post and has never published any academic paper.

  10. Tafia says:

    David Lindsay is NOT an academic. He has never held any academic post and has never published any academic paper.

    And Ed Miliband has never had a real job.

  11. uglyfatbloke says:

    It might not have been a bad thing to get a wider understanding of the Barnett Formula – such as what government spending it applies to and what it does n’t – before writing the article.

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