If Labour’s serious about devolution, why not enshrine the commitment in a new Clause Four?

by Kevin Meagher

It’s quite feasible that the Scottish independence referendum may be seen, in time, as merely a prelude to a much bigger reconfiguration where power sits and how it is used in Britain. For now, at least, the battle is on to grab the commanding heights of the debate about how we devolve power from Westminster and Whitehall to English localities.

Yet, the pursuit of English devolution, or localism, (or whatever we’re calling it these days) does not fit neatly on either the right or left of British politics. Both parties have had their moments. Labour introduced regional development agencies and planning strategies while the Tories have given councils more economic freedom through their city deals.

Equally, both have black marks against them. The last Labour government loved its top-down targets, while the Tories have always been happiest governing from the centre, stripping councils of their powers (particularly with the introduction of compulsory competitive tendering in the 1980s) and even going as far as abolishing the Greater London Council.

For Labour to fend off siren calls for an English Parliament, Ed Miliband needs to embrace devolution from first principles, accepting that in future the centre should not be able to dictate to local and devolved authorities and this may, in turn, lead to postcode lotteries in service provision.

Yet, the very thought of not being able to use the machinery of the state to drive micro-outcomes offends the Fabianist impulses of many Labour politicians. After all, it was Labour minister Douglas Jay who remarked that “the gentleman in Whitehall is usually right”.

Its twenty years ago since Tony Blair stood before the Labour party conference and signalled his intention to rewrite Labour’s constitution to “say what we mean and mean what we say.” Ed Miliband needs to do something similar this week. He could use his leader’s speech on Tuesday to make the case that Labour ‘s default impulse is now to devolve power from the centre to the lowest practicable level.

The revised version of Clause Four that was finally agreed by the party in 1995 pledged to create a society where “…power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many, not the few”. Miliband could propose an alteration, committing his government to building a country where:

“…wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many, not the few, and where power is exercised at the lowest possible level at all times.”

A political race is now on to make sense of our lopsided devolution settlement and symbolism matters. If Labour is serious about winning it, then, once again, it needs to say what it means and mean what it says.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

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3 Responses to “If Labour’s serious about devolution, why not enshrine the commitment in a new Clause Four?”

  1. John Reid says:

    The sooner the better, I hope I’m wrong but unless Ed accepts,only English/ Welsh MPs voting on English /Welsh matters, we’re heading for defeat, the referndum,has proved Scots MPs can’t vote for stuff that doesn’t concern them

  2. bob says:

    English Votes for English Laws after the referendum is the ONLY way to go.

  3. Tafia says:

    Personally, most people – irrespective of who they vote for, would think that a fair and just settlement would be:-

    Only MPs with seats in the various UK componant countries to vote on matters pertaining solely to those componant countries. If matters pertain to two regions then MPs from both partake etc etc

    That England also becomes devolved – probably into several areas.

    That the number of MPs is reduced dramatically – 500 or even less, and balanced out so that the population of a constituency is roughly the same. That the number of Local Authorities is also reduced along with the number of county/metropolitan councillors. This needs to be done so that the overall ‘cost’ of government does not rise. Some areas of governance pushed upwards from Local Authorities to Regional government, and likewise some areas of national governance pushed down from Parliament to Regional. Regional government need not only real power but also real responsibility and the ability to raise funding and be held responsible for it.

    Integration – work the boundaries of councils, regional members and MPs so that they aren’t all over the place as now. I use Wales as an example. 1 MP constituency should encompass two or three regional level constituencies entirely, Likewise the boundaries of local authorities should fall within the boundaries of regional reps. That way they work as a team from Parliament, through region, through local authority. As things are the boundaries are all over the place and one council will find itself dealing with wo or three MPs depending on where constituency boundaries fall, and (like Wales) several assembly members as well because the boundaries for those are different.

    The Barnet formula. My own opinion – and bear in mind I live in North West Wales which is a run-down and poor area – is that it should remain, but be reformed and regionalised. Money raised in Scotland stays in Scotland for them to distribute as they wish, likewise Wales, likewise Northern Ireland. And likewise devolved England. The regions have got to accept fiscal responsibility for what they are doing and must be allowed to raise or lower levels of company tax, income tax etc etc. Power without being held to account for the cost of your actions (as is the case here in Wales) is an absurdity. If for instance the Welsh Government makes a total arse of things then the people of Wales must face the music for it so that they in turn hold the Welsh Assembly to account. Westminster (England) must not pick up the tab – that’s where the resentment sets in amongst voters in England. Each region must be held responsible for it’s own affairs and the voters in each region must be held responsible for the actions of their choices – you only get continual bad government via stupid voters – it’s not just the MPs etc that are rubbish, it’s the voters as well.

    Voting. I’d make voter registration compulsory as well, and make it compulsory to either register for a postal vote or attend a pollling station. You don’t have to vote if you don’t want to – but you will register and you will attend if non-postal. I’d also make it an offence for a party workers to handle a postal vote belonging to someone else. I’d also move Polling Days to saturday & sunday, 48 hours so that it is easier for shift workers, etc etcIt’s becoming a f**king joke the levels of turnout in some votes and Scotland has shamed the rest of the UK so well done them.

    There is too much disconnect between voters, parties and government. Ultimately voters have got to realise that everything politicians and government get up to is in their hands and they need to start realising this.

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