Labour Space: A National Conversation for England
‘A National Conversation for England’ is a campaign that urges people to engage positively in discussion on the question of England: our national identity, our democracy, our governance, our future. We call for a government consultation of, and for, the people of England, so that we - the people - can determine the form of government best suited to our needs.
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is a state in flux. Just as unionists in 1921 were forced to rethink the logical territorial boundaries of the Union (with the secession of the Irish Free State) today’s unionists are coming to terms with nationalist governments in Scotland and Wales, and new territorial limitations on the extent of Westminster power. For the Scots and Welsh devolution has proved a liberating experience, invigorating national life, political debate and their national sense of self.
For the English it is becoming increasingly apparent that devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland has moved power away from Westminster in a manner that has damaged English voters, and public consultations in Wales and Scotland threaten to further weaken the Union parliament and our sense of Britishness.
In Wales the ‘All Wales Convention’, a cross-party initiative, is looking at extending legislative competence to the Welsh Assembly. In Scotland the SNP Government is conducting a 'National Conversation' to enable the people of Scotland to ‘decide Scotland's constitutional future’, with the aim of bringing forward a referendum on independence or enhanced devolved powers. And alongside the Scottish Government’s initiative there is the ‘Calman Commission’, a unionist cross-party consultative body, tasked with reviewing the present constitutional arrangements to enable the Scottish Parliament to better serve the people of Scotland (within the union).
Not to be outdone by the peripheries the government at Westminster has launched a 'Governance of Britain' initiative to ‘help us define what it means to be British’, an initiative that may well result in a British Bill of Rights and various policies to strengthen our feeling of Britishness.
But what about England; what about our feeling of Englishness? Unlike the other nations of the United Kingdom we have been offered no national consultation, nor a referendum, on how we wish to be governed. None are planned, nor even proposed. Instead we watch as our partner nations in the Union are consulted again and again, with the indulgence of the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties, with a view to further referenda which may again alter the very nature, balance and working of the Union state.
So in light of devolution and the growth in English national feeling, how should England be governed?
I believe that we - England - deserve a say because democracy works within defined territories: A contract of trust between citizens and politicians on a defined national community – we can elect you, we can remove you – is fundamental to a democracy.
Devolution to all parts of the United Kingdom except England has redefined England politically, once again, as a defined political territory…but only negatively. In a political, constitutional, sense England exists only as that part of Britain which is governed entirely from London, by the UK Government; that part of the union with no national voice and no legitimate political means of articulating its feeling of nationhood. England is the vacuum at the centre of our asymmetrically devolved family of nations, and nature abhors a vacuum.
2009 is the bicentenary of Tom Paine’s death, and as such this year is the perfect anniversary for the people of England to assert “We the people”, in the spirit of the Founding Fathers. It is time for the people of England to make claim to popular sovereignty; a nation not divided by ethnicity, class, geography and religion; but united as a national community, to discuss what England means to us and to determine our common future, whether inside the Union, or – if Alex Salmond gets his way - outside.
To begin with I propose an English equivalent of Scotland’s Calman Commission, to be tasked with gathering evidence from around England, with a view to making recommendations to the Government on ‘The English Question’ – the question of how England should be governed. Following on from that an English Constitutional Convention should be established along with a Royal Commission on the Governance of England to bring forward proposals to the UK Government.
Ultimately resolution of the English Question will be determined by the people of England through a nation-wide referendum.
The url to email to your friends and colleagues is http://ourengland.labourspace.com/
Let's Be the Change!
Apologies to David for nicking the name.