Monday, 3 December 2012

The Not Very Deep South

The allegedly anti-Scottish Kelvin Calder MacKenzie has registered the domain name southernparty.co.uk from his home address in Weybridge. That “uk” is the most hilarious thing about this whole business. That, and of course his name. Oh, well, let the debate begin. Assuming that there can be such a thing involving him. Here in the land of Melvyn Bragg, Alan Bennett, Ken Barlow and Roy Cropper, taking on the TOWIE Tendency will not necessarily be the most demanding thing that we have ever done.

If General Elections really were won and lost in the South East, then there would have been a Conservative Government with a large majority in 2005. In the days when that party used to win Elections outright rather than having to be propped up by someone else, then it did so by winning considerable numbers of seats in Scotland, Wales, the North and the Midlands.

The equally ignored battle between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats in the West Country and in Hampshire has also made the difference between a majority government and a hung Parliament at every General Election for many years. The consequences of that fact last time might even cause a bit of attention to be paid to the more westerly half of the South next time. But do not hold your breath.

Those are all much more conservative places than the South East. Hence their lack of support for the post-Thatcher Conservative Party.

By losing first many and then most of its Scottish, Welsh, Northern and Midland seats, and by failing to hold or regain ground in the West Country and in Hampshire, the Conservative Party first nearly and then actually lost power in 1992 and 1997 respectively. It seems that by 2015, they will have condemned the electorally key areas to darkness long into the morning for much of the year, by having imposed Central European Time with the connivance of a Coalition partner which has already collapsed north of the Wash and is ripe for collapse west of the Solent.

That, and even further economic collapse through the abolition of national pay agreements in the public sector. To be joined, in the extremely unlikely event of a Conservative victory, by lower levels of state benefits (what, all of them, even including the old age pension?) in the areas where the votes really count. No one in those areas must be in any position to purchase a private sector good or service. Must they? Whereas public employees in London are paid extra to live there, and that is before we mention the City, whom we are still waiting to see put on the same incomes as other public sector workers or as other, largely foreign, benefit claimants, depending on how one looks at the matter.

In 1992, only the most obsessive political anorak had ever even heard of Tony Blair. And that was still the case on Golden Wednesday, when the Conservative defeat, and thus the Labour victory by default, became a done deal. Furthermore, the Conservatives’ failure to regain power first at all and then on its own has consisted precisely in its failure to regain those Scottish, Welsh, Northern and Midland seats.

By contrast, the Labour gains in the South East in 1997 were just a bonus, and the loss of most of them in 2005 made no real difference. Indeed, only in 2005 did Blair finally influence a General Election result at all. Specifically, he lost Labour 100 seats that any other Labour Leader would have saved. Thus he moved from being a mere irrelevance to being a positive liability.

However, the Conservatives, deprived of any significant parliamentary link with the areas that really matter electorally, entirely failed to register this. Instead, they installed as Leader a Blair clone, because he played well in the South East and in polls with the 34 to 38 per cent of determined non-voters dishonestly factored out. How did that turn out for them, then?

It would be pointless for the North of England (with a population considerably larger than that of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland combined) to remain in the United Kingdom if its economically leftish social conservatism serving and served by agriculture, manufacturing and small business, and rooted in Catholicism, Methodism and a High Churchmanship quite different from that in the South, were no longer able to support and to be supported, either by Scotland’s economically leftish social conservatism serving and served by agriculture, manufacturing and small business, and rooted in Catholicism, Presbyterianism and Episcopalianism, or by Wales’s economically leftish social conservatism serving and served by agriculture, manufacturing and small business, and rooted in Catholicism, several varieties of Nonconformity, and the sane High Churchmanship that provides the mood music to the Church in Wales.

The North would be at least as capable of independence as either Scotland or Wales, and would have every reason to pursue that path if they did. But who would then pay for the City to be bailed out next time, and the time after that, and the time after that? And what would the smug South East drink, or wash in?

But the grievance of England, especially Northern and Western England, concerns, not some “West Lothian Question”, but cold, hard cash. We probably have to talk about the English regions, even if we would prefer to talk about the historic counties from before an unprotesting Thatcher was in the Cabinet. Each of the present or, where they have been abolished in the rush to unitary local government, the previous city, borough and district council areas in each of the nine regions must be twinned with a demographically comparable one (though not defined in terms of comparable affluence) in Scotland, in Wales, in Northern Ireland, and in each of the other English regions.

Across each of the key indicators – health, education, housing, transport, and so on – both expenditure and outcomes in each English area, responsibility for such matters being devolved elsewhere, would have to equal or exceed those in each of its twins. Or else the relevant Ministers’ salaries would be docked by the percentage in question. By definition that would always include the Prime Minister. In any policy area devolved to Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, no legislation must apply in any of the English regions unless supported at Third Reading by the majority of MPs from that region. Since such legislative chaos would rightly be unconscionable, any Bill would in practice require such a consensus before being permitted to proceed at a much earlier stage of its parliamentary progress.

No one would lose under any of this: there would be no more politicians than at present, and both expenditure and outcomes would have to be maintained in, most obviously, Scotland and the South East for the twinning system to work. Is it conceivable that Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish voters would not also insist on full incorporation into it, with their own areas thus also guaranteed expenditure and outcomes equal to or exceeding those in each of those areas’ respective twins? Or else the relevant Holyrood, Cardiff Bay or Stormont Ministers’ salaries would be docked by the percentage in question. By definition that would always include the First Minister, and in Northern Ireland also the Deputy First Minister.

Ed Miliband, a Yorkshire MP on the East Coast mainline, over to you. You could do with a Northern foil to Maurice Glasman and Jon Cruddas, both of whom, invaluable though they are, are very much men of the South East, and especially of London. It says a very great deal for London that Blue Labour has begun there. But even so. And someone from each of the West Country, the North of Scotland, and Wales north of the Heads of the Valleys Road, would also be no bad thing at all.

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