Avoiding a Conservative England

I was very struck by Nick Robinson’s post on the ‘English votes for English matters’ debate, and also by Robert Kirton’s comment (#4) on the problem that faces the Labour Party in the event of English or effective English independence.

If we make two assumptions:

1) That Scottish independence is a real possibility, with the rise of the SNP and possibly a Conservative shift given that:

2) The Conservatives stand to benefit electorally from an English Parliament, under First Past the Post

then those of us who desperately want to avoid Conservative hegemony have several options, it seems to me:

1) Embrace PR, and do it as quickly as possible whilst Brown still has his eye on constitutional reform. With the progressive votes of Labour and Lib Dem MPs, the Conservatives can actually be reduced in power.

2) Try and avoid Scottish independence, or ‘English votes for English MPs’, on the basis that the issue will go away. But it seems to be popular and there’s a certain logic which is undeniable.

3) Put faith in the conversion of the Conservatives to New Labourish principles: just as New Labour followed Thatcher on economic reform, so the Tories can follow Blair and Brown on welfare. The problem here is obvious: even if this did occur in the leadership, there’s still a large core backing in the country for conservative principles.

4) Accept the situation and look elsewhere for progressive politics: at the EU level, or at a local, devolved level of cities, mayors etc. Let the conservative areas of the country follow conservative principles, and we’ll go our own way thanks. But the EU is unpopular, slow and too far removed, whilst even if local politics had a revival it would require significant power and money, and yet be unable to deal with central national and international policies.

5) Keep First Past The Post but re-align the parties – a broad coalition of the centre, and then a party of the right and a party of the left. Good luck trying to get that to happen.

6) Reject the premise – Labour can win in England by mobilising its broad base of support and winning over floating voters.

I’ve no idea what will happen, but it seems like an important question for the long-term future of the political system.

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