steepholm (steepholm) wrote,
steepholm
steepholm

Vexation without Representation

The British like (or think they like) their constitutions gnarly and assymetrical as an old oak, while being at the same time as airily unwritten as the scent of meadowsweet in summer. Not for them the formulated, Corbusian world of clauses and nested subclauses ("A constitution is a machine for living under"). If this weren't the case, I doubt we'd have let things get to the pass they're in today, vis-a-vis devolution: some people just like having anomalies such as the West Lothian question to chew on. As of today, for example, England is the only nation within the UK to have prescription charges (in fact they're going up). It's certainly the only nation planning to charge students £6-9,000 per year. It's also - very uncoincidentally - the only nation not to have its own form of democratic representation. People generally agree that post-code lotteries are bad things, but this is a post-code lottery on a massive scale. Yet there are no riots in the streets, and nationalist English parties languish on the right-wing fringes of politics in way that isn't the case for their Welsh and Scottish counterparts. Why is that?

Imperial guilt is one commonly-cited reason. It's strange perhaps that imperial guilt weighs so lightly on the Scots and Welsh, both of whom joined in the British Imperial adventure with gusto, but the English have the extra burden of having subjugated the other nations of the British Isles. When the London Eye was lit in green for St Patrick's day a couple of weeks ago, I mused how they would celebrate St George later this month. Paint St Paul's red and project a picture of Shakespeare's head onto the dome? Surely that was the least we could expect. But I'm not holding my breath.

On the other hand... last Saturday the BBC Radio 4 newsreader introduced the sports section by saying that there was good news and bad news. The bad news turned out to be that England had been knocked out of the Cricket World Cup. The good news was that they'd beaten Wales in the football. Note, this was the British Broadcasting Corporation news, broadcasting (amongst other parts of Britain) to the licence fee payers of Wales. And of course it's not hard to think of other occasions on which the English have silently identified the whole of the UK with England (or, in the case of Londoners, with London).

This combination of cringing guilt and preening superiority is not attractive. In fact, I'm fairly sure it's a recognized personality disorder.

You can't cure a malaise of this sort in one go, but instituting an English Parliament does seem an obvious way to begin. That will help get it into the heads of the English that England and Britain aren't the same place, while also giving them the same say over their own affairs that the people of Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland already enjoy. While we're at it, perhaps we could have a BBC England as well as BBC Wales, BBC Northern Ireland and BBC Scotland, so that English sporting victories (if any) can be trumpeted to English people without annoying the neighbours. Oh, and an English national anthem that isn't the same as the UK one, for singing at said victories.

Ah, but if you have an English Parliament, the UK parliament will be more or less redundant, will come the objection. What will the UK MPs do, if they're not to spend their time legislating for England? Won't it be a vast duplication of functions with the associated expense and inefficiency? Well, many of the same arguments apply to having the other national parliaments and assemblies - but it's true that the UK parliament won't need to be anything like as big, confined as it will be to legislating on UK-wide matters such as defence and foreign policy. Far fewer MPs with far bigger constituencies would seem to be the obvious solution. As for accommodation, the English parliament might as well sit in Westminster. I dare say it will feature many of the same faces, and it will save the cost of a removal van. The UK parliament, however should move to Strasbourg, where I suspect that a really swanky parliamentary building with associated office space is likely to become vacant in the not too distant future. It will cheer up the French (raw from losing the EU parliament) to feel that Britain is being ruled from French soil, the food will be excellent for the UK MPs, and the rest of us can get on with looking after our own affairs.

Kushti, n'est-ce pas?
Tags: current affairs, maunderings
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