Saturday, August 19, 2006

The West Yorkshire Question

I've never taken the West Lothian question very seriously (how many men have we lost because of it?), and I usually don't engage with it. But there is something I'd like to fork over about the semi-federal nature of Britain. One may recall that, not so long ago, Dave from PR and other Tories were complaining about the hypothetical situation where a Labour government is elected with a working majority UK-wide, but a minority of MPs in England, implying that it depends on Scottish MPs to continue in office. They argued that, as Scotland has self-governing powers on many issues, it would be wrong for the government to legislate on anything purely English unless it had a majority of English MPs (put it another way, unless the Tories said so).

This would, in practice, create an administrative potmess of epic proportions as the government followed its own policies in all-UK matters and those shared with Scotland and Wales, the Tories' policies in England-only matters, and God knows what in cases of doubt.

But that isn't my real beef. The problem is the idea that if one area of the UK elects a lot of MPs of the other party, it's perfectly fine to chop it off so the Conservative Party can hoist a flag on the rest. I propose, then, the West Yorkshire question.

If it is unacceptable for a government with a parliamentary majority in the UK, but not among English MPs alone, to legislate for England, why is it not also unacceptable for a government with a majority of English MPs - but not if a strongly supportive region such as West Yorkshire were excluded - to legislate for the rest of England?

Update: Charlie's comment induces me to restate the problem. The Tory understanding of the WLQ is that, roughly, either there should be a new England-only level of government or that there should be an effective Conservative veto on England-only legislation. But why does this argument not also hold for, say, West Yorkshire? England-only legislation could be passed under such an arrangement by a government with no majority of MPs in Yorkshire, depending on their strength elsewhere. If this is wrong at the UK level, it's very odd to consider it entirely right at the level of England.

My conclusion is that this is purely self-serving. The Tories like West Lothian because it offers the (distant) possibility of gerrymandering a large number of Labour, Liberal and nationalist voters out of much of the parliamentary agenda. They don't draw the further inference because it would deny them the same privilege. For bonus points, consider this. WLQ assumes that the UK is a confederation, in which the centre cannot overrule the members. Devolution assumes that it is a federation, in which powers are divided among levels of government in one entity. Why do the Tories reject the European Constitutional Treaty, which would have created a confederal structure for the EU, on the grounds that it weakens the UK as a national state, whilst arguing for confederalism at home?

2 comments:

Chris Stiles said...

Tory silliness aside, for your situations to be exact, the something in West Yorkshire would have to be different from that in the rest of the UK. Locally elected people would have to be in charge of it, and the government would have to be in the situation where they changed that something in the rest of the UK because of a majority built on West Yorkshire MPs.

Anonymous said...

Whilst not wishing to deny the obviously self serving nature of the Tory's involvement, what the "West Yorkshire question" along with the WLQ actually show is the inherently limited legitimacy of representative democracy as practised here. Not that the other versions don't suffer from similar/different flaws. But still.
This issue is for the tories what proportional representation (or whichever bastardisation is cool these days) for the Lib Dems, and was (briefly) for Labour. A bloody good idea in that it'd benefit you whilst you're in opposition. But as soon as it seems that it wouldn't do you any good, it gets forgotten about. Politics eh?

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