Constitutional Engineering: Fail


British parties of the far Right are often treated as interchangeable. No-one on the Left can be really bothered to explore what nuances separate them. But the differences can be quite significant. Clearly, the English Democrats want a centralised England, having given up any hope of a re-centralised Britain: they’re a rearguard party that regards regional assemblies as divisive (whereas if national devolution is, it’s too far gone to complain about). The BNP and UKIP remain British nationalist parties but they tackle Britishness in radically different ways.

The BNP has learnt to use ‘Britain’ and ‘the British family of nations’ as alternatives, enabling it to reach out with ambiguity to the Celtic periphery. It respects devolution as an expression of subsidiarity, and seeks to extend its benefits to England through an English Parliament. It has even toyed with the idea of regional councils, based on “historic regions such as Wessex, Mercia and East Anglia” and having limited strategic responsibilities. In short, it knows its history.

UKIP has never reconciled itself to devolution because it doesn’t know its history. It isn’t interested in understanding how Britain really came about; its only interest is in projecting an imagined Britain that is fiercely united in its opposition to Brussels. It can’t make up its mind about culture, promoting uniculturalism – “aiming to create a single British culture” – but also promising to celebrate “all cultures” (plural) from around the British Isles. It appeals by being uniquely shallow and contradictory. While the BNP wraps itself in the combined flag of three patron saints, UKIP wraps itself in a £50 note. It’s a direct insight into the parties’ respective values.

UKIP’s manifesto, besides ranting against regions, proposes to re-engineer devolution, abolishing separate elections to Cardiff Bay, Holyrood and Stormont. Instead, it would populate those legislatures with Westminster MPs, who would sit there one week in four and then at Westminster for the rest of the time. English (and Cornish) MPs would spend their fourth week at Westminster, sitting as a so-called ‘England-only’ assembly. Politically, it’s a non-starter: any attempt to do anything of the sort would cause the UK to self-destruct. As an idea though, it’s revealing of UKIP’s sheer incompetence at policy-making, in more ways than just the obvious one of acceptability.

The reason why the devolved legislatures have separate elections is because they have governments attached. Separate elections allow those governments to be held to account by the electorate. UKIP’s solution would require voters in Wales, for example, to vote for an MP BOTH on the record of the Cardiff administration and the record of the Westminster one, even though they might be controlled by different parties. We’ve heard it said repeatedly that it’s such a shame that municipal elections get treated as a judgement on the Westminster government of the day, with good, normally popular councillors losing their seats as a result of things over which they have no control. And UKIP wants more of this?

The whole point of devolution is being able to choose a government that better matches your ideals. Suppose you like Labour’s social policies but not its views on the economy? Then vote for it in devolved elections and for someone else at Westminster. ‘Empowering the people’ is UKIP’s slogan. Its policies would do precisely the opposite.

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