Friday 3 February 2023

Labour's curate's egg


For some time now Labour has been twenty or more points ahead in the polls. Unless something odd happens, we will soon have a Labour Government. I feel rather as if I am eating the curate’s egg. The prospect of a Labour Government is good in parts, but there are a few mouldy rotten bits that make me tempted to spit the whole thing out.

My primary concern is as always keeping the UK intact. If Labour can win an absolute majority, which now looks likely, it will do much to undermine the SNP’s cause for the next few years. If the price for keeping the UK intact is a Labour Government I will happily pay it.

Right Reverend Host: "I'm afraid you've got a bad Egg, Mr Jones!"; The Curate: "Oh no, my Lord, I assure you! Parts of it are excellent!"

The next General Election will be about Labour versus Conservative and the chance for the first Labour Government since Gordon Brown. It will be very difficult indeed for the SNP to push its independence agenda and it is likely that many former Labour voters who now support the SNP will be tempted back to get rid of the Tories. If the SNP share of the vote falls, then it will have no mandate to push for an independence referendum and if Labour wins an absolute majority, then the SNP will have no leverage to gain one. Looks like game over.

This is the good part of the egg.

I am less worried than normal about Labour managing the economy. It could hardly do worse than the Conservatives are doing at present. It may be that a Labour Chancellor might be competent. I am willing to give him a chance, because when the Conservatives have got us into the present mess it is time to give the other guy a go.

Neither the Conservatives nor Labour are especially ideologically different. The Conservatives are offering us centrism rather than free marketeers, lower spending, lower taxes and a shrinking state. Those ideas blew up with poor Liz Truss.

The battle then becomes who manages the British state better. The Conservatives have been doing badly so they deserve to be kicked out. This is how democracy ought to work. It is not football. It ought not to be tribal.

I don’t think Labour will be able to change Brexit. It would require a referendum for us to rejoin and I don’t see how rejoining could avoid us having to accept the Euro, Schengen and paying more for the privilege of Brussels telling us what to do. Rejoin would lose. Labour will not dare ask the British public for this reason.

Labour might try to manoeuvre us back into the Single Market but given how little advantage we have made of Brexit I would not be overly bothered by that. If you are going to go down the low tax, undercutting the EU road, then leaving the Single Market makes sense, but we haven’t done that, for which reason membership of the Single Market looks more attractive.

What matters about Brexit is that the UK doesn’t end up in an EU superstate and that Parliament is sovereign. Soft or hard is a matter of taste with regard to eggs and Brexit. It is the fundamentals that matter, not the details.

Of course, if we rejoined the Single Market, we could not limit immigration from Europe, but I’m not sure we want to anyway. The problem of immigration is not Poles and Slovaks. They work and cause minimal trouble.

Neither the Conservatives nor Labour want to seriously limit migration. They pretend to, while offering hundreds of thousands of visas to people to visit, work or study in the UK knowing that the vast majority will stay. Stop offering such visas and you virtually stop illegal immigration even if a few small boats arrive on our beaches.

The issue then becomes do you prefer to get your migrants from the EU or from outside the EU?

There might be more woke crap under Labour, but look at how much of it has developed since David Cameron became Prime Minister. It isn't as if the Conservatives have been particularly good at conserving common sense, nor have they protected us from the environmentalists and the green crap of net zero. So how much worse would this stuff really be under Labour? Not much if at all.

I am not remotely bothered by the idea of abolishing the House of Lords. Lots of countries have elected upper chambers and it works well enough. Some countries have only one elected chamber and that works well enough too. I would I think prefer a single elected House of Commons with a new system of checks and balances. There are lots of sensible countries that have unicameralism including New Zealand, Norway and Denmark. Ask them how they do it. We would at least save a lot on the cost of ermine.

But whatever Gordon Brown touches tends to be an attempt to appease Scottish nationalists and every single one of his attempts from devolution to “The vow” has done damage and helped rather than hindered the SNP.

If we are to have an elected upper chamber, again there are lots of sensible countries that have one, then base the membership of this chamber not on nations and regions, but on constituencies or groups of constituencies.

The Supreme Court decision on refusing the SNP the right to allow Holyrood to legislate for an independence referendum made clear that Scotland while being called a country is legally merely a region of the UK. It has no more right to secede than Burgundy or Bavaria. The fact that Scotland is called a country, or a nation is legally immaterial. The UK is a unitary state. It is neither a federation nor a confederation.

The task therefore is to treat each region of the UK equally. Five million people living in Scotland should have no more democratic rights than five million people living in a region in England.

The mistake with devolution was to treat the parts of the UK that happened to be called countries differently from those that were not. This was both unfair and led to the absurd situation where Scottish MPs could vote on English healthcare, but English MPs had no say at all over Scottish healthcare.

If you want to improve British democracy by all means either abolish the House of Lords or make it elected either at a different time or perhaps by means of some form of proportional representation. But more important than either of these things is to devolve power equally.

Each of the devolved parliaments should be made to devolve power to a local level covering perhaps one million people and that level of devolution should be made available to each group of around one million people living in England.

It is impossible politically to abolish the devolved parliaments, but they could be bypassed so that real power is decentralised and given to local communities.

The rottenness in Labour’s egg is the same as it was when Gordon Brown first thought he could kill Scottish nationalism stone dead. Instead, it was Labour in Scotland that was poisoned by the stench of rotten eggs.

You can never appease nationalism. You just strengthen it, but you can bring about a situation when the whole of the UK is governed in the same way and each citizen has the same democratic power as every other.

So please Labour, if you win power, no more powers for Holyrood, no more talk of nations and countries within countries and if you intend to radically change the nature of the constitution do so with cross party consensus rather than a whipped majority. Otherwise, we will just get another rotten egg like we got the last time we had a Labour Government.