Out of idle curiosity as much as anything I have been taking a look at how individual Lib Dem MPs are likely to vote on tuition fees next Thursday. A full list follows at the end of this post. The best source on this is the blog of Tim Starkey, a Lib Dem councillor who is co-ordinating the rebels.
Be in no doubt - the lobbying efforts are working. Over the next week it is vital that students, parents and all those who care about widening access to university education write to their MPs and let their feelings be known. As I’ve said before, don’t just target Lib Dems. There are 4 Tories on the government benches who signed the pledge too ( Bob Blackman - Harrow East, Stephen Mosley - City of Chester, Lee Scott - Ilford South, Ben Wallace - Wye and Preston).
If one takes Michael Crick's narrowest definition of '26 plain backbenchers', more than half of Lib Dem backbenchers have already said they will vote against the Government. It is still almost half if one includes spokesmen and 'party whips' who are not members of the Government. This in itself would be a major blow to the legitimacy of the tuition fees hike.
Perhaps no group of people have been more ambivalent about their
English identity than those of us born in England of Irish descent.
It is no secret that the history of Anglo-Irish relations is in
large measure a story of conflict. At different times, each nation has
defined itself in opposition to the other, leaving little room for
those with connections to both.
But it was not always so. At the very dawn of English literature,
the Venerable Bede records the first contact between the two nations, a
literary and spiritual flowering which first brought Christianity to
the English, and then brought orthodox Catholicism to the Irish.
What was more surprising
was that that was all he did. His original remit was to consider ‘how
current and future tax policy, including the tax changes announced in
the Budget 2007, can support the sustainable growth of businesses and
long-term investment in Northern Ireland.’
One of the most striking indications of the sense of crisis currently engulfing Gordon Brown's government is Jackie Ashley's suggestion that Brown could step down before the next election.
There is still plenty of time for Brown to turn things round, and it is probably too early for talk of 'Black Wednesday' moments. That said, the latest polls make grim reading for the Prime Minister, showing the Conservatives on course for an overall majority at the next election.
It is worth giving some thought to what that would mean. For one thing, it would pave the way for the scenario canvassed by Fraser Nelson last week:
So far, only the nationalists have offered a sensible way to ensure
cohabitation between the Kingdom's nations, namely friendship based on
independence. Of course, this is hardly a way out that pleases
unionists. But if they continue to respond with their present
unintelligent conservatism, then the nationalists will win the argument.
I am in complete agreement that de facto independence, at least, is the only route to a stable democratic settlement. However, the strength of the case for Irish Home Rule in the late nineteenth century or for Scottish devolution in the 1970s, did not prevent the establishment temporising for a very long time. It will be interesting to see how it copes now that there is an English challenge to the status quo.
Gareth Young points us to an interesting statement from the DUP's Sammy Wilson:
House of Commons makes up part of our National Parliament, and I
believe that every MP should have the ability to speak and vote on any
matter. If England wants to have powers devolved to its own parliament
or assembly then that is an option for them to consider, and the DUP
would support that decision as a way to correct the imbalances created
by devolution. However the solution is not to separate MP’s into
separate classes and ethnic groupings and liken the corridors of
Westminster to the decks of the Titanic. (DUP)
I wonder who will be the first Labour Minister to accuse the DUP of undermining the union?
The Conservatives plans for an English Grand Committee are all over the news today, although The Sunday Times seems to have backtracked on a report that David Cameron had made Malcolm Rifkind's proposals official party policy.
Rifkind has written a paper and submitted it to Kenneth Clarke, the chairman of the party’s democracy task force. But the committee has yet to decide whether to adopt the recommendation in its final report.
Rifkind is keen, however, and floated the idea in a newspaper last night: “Since devolution there has been a growing English consciousness and that has given credence to the unfinished business of devolution.
“The issue is not an English parliament. It is how you reform the way in which the House of Commons operates so that on purely English business, as opposed to United Kingdom business, the wishes of English members cannot be denied.” (Times Online)
Given that this blog takes it's name from the sea-green ribbon of the Levellers, I ought to note that we are currently going through the 360th anniversary of the Putney Debates.
Gordon Brown's speech on liberty gave a brief mention to the Seventeenth Century radical tradition, but passed over this first attempt to give England a democratic constitution. Surely, a Government which is seeking to start its own debate about a written constitution should embrace this precedent? One way to do that would be to give a written constitution the title that the Levellers used, An Agreement of the People.
Tristram Hunt had a good article on the debates in the Guardian on Friday, although he made one crucial mistake. The Levellers did not advocate a sovereign Parliament. The whole point of a written constitution was to control the power of the parliamentary oligarchy, and enable a sovereign people. It is because they were defeated that we have parliamentary sovereignty.
It has been suggested that Gordon Brown's proposed constitution will enshrine the sovereignty of the people. Whether that is true in substance will depend on who has the power to amend that constitution.If a referendum is required, then the people might get the power to vote on future European treaties, for example.
The importance of fan culture is very big in England, because Sports
Patriotism is the only legitimised expression of the English national
consciousness. Many socialists forget that national consciousness is –
for the vast majority of people - their dominant form of self-identity,
and can co-exist with other forms of identity, such as class
consciousness. It is important that we contest the political content of
the national consciousness, so that people’s sense of self-identity is
associated with progressive and not reactionary values.
On the right, Mick Fealty's Brassneck points us to The Croydonian and some interesting remarks by Matthew Parris at a Conservative Way Forward meeting:
A split, perhaps deliberately engineered, between the Scottish Tories
and the Tories in the rest of the country would best serve Conservatism
in Scotland (What I would call the Germany / Bavaria model. C),
as otherwise English nationalism could be the accomplice of Scottish
nationalism. A Scottish and rest of the UK Conservative parties could
be good for both, and there are plenty of areas where a Scottish
Conservative party could act alone an in the interests of Scotland
rather than the UK, so the final question is whether the Conservatives
can successfully pursue an approach between what we have now and
prospective Scottish independence.