Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Cameron wants to play Happy Families with the UK

Last night David Cameron came to Watford to speak to members of the local community in an unscripted question and answer session as part of a series of meetings under the banner of 'Cameron Direct' which are being broadcast live over the internet on the Conservative Party website. Incidentally, I think this is a healthy development, a return to 'hustings' type politics and away from the stage-managed, spin-ridden performances we have come to expect in recent years.
I am not a resident of Watford, but I work there and one of my colleagues is a Tory councillor and she agreed to smuggle me in. I was determined to ask Cameron a question in connection with his recent decision to adopt Ken Clarke's proposal for an English Grand Committee to make unchallenged amendments to laws affecting only England (a half-hearted and relatively ineffectual non-solution, in my opinion, to the problem of asymmetric devolution) and after half an hour or so I managed to catch Mr. Cameron's eye and was allowed to ask my question.
The question I put to him was, "If you win the general election, will you be fair to the people of England and bring in 'English Votes on English Laws', or will it just be 'English Votes on English amendments', as Kenneth Clarke is proposing?"
(I realise that EVoEL isn't the best solution to the WLQ but I wanted to highlight the fact that the Clarke proposal falls short of even that.)

Here is the full text of Cameron's response to my question, interspersed with my thoughts in italics:

"Well, I think the Kenneth Clarke plan is the right one, I mean let me first say what I won't do. I don't want to have an English Parliament. We've got, frankly, enough politicians, paid enough, with enough big salaries and all the rest - we do not want a whole new English Parliament alongside the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Parliament (sic) and the existing Westminster Parliament.
- Thanks for telling us what we do or don't want, Dave. No need for a constitutional convention, then -
So, how do we deal with this issue that you rightly raise of when, um, English - given that Scottish MPs (sic) in the Scottish Parliament deal with health, education and housing
- erm, don't forget policing, justice, the environment, arts, agriculture etc -
- how do we deal with the issue that when the Westminster Parliament is looking specifically at English health, education and housing, that English MPs have the decisive say. How do we that? Well, I think the Ken Clarke plan is a very good one. We don't want to create a situation where there are two classes of Member of Parliament, and make it too divisive.
- I'm tired of hearing this argument. There are already two classes of MP. Those who can vote on domestic matters affecting their own constituents, ie. English MPs, and those who can't, ie. MPs for Scottish or Welsh constituencies -
We want to keep the United Kingdom together, I think that's important. But what Ken has said in his proposal to me is, look, when the Westminster Parliament's talking about education you just make it sit as a Grand Committee with just English MPs that discuss that bill, and have a convention that when it comes to the whole House of Commons at the end of the process that they don't overturn what the English MPs have done,
- He's trying to make it sound like Scottish / Welsh / Northern Irish MPs won't be able to vote on English legislation, but that's not true, it's only the amendments made by English MPs that will be protected -
and I think this idea of conventions and processes working in our flexible constitution has worked very well over centuries and I think we can make this work as well. What I don't want to do is kind of have a big row between England and Scotland.
- Who said anything about a row? Dave, do you really think the people of Scotland are going to get stroppy if they're not allowed to participate in governing England's domestic affairs, even though they have their own Parliament and Government for Scotland? -
This is the United Kingdom, it's like a family, and I want to keep the family together. Families fall out over lots of things like money and arrangements like this and I don't want to inflame the situation so actually we end up seeing the United Kingdom become the disunited Kingdom. I want to try and keep the family together
- Surely the best way to keep a family together is to treat all the members fairly -
because I think we are more together - England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland - than we are if we start to break up."

I sat politely through all this, waiting for Mr. Cameron to invite me to respond to his answer, as he had done with all the previous questioners (and did with those who came after me). I wish now that I'd just butted in and interrupted him, because when he'd finished his response he just moved straight on and took another question. To me, this is a sign that he is aware of the weakness of his position and doesn't really want to discuss it.
I think the Tories want to palm off the policy they have adopted as not really being any different from straightforward 'English Votes on English Laws', so as to give the impression that if they come to power then the West Lothian Question will have been satisfactorily answered, which is rather dishonest in my opinion.

The whole question and answer session can be viewed here. My question is at approximately the 32 minute mark.


Toque said...

Well done. Great question, pathetic response.

Alfie said...

Ditto what Gareth said....
Cameron also got the answer to the question about local authorities being forced to take (unelected) quangoed quotas on huge new house building schemes. He said 'Britain's councils were being forced...' - it is, of course only ENGLAND'S councils that are being forced....

Can anyone attend these things - because our constituency is pretty marginal - and I guess he might well come up to here to chat...

Quiet_Man said...

He just doesn't get it at all, some of the biggest family fueds develop when one part of the family is seen to be getting favouratism over the other parts. All that does is build resentment and makes a family break up inevitable.
It's plain justice, you cannot have Scots, Welsh and Irish having any say whatsoever on issues in England that have nothing to do with them, the have their own parliaments/assemblies for that.

Andrew said...

Alfie, the details of his visits are on the Cameron Direct web page at


Any local resident can attend but you have to email in advance for tickets... Or be friends with a Tory councillor!

Jonathan said...

The Cameron/Clarke plan sounds fine to me, nice bit of nglish pragmatism. Plus it won't cost any extra.