The region’s MP’s reacted angrily to David Cameron’s plans for a constitutional revolution after Scotland rejected independence – accusing him of a political fix.
Labour MPs warned the plan – “English votes for English laws” – would strengthen the influence of the Conservative heartlands over Westminster, while doing nothing for the North-East.
> Well ? Did anyone seriously expect anything different ?
And they demanded the overhaul instead focus on devolving power down from Westminster, in parallel with firm promises already made to Scotland on tax and spending.
The stance – echoed by Labour leader Ed Miliband – puts the region on a collision course with both Mr Cameron and Nick Clegg, who plan to rush through a solution to the so-called ‘West Lothian’ question.
Under the fast-track timetable, firm plans will be unveiled in January – from a committee headed by Richmond MP William Hague – delighting Tories who fear the rising UKIP threat.
In reality, change looks impossible before the May general election, but the “English votes for English laws” proposal is, nevertheless, a political nightmare for Labour.
Mr Cameron suggested Scottish MPs would lose voting rights over tax issues, potentially leaving a Miliband administration – with 41 Scots MPs currently – unable to pass a Budget.
Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) attacked a “crude attempt to cobble this together on the back of an envelope”- calling on the prime minister to put devolution first –
“In our region, we will find that our position gets relatively worse. It might be a good solution for people in Hertfordshire, but I don’t think it’s a good solution for people in Durham.”
Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) –
“Cameron completely missed the point. He should not be using this as an opportunity to increase the Tory stranglehold over England.”
Kevan Jones (North Durham) –
“Cameron is pandering to his right wing and UKIP – this is not going to help the North-East at all.
Jenny Chapman (Darlington) –
“He should be talking to people in the North-East about what they want and what extra powers they want, rather than making a back-of-a-fag-packet declaration.”
Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) –
“I’m astounded by the naivety of the prime minister in thinking that all he needs to do is change the way Westminster votes.”
Grahame Morris (Easington) –
“A Tory-dominated English Parliament, which continues to concentrate power and resources in the affluent South, will worsen existing regional inequities and frustrate the legitimate desire for greater autonomy for the North East.”
Phil Wilson (Sedgefield) –
“In any settlement, there has to be something for the regions and I think that has to be more powers over economic development.”
But Liberal Democrat Ian Swales (Redcar) – while agreeing devolution must go “further and faster” – said it would be “absurd” not to restrict Scottish voting rights at Westminster.
He said: “We may end up with some form of English parliament, but should first make it work by MPs only being able to vote on issues that affect the country they represent.”
The MPs agreed any notion of a regional assembly was “off the agenda” – arguing instead for new, combined authorities to be strengthened with economic powers.
Some constitutional experts warned of chaos ahead, arguing Westminster could end up with “two Governments” – one for defence and foreign affairs, the other for the likes of education and health.
And the respected Institute for Government think-tank also argued the “debate on English devolution” must be part of the post-referendum settlement.
A Government source rejected suggestions that Mr Cameron was fast-tracking the ‘English votes’ issue, while devolution was left in the slow lane.
He said: “We believe we have done a lot devolving powers within England, through the likes of City Deals – and they have been welcomed by business and political leaders in the North.”
Source – Northern Echo, 20 Sept 2014
Even though Scotland didn’t vote in favour of independence yesterday, promises made by leaders at Westminster may spell disaster for claimants in the rest of the UK. In particular, it may mean IDS remaining free to persecute sick and disabled claimants, even if the Tories lose the next election.
Westminster politicians have guaranteed Holyrood much greater control over issues including welfare benefits and tax. But, in return, the Conservatives are now pushing to prevent Scottish MPs voting on benefits and tax measures in Westminster.
For Scottish claimants the changes are almost certainly good news. In their white paper on independence, published last November, Holyrood promised the abolition of the bedroom tax and a halt to the rollout of universal credit and personal independence payment. Holyrood has not gained independence overall, but in relation to benefits it looks like they may soon have a free hand.
So, for Scottish claimants, PIP, the bedroom tax and UC may all soon be distant memories.
But for the rest of the UK there is now the spectre that IDS and his persecution of the sick and disabled may not be halted even if the Tories lose the next election.
We could very easily find ourselves in a position where a Labour majority, or a Labour coalition, becomes a Conservative majority every time Westminster votes on tax or benefits issues if Scottish MPs are excluded. Whilst it might be difficult for the Conservatives to introduce radical new changes to the benefits system under these circumstances, they could certainly fight very effectively to keep things as they are.
Many claimants may argue that the difference between Labour and the Conservatives has become so slim that it will make little difference who is in charge. But others may consider that, no matter how awful Labour were when in power, they have suffered vastly more under the Conservatives.
So, for claimants at least, the prospect of life improving after the next general election may now be even more distant.
Source – Benefits & Work, 19 Sept 2014
A vote will take place later this month that will affect everyone in the UK – but only a tenth of us will actually get the chance to go to the polls.
Whether the Scottish Independence referendum results in a yes or a no vote – and the latest reports are that the vote could still go either way – the decision taken by 5.2m Scots will have implications for the other 58m people who live in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
After trailing for most of the concern, the SNP appears to be gaining momentum ahead of the vote on September 18. A yes vote would make the North East a border region for the first time in hundreds of years, and even a vote to retain the union is likely to be so close that it will be followed by calls for greater devolution to the nations of the UK.
Any move in that direction would inevitably result in new calls to consider the essential contradiction of the devolution agenda followed by the Labour Government of the late 1990s: giving the Scottish and Welsh, and later the Northern Irish, the power to run their own affairs, but still having English matters decided by MPs from the UK as a whole.
The Scottish independence debate has also revived calls for greater power to be devolved from Whitehall to the regions. The North East decisively voted against a regional assembly in a referendum held in 2004 but all the main political parties will go into the next election promising to give more powers to the different corners of England.
In the latest poll run by Other Lines of Enquiry North, using their in-house Panelbase service, they asked people both in the North East and nationally for their thoughts on Scottish independence, whether England needs the same devolved powers as the other home nations and whether the regions should have more say over their affairs.
When asked whether people were worried about the impact of a yes vote in the Scottish Independence referendum, our respondents seem fairly relaxed:
57% of people nationally and 54% in the North East were not worried and only 33% both nationally and locally were concerned.
(Interestingly, the 18-24 age group – those thought to be most in favour of independence in Scotland – were the most concerned, while the next age group up (25-34) were the most relaxed.)
The strongest vote of the three questions in our poll came when people were asked: “Do you think England should be given the same devolved powers as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?”
Here 60% of people nationally and 58% of people in the North East voted yes, compared to only 14% nationally and 13% locally voting no.
Such strength of feeling suggests a problem for the Government after the Scottish referendum. Even a no vote is likely to result in more devolved powers going to Edinburgh, but that would increase the calls from English activists for Scottish MPs to lose the power they currently have to pass legislation affecting England.
Finally, we asked people whether the regions of Britain should be given more devolved powers from Whitehall. Both Labour and the Conservatives have made great play in recent months of boosting the North, though cynics have suggested that all political parties are good at promising more to the regions when elections approach and less keen when the people in Whitehall is them.
Nationally 46% of people want more devolution to the regions, beating the 26% who don’t.
But this final question is the one where a significant gap emerges between our national and local respondents: in the North East the call for more local powers was much stronger, with 55% in favour of greater local accountability and only 17% against.
The poll also showed a big divergence in different age groups, with younger people in the North East almost exclusively in favour of the region getting more power from Whitehall while opposition grew among older people from the North East who responded to the poll.
Source – Newcastle Journal, 04 Sept 2014