STANDING AT THE CROSS ROADS: LITTLE ENGLAND or the UNITED KINGDOM IN EUROPE
The United Kingdom (UK) is made up of four nations: England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales and is a member of the European Union. Its Parliament, one of the oldest democratic institutions in the world, sits in Westminster, London, and is elected by the peoples of all four constituent nations. It has a Queen, Elizabeth II, who resides in Buckingham Palace, London, but with much used properties in both Scotland and the English regions. She is popular across all four constituent nations.
The UK is emerging from a major financial crisis and a recession and its recovery is one of the strongest in the West and certainly in Europe. This recovery has been hard won and is involving a rethinking of the relationship between the Individual and the State. Furthermore, it faces a serious threat at home from Islamic terrorism, is involved in fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and is concerned about the civil war in the Ukraine (Europe) and a returning threat from Russia.
This is clearly a time for unity, good sense and resolve.
With the advance of the Scottish National Party (SNP) and UKIP, the current political situation threatens both the integrity of the UK and its membership and role in Europe . The SNP’s relative success in the Scottish Referendum and UKIP’s successes in recent by-elections bear witness to their recent progress. There is no suggestion here that these two parties are, in any way, working together. They are diametrically opposed on a number of key issues. It is their different influences and their aims that, put side by side, pose the threat within the current political situation.
The SNP was founded in 1934 from the merger of the National Party of Scotland and the Scottish Party. As of early 2014, it is now the largest political party in Scotland and among the largest parties in the UK with about 100,000 members.
UKIP was founded in 1993 by members of the Anti-Federalist League. It is now arguably the fourth largest party in England & Wales with a membership of over 40,000. I am sure that these figures can be contested and are in need of updating. I am simply using them to make the point that both the SNP and UKIP are substantive players in the UK political game and cannot be dismissed.
The recent and marked rise of UKIP has been explained in terms of peoples’ growing dissatisfaction both with the main political parties (as was), Conservative, Labour and the Liberal Democrat, and with the European Union (EU). It also marks the rise in the electoral power of the ‘Ordinary Folk on the High Street‘ who are shedding previous political allegiances. UKIP accuses the main parties (as was) of living in the ‘Westminster Bubble’ and not understanding or particularly caring about the situation and concerns of Ordinary Folk. Interestingly, the SNP also accuses the main political parties (as was) of living in the Westminster Bubble and not understanding or particularly caring about the people of Scotland. These accusations represent a major issue and challenge to the main parties (as was) and one that they are failing to address effectively.
The notion of Ordinary Folk (as above) should not be confused with that of The Man on the Clapham Omnibus which, in English law, is that of a reasonably educated and intelligent but nondescript person against whom one’s behaviour can be judged. The phrase was first put to legal use in a reported judgment by Sir Richard Henn Collins in the 1903 English Court of Appeal libel case, McQuire v Western Morning News.
The 2015 General Election is the Cross Roads. One extreme outcome could well be the exit from the EU of the UK followed by a SNP Scottish Government unilaterally declaring independence to remain in the EU and doing so with the European Commission’s support. How then would Northern Ireland and Wales stand? Less dramatic outcomes are, arguably, more possible but it is clear that the political situation will be more fraught than ever with issues such as immigration, Europe and Scottish independence capturing centre stage at a possible cost to the economic challenges that we will still face and those of our collective security. Whichever way one looks at it, the decision fast becomes Little England vs The United Kingdom.
The notion of ‘Little England‘ (and of a ‘Little Englander’) derives from the late 1900s when it indicated, among other things, opposition to the Second Boer War (1899-1902) and to Free Trade and internationalism. The term later came to mark out those who were against the British Empire and for an ‘England’ extending no further than the borders of the UK.
The three main political parties (as was) need to urgently address the question of Little England vs The United Kingdom but I am concerned that they do not really understand the challenge that faces them before the 2015 General Election. However, to my mind there are three ways forward that might help in the medium term. This is my Agenda. There is a role here for the European Commission. None of the ways forward briefly described here will be easy.
First, and with some urgency, the current Government, with the support of the Labour Opposition, should move to create a federal UK with greater devolution of powers to the constituent nations, England included, and with more local powers given to the English regions. The Westminster Parliament should remain as the Federal Government. This move should politically empower people in all parts of the UK and help them feel greater ownership over events that concern them locally through greater control over those events. It is based on the German federal system.
People should directly elect their own governments (England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales) and their own English regional assemblies (possibly the North West, the North East, the Midlands, the South, the South West, the East and London) and also elect a reduced number of MPs to Westminster. Those governments and assemblies would determine the Upper House ~ the House of Lords being modernised. This model is based on the US Senate and House of Representatives.
Second, the European Commission should work actively to reform the EU and with greater recognition and understanding of the UK’s concerns many of which are shared by people elsewhere in the EU. There should be three guiding principles: work together to save the EU and UK membership, recognise that there can be no beliefs or regulations that cannot be changed in this situation, and negotiate on the basis of respect, trust and a generous give-and-take. It should be possible to resolve many of the issues which concern Ordinary Folk in the UK.
Third, the three main political parties (as was) should come out of their Westminster Bubble and work together to explore consensus and shared beliefs and stand together on key issues. They should stop fighting their respective corners for sectarian advantage. The silent majority ~ for numerically in the UK that is what those parties represent ~ should vote together on shared beliefs and issues. If this sounds like a National Coalition for UK Survival perhaps it is.
All-in-all, it will not be easy and will take BIG IDEAS, TOGETHERNESS & RESOLVE to meet the serious challenges that face us at these Cross Roads.