Following on from my post on the House of Commons Justice Committee I have been thinking about how the Campaign for an English Parliament and others with the same aim can improve our tactics.
I don’t have any obvious solutions, this is more of a discussion and brain storm and I hope others can contribute if they have any great ideas!
One thing that came across was that MPs are very much wedded to the status quo. Questioners were worried about how an English Parliament would affect the Union they work for. Should we then tone down radical suggestions? I think the problem is an English parliament is always a radical suggestion. The only way to do it without changing much would be by default, an independent Scotland and Wales removing their MPs and Lords leaving a barely changed Westminster as an English parliament. And that is up to the Scots and Welsh really.
Another problem is the lack of a detailed plan on the workings of any English parliament. For us this is a matter of principle, we want national representation. The CEP is a broad, single issue campaign group. It wants the people of England to be consulted on any parliament, location, relation to the rest of the UK etc. This is good in that we all agree on a democratic goal, without having to sign up to a specific form of solution beyond a parliament. This does present problems when trying to persuade others that it is the right idea.
The answer I assume is that it is the pro-English political parties that must address specifics. Already the English Democrats Party has had a break away, the Free England Party. The English Democrats advocate an English parliament with the same powers as the existing Scottish parliament, whereas Free England want complete independence. Both are opposed to membership of the EU.
Was the CEP to offer specific proposals it would risk splitting up, both along the lines of the two parties mentioned above, and on other lines. There are localists who might agree with an English parliament but reject a more centralised form. There are pro-EU and anti-EU members of the CEP who might be lost if we declared a position on membership. I see the single issue nature as a strength, so other ways must be found to address the issue of specifics.
If we can make the campaign big enough that politicians realise supporting an English parliament is a vote winner, they will iron out the constitutional difficulties I am sure. So how do we go about getting more publicity?
The English Question is rarely touched on by the press. Polls on an English parliament show big support, but only when the current problems are spelled out. People remain unaware, should raising the profile be the main aim? Going to the electorate rather than the electors? It is no doubt a good idea and people are trying, but making the step up from popular internet campaign to the national news is not easy. All we can do is keep on writing letters and hope some mainstream journalists pick up on it. The Telegraph’s Simon Heffer is an English parliament supporter for one. If there were more opportunities for stories I am sure a few others would come out to back us.
Direct action is a good way of getting attention. Though I have to admit it is not really me! It seems the preserve of the left and students traditionally (not that the CEP doesn’t have supporters from both groups). The recent roof top Commons protest by Plane Stupid (against a third runway at Heathrow) by 5 people got so much more attention than the couple of thousand, on the same day, protesting about the lack of a referendum on the EU treaty.
I think the public may no longer be impressed with these stunts, but there must be some way to raise awareness of these issues. If the English Democrats or Free England are polling well in London or European elections where there is PR, it will force politicians to look at our problems. We at the CEP must raise awareness to make this a possibility. The problem is I don’t know how!
Sadly the best hope for an English parliament remains the other nations of the UK going their own way. As always it is up to the other nations to decide, and never the English. Unless anyone has any great ideas?