What is Cameron’s ‘country’?

During the general election campaign, I drew attention to the Conservatives’ position on cuts and the risks they ran in saying ‘we’re all in this together’.  My post from May discussing that is HERE, and the longer argument about the risks involved is HERE.  Looking again at David Cameron’s speech earlier in the week to the Conservative conference, it’s telling how much the Coalition continues to take the same line.  Now it’s not so much ‘we’re all in this together’ as ‘your country needs you’, but the substantive line is very much the same.

This approach remains highly dangerous in territorial terms. It assumes that the ‘we’ can be taken for granted; that ‘the country’ means the UK, without question or caveat.   That appears no longer to be the case.  Devolution alone put that in question.  That UK-wide solidarity is explicitly challenged by the nationalist parties, and the Conservatives’ vision is not shared by the other parties in government in Wales or Northern Ireland either – as vividly shown by this week’s joint declaration by the first ministers (already discussed HERE).  The stakes involved are not just greater than the UK Government seems to think but also different to what they think.  I’ve also noted in various posts (most recently HERE) the Coalition’s insensitivity to devolution concerns.  In how it affects the UK’s territorial constitution, as well as many other respects, the Spending Review has ample scope to go very badly wrong.

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2 Comments

Filed under Conservatives, Devolution finance, Intergovernmental relations, Lib Dems, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Whitehall

2 responses to “What is Cameron’s ‘country’?

  1. Jeff Jones

    The reaction to the proposed closure of the regional passport office at Newport by the political elite in Wales is quite interesting. The office is the responsibility of the Home Office and not a devolved matter. Given the need to make savings the Home Office has decided that there is one regional office too many and Newport will close. It could have chosen any of the regional offices but it selected Newport.In the past the reaction by Welsh politicians would have been similar to that of politicians in England if let us say the Peterborough Office had been closed. It would have been limited to the Leader of the local council, the local MPs and because of the Welsh Office the Secretary of State and his or her Shadow would have got involved. Fundamentally it would have been seen as an issue for Newport alone and more importantly the workers who could lose their jobs. Now it has become part of an ‘anti Welsh crusade ‘by the UK government. There is uproar because the Assembly hasn’t been consulted. Whatever happened to the ‘respect’ agenda cry Assembly politicians? But would the Home Office have consulted Liverpool Council if they had decided to close the Liverpool Office. Of course they wouldn’t have. It seems that Wales because of this decision will be the only ‘European Country’ without a passport office claims an MEP. I’ll leave it up the the international lawyers to define what is a country in international law. All of these comments were made by Labour politicians. It seems that as far as many of the political elite are concerned we are all ‘nationalists’ now even if it is with a small ‘n’.

    This is all part of an argument that somehow since Wales is different from the rest of the UK it should be treated differently by the UK government and protected from the worst of the Coalition’s decision to cut public expenditure.But in reality without Wales becoming an independent country how can it be protected from the policies of the UK government. The UK government is determined to cut the welfare budget and the majority of the 134 UK wards where half the population live on benefits are in Wales.In cities such as Swansea nearly 38% of the population rely on the public sector for work. Assembly politicians argue that they will be the ‘bulwark’ which will protect Wales from the cuts. Although Wales will benefit from the ringfencing of health and the partial protection of education spending no Assembly politician has yet set out how they intend to actually implement the ‘bulwark ‘policy.

    Wales is on the brink of a possible profound constitutional change if it votes ‘yes’ next year. A change which while it might have the support of the majority of the political class has not been debated or even really discussed with many of the public. No one has thought through the possible poltical consequences in constitutional terms of lawmaking powers in a centralised state without a written constitution. It is also automatically seen as a positive move which will improve people’s lives and whihc becuase of the fear of the ‘no’ vote has no cost. In fact acording to the First Minister it will save the princely sum of £1.9 million a year. What is interesting is that no one is actually setting out the potential laws which are not being passed because of the present system .As you have also pointed out in the past those who want full lawmaking powers don’t,however, want the responsibilty for raising the txes which might be needed to implement those laws. The danger in March next year is that the ‘yes’ vote will win but on such a low turnout that questions will still be asked about devolution.In fact I would argue that no change should take place unless there is a turnout of at least 60% to ensure that all voters have ownership of the result. If this doesn’t happen then it will be interesting to see the backlash if even wiht full lawmaking powers the Assembly doesn’t deliver the legislative change which will improve the lives of ordinary people. There is a real danger in my opinion that at the moment the political class in Wales is sleeping walking towards a political limbo land. Constitutionally in charge of policy making in the majority of areas which effect the lives of people but unable to do anything because finance is completely controlled by another political institution where Wales with probably just 29 MPs will have very little influence.

  2. Emlyn Uwch Cych

    I am convinced that Britain now needs a Royal Constitutional Convention to formalise the relationships between the constituent nations and the UK Parliament and Government.

    Asymetrical devolution is all well and good – Northern Ireland (sometimes) gets most, whereas England (apart from London) gets none – but seriously representatives from all democratic spheres and all political persuasions must sit down and hammer out a new constitutional settlement for this United Kingdom of ours.

    Of course, one can scarely begin to imagine the degree of horse trading and intrigue such a Convention would generate, but who is really afraid of deliberative democracy on a grand scale?

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