A good deal of fanfare has met the release of the highly-anticipated ‘Coalition Agreement’; essentially a cross-party manifesto concocted by the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats in order to prevent waves of later conflict driving the Government asunder. What has perhaps been most surprising is that it has made more explicit references to ‘England’ than either of the manifestos of the aforementioned parties. I shall analyse briefly what some specific points mean for England, or English people as part of the UK. Starting with the good news…
Firstly, it is good news for those who, like me, vehemently opposed Labour’s fixation with eradicating our long and proud tradition of live performance, as the Coalition claims it
“… will cut red tape to encourage the performance of more live music.”
It doesn’t give any further evidence on how exactly it plans to do this, but one can only presume that it will make moves to repeal or at least modify the deeply unpopular Licensing Act 2003 and scrap the rightly loathed Metropolitan police form 696. If so, this is tremendous news to be warmly welcomed.
Relating to my last entry: perhaps the new Coalition will seek to protect invaluable unblemished areas of the country that Labour were all too keen to build on, as it claims under its Communities & Local Government section that
“we will maintain the Green Belt, Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and other environmental protections, and create a new designation – similar to SSSIs – to protect green areas of particular importance to local communities.”
The overt acceptance in this statement that green areas are in fact of ‘importance’ to ‘local communities’ is a joyous statement to read from a Government. Perhaps real efforts to secure open land for future generations can now get underway.
Another claim that may yet result in improved quality of life in England is the following promise:
“We will develop a 24/7 urgent care service in every area of England, including GP out-of-hours services, and ensure every patient can access a local GP. We will make care more accessible by introducing a single number for every kind of urgent care and by using technology to help people communicate with their doctors.”
Again, I cannot at this stage go on to state how I believe this will be implemented, or in a time when public service spending cuts are essentially simultaneously inevitable and necessary, even delivered, but these are in my view unquestionably roundly positive assertions to be made.
However, confusion abounds in some areas.
The document claims under its Civil Liberties section that
“We will establish a Commission to investigate the creation of a British Bill of Rights that incorporates and builds on all our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, ensures that these rights continue to be enshrined in British law, and protects and extends British liberties. We will seek to promote a better understanding of the true scope of these obligations and liberties.”
Needless to say, this will in itself surely mean sweeping away the differences in property law, criminal law, trusts law, inheritance law, evidence law and family law between English law and Scots law. Won’t it?
And now, the bad news. What is most disconcerting about the document is this:
“We will create directly elected mayors in the 12 largest English cities, subject to confirmatory referendums and full scrutiny by elected councillors.”
That is literally all that is said about the matter. One does not have to be cynical to see that this largely corresponds to EU Parliament constituencies, and seems to be a ‘divide and conquer’ strategy to reduce England to a regionally-governed collection of areas rather than a nation-state in and of itself.
Furthermore, in spite of a promise to “introduce a referendum on further Welsh devolution”, and myriad mentions of commissions to sort out matters of devolution in Scotland and Wales, there is, somewhat predictably, absolutely no mention of the question of where the English stand. Coupled with a Labour party that is still stumbling around trying to figure out why it lost the election, on this evidence, the future for matters regarding an English Parliament remains bleak under the present three-party system.