• General Election 2010: another way out of the mess.

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    The cat above and Nick Clegg (who is hoping that the Tories will hand him PR on a plate) appear to have one thing in common.
    One thing the political class is relatively united upon is that the country has a severe indebtedness problem that has to be tackled. Urgently. The negotiations between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have obvious stumbling blocks. In demanding PR from the Tories Clegg is hoping to persuade the new intake of Tory MPs to vote for an early Christmas. A word of advice Nick: animals do not like to be slaughtered. Even dumb ones like backbench Tories!

    Wanting to be helpful and constructive in these troubled times the British Gazette puts forward this solution which both Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives should find palatable:

    Mention the word “devolution” to a Liberal Democrat and their ears prick up and their nostrils start twitching – just like your daughter’s pet rabbit.

    The following proposal answers the vexed electoral reform issue and also answers “the West Lothian Question” so it kills two birds with one stone.

    The answer to the stalemate is as follows:
    1. Pass another Government of Wales Act extending the competences of the Welsh Assembly to those of Scotland.
    2. Pass the Government of England Act setting up three provinces, Brigantia, Mercia and Wessex all with the same degree of devolved competences as Scotland and Wales. Clearly, readers will want to know why we have suggested such names for these provinces and will want further information as to the respective boundaries.
    To answer the first question: Why three?
    Essentially, size. The European Union have divided England into nine regions – drawn up by a Frenchman! These are basically too small to efficiently deal with the functions of government. As well as devolution from Westminster to the provinces it may be considered more efficient to centralise SOME BUT NOT ALL of the functions of the local authorities into the new provincial administrations. Bear in mind this would be undertaken at a time of economic pressure. This would in fact be an opportunity to achieve greater efficiency in the provision of public services if assistance from those in the private sector was used. A prime example of this is what is happening in the new Lloyds Banking Group. As readers will know, the Lloyds Banking Group comprises the former Lloyds TSB Bank and HBOS. Currently there is a widespread rationalisation process going on and there have been significant job losses. However, there is every indication that the management of the new group are achieving very significant cost savings and managerial efficiencies and the new corporate colossus will end up doing more with less. This is what is needed in the public sector.
    To answer the second question: Why Brigantia, Mercia and Wessex. Because the British Gazette feels that the provinces ought to comprise groups of the traditional English counties one could have borrowed a term from the Civil War era and call each an Association of Counties. However we feel that a Northern Association of Counties would inevitably be abbreviated to NAC, a Central Association of Counties would inevitably be abbreviated to CAC and a Southern Association of Counties would inevitably be abbreviated to SAC. These are unfortunate abbreviations. The proposed boundaries very roughly comprise these ancient realms although the proposed Mercia incorporates Anglia and Wessex incorporates parts of Mercia.
    To answer the third question: What would be the boundaries of such provinces?

    Brigantia: Cumberland, Westmoreland, Northumberland, County Durham, East, North & West Ridings of Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cheshire. Proposed Capital: Leeds. Proposed Assembly building: Temple Newsam House.
    Mercia: Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire, Leicestershire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire, Northamptonshire, Rutland, Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Herefordshire and Gloucestershire. Proposed Capital: Birmingham. Proposed Assembly building: Birmingham City Council House, with Birmingham City Council being relocated to Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (this to be converted).
    Wessex: Essex, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Middlesex, Surrey, Kent, Sussex, Hampshire, Isle of Wight, Wiltshire, Dorset, Somerset, Devon and Cornwall. Proposed Capital: London. Proposed Assembly building: The old County Hall, opposite Parliament.
    We know the choice of assembly buildings will be unpopular and controversial, but with the level of public spending cuts required, spending huge sums of new buildings is unacceptable.
    Initially, reorganise the governance of these new creations along the lines of pre devolution Wales. That is to say a [X] Office with differing departments, Education, Health, Commerce, Transport &C. There would then be the Secretary of State for [X] with junior ministers for Education, Health, Commerce, Transport &C. At the same time Provincial Assemblies could be set up but initially with no powers and drawing their members from the ranks of already elected local councillors from the pre-existing local authorities within the new provinces. Then, once the administrations of the provinces had settled down, hold elections and hand over the competences. These new provincial assemblies and governments could use the Single Transferable Vote to elect the provincial councillors – full time salaries politicians – say 150 in number per assembly.

    This would have the following advantages:
    1. It would give the Liberal Democrats three things very high up on their wish list: Devolved government, STV and fixed term parliaments.
    2. It would answer the West Lothian question as devolution would have been applied equally across the U.K.
    3. It would free up Westminster to tackle the most important issue – the economy and leave the issues of policy on areas such as education, the NHS &C. to the devolved bodies.
    4. It would answer the calls for PR in such matters as are devolved whilst leaving the matters that affect the markets and inter-alia the confidence that markets need to have in the Westminster government.
    5. It would revitalise British Politics – the one thing that PR would do – by allowing politicians from the three main parties and those of the minor parties to manage to get elected onto these provincial assemblies.

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