Interesting post by The Fabian Society on the proposals for English devolution in a speech from Gordon Brown. The essence is that Gordon Brown, a Scot, simply doesn’t understand English identity, and his idea of an England of devolved regions is a non-starter.
The English regions imagined by Brown and his supporters do not exist as economic, political or cultural entities; or to be more accurate some do (like London) , some don’t (like the vast area called the South East) and most have boundaries that are very different to those imagined by the Whitehall bureaucrats who drew them up. Places of real vibrant identity and passion – like Merseyside, Manchester or Birmingham – have to be submerged into a technocrat’s idealised region that fits the demands of central planning. Plenty of people identify with Yorkshire, but that’s not a government region. Few people leap to call themselves East Midlanders.
Brown’s vision of a devolved Brexit rests on the creation of regional structures that would have to be imposed and would enjoy no legitimacy. Even the current devolution process in England has plenty of critics who say that the public is being excluded from deals being struck between council leaders and government ministers. But most people would at least recognise an emerging geography of city-regions and counties that reflect natural economic and historic communities. It may be a bit messy and have a long way to go, but is infinitely preferable to an imposed and artificial solution.
But the most fundamental obstacle to Brown’s solution is that it sweeps aside any idea that England might have a political voice of its own, or that Englishness and English interests are of any concern to the people of England. Yet the evidence is clear that these are sentiments of growing importance. And the divisions that mar Britain are most marked in England.
It’s true that David Cameron’s reckless referendum has exposed a democratic defecit when it comes to England, and if the United Kingdom is to have a long-term future it will have to take some kind of federal structure. And England, due to its size does need more internal devolution of its own. But a one-size-fits-all regional structure imposed from the top down isn’t the answer.