The other solution to this issue is decentralisation in England. This can be manifested in various ways, perhaps most vividly in Elected regional assemblies. Regionalism does have strong points in that it gives England the political voice it desires but of course this is contingent on it being elected and the amount of power handed to it. Prescott most openly backed this policy but was not met with enthusiasm from other prominent Labour figures and with the Liberal Democrats seemingly starting to opt for an English votes policy support is dwindling at the highest level. The North East referendum also lost by 4 to 1.
Originally regional assemblies were proposed to mainly deal with economic development, housing and transport. Many saw this as inadequate branding them "talking shops". 17 Perhaps to generate more support more power would need to be given, but with the government planning to axe them completely by 2010 it is hard to see where their practical future lies. 18 To work such an assembly would need power somewhat comparable to that of the Welsh assembly and one doubts if this was the original intention of the government given the North East assemblies budget would have been thirty times that of Wales.
With little legislative competence and no executive power it seems the proposal was more of an appeasement where none was necessary. Due to a failure to implement the grand idea of assemblies so far a compromise has been reached to have Regional Development Agencies. With their role increasing in 2010 by taking over powers given to the assemblies this seems to be the agenda favoured by the government. RDA's comprise of growing numbers of bodies dealing with administrative regionalism such as Government Offices and regional chambers. With such bodies growing in power and prominence it is developing politics originating at a regional level.
Regionalism is slowly increasing but it cannot go unchecked due to the democratic deficit it incurs along the way, the government continue to transfer powers to them in an unplanned fashion but if this continues unchecked there will be outcry from local government as Westminster attempts to cut them out of public life. We could see an increase of this if the government openly acknowledged it and put some weight behind, however this process can only continue as long as Labour are in charge since the Conservatives would most likely abolish it.
Another solution would be that which is being seen in London with city regions and an elected mayor and assembly. With the perceived success of what has happened in London this could be a popular model but it lacks real bite. One suspects that when Tony Blair entered office he envisaged a US style Mayor – council government but fell short of it. The simplest solution would lie in simply strengthening local government. But with increasing reorganisation and affirmation of its role there has been growing centralisation with the government scrutinising its actions.
There seems to be little political will to release them with the constant target meeting culture they are subject to. The English Question has many answers but none of these are without flaws with most either threatening to break up the union or dealing a severe blow to England's capacity to speak in a unified voice. For now it is on the periphery politically and perhaps does not need an answer. With "Englishness fused into Britishness",19 there is seemingly no identity crisis and with little demand for it could be left alone.
But such an approach would be laissez faire. It will continue to be on the back burner as long as the perceived inequalities from devolution remain. However David Cameron has recently set up a democracy task force and they seem to have come to an adequate solution. They have proposed that at the committee stage only English MP's would be present over bills affecting England where it can be amended. It would come to the whole commons in the third reading where such amendments could be accepted or else the legislation could be lost.
It would increase the say English MP's have over English issues without excluding the rest of the union. This proposal is in its very early stages and technical issues would have to be ironed out as it came to the fore but it finds middle ground between those who wish to preserve the union and those who want England's national status to be maintained. Time will tell how well it will be received. It does suffer from not dealing with key grievances such as the inequality of the Barnett formula and the West Lothian question however.
Currently any change is likely to continue through the creeping regionalism we are currently experiencing. RDA's remits are slowly increasing over time or at least as long as the government remains in power and this is likely to remain the case until the public are faced with unpopular legislation being put through by the other home nations MP's, and with such rifts in the various mainstream parties over which direction to go in it is unlikely there will be change any time soon.
Robert Hazell, An unstable Union: Devolution and the English Question, State of the Union lecture, 11 December 2000 Robert Hazell, Unfinished Business Implementing Labour's constitutional reform agenda for the second term Michael Kenny, Richard English and Richard Hayton, Beyond the Constitution? Englishness in a post-devolved Britain, February 2008, Institution for Public Policy Research Press Release, Labour's third term reform agenda for England will depend on Scottish MP's but no easy answer to the West Lothian question, says new report