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At long last, Cameron is considering an appeal to aggrieved English voters

By Mark Wallace
Follow Mark on Twitter.

Saint GeorgeThe West Lothian question continues to bedevil British politics. While various powers have been devolved to Scotland and Wales, England has no devolution.

In any given Parliament, Labour gain disproportionate numbers of seats from North of the Border. At least once during the Blair years, laws which only affect England were passed despite the opposition of a majority of English MPs. 

Large amounts of English taxpayers' money is dished out through the Barnett formula, while voters are becoming increasingly concerned about the scale of the constitutional inequality. 

A report in today's Independent gives the first hints of the Coalition's attempt to redress the imbalance. Following the report of the McKay Commission, published back in March, ministers are drawing up plans to implement its recommendations.

In essence, the idea is that the Commons should only be able to legislate on England-only matters if a majority of English MPs give their consent to each new law. Quite how this would work in practice - whether it would require a new Fourth Reading stage in the passage of a Bill in which English MPs would automatically get a vote, or if English MPs would simply gain the right to force such a vote if they wished - is yet to be determined.

But the politics are clear. Morally, it is wrong that Scotland is over-represented at the expense of English voters, and that England has been utterly neglected in the devolution process - the result has been to make a vote in England worth less than one elsewhere.

In party terms, this would be a cunning move by the Prime Minister. After the boundary review bit the dust, this is perhaps his only opportunity to put a dent in the advantage Labour gain from the inherent flaws in the current electoral and constitutional setup.

Strategically, I have long believed there is a growing sense of English political identity available for any party to tap, should it so choose. The Conservatives would be wise to take up the mantle of English democratic rights - doing so is a vote-winner, given the widespread feeling that the current arrangement is unfair. In particular, the issue would give an opportunity to talk anew to voters in the North of England whose frustration is fed by the fact they can see, just over the Border, the largesse funded by their taxes.

These plans aren't finalised yet, and they won't be brought forward until the Autumn at the soonest. Nor would they solve the West Lothian question outright - the possibility of Belgian-style Parliamentary gridlock still needs to be assessed. But they are a start, which David Cameron would do well to use to his electoral, as well as Parliamentary, advantage.


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