Liberal Hero of the Week #87: Daniel Hannan

by Stephen Tall on February 7, 2015

cf hero daniel hannan

Daniel Hannan

Conservative MEP for South East England
Reason: for his support of localism.

Former Labour Lord Chancellor once pithily said of the “West Lothian Question” — Tam Dalyell’s famous formulation that it cannot be right for a Scottish MP to be able to vote on England-only matters, but not for an English MP to vote on matters affecting Scotland — that the best way of dealing with was not to ask it. As an answer, though, it takes the pith.

David Cameron was, therefore, right to say immediately after the result of the Scottish referendum, when Scots narrowly but decisively rejected independence, that: ‘We have heard the voice of Scotland – and now the millions of voices of England must also be heard. The question of English votes for English laws – the so-called West Lothian question – requires a decisive answer.’

And this week he revealed his answer: a rather insipid compromise which allows MPs for English seats to have a veto on tax, and issues like schools and health, which affect only England. Though this would thwart the apocalyptic scenario envisioned by some of his more excitable right-wingers — that Labour could push through laws in England thanks to the votes of its Scottish MPs (if it has many left) — it falls well short of empowering local communities to make their own decisions. As the Lib Dems pointed out:

We need to ensure fair English votes on English matters. But we cannot have a debate about devolving greater powers to nations without also considering how we give local areas more power. Devolution and localism must go beyond Westminster. Up and down the country, citizens want change that reflects their local needs and circumstances.

If we agree it is right to give the five million people in Scotland and three million people in Wales a greater say over their local services, then we cannot, for example, ignore the five million people in Yorkshire who have the same rights to local democracy and empowerment. It is disappointing the Conservatives are not supporting our proposal for ‘Devolution on Demand’, which would give more powers to the English cities, counties and regions – especially places like Cornwall and Yorkshire.

But I expect talk of radical devolution of powers from my own party. It’s rarer to hear it from others. Kudos, then, to Daniel Hannan, Conservative MEP for South East England, who made clear his own support for localism this week:

The affinity and identity that is the prerequisite for a successful democracy can be found more strongly in English counties than in some entire nations. Hampshire is an older political unit than France. I don’t see any powers that might be devolved to Holyrood under devo max that could not be handled by English county and metropolitan councils. Voters in New Hampshire control their own taxation, welfare and criminal justice systems. Are their cousins in old Hampshire uniquely incapable of self-government? …

England has the weakest local government in Europe. The only EU state whose councils raise a lower proportion of their expenditure is Malta – which is close to being a single extended conurbation. As our local authorities have become enfeebled, turnout has fallen and potential council candidates have been put off. Localism – including tax-raising powers for counties and cities – would restore honour and purpose to council elections.

A former Conservative leader, Michael Howard, once called for “smaller government and bigger people”. He was talking about shrinking the state, rather than parcelling it up. But bigger people is a good, liberal aim. Best of luck to Daniel Hannan in persuading his party of localism’s merits.

* The ‘Liberal Heroes of the Week’ (and occasional ‘Liberal Villains’) is chosen by Stephen Tall, Research Associate at CentreForum. It showcases those who promote any of the four liberal tenets identified in The Orange Book — economic, personal, political and social liberalism — regardless of party affiliation and from beyond Westminster. If they stick up for liberalism in some way then they’re in contention. If they confound liberalism they may be named Villains. You can view our complete list of heroes and villains here. Nominations are welcome via email or Twitter.

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