The Brown Junta continues to
think it can have its cake and eat
it with the Barnett Formula.
A nasty shock may be lying in wait

Another part of the Labour Gerrymander comes under assault today – this time from a normally Labour-sympathetic think-tank, The Institute for Public Policy Research (North). The Barnett Formula, the means by which public spending is allocated to different parts of The Union, is, IPPR North says, “inequitable and could undermine the Union unless reformed”. A helpful table states the bald facts.

This shows the positively shocking extent to which Labour’s heartlands – the regions from which they draw the great bulk of their MPs – Scotland, the North-East and the North-West, London and Wales – are favoured by the Barnett Formula which even its progenitor, former Treasury Minister in the Callaghan Government Joel Barnett says is out of date and in urgent need of reform.

Scotland in particular, from whence the Brown Junta draws the support of some 39 MPs (though that may be about spectacularly to diminish by one if Labour’s vote in Glasgow East, its third safest seat in the land, were to implode in the forthcoming bye-election) many of whom are routinely rewarded with government jobs.

Over the years all governments, but Labour in particular, have happily allowed this position to continue without significant tinkering. The Tories have been unwilling to meddle lest they further undermine their reduced vote north of the Border. Labour has shown no inclination whatsoever to change it, for the very simple underlying motive which has everything to do with pork-barrel politics.

Now, though, the Formula has become one of Devolution’s pigeons come home to roost. Devolution was supposed to kill off the SNP threat to Labour for ever and a day. That worked a treat: a minority SNP Executive rules the roost in Labour’s stead. Instead it has become, as IPPR North says, a threat to the Union itself.

Labour will doubtless continue to insist on its preservation:

a Treasury spokesperson said the Government was not about to scrap the formula, which provided a “fair allocation” reflecting population shares in different parts of the UK.

He added: “The Government is committed to improving prosperity and growth in all regions and countries of the UK.

“While it takes note of all contributions to the debate on this subject, the Government has no plans to change the Barnett formula.”

Such a statement beggars belief. How can anyone with a registerable IQ say that giving Scots 21% more than the UK average and 49% more than the South-East amounts to a “fair allocation” of resources? Quite why intelligent individuals make such absurd observations will baffle other ordinary mortals who can spot a grave imbalance when they see one.

This obstinacy, however, is part of a pattern. Brown routinely denies there is anything remotely undemocratic in the arrangements which the ‘West Lothian Question’ addresses whereas many English voters consider the ability of Scottish MPs, who are utterly unaccountable to English voters, to vote on matters which touch exclusively on the expenditure of Taxpayer’s money in England when English MPs have no influence whatsoever on hoe their money is being spent in Scotland a democratic outrage.

Likewise Labour can see no wrong in the Barnett Formula. Well, they would think that, wouldn’t they? Their heartlands are in receipt of such huge dollops of largesse when compared with those areas where Tories are more inclined to dominate. They would doubtelss argue that the allocations fairly reflect the fact of the relative situations of the various regions and are designed to offset the relative economic deprivation from which the winners under the Formula suffer.

The Barnett Formula has been around for some thirty years. Yet it does not seem to have brought much benefit to the likes of Glasgow East, nor to many other areas of Scotland which routinely return Labour MPs to Westminster. Instead such places are repositories of some of the worst social conditions in the land. The same might be said of the North-East and North-West of England. The sense that these regions have become ‘aid junkies’ is very strong.

The problem for Labour is that they are damned if they do something about the Formula and damned if they do not. If they act, it must be at the expense of Scotland whose allocation of money must thus fall. This, they fear, will simply play into the hand of the SNP who will then bleat long and hardf about Westminster stealing ‘Scottish’ money. On the other hand doing nothing will further inflame English voters who understand only too well what is going on.

Were it not for the damage that all this does to the Union, the situation would be one from which one migh derive considerable and long-lasting pleasure. The threat to the Union is one entirely of Labour’s creation (aided and abetted by their Lib’Dem’ chums). Now all of the things which were foretold of Devolution are coming to pass. The result may well be one which Labour thought they were avoiding by their espousal of Devolution: the elimination of their Scottish vote bank at Westminster and the everlasting enmity of large sections of the English electorate for having thus destroyed the Union.

That would be, one might say, a very simple case of what happens when you make rules for the game which are inherently unfair and how the Labour Gerrymander eventually undid Labour itself.

An interesting moment is coming. It may well be, as even instinctive Labour supporting commentators seem to feel, that we are on the cusp of a movement in the political tectonic plates and that Brown’s fleeting moment of popularity in the summer of 2007 was no more than ‘the dead cat bounce’ of a party which was already unpopular and is now in free-fall.

If the Conservative party secures a landslide at the next election, a circumstance which, provided they hold their nerve, is very much on the cards, then they will have an unrivalled opportunity for a radical rearrangement of the furniture in the Union House. The Barnett Formula and the West Lothian Question would be good places to start, in the intersts of England which is unfairly disadvantaged by these undemocratic and unjust arrangements.

If they are not dealt with, then all politicians should bear in mind the reponse of British Colonialists in America to unjust and undemocratic arrangements of this sort: they came up with the phrase ‘no taxation without representation’ and, after a lengthy and, at times bitter, struggle, overthrew the established order. Sometimes one is inclined to think that that might be no bad thing.