Cameron sets a trap for Labour

The prime minister has put Labour in a quandry over constitutional reform. Emily Hohler reports.

At the crack of dawn on Friday, hours after the No' vote on Scottish independence, David Cameron stood in front of 10 Downing Street and "set a trap for the opposition", says The Economist. He confirmed that the last-minute promises to devolve more powers to Edinburgh would be honoured on a fast timetable.

On the same timetable, William Hague would work on plans for English-only votes on English matters. That means "immense constitutional change", about which there is currently no policy detail, in just three months, says Ian Birrell in the FT.

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English votes for English laws' would dilute Labour's voting power on vital issues such as education, health and welfare in England, seriously weakening its power in Westminster and conceivably wrecking the domestic programme of a future Labour government "that held a majority at a UK level, but was at the mercy of a Conservative majority in England".

The implications are indeed heavy for Labour, says Janan Ganesh in the FT. A referendum that "could have done for" Cameron has ended up putting his opponents in "an invidious position".

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There is no answer that does not compromise Labour. To oppose constitutional redress for the English "would be incendiary". If Labour tried to scupper more devolution for Scotland to avoid English self-rule, the party would "risk evisceration at the hands of the Nationalists".

Labour is in a "nightmare of its own making", says Simon Heffer in the Daily Mail. It was Gordon Brown who pushed "most vigorously" for devolution to be included in Labour's 1997 manifesto.

Of course Miliband doesn't want an English parliament, or even to talk about it. But his "strenuous avoidance of the issue is embarrassing for him and insulting to the English electorate, who will not be bought off by pointless promises of powers devolved to regions or cities". The problem is urgent, and he must address the issue "head on".

This is a great opportunity, says Niall Ferguson in The Times. It might have created a headache for Labour, but the status quo, with all its "absurd anomalies", from the West Lothian question to the Barnett formula, was a headache.

Devolution gave residents of Scotland power without responsibility. Now there is a chance to end the asymmetry. If that means moving the UK "in the direction of something like federalism, so be it".

I live in the US and I used to live in Germany. "Federalism generally works." It won't necessarily be easy to sort things out, and it is "bonkers to say it can be done overnight", says Boris Johnson in The Daily Telegraph, but it "isn't beyond the wit of man".

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I remember watching "in fury" in 2004 as Labour used Scottish MPs to impose a system of tuition fees on England "when England had no reciprocal say over the arrangements in Scotland; and when those tuition fees would not apply to any students in Scotland", except English students. This is a "basic problem of legitimacy" and it must be solved.




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