A Federal UK – from 2010

March 2010:

The expiry of the UK and English Parliament sees the announcement of the main Officers for the three main parties ahead of May’s General Election. Incumbent Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown announces Alistair Darling as prospective Chancellor, David Miliband as prospective First Secretary of State; and Yvette Cooper as ‘Lead Candidate’ – i.e. prospective Home Secretary and First Minister for England. The Conservatives’ David Cameron puts forward George Osborne, William Hague and Theresa May for the roles, much to the frustration of Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling. The Liberal Democrats’ Nick Clegg has Menzies Campbell, Danny Alexander and Vince Cable – a surprise move which sees Chris Huhne sidelined, something which he would come to be grateful for.

April 2010:

“Lib-mania” breaks out as Nick Clegg’s dominant performance in the UK-wide Prime Ministerial debate is followed by another win for Vince Cable in the Lead Candidates’ debate, shown only in England. The Liberal Democrats briefly lead the polls.

May 2010:

The outcome of the election is a Conservative overall majority of 40 in England; but they are short by 19 UK-wide – a “semi-cohabitation”. Gordon Brown refuses to resign, saying he may be able to lead at federal level. David Cameron says it is clear his party has won in England, and that he will make a comprehensive offer to the Liberal Democrats to back him on issues of confidence and supply across the UK. Nick Clegg names his price – income tax allowance to be progressively raised to £10,000, a referendum on the electoral system with fixed parliamentary terms, and Lords Reform. The Conservatives are not for messing around, however – Theresa May is invited to Buckingham Palace and invited to form an English Executive; four days later, having compromised on the first two of Mr Clegg’s demands but rejected the third, David Cameron enters Number 10.


An AV referendum is called, but heavily defeated. The Conservatives proceed to re-draw England’s electoral boundaries, easily able to do so with their majority there.


Having unsuccessfully sought a deal to manage a compromise across the UK, the Conservatives proceed to raise tuition fees to £9,000 for English universities – the star of the show, however, is Vince Cable, whose impassioned Commons speech in opposition to tuition fees of any sort (and case for their replacement by a “Graduate Tax”) wins near universal plaudits. The Liberal Democrats continue to dominate the air waves with their anger that full fiscal autonomy to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is not proceeding because it needs to be matched by Lords Reform.


The Conservatives’ plan to bomb Syria is rejected by a vote of the UK Parliament, showing it can continue to act on “federal” matters. Meanwhile, plans to resolve congestion at London’s airports hit gridlock as a meeting between Lord Chancellor Dominic Grieve with the four Transport Ministers arrives at no conclusion other than the desirability of an increase in capacity. Greater Manchester’s Council leaders express anger that they were not included at such a meeting, arguing that the aviation problem is a perfect reason to re-balance England’s regional economic policy towards the North West.


The year is taken over by the Scottish independence referendum, where polls show a potential majority in favour of independence just 10 days out. However, former PM Gordon Brown intervenes with a draft private member’s bill for greater fiscal autonomy, devolution of welfare and reform of the Lords – leaving it for the media to note that alongside the Liberal Democrats and some regional MPs he has a majority to put it through the UK Parliament even without the Conservatives by March. The polls swing back and independence is rejected 57-43. Greater Manchester’s Council leaders repeat their demand for greater autonomy of their own and, accepting they can do nothing to stop the Brown Plan, the Conservatives set up an English Constitutional Convention.


Lords Reform dominates the early part of 2015, but bores the electorate. It does mean, however, that the UK General Election is dominated again by the Liberal Democrats, whose effective and experienced front-bench team (Clegg, Teather, Danny Alexander, Cable) and anti-Westminster platform secures 80 seats in England. This means Ed Miliband’s Labour (running Miliband, Douglas Alexander, Balls, Cooper) has a majority across the UK, but falls short in England, hampered by the new boundaries. The Conservatives (Cameron, Hammond, Osborne, May) deny they have lost a mandate to govern in England, and suggest they may seek a coalition with the Liberal Democrats to continue to do so.

Nevertheless Ed Miliband, able to command a majority in the UK Parliament, is appointed Prime Minister and immediately seeks a way of securing a majority among English MPs too, in order to form an English Executive under Yvette Cooper before the Conservatives, UKIP and the Liberal Democrats can cobble anything together.

“You know my price,” says Mr Cable when Mr Miliband calls him about it, “I want tuition fees reduced back to where they were and a vow that sees graduate tax devolved”.

“No problem there,” says Mr Miliband, “Tell you what, if you form a coalition I have no doubt Yvette will look kindly upon pointing you Deputy First Minister and Secretary of State for Skills in England to make sure”.

“Well, I’m afraid I can’t accept that particular offer,” says Mr Cable, “You see, I’m about to announce my candidacy for another top job, part of which would involve sorting the airport issue”.

“I see. Well, between ourselves, looking at the polls, it looks like we’ll be getting to know each other rather well then”, says the new Prime Minister to the next London Mayor…


11 thoughts on “A Federal UK – from 2010

  1. You got the Scottish referendum result wrong it was 55-45 in favour of No. Since this was a forecast made after the result you should correct that. I think that needs to be corrected, I assume you didn’t mean to do it.

    Secondly, the Liberal Democratic and Labour Party control over the English (assuming England gets anything) will be difficult to form, this depends on passing legislation on this term. Having complete Conservative rule or even a veto over England might create the sort of impasses we see in Northern Ireland.

    • The whole point of the piece is that it assumes Federalism (specifically English votes on English issues) had been agreed *before March 2010*.

      My hypothetical story includes, therefore, Gordon Brown being specifically able to pass his proposal in the “Federal Parliament” by March 2015 as the Liberal Democrats *would be in opposition* (thus more easily able to go against the Tories). That he is able to do this (rather than allow his case to be subject to a vague “Vow”) causes the referendum to be won by the “no” side marginally more comfortably…

  2. …If the overall government is Labour.

  3. harryaswell says:

    Excellent idea Ian. I have always considered federation to be an obvious answer for all of us, including the Republic of Ireland. No matter what Kevin says!

  4. Martin J Frankson says:

    Excellent piece. In short, a dogs breakfast just like the UK constitution which looks like a ship but it just a random collection of barnacles stuck together that take the form of a ship.

    You know of my idea of breaking England into regions of roughly equal size to ensure against assymmetry. They say there is not support for such regions but when was there a plebiscite on the establishment or major reorganisation of local government ? We don’t need referenda to do the right thing. Who will seriously object if regional parliaments are established ? Some grumbling and grousing but people would accept it. It’s the only way federalism can work.

    Why can’t anyone understand this apart from an enlightened few?

    • I agree with this. Sometimes you need to offer not a part but the whole. For example, the 1998 Agreement would never have passed at a referendum section by section; but as a whole it got 71%.

    • harryaswell says:

      “just like the UK constitution” ?? – That is the problem. There is NO written constitution for the UK, and I don’t think there is any other sort either. The idea of equal sized regions has been discussed for years. It would have to be passed by parliament via the democratically elected government of the time. The English would never agree to their country being decimised for political reasons and I doubt the general voting populace would either. However, a “federated” UK might well be an answer, with England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland might work very well indeed, plus, possibly, including the Republic of Ireland if they so wished it.(After all, the R of I IS the UK’s largest trading partner already).

  5. Martin J Frankson says:

    England would not be decimised any more than Canada or Germany are. They’ll still be English regions. Besides, London has a devolved assembly and it’s still as English as cricket

  6. Martin J Frankson says:

    Also Harry, do you not see the problem of England being governed as one unit when it has 85% of the UK population? Its first minister would be a de facto rival for power to the federal UK PM. Such assymetrical arrangements could never works. Each region must be similarly sized.

    Ian – please get back to the frontline of politics. NI badly needs intelligent forward thinking creative thinkers like you.

  7. My main concern around constitutional reform was the reneged agreement between the current UK coalition partners on Constituency Reduction/House of Lords Reform and MP recall. The Conservatives offered no reform, and the Lib Dems offered no support. Now if you bring in the Labour Party and their vested interests, it’s tough to see where the equilibrium lies.

    You can look at the Republic, Seanad (or Senate if you prefer) Abolition and moving to mono-cameralism was vetoed by the people in the Republic against the Government parties, the Socialist groups and Sinn Féin under the premise that the main opposition party leader and several Senators had supported Reform of the System rather than abolition. The people voted to keep the Seanad, not what Seanad they were having. So far nothing has happened there either. No meant status quo, because nothing else was put to the people.

    Our Good Friday Agreement was quite a success given 8 out of 10 parties (three of which have either dissolved or reformed) agreed a consensus that they all could tolerate. The key point that unlike the tri-lateral Union reform and the Seanad reform there was a vote on a document that everyone could read, and that was backed by referendum or indeed referenda.

    Maybe Northern Ireland could dare to teach the other Britain and Ireland a positive lesson for once.

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