A new sub-species of Little Englander was born this week. I will use the masculine pronoun not because there is anything manly about their babyish mewlings, but because the loudest of the breed, so far at least, are exclusively male.
And so we welcome to the maternity ward of political life the Poor Little Englander, now asking who will stick up for the neglected runt of the Union litter – the one with just 85 per cent of the population, most of the land mass, almost all of the international clout, and a parliament with the last word on such banalities as whether the UK as a whole goes to war.
“Who speaks for England?” asked John Redwood in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph, pinpointing this enquiry as “the crucial question of post-referendum politics”. The bleeding obvious answer to that, one had naively presumed, is you do, Spocky, old cock. You and the vast majority of MPs who represent English seats.
But no, apparently the dominion over the rest of the Union – which will unquestionably survive whatever additional powers are grudgingly yielded to the Scots – cannot satisfy poor little England’s resentment at being bullied by the much smaller kid with the tartan blazer.
So it was, shortly after 7am last Friday morning, that David Cameron brought into the mainstream the notion of English Votes For English Laws, and the de facto secessionist English parliament which axiomatically follows from that. And this so soon after shedding a tear when declaiming that he loves his country more than his party.
Until Friday’s coup de théâtre, the most blatant tell in modern politics was Gordon Brown’s invocation of his late father when he insisted that he had never for a moment contemplated replacing Alistair Darling at the Treasury with Ed Balls, recalling how his dear old dad taught him the necessity of always telling the truth.
Cameron has outdone that with an ocular tell worthy of Le Chiffre, the Bond villain in Casino Royale, who bled from an eye when bluffing at poker. We now know that when the Cameron lachrymals are activated, the thing to do is diametrically reverse the meaning of his next sentence. No sooner had Scotland rejected independence than he told us – in code that would not have troubled Bletchley Park for long – that he loves his party more than he loves his country.
But that is too broad. What he told us, with the most venal political manoeuvre in memory, is that he loves leading his party more than he loves his country. “Beware of men who cry,” said Nora Ephron. “It’s true that men who cry are sensitive to and in touch with feelings, but the only feelings they tend to be sensitive to and in touch with are their own.” In this case, the feeling with which he was in touch was the fear of losing his job.
To ingratiate himself with Mr Redwood, Bernard Jenkin and other far-right brethren in the phalanx of Poor Little Englanders who might have sought to oust him for devolving more power to Scotland, he has wilfully and knowingly unleashed forces that will, if unchecked, render the Union a mirthless and meaningless joke.
That it was also a very cute tactical play has been confirmed by the abysmal failure of Eds Miliband and Balls to admit that the West Lothian question contains a paradox. Of course it does. No one disputes that it is unfair for Scottish MPs at Westminster to vote on English matters when the reverse is not the case. That being a given, the pertinent question is how to solve that paradox. Mr Cameron’s answer is playing to the nationalistic gallery to assuage his backbenchers, and present Labour with a conundrum it cannot resolve to make it look partisan and self-interested. As indeed, given its terror of losing its Scottish MPs, it is.
Scottish independence: Referendum results in pictures
Scottish independence: Referendum results in pictures
Chief Counting Officer Mary Pitcaithly on stage at the Highland Hall at the Royal Highland Centre with the final result of the Scottish Independence Referendum
Pro-union supporters celebrate as Scottish independence referendum results come in at a 'Better Together' event in Glasgow
A pro-independence supporter is pictured in George Square in Glasgow, following a defeat in the referendum on Scottish independence
Pro-independence supporters console each other in George Square in Glasgow
A pro-independence supporter is pictured in George Square in Glasgow
A disappointed 'Yes' campaigners reacting to Scotland's decision to stay in the union with a David Cameron mask at George Square in Glasgow
A dejected 'Yes' supporter in Edinburgh makes his way home in the early hours after Scotland voted decisively to reject independence and remain part of the Union
NO supporters celebrate at the Royal Highland Centre, Edinburgh as the final results of the Scottish independence referendum are announced
No supporters celebrate their win over the Yes campaign at the Royal Highland centre during the Scottish referendum in Edinburgh
No supporters for the Scottish independence referendum celebrate a result at a No campaign event at a hotel in Glasgow
Pro-union supporters dance in celebration during a 'Better Together' referendum event in Glasgow
Anti-independence supporters react to an early strong result for the "Better Together" campaign at the Royal Highland Centre counting hall in Edinburgh
NO ballots are stacked on a table during the Scottish independence referendum count at the Royal Highland Centre in Edinburgh
Ballots arrive to be counted at the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre during the Scottish referendum in Aberdeen
Ballot boxes arrive at the Highland Hall at the Royal Highland Centre in Edinburgh after polls closed in the Scottish independence referendum
Yet it is the petty partisanship of David Cameron that is so despicable. At a moment when decency demanded that he douse the post-referendum rancour and bring the Union together, he did the opposite. He disgraced himself and his office by seeking to yoke (albeit he has drawn back) the timetables for Scottish “home rule” and English Votes For English Laws, even though the former was a solemn promise and the latter had never been hinted at until then.
He never fails to disappoint, this Prime Minister, with his smallness. He could have said that while the West Lothian question must be addressed, constitutional change on such an epic scale cannot be rushed; that this was a moment to celebrate the survival of the Union and a time to bring “our United Kingdom” together rather than entrench the divisions. Instead of being the statesman he affects to be, he dipped into his heir-to-Blair trust fund to pluck out the fool’s gold of short-term tactical gain.
Months of nationalistic bickering might leave Labour paralysed, and partially neutralise Ukip, to help him win next May. But it will leave the Scots asking themselves why they chickened out of ridding themselves of the English, and England more diminished than ever. If David Cameron is re-elected on a shrill platform of falsely imagined victimhood, poor little England indeed.Reuse content