Aim is to restore democracy to England

Forming a political party and making it credible isn't easy - but the aims of the English Democrats have struck a chord with an increasing number of voters fed up with the Scottish domination of England.

Forming a political party and making it credible isn't easy. Political Editor Graham Dines talks to the founder of the English Democrats, whose aims have struck a chord with an increasing number of voters fed up with the Scottish domination of England.

AS a nation, we the English are reserved and not easy to motivate. But not having been given a say in devolution to Scotland and Wales, there are signs that we are beginning to get fed up with the tail wagging the dog.

Of the UK's entire population, around 85% live in England. Yet devolution to Edinburgh and Cardiff has led to a democratic deficit in the way England is governed.

It was Labour MP Tam Dalyell who coined the expression “the West Lothian question.” It was, he argued, fundamentally undemocratic that as the MP for West Lothian, he could debate and vote on issues that only affected England, but English MPs could not do the same on Scottish-only legislation because it was devolved to the Edinburgh parliament.

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Tony Blair's government has pushed through English legislation on university tuition fees and health service reforms, depending on the votes of Scottish MPs to carry the day. Those Scots don't have to worry about a backlash from their constituents - the devolved administration north of the border is responsible for higher education and hands out generous grants to its students using grants from Whitehall mostly paid for by the English.

Four years ago, a group of campaigners got together to weld together a campaign to start protesting. Fed up by the cosy alliance of the Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative parties who showed no interest in remedying the democratic deficit, the formed the English Democrats as a party devoted to campaigning for an English parliament to vote on legislation which only affects England.

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“It's been a hard slog,” says solicitor Rob Tilbrook from Ongar in Essex, who is the party's chairman.

“However, we are beginning to get national recognition, especially from the BBC. We have become a credible voice on behalf of England.”

Robin Tilbrook is 47. Born in Malaysia where his father was serving in the army, he was educated at Wellington School and Kent University. After a brief spell in the Coldstream Guards and then as a teacher, he turned to the law, is now a solicitor, and has lived in Ongar, Essex, for the past 20 years where he was a Conservative Party activist.

Mr Tilbrook headed the European Democrats' London list for the European Parliament elections in 2004 and contested a Liberal Democrat held ward in last year's elections to Brentwood borough council, winning 17% of the vote, pushing Labour into fourth place.

In those European elections, the English Democrats polled 130,000. “Everyone who voted for us had nothing more than a scruffy leaflet to read. We got no national coverage. We are now further advanced than the UK Independence Party was at the same stage of its growth.

“We have no hesitation about using the cross of St George. It is the historic emblem of England - we are not going to rewrite history and it tells people who we are. UKIP by its very name is a UK national party while the BNP are a white nation party, which we most certainly are not.”

Although the Conservatives have come up with a solution for who governs England - an English grand committee comprising only of English MPs which would vote on legislation once a parliamentary Bill had been certified by the Speaker as only affecting England - Mr Tilbrook says this does not go far enough.

“We want a federal solution. The House of Commons would be responsible for UK-wide policies such as defence and foreign affairs, with England having its own elected parliament with a first minister just as the Scots have.

“This is not about the English asserting their dominance. The English are not anti-Scottish but they are beginning to resent the unfairness of the situation. The English weren't consulted on the constitutional settlement of a Scottish parliament and Welsh assembly and an increasing number of people are getting frustrated and angry at how England is being treated.

“It is going to get worse. It looks as if the Scottish Nationalists will become the largest party in the Scottish parliament after next year's elections and the Liberal Democrats have already said that in that case, they would form a joint administration with the SNP to try to get more powers for Edinburgh, especially on taxation and transport.

“There are elements in Wales who want to turn the assembly in Cardiff into a parliament with the same responsibilities as Edinburgh.”

It took sport to make the English sit up and start getting angry with Scotland. During the World Cup, most Scots, including the Labour first minister Jack McConnell, said they would support any team other than England. Tennis ace Andy Murray says he's Scottish and not British and after he joined the anti-England football team tirade, his web site became inundated with hate mail from England fans.

Scotland dominates the British political landscape. Tony Blair is Scottish, although he sits as an English MP; David Cameron has Scottish roots and a Scottish surname; Cabinet ministers Gordon Brown, John Reid, Douglas Alexander, Alastair Darling and Des Browne are all Scottish, some of whom having responsibility for departments which only affect England; Sir Menzies Campbell and Charles Kennedy have led the Lib Dems for the past six years.

“We are aiming to put the case for an English parliament in next year's local election. One of our key battlegrounds will be Monmouthshire, transferred from England to Wales in 1974 without any consultation and where there is deep resistance to the Welsh assembly.

“We will be fighting council seats all over England. There is an unarguable case for restoring proper democracy to England and we will be asking the voters to support us.”

However, it will be a long hard struggle to get a Member of Parliament elected, especially if there is a major revival in Conservative Party fortunes under David Cameron.

But Mr Tilbrook insists: “We are attracting support from people who care about England, and they are not just traditional Tory voters. That's why we have the slogan: `not right, not left, just English.'”

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