Leaders: Ukip call leaves Labour open to attack

IT IS a particularly twisted logic that sees more democracy in Britain as a bid to break up England, and even more twisted to suggest that such a move would, if not at the behest of Brussels, be playing into Brussels’ hands and that anybody who backed such a move would be being duped by a conniving Europe.

Labour vowed to maintain energy price freeze. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

And yet such are the views of Ukip deputy leader Paul Nuttall at the anti-Europe party’s conference in Kent. Labour leader Ed Miliband has said that a Labour government would pass an English Devolution Act, transferring control of £30 billion of funding to England’s cities and counties, saying the move would build on his party’s devolution of powers to Scotland and Wales and ensure that economic recovery benefits all of England, not just London.

Cue Mr Nuttall to say: “I am telling you, Mr Miliband, you will not divide up England without a fight. We do not want union-sponsored regionalisation.” And just for good measure, lest we forget Ukip’s raison d’être, he added: “The EU fears nothing more than a strong, united Eurosceptic England.”

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

Suddenly combatting regional assemblies has become a call to arms to defend the homeland. And make no mistake, the language Mr Nuttall uses reflects that militaristic interpretation. It’s all about fighting for England, which is being unfairly punished. His address, a feature of which was the lack of any big words, was definitely pitched at a certain audience

But the real problem here for Labour is that the mess it has got itself into over reform at Westminster has left it open to such attack. There is a fundamental unfairness with MPs from a devolved Scotland being allowed to vote on matters that affect only English constituents, and that fundamental unfairness has to be addressed. Until Labour does so Ukip will continue to attack over it. It has spotted that flaw, understands that the public have, and it is going to exploit Labour’s failure to act convincingly on it.

Regional assemblies, although they may be an idea somewhere down the line, are not going to address the issue now, and it is here and now that Mr Miliband faces the risk.

If Ukip is to make an impression at the election in May it will be as a focus for protest, and it surely makes sense for Mr Miliband to do what he can now to minimise the opportunities he presents.

The attempt by Ukip to push white van man’s buttons did not end at the threat regional assemblies pose to fish and chips, warm beer and cricket.

It also launched manifesto plans to scrap the Barnett Formula saying £8bn of English taxpayers’ cash could be saved by scrapping extra public subsidies to Scotland. It appears Ukip has given up on trying to woo the Scottish vote. Perhaps it found its rhetoric has little ­effect here.

Get free meals to the right children

The SNP policy of providing free school meals for all Scottish children in primary years 1 to 3 was a controversial one. Not because many people don’t think it’s a good idea that Scotland’s children get a good meal every day: most people would want to see that happen. The issue was whether this was the best way to spend taxpayers’ money to hit the right target.

The feeling was that the group most at risk of not getting at least one nutritious hot meal a day were the children in deprived areas, and that most children outside these areas or not specifically at risk were probably getting reasonable food.

There is, as the most recent statistics on obesity have helped to illustrate, an awful lot of education to be done around food. It is one of those areas that is vitally important to our health and one of those areas where most habits, good and bad, are learned at a very early age. And one of the findings from the obesity study was that the poorer eating habits were in the poorer parts of the country.

It is to be welcomed that take-up of the free school meals has increased, but the huge variation in numbers should sound a note of caution. Particularly of concern is the anecdotal view that take-up has been at its most patchy in deprived areas.

It is important that the education around food happens most in those areas, because good habits about food and healthy eating can still be taught at school.

So all the more reason to make sure that this policy of free school meals is doing its job where it is needed most, and there must be more effort put in to persuading some parents that there is such a thing as a free lunch.