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Questions of fairness

Are you still feeling the pinch even though our economy is growing faster than those of other developed countries? Unemployment has fallen faster in the last year than in any year on record but the wages and living standards of the poorest still lag behind inflation. This was the dominant issue at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday.

Mr Cameron focused on the good news and Ed Miliband on the bad. He asked how the promised £7 billion tax cuts would be funded at the same time as continuing to cut the deficit. Cameron noted that low earners had already been taken out of Income tax but Miliband said that they were still £500 a year worse off.

Miliband quoted comments by a junior Minister, Lord Freud, at the Conservative conference that disabled people were not worth the full minimum wage. Cameron categorically denied this was Government policy. They should be paid at least the full minimum wage. This had been increased to £6.50 and he was proposing a further increase.

Another question from David Davis asked what the P.M’s ‘red lines’ are for negotiations with the EU. Cameron listed safeguards for the single market, keeping Britain out of moves to closer integration, exclusion from regulations not in Britain’s interest, and immigration as his key targets.

Managing the economy and balancing the different needs in policy making are not straight forward tasks. We can pray that our elected representatives make wise choices so that we all benefit from the recovery.

Do you care about English votes for English Laws? When the Prime Minister promised further devolution to Scotland he added that there should be more devolution for England, Wales and Northern Ireland too. For England he meant that only MPs representing English constituencies should vote on exclusively English legislation. He did this under pressure from backbenchers increasingly critical of his concessions to the Scots.

Superficially, this sounds like a simple and just idea but it merits closer scrutiny. First, very few Bills are exclusively English. In 2012 and 2013 56 Acts were passed and none related only to England. Second, it would make MPs from Wales and Scotland second class MPs. Therein lies a hidden agenda. Without their votes in Parliament the Labour party would be weakened because 40 of its MPs represent Scottish seats and 26 Welsh seats.

Labour interprets English devolution differently. They want more power devolved to English regions and major cities. Yet regional referenda during the Blair years rejected the idea. We don’t want another layer of government, the voters declared. Turnout at local and national elections is already low and public cynicism about politicians is high. The cohesion of the United Kingdom and health of British democracy are at stake so it is important that we do care.

We could pray that our political leaders put the common good before party advantage and try to settle this issue in a Constitutional Convention that preserves national unity and tries to restore a democratic political culture.