In doing this, Cameron aimed partly at taking some of the wind out of UKIP's sails. UKIP yearn for a world which cannot be, and which never was - a world in which "their sort of people" feel they are the first class citizens in "their" country. Baying with incoherent but visceral anger for an England, a lifestyle, a feeling of security and a re-establishment of identity which they feel have been stolen from them by politicians currying favour with other groups (including the rich, the recently arrived, the professional classes, the MPs, intellectuals, internationalists), UKIP supporters will surely come to see that Cameron's stunt does not bring their dream to life. Many more floating voters will be persuaded, on grasping the emptiness of Cameron's response, to move their support from the tories to UKIP. It's surprising, in fact, that Cameron has not pushed for an English Parliament in order better to head off the UKIP threat - though comments he made on the Marr programme at the weekend suggest a reason for his timidity in that he fears a backlash against the EP idea from those who will sneer at the prospect of more "expensive" politicians jumping onto the gravy train. This is a fig-leaf, however, for the deeper reasons for Cameron sticking to the UK status quo which are about Britain continuing to be able to punch above its weight, to keep its UN security council position, and to be able to pretend that it is a near-equal to the USA on the world stage. He is terrifed that he might go down in history as the prime minister who set in train the processes which led to all this being lost.
Cameron was also aiming at Labour, of-course. He leaves Labour with difficult and unappealing choices in looking for a suitable counter to his EVEL announcement: tag along, "me too", joining the call for EVEL; insist on shooting itself in the foot by calling for the demonstrably voter-repelling idea of regional devolution; or risk alienating the core Labour support in Scotland and Wales by going beyond EVEL (either to an English Parliament, duplicating eighty-five per cent of the House of Commons; or to a modified House of Commons, serving as both UK and English parliament, with a drastic reduction in the number of Scottish and Welsh seats). None of these approaches could be called bold, still less visionary; voters would react at best with boredom and at worst with anger. They would all look like miserable tactical positioning, driven above all by party considerations. More of the same. More disaffected voters deciding to give UKIP a try saying the rest never change and all look the same. If Labour lead the new government post-election and push ahead with whichever adopted compromise (most likely, it seems, delegated budgets for regional or city-region authorities) there will be as many new problems caused as old problems (partially) remedied.
A bold response instead would be to accept the direction of travel, to look ten or twenty years into the future and predict that current trends will have continued to the point where the three nations sharing the island of Great Britain are all ready for independence and Northern Ireland is ready for something close to integration with the Republic (cross-border institutions developed to the point that NI becomes a province of the Republic rather than a province of the UK). It would lead the minds of all UK citizens through this future-gazing and then adopt a guiding principle for all policy-making, aimed at preparing for a long, steady, smooth transition to that new reality rather than pretending to fight against it whilst using it as a cover for crude party gain. There would be calls at first denouncing what will be dubbed a willful breakup of Britain - the usual stuff. But if Labour keep making the same point, boldly and clearly, they will gradually increase their support amongst voters who appreciate honesty and consistency and in particular non-partisan policy-making aimed at improving the lot of the whole country rather than the party.
During that transition all the machinery of state would be devolved gradually so that the nations ready themselves for self-administration, with fewer and fewer powers reserved for the all-UK parliament and cabinet. At a key point along the way, England would build its own parliament, based in a fairly central location well away from London - initially an advisor to the UK cabinet (like the Scottish and Welsh parliaments, an advisor not to be ignored), but later a fully-fledged parliament electing its own government and cabinet, and directing its own branches of the civil service. At that point, each nation is an embryonic independent state, with the lightest of coordination from an all-UK government which should be dominated by the first ministers of the nations and kept in line by the smallest possible all-UK house of commons and ultimately advised by the House of Lords, hopefully by then replaced by an elected all-UK senate.
This would be stateship; not party political trickery - and the citizens of the four nations would find it refreshing and exhilarating. Call it devo-max for three nations and a province. The sense of shared, understood progress towards a workable future (one which can either remain in the long term under a thin UK umbrella or be converted easily to full independence for the four nations if all want it at any point) would likely and ironically be the best way of giving common purpose to all of the UK rather than seeing it ripped to pieces by competing, visionless, short-term and partisan tactical lunges and counter-lunges. The choice is on the one hand an orderly separation, with the best possible chance of prosperity for the three nations and NI; and on the other hand a downward spiral of rancorous mutual harm leading to a disorderly and damaging break-up.
Labour should be, above all, the party of clear rational thinking rather than the party of short-term vested interests. Building a sustainable UK state with a rational constitution belongs to this territory and Labour should rise to the challenge. It should only declare its short-term pledges (for inclusion in the manifesto) once it has prepared its blueprint for the next stage of the UK's evolution and explained how we go about the transition. Support EVEL - but only as a necessary evil, an unavoidable step on the transition towards that clearly defined future.