Friday, October 26, 2007
Is Gordon Sincere About Constitutional Reform?
Politicians love to expiate on how they are going to introduce a new era of democratic politics, hand power back to the people and so forth, but rarely do they go on to deliver. How often, for example, have we heard local government is going to be given more power, to 'empower' ordinary people? We're still waiting. Does Gordon really mean all this stuff? We don't know but it does look promising, given that he's returning to the topic he raised in July with a consultation paper- if it had been a mere ploy, we'd have heard no more about it.
Brown's speech on improving liberty, complete with references to Mill et.al. must have pleased the likes of Henry Porter who has bravely persevered with this theme in The Observer for some years now. Citizens will receive more protection from the state regarding privacy, freedom of the press and data banks. Jack Straw backed this up with his speech at Cambridge promising a 'bill of rights and responsibilities', though whether this will 'enhance' the Human Rights Act or just muddy the water remains to be seen. Liberty has pointed out already that such promises from a government determined to press ahead with ID Cards and detention without trial are not that easy to accept at face value. The real test for me will be two fold.
Firstly, will Parliament be reformed in a truly democratic way: a substantially elected Lords and more powers against the executive like the right to vote on the use of troops abroad? Secondly, will the 'review' of voting systems show any sign of recognising the glaringly obvious and move to introduce PR for Westminster elections as well as for so many other elected bodies at regional and local levels in the UK? Actually writing the constitution down is less important though desirable. It will be a big 'ask' as it will so complex it potentially rivals in size the works of both Dicey and Erskine May. We should aim for concision and clarity: the US constitution, which has stood the test of time remarkably well, is only six pages long.
In broad terms there's very little wrong with our constitution (other than the fact that we've never written it down but I kind of like that) and I can't help thinking Brown would be better placed looking at tangible specific reforms like PR, elected upper house etc. rather than vague notions about values and constitutions etc.
Agree the unwritten constitution has a certain charm but at the cost of clarity and wider understanding. Also agree PR is the litmus test of sincerity in this area. I'd be amazed if we get it.
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