Thursday, March 27, 2008

Is Brown Butch or Sundance? Neither.

The long-awaited draft Constitutional Renewal Bill presented by Jack Straw to the Commons appears to be a damp squib. Simon Carr in The Independent accurately described it as "a self-defeating mish-mash of bilge, bollocks and fudge". Lords reform has been put on the long finger yet again. The Attorney-General is to remain in the Cabinet and continue to act as the government's legal adviser and, where "national security" is concerned retains the power to halt prosecutions. The royal prerogative power to declare war will be transferred to Parliament, but when "special forces" are deployed no Parliamentary vote will be required...and on it goes. The good Lord gives with one hand and takes away with another (much like a Brown budget). Brown seems to have a fatal weakness for finessing everything out of existence. Allowing a free vote on some amendments to the Bill on embryo research but not on the Third Reading is an example of this. It looks clever. Maybe in Parliamentary terms it is. But to the wider public it looks like talking out of both sides of your mouth at once. Too clever by half is the phrase that springs to mind. It looks at if, for all their half-heartedness, the bold measures of constitutional change occurred under a (reluctant) Blair: devolution to Scotland and Wales, the Human Rights Act, the removal of the hereditaries from the Lords. Brown signalled that he intended to step up the pace; but it doesn't look at though this intention has survived a few months in office. In the Guardian Jonathan Freedland recommends a "Butch and Sundance" strategy to Brown. Even if Labour loses the next election they can go out fighting. Go out in "a blaze of glory as they pursue one last change - a democratic second chamber, a written constitution, an improved voting system...". Fat chance. The cautious, calculating, hesistant, dithering Brown is not the man for that. He will weigh the pros and cons and produce something so balanced and hedged around with qualifications and exceptions as to be as inspiring as a bowl of cold porridge.


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