Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Time for a Constitutional Convention?

The announcements about constitutional debate and change (BBC News: Brown sets out reform proposals) and the immediate refusal to even consider addressing one of the biggest grievances (BBC News: PM says no to English-only votes; and yes, I do still oppose a two tier MP solution but think there has to be some change made) exposes the very poor way in which constitutional changes are made in this country. All too often one governing party rams through changes with few if any concessions to opposition concerns, creating long-term instability for the sake of short term gain. And it exposes defenders of perceived unfairness to the charge of self-interest - anyone who thinks Brown's attitude on the West Lothian Question does not have such a tinge probably thinks that Joh Bjelke-Petersen was only concerned about communication problems in rural areas when defending the "Bjelkemander". (Malapportionment - irritatingly often confused with gerrymandering - is something that is worryingly creeping into this country, albeit covertly and perhaps unintentionally, due to the Boundary Commission's rules.)

Currently we're in a transitional period where the problems of devolution are starting to rear their heads in earnest, where completing the reform of the second chamber has been dragging on for years, where local government remains a mess, where the rights and responsibilities of both citizen and state are not fully codified and so forth. Some solutions could tackle more than one problem - for example both the United States and Australian Senates are made up of an equal number of senators from each states (give or take the provision for territories). Could an "equal say" upper house make it easier to resolve the problems of voting power in the Commons?

So perhaps it's time there was a grand constitutional convention. Yes it'd be made up of the usual politicians and scholars. But to sit down, address many of the issues fully and openly, and try to find ways forward to resolve them would surely be a better way than relying purely on the government of the day. Whether we need a written constitution or not is an open question that could be debated as part of this process. But rather than calls for piecemeal tinkering, perhaps now is the time for a real examination of how this country is governed.

1 comment:

PJP said...

Are you coming out much next week?



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