Sunday, September 21, 2014

Time for a constitutional convention?

Traditionally we've not bothered with form and consistency in this country. Our governance has been riddled with inconsistencies and anomalies. Sometimes they've even come in a single package - for instance when the Greater London Council was created, rather than take sides on removing education from the control of the outer boroughs or expanding it to the inner ones, the compromise was created whereby it was a borough matter in Outer London but in Inner London it was a GLC matter albeit subcontracted to a committee consisting of only the Inner London members. (When the Mayor of London and Greater London Authority were set up there was the question of how to devolve scrutiny of the Metropolitan Police, as their Area wasn't coterminous with Greater London. Initially the solution was to be a joint committee of London Assembly Members and relevant Home Counties MPs but the MPA boundary was realigned.)

And we do things piecemeal rather than as a whole. Local government in England is a bewildering patchwork, with different configurations of powers and election cycles that confuse even hardcore political anoraks. We bemoan low turnouts but how can voters grasp what the elections mean and when they'll take place when even the political classes are confused?

A similar approach was taken with devolution. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland each have different arrangements. England has nothing meaningful (to most voters a Mayor is a piece of local government not regional and the London Assembly invisible). Anomalies abound everywhere. And it's no longer possible to close some of Pandora's Boxes.

It's not just devolution. In many areas discussion is not joined up. Look at the House of Lords where debate is all about how members are selected and not about what they will do or how the chamber should interact with the Commons.

It is time for a comprehensive look at the distribution of power in this country and to find a settlement acceptable to the whole United Kingdom. But that may not be as easy as it sounds.

In future posts I'll look at some of the ways to do this and obstacles to navigate.

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