I still think he’s doomed. But I watched Gordon Brown’s statement today on constitutional reform with interest. It’s well known that he’s put the kibosh on many previous attempts at constitutional reform over the last twelve years, so why the sudden conversion?
It’s not a conversion. It’s politics as usual.
We now have, at most, less than twelve months until a general election. There isn’t time to enact huge constitutional changes. They can get some things done – reform of the expenses system, for example – but changing the electoral system? And a fully elected House of Lords? They won’t happen this side of the election.
Brown is talking about these things now to place a wedge between the Labour party and the Conservatives. The perception at Westminster is that the people want reform of the expenses system (which is not strictly true: people want trustworthy politicians), so Brown’s strategy is to link that in people’s minds with more fundamental reforms that he knows Cameron and the Conservatives disagree with. Brown talks about expenses reform, House of Lords reform and electoral system reform as one item, knowing that Cameron only wants the first of those and would actively campaign against the others.
Cameron’s message is “change”, by which he means a general election now. Brown is trying to paint this as “no change”: Cameron doesn’t want reform, he wants to keep the same old gentlemen’s agreements, the same old 19th Century practices, same old Tories, etc. Any attempt by Cameron to disagree with any of the proposed reforms will be presented as opposing all reform.
I don’t think Brown believes in the level of constitutional reform he talked about today. There will be talk, but little action: talking shops, proposals, committees, discussions. Some laws will pass – the expenses stuff, internal Westminster changes – but the big stuff will be punted to the next Labour manifesto, where it can be safely ignored since it looks like Cameron will win anyway.
As a Lib Dem of course I believe that we need electoral reform. I think we need some form of proportional representation, as long as we retain the 1:1 link between an MP and a constituency.
If this means the BNP is represented at Westminster, so be it. The bright lights will reveal their warts. Thatcher was wrong in the 1980s when she tried to deny Sinn Fein the “oxygen of publicity” (leading to the surreality of TV interviews in which actors dubbed the voices of Gerry Adams and others). And the anti-fascist egg-throwers were wrong yesterday when they gave the BNP free airtime in which they did not have to account for their obnoxious views.