Thursday, 20 May 2010

Clegg's Constitutional Changes

So Clegg has declared his intention to "shake-up" our democracy with reforms he equates to a "big bang". Not only do the plans fail to match 'recent' obvious reform such as giving women the vote, I struggle to see how they come close to any kind of deep reform worthy of such rhetoric.

Overturning intrusions on our civil liberties such as ID cards and the DNA and Contact Point databases are undoubtedly welcome, but to suggest they are part of some great shake-up of democracy is fallacious. In some cases the reforms merely mean restrictions. Further, they shouldn't have been introduced in the first place; their removal is nothing more than setting the record straight, a system restore to an earlier date. Their professing of more liberty to the people is also hard to square with Theresa May announcement to give police more powers to press charges.

Nor does a partially-elected second chamber constitute major reform. Indeed, it is a step forward, but hardly one giant leap for British-kind that Clegg's rhetoric suggests, especially when there appear to be plans afoot to fill the Lords with Tory and Lib Dem peers.

As for electoral reform, we know the AV system is not as sweeping a change as full PR, but neither, in the current context, does it represent "a major step forward that would break decades of deadlock over voting reform". The hunger for reform following the results of the election surely meant deadlock was going to be non-existent on this particular issue, reform of some description was 'inevitable'. The 55% rule too is another example of window dressing on Clegg's behalf. Apart from not being included in either coalition party's manifestos, making it more difficult for MPs to try and dissolve Parliament is nothing to shout about.

As far as I can tell, what we are actually left with is unclear announcements on reform to donors and the ability to recall corrupt MPs. I'm struggling to understand how we will be given more control over the power of the state. In the same week that the right-to-strike was undermined, trade union powers were absent from his rhetoric, while a transparent government, for example, is not a mechanism to exercise control. It's not so much a big bang as a damp squib.

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