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The Need For Constitutional Reform Essay

2391 words - 10 pages

The Need For Constitutional Reform

No government in modern times has ever been elected with such a
commitment to reforming the constitution as the Labour administration
that won office in May 1997. Within months of its election, Scotland
and Wales were on the road to devolution. Within a year, although in a
very different context, the framework had been set for a devolved,
power sharing government in Northern Ireland. A year after that the
process was well under way for reform of the House of Lords,
eliminating, in the first instance, peers whose place in the
legislature was by inheritance. In May 2000, London elected its first
mayor. In early 2003, there was the affirmation of a commitment to
allow English regions to choose to elect assemblies. Then in the
Cabinet reshuffle of June 2003 it was signalled that the post of Lord
Chancellor would be abolished and the judicial functions of the House
of Lords transferred lo a Supreme Court. Above all, the government
held out the promise of Britain signing up to a European constitution
sometime in 2004-5, which would formally subjugate British law to
European law and have many other consequences for political
accountability in Britain.

All in all, it would seem that the government can look back upon a
programme of continuing constitutional reform that far exceeds
anything accomplished by its recent predecessors and which amounts to
the upholding of promises made at the time of the 1997 general
election.

But how far are these things achievements? How far do they keep
promises made at the election, and subsequently? And, above all, how
far have they led to the better governance of Britain, and have they
been a good use of legislative time and taxpayers' money that might
have been better deployed? Let us start with devolution. In Scotland,
the feeling of alienation after years of what was perceived as rule by
English Conservatives made the result of the devolution referendum in
September 1997 a foregone conclusion. Labour's main concern was to win
the ensuing election for the Scottish Parliament in May 1999, which it
did by a less comfortable margin than expected, and to ensure a
relatively obedient administration in Edinburgh. This proved more
problematical. Labour could govern only with the help of the Liberal
Democrats, and it turned out to be a coalition that damaged both
parties in terms of their popular support. The Hamilton by-election of
September 1999 was won only narrowly by Labour after a surge in
support for the Scottish National Party, and the Lib-Dems came a poor
sixth. Former Labour supporters saw their party still taking orders
from London; former Lib-Dems felt that their party was colluding too
openly in this compliant government, and there was particular anger
about the Lib-Dems' failure to stand on the point of...

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