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
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 ...
... middle of paper ...
...more than its share of it
over the years (such as the peerage reforms of 1958 and 1963, and the
1972 European Communities Act), still has to take a defined position
on many of these questions, although it has announced its outright
opposition to the proposed European constitution.
The significance of the European proposals is that they must now take
centre stage in the government's programme of constitutional reform.
They will also, though, take the whole question out of the
government's hands to some extent as the pace is being dictated by an
external power. The government refuses to consult the electorate on
them. The prospect was not included in the 2001 Labour manifesto.
This pursuit of vast constitutional change without a mandate could yet
derail not just the programme of reform but even the whole government.
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