Anthony Barnett (London, OK): Just listened to the Today programme discussion about this afternoon’s statement on the constitution: Lord Baker, Martin Bell and Helena Kennedy with Sarah Montague at the wheel. Apart from the welcome fact that none of them seemed to know what is going to be announced, it was dreadful. At a Smith Institute seminar in May Vernon Bogdanor argued that constitutional reforms have so far merely distributed power within and between the elite. I don’t agree completely, for example, I have been able to vote for a Mayor for London for the first time. But I sure saw his point this morning. Of course, parliamentary committees and what the second chamber does are vital to the proper functioning of the system. But this kind of change is not going to restore “faith” in politics as Montague put it at the start - a revealing phrase, as the last thing anyone wants is a return to a pious religious attitude towards our leaders. She then continued with the Today programme line that the constitution is boring and of no interest to people in “The Dog and Duck”. Helena tried to say something about the ‘non-constitutional’ language people are forced to use to talk about these matters, and at the end made an effort to drag the idea of a constitutional convention into the discussion, to little avail.
Anthony Barnett (London, OK): Gordon Brown is expected to make his historic statement on the constitution this afternoon, delayed by a day thanks to the security issues. It is going to set a sweeping agenda of reforms and call for new kinds of non-partisan participation to confront the malaise in public life - a call prepared by his 'all the talents' approach to some of his appointments. No, I have not seen it, but he has said plenty about his intentions. Whatever the details, most important of all he will address the constitution of Britain as a whole.
Peter Facey (London, Unlock Democracy): Jon Bright’s remarks (below) reflect one of the greatest challenges democratic reform in Britain faces: the “if we give them more power they may …” argument. It does not just apply to referendums but to any move to decentralize power in our country. And it shows why the government has tended to devolve power to do specific things, rather than give people and communities general tools or powers that they can use for their own ends.
Andrew Blick (London, Democratic Audit): I just heard Jacqui Smith's statement to the House on the recent terrorist attacks. Beyond a bald statement of the facts, it was interesting for what it omitted. There was no rhetoric about changing the 'rules of the game' (for which read 'standards of due process') or the need for the judiciary to 'get it'. Indeed there was no immediate claim that if only we could deport people to human rights abusing regimes the terrorist threat could be minimised. Rather than participants in a 'war', terrorists were described as 'criminals' - denying them the status of heroic combatants. This is not to say that none of this nonsense will resurface later, but it is a good start.
Anthony Barnett (London, OK): I have just been sent a thoughtful warning for me not to answer my front door: “the new Prime Minister has sounded the death knell for the controversial Barnett formula”. Then I breathed again, it’s from the Scotland on Sunday and it refers to (no-relation) Joel Barnett’s historic arrangements for giving Scotland a fair deal, which has now created an alleged subsidy that is stoking English fury. It will suit Brown well with Daily Mail readers to treat the whole of the UK the same way financially. Alex Salmond says it is "just a euphemism for slashing Scottish spending" but after the pictures of Salmond next to the Queen waving to the crowds one can imagine Brown’s desire to wipe the smile of the face of the SNP leader. So now it's leaving us, what is the Barnett formula? And what is so wrong with it?
Anthony Barnett (London, OK): Writing in the Indie, Andreas Whittam Smith has welcomed the first days of Brown, describing them as calmness in the face of terror attacks and purposefulness in terms of dealing with how we are governed. Casting his eye over what I call the democratic agenda, he observes a wide range of activity, including OK:
Anthony Barnett (London, OK): One of the striking features of the last few days viewed from London is the way the Glasgow attack has underlined the distinctive nature of Scottish politics. First Minister Salmond was on the the Today programme this morning saying he had talked with the Prime Minister. He said they would not allow the criminal activity of individuals to lead to the scapegoating of members of the larger community which, he claimed, was especially strong in Scotland. The attack took place the day after he had reiterated a commitment to independence at the annual opening of the Scottish parliament by the Queen - where Salmond also talked about the "vital role" of the monarchy. And, of course, the populace enjoyed the Crown of Scotland being paraded down the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, a kind of national celebration Gordon Brown seems to be seeking for Britishness. Terror attacks can bring everyone together yet still do so in different ways.
Anthony Barnett (London, OK): Brown’s masterful interview with Andrew Marr this morning made three good points. First, that in our reaction to terrorism, we are in it together and we won’t be intimidated and or allow it to undermine our way of life. And he defined this as including a traditional respect for civil liberties that avoids arbitrariness and ensures judicial oversight and accountability to parliament. It is still difficult not to believe that his predecessor won’t pop up and try and steal the limelight. But his words were a fine contrast with Blair’s notorious, and indeed arbitrary, announcement on 5 August 2005, a month after the 7/7 atrocities, that “the rules of the game have changed” and his later dismissal of concern for civil liberties as old fashioned.
Guy Aitchison (London, OK): I've just read the best article so far on Brown and the constitution. It's written by David Marquand (who has also blogged for OK) and appears in this week's New Statesman. He explains clearly and eloquently why a new settlement with a written constitution is needed. Its refreshing to read something that is clear, fair, far-reaching and best of all puts the radicalism required into its international context. It's not that having a written constitution is so revolutionary. The challenge comes from the fact that Britain's over-centralised state is antiquated and out of date, despite all the talk of being modern. "Brown", Marquand concludes optimistically, "has a chance to build a consensus for democratic change of a kind we have not seen since 1945", noting that if he succeeds "he will go down as one of the greatest reforming prime ministers of modern times." Great stuff. Read it here.
Anthony Barnett (London, OK): I see that Michael Wills has been appointed as Minister of State in the Department of Constitutional Affairs. A one-time television film maker, and therefore a politician with some experience of the outer world, he is a long time supporter of Gordon Brown, frequently rumoured to have helped on his speeches on the future of Britain. Last year he published a far-reaching ippr paper on Labour and democracy called The New Agenda (register for free pdf). It calls for a constitutional convention. One of the refreshing things about his approach at the time is that he knew how bad things were and how much they needed to change.
Daniel Leighton (London, Power Inquiry): The Lib Dems have published their own 20 step guide to democratic renewal. What kind of timing is this? The Cabinet has already met today to hold an unique discussion on constitutional reform. The outcome of their well prepared deliberation will be presented to Parliament on Monday. It is unlikely now to be deflected by a missive from Cowley Street
Jon Bright (London, OK): It's always dangerous to comment on a politics you're not directly involved in. But the goings on in the Welsh Assembly, blogged so effectively by John Osmond below, have presented a situation of interest to anyone thinking about proportional representation for England, or throughout the UK.
Anthony Barnett (London, OK): A Today programme interview this morning opened with Jack Straw saying that, although he is Lord Chancellor there is no need to call him “my Lord”. For the first time, the holder of this 1,000 year old office who is currently the head of the Judiciary is a politician in the Commons. What does this tell us about the relationship between the judges and the executive?