Heard the one about the country that didn't have a written constitution, where an election took place and the directly elected representatives were instantly put on ice while the media, the markets, the civil service and 3 party leaders decided who would govern, where the rule book for all this was secret and where the newly elected Parliament didn't even get to endorse the outcome? Crazy, I know, thank goodness that it couldn't happen here!
My Select Committee questioned the Cabinet Secretary this week. We questioned Sir Gus O'Donnell on his role in the formation of the coalition Government and, in particular, on the whereabouts of the Cabinet Manual, which consolidates in one written document the existing conventions that decent “chaps” use to govern much of the way central government and Executive Power operates in the UK.
The Cabinet Manual is the nearest thing we have to a written constitution. Sir Gus O' Donnell himself agreed on the importance of this document and that the manual would be a likely starting point for any written constitution. We have called for this vital document which governs our lives to be available to electors and to the elected, but these groups are not yet regarded as mature enough to be trusted with something so important. It is a measure of how Government totally dominates Parliament that this document is 'owned' by the Cabinet, and is safely lodged in the Cabinet’s Home Affairs Committee chaired by Nick Clegg.
It is a test of “the new politics” that this secret written constitution is open to public view and then given parliamentary authority and legitimacy.
Graham Allen is Labour MP for Nottingham North and Chair of the Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee.
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