Will Cameron be more reforming than Blair?

Guy Aitchison
1 June 2008

Guy Aitchison (London, OK): Normal Mouth has a piece on a Cameron premiership which appears in the Welsh weekly Golwyg. He reckons that a number of important issues are converging which will force Cameron to devote serious time to constitutional reform:

"With David Cameron on course to win the next General Election questions will now be asked of what kind of Prime Minister he will be. My prediction is that he will be the most constitutionally reforming of any - including Tony Blair.

Sounds daft? Consider the growing list of constitutional topics and crises in Prime Minister Cameron's 2010 in-tray. First will be the looming Scottish independence referendum. Cameron aides last week briefed that the plan was to make nice towards the SNP in a bid to blunt the supposed boost a unrepresentative Tory Westminster government would give the cause of independence. We can assume – we should at least hope - that there is something more imaginative in the pipeline, possibly in the guise of a separate Westminster initiative or an SNP side deal. Either way, Prime Minister Cameron cannot just smile and sit on his hands.

Second up is Welsh devolution. There seems little chance the One Wales pledged referendum will have been conducted, but a good chance that it will not be long off being proposed. PM Cameron must decide whether to stymie, permit or support primary powers for the Welsh Assembly. Like Scotland, inaction is the one genuinely unavailable option.

The third follows from the first two. To allow movement of any sort on Welsh and Scottish devolution without doing something for England will not wash. The hideous current proposed reforms of Parliament to provide “English laws” will have to be unwound and something workable put in their place. Combining it with a decentralisation of local government would be the obvious but not the politically permissible approach for an increasingly English nationalist Tory party.

A further heave on Northern Ireland seems unlikely but should not be ruled out, particularly if the post-Paisley era realigns Northern Irish politics. Even if not, the current settlement will come up for unofficial review through the prism of the 2011 Irish Presidential elections and Gerry Adams’s participation in that contest.

Fifth is reform of the House of Lords. Here Cameron may be lucky, with private all-party talks still going on and a whiff of consensus in the air. But after 100 years of near-misses, is anyone betting that this will be sorted by the next election?

Add revision of the Barnett formula, an overhaul of party funding, electoral reform and some sort of drive on civic participation and one begins to wonder not whether Prime Minister David Cameron will devote any attention to constitutional reform but whether he will have time for much else."

I think Normal Mouth is right to point out that the Scottish and English Questions will not simply dissapear in the event of a Tory landslide, as Peter Riddell seems to be implying in comments Tom Griffin draws attention to below. A Tory victory will undoubtedly strengthen the nationalist cause in Scotland, which Cameron will need to respond to, and the English Question is more than just the irritating fact of Labour relying on Scottish and Welsh MPs to pass legislation in England (which has happened only a handful of times).

But whether or not Cameron will be more reforming than Blair remains to be seen. Unless the Tories adopt a holistic approach to the constitution (something Scott Kelly has called for in OK) they will be forced to take an ad hoc and defensive stance. They will not be reforming themselves but merely reacting to dynamics unleashed by the 1997-99 wave of reforms under Blair.

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