Gordon Brown’s justification
for his constitutional meddling is that “the best answer to disengagement from our democracy is to strengthen our democracy.” Which begs the question of why are people disengaged from politics? If I had to take a stab at explaining why, I’d say it is some combination of the following: the lack of ideological distance between the parties, campaign techniques that ignore all but the swingiest of swing voters and politicians denying what they just said and MPs being used as lobby fodder.
Now, there is nothing in these proposals to deal with any of these problems. Admittedly, you can’t mandate clear blue water between the parties. While, no party is going to unilaterally disarm in the race for marginal seats. Yet, he could have actually done something about the last two points. He could have—as Daniel Finkelstein points out— announced more free votes and a relaxation in the powers of the Whips office. Perhaps, he might even have acknowledged that you can sometimes put a cigarette paper between cabinet ministers’ views. As it is, his speech just smacks of a desire to appear radical without spending any money and at minimal political cost
For a more positive take on the merits of Brown’s measures do read Martin Kettle at Comment is Free and Open Democracy’s excellent Our Kingdom blog.