Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Shadow-boxing over constitutional reform

Westminster has today been discussing the subject of 'constitutional renewal', prompted by a statement by Gordon Brown.

Yet when a significant proportion of Britain's laws now derive from remote EU institutions - against which a large majority so recently voted during an EU-specific election - Gordon Brown doesn't seem to think the EU even worth mentioning as part of the problem of how to reconnect politics with the public.

Throughout a statement that threw in every possible distraction - from holding a consultation on changing the voting system to the establishment of some new quango to supervise MPs - the EU didn't get one mention.

On the one hand, Brown claims, he wants the "devolution of power". This, he concludes, will lead to the "engagement of people themselves in their local communities."

But on the other, via the Lisbon Treaty, he's clearly happy to see ever more decision-making centralised in remote EU institutions in Brussels - in the process denying us a promised say - and can't see why that's causing people to disengage from Westminster politics.

"Let us stand together for integrity and democracy", he concluded - after setting out how he plans to ignore the key message of the recent European parliament election.

Instead of a proper acknowledgment of the EU's role in draining away the standing of parliament and sterilising Westminster debate, today we had the government's attempt to change the subject.

Expenses myth

The idea that last week's election wasn't really about the EU at all, but a protest vote about MPs' expenses or other aspects of how parliament works, doesn't stack up.

First, despite their MPs being arguably as badly affected by the revelations as Labour - think duck ponds and moats - the Conservative vote actually went up.

Second, the Lib Dems - a party that was deemed to have come out better from the expenses scandal, but which connived with Labour to deny us the promised referendum on the EU Constitution/Lisbon Treaty - saw their vote drop.

Where is the quest here to punish all the Westminster parties?
But the message on the EU - on the Lisbon Treaty - is crystal clear.

Those opposed to today's EU were up. Those who support the status quo - who actively blocked us being given a say on passing more power to the EU - took a hit.

Not listening

That's why today's statement couldn't be a worse response for Labour's prospects at the next election.

It couldn't be worse because it's increasingly hard to imagine that no-one in government recognises how much of a problem in our democratic system the scale of the EU's powers is now causing - and how much people want to see that change.

Rather, it shows, no-one wants to put that key problem right.

That isn't reducing the 'disconnect' between public and politics. It's making it so much worse.

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