...a blog by Richard Flowers

Friday, July 06, 2007

Day 2375: A Brisk Constitutional


Following Mr Frown's first appearance at Prime Monster's Please Kick Me Time, there has been much speculation:

Is it less "Clunking Fist" and more "Flunking Missed"? is the question that has been asked.

Certainly, he was no Lord Blairimort… though that, of course, might have been the POINT.

I think that people feel GOOD about Mr Frown at the moment ENTIRELY BECAUSE he is conspicuously NOT Lord Blairimort.

Does it do Mr Balloon any good to land a clever-clever blow (especially when that turns out to be "blow" in the sense of "ooh, it's BLOW'n up in my stupid face")?

People feel about Mr Frown just like they felt about Mr John Minor when he took over from Queen Maggie: he may not have much of a personality, but he does seem to be trying his best and at least he's not the maniac we just got rid of! Mr Balloon does not appear to have changed his own tactics to take this into account.

So it is all very well for Mr Balloon to BOP the Prime Monster on the NOSE a couple of times and leave him REELING, but he's in danger of looking a bit like an Old Etonian SWOT making smart remarks to a supply teacher. Worse, he's in danger of looking like Mr Neil Kinnock!

So, I think it actually HELPS Mr Frown when Mr Balloon does this. Mr Frown looks a little bit HURT and SURPRISED that his efforts at consensus are being knocked back, and Mr Balloon looks like a SMUG OIK.

On the down side for Mr Frown, he IS in danger of looking like the SUPPLY TEACHER. It may be mean to be mean to him, but he'll never be around long enough to gain anyone's respect.

Sir Mr the Merciless' approach was BETTER, even with the slightly waspish improv ("looks a lot like a TRAP door") joke. Though Sir Mr the Merciless’s UNSCRIPTED gag was a lot funnier than Mr Frown’s obviously SCRIPTED one.

Sir Mr the Merciless only gets two questions, so some people have thought it a bit cheeky that he seems to have asked SIX, in two goes…

"[ONE] Will he now set a target for the withdrawal of British troops from Iraq; [TWO] will he order the reopening of the investigation into allegations of corruption in relation to arms sales; and [THREE] will he renegotiate the one-sided extradition treaty with the United States?"


"[FOUR] Will the Government now abandon their headlong rush towards a new generation of nuclear power stations? [FIVE] Will they undertake to tax pollution more than earnings? Finally, [and SIX] will they abolish the unfair and regressive council tax?"

…but what my CLEVER Daddy Alex pointed out to me was that Mr Sir M had actually asked Mr Frown if his new "ALL CHANGE" government was actually going to mean ANY change on half-a-dozen KEY PLANKS of Liberal Democrat policy: Iraq, corruption, our one-sided relationship with America, the environment, green taxes and fair taxes.

(Mr Balloon, of course, really only asked two questions with his six, he just kept repeating himself several times. Perhaps they should give the extra questions to the opposition with lots of ideas rather than the opposition with too few!)

And Mr Frown, waffling out his usual government line, FAILED Sir Mr the Merciless's test.

So, while Mr Balloon gets to look smug for embarrassing the Prime Monster, the Liberal Democrats can say: "we asked for a change of direction, we asked the Prime Monster DIRECTLY. And he turned us down."

Sir Mr the Merciless has explicitly shot down the SECRET STALIN SPIN of Mr Frown's "change" pose here.

(And of course, the self-deprecating "fool me once…" trapdoor jest also served to disarm Mr Frown's "let's all be chums" disguise.)

Mr Jeremy has given us a TIMELY WARNING that we should be CAUTIOUS of Mr Frown's embrace, particularly his new ENTHUSIASM for Constitutional Reform.

We should not be SURPRISED that Mr Frown has come to us when looking for an exciting new policy to start his term in number ten. In the first place, that is EXACTLY what he did when he started his term in number ELEVEN – oh, we ALL remember Independence for the Bank of England. But in the second place, he thinks that he can DISARM us by taking some central part of our policy and clutching it to his bosom.

Just like Mr Balloon, he wants our support. Or to be more accurate, our SUPPORTERS.

But this shows, once again, that Mr Frown does not UNDERSTAND the Liberal Democrats.

The Liberal Democrats do not want to get into power JUST to tinker with the constitution. That would be SILLY.

Of COURSE if we were elected, then since we would be governing a MODERN LIBERAL DEMOCRACY, then we would want to make sure that it had a PROPER CONSTITUTION to match.

But that is like moving into a new house and finding that all the LIGHT FITTINGS have been taken away by the previous owner. (Something of which Mr Frown is believed to have had recent experience!)

Of COURSE you would put new lights in, but you didn't move house JUST to replace all the light bulbs, did you?!?!?

The Liberal Democrats exist to govern Britain in a LIBERAL way.

We want to empower people through opportunity, but without interfering too much. Interfering is the Labour way. We want to set people free without abandoning them to the bullying of bosses, or landowners or other special interest groups. Special interest groups are the Conservatory way. And we want to protect and preserve the Environment without ruining people's lives and livelihoods. Smashing the economy to flinders is the Green Party way.

We are about being FAIR, and about being FREE and about being GREEN.

Having said that, if Mr Frown has decided that he needs to improve the British Constitution, a document often described as not worth the paper it is not written on, then we should not SNUB his endeavour.

Mr Balloon of course, took the OPPORTUNIST route of more "Punch and Judy Politics" to score points off Mr Frown, bleating on about English Vote for Ingsoc Laws… or E.V.I.L for short.

But this is just his usual English Nasty Party POSTURING for political advantage. Really, the Conservatories like the Constitution the way it is – it has plenty of loopholes for them to get through. (In fairness, they would not be PROPER Conservatories if they did not like CONSERVING things the way they are… but what is Mr Balloon's excuse?)

We should take a more CONSIDERED approach.

Unlike his immediate predecessor, Mr Frown did not send some poor schmuck in to bat for him, but chose to lead from the front, making the statement himself, and if you listen to him, there is a lot that he said that we can AGREE WITH.

For example, he is quite right when he says that there are TWO KEY PROBLEMS to address: the need – especially after his predecessor – to hold the government to account BETTER; and the need – especially with so much cynicism about politics at the moment – to hand power BACK to people.

Mr Frown's plan is to

1. Take unaccountable powers away from the government and give them to Parliament.
2. To make Parliament more ACCOUNTABLE to people.
3. To give more powers back to COMMUNITIES.
4. To reinvigorate the whole idea of CITIZENSHIP.

and a lot of this sounds pretty GOOD!

Under part one he said that he would give up the powers of the ROYAL PREROGATIVE, promising to hand over to Parliament a whole long list…

  • the power of the executive to declare war;
  • the power to request the dissolution of Parliament;
  • the power over recall of Parliament;
  • the power of the executive to ratify international treaties without decision by Parliament;
  • the power to make key public appointments without effective scrutiny;
  • the power to restrict Parliamentary oversight of the intelligence services;
  • power to choose bishops;
  • power in the appointment of judges;
  • power to direct prosecutors in individual criminal cases;
  • power over the civil service itself;
  • and the executive powers to determine the rules governing entitlement to passports and the granting of pardons.
…of things that at the moment the Prime Monster can do on a WHIM. And Lord Blairimort frequently DID!

He also said he would reform the role of the Attorney General (about time too – the chief law officer should be one of those independent appointments that Parliament are going to get the power to scrutinise, and not a political position for a chum of the Prime Monster); stop Special Advisors having the power to order the Civil Service about (which he has done already); and bring in a NEW Ministerial Code and that too will be overseen by Parliament and not by the Prime Monster (you remember how Mr Blanket would do something NAUGHTY and then Lord Blairimort would go "ooooh, I don't think that's naughty" and let him off the hook… well that won't happen any more).

For part two, to make Parliament more accountable, he said that first there would be an ELECTED House of Lords Club, and then he would fulfil a LONG-DELAYED promise to look at the voting system.

On the other fluffy foot, he also said that PARLIAMENT would have "every opportunity" to discuss and vote on the European Amendment Treaty, which only SOUNDS like he's being good, when in fact he's SLYLY ruling out a proper referendum. The Treaty is still EFFECTIVELY a constitutional change and therefore EVEN IF IT IS INCONVENIENT we should still give the people a say!

Thirdly, in order to devolve more power to the regions, he said that he would create Parliamentary SELECT COMMITTEES for each region of England, and he has already appointed ministers for each region.

We will have to see how this works out, but I am not sure that this is REALLY what "devolution" is supposed to mean. It all looks a BIT like Mr Frown is being KING and handing out BARONIES to his feudal underlings. I would have thought that proper devolution would mean that the people in the regions get to choose who is their "first" minister, and not Mr Frown.

I am not sure that Mr Frown sees the contradiction in saying he will give up his powers to appoint people at random, and then tries to solve the West Lothian Question by appointing a whole lot of people at random. Which is worrying.

Meanwhile, Mr Frown promises people more control over their local quangos, which is a GOOD thing. This would include a new "community right" to call for action and a new responsibility for public bodies to involve people; a new right to scrutinise services; and a new right to be consulted through "Citizens Juries" (although THAT might just mean more FOCUS GROUPS!).

And he also said that there would be powers to let people control (some of) their council's spending though local ballots. This scheme has already been announced, and so far it LOOKS like it might be COMPULSORY (and not just an OPTION for councils looking to pass the buck on difficult spending decisions – "we don't want to be blamed so we'll have a vote on which of these to cut", sort of thing).

And for part four of his plan, Mr Frown's suggestions were to try and turn around the terrible fall in turnout at elections by thinking about moving voting day to the weekend; to consider lowering the voting age; and to begin a national debate about what it is that we really mean when we talk about the "Rights and Responsibilities" of being British, and whether we could or even should consider drawing them up in a complete Bill of Rights and a Written Constitution.

Looking at all of that, I think that we should offer encouragement to Mr Frown as a SINNER that REPENTETH, and try to work with him to make sure he does not botch it up. He WILL botch it up, of course, but we can try and smooth over some of the more EGREGIOUS mistakes before he makes them.

Certainly we can warmly WELCOME PART ONE of the plan, and part two DESERVES OUR SPECIAL ATTENTION to see that Mr Frown does not let it slide. Part three we should be MOSTLY WARY of: with Mr Balloon blowing on the embers of English resentment, we need a better answer that just some committees in parliament and a few posh focus groups. And part four is so full of "maybes" and "considers" and "in the fullnesses of time" that we should only believe it IF WE EVER SEE IT.

Mr Frown has made an interesting start in his first five days week as Prime Monster: cautious, consensual, moderate and modest. Almost deliberately faltering, at time, and he could hardly be more humble if he were turning down the Uriah Heep award for humongous humility…

That is not like Mr Frown AT ALL! Do you think we should be checking his forehead for a ZIPPER?!

No, I am afraid not.

He is still showing his SECRET STALIN tendencies when pressed.

Funny as it was to see Mr Frown start to FLAP and FLOUNDER when he could not come up with an answer to Mr Balloon's question – and that "I've only been here five days" gag that fell flat got a lot of the coverage – surely more significant was what happened next. STILL without an answer, Mr Frown fell back on "I.D.iot cards are the answer to everything."

Mr Balloon's newly appointed SECURITY BARONESS, Dame Pauline from Eastenders, might agree but very few Liberals will.

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