Straw presses for monarchy debate

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The Independent Online
AN UNREPENTANT Jack Straw yesterday continued to press his case for Labour to lead the debate on the constitutional role of the monarchy, as some shadow Cabinet members argued that their split on his stance illustrated Labour's continuing post-election timidity over new ideas.

Yesterday the Labour environment spokesman said he believed the public wanted a debate on issues such as the royal prerogative 'which gives ministers the privilege of making decisions for which they are not fully accountable', and the honours system 'which gives not the Queen but her ministers the right to reward benefactors of the Conservative Party, and subtly to pressure decision-makers from stepping too far out of line'.

Mr Straw made it clear he did not favour a republic, but 'a more limited role for the monarch'. Mo Mowlam, the shadow Cabinet member responsible for the Citizen's Charter, said the Queen's prerogative to decide who to invite to form a government in a hung Parliament needed to be reviewed. 'I do not believe it should be the Queen's role effectively to decide who should govern.'

Senior Labour sources who earlier this week distanced themselves from Mr Straw's comments yesterday conceded there were issues Labour needed to address.

Mr Straw is also writing a pamphlet about Labour ideology and Clause IV, the party constitutional commitment to nationalisation. One colleague said: 'The idea is to spark a debate, not start a bonfire with Straw on top.' One shadow Cabinet member who criticised Mr Straw yesterday for both the timing of his comments - hitting coverage of Labour's 'Budget for Jobs' - and for their subject matter - 'he's done us no favours; it's let our opponents attack us when the argument was already going on nicely out there' - conceded there were worries about Labour's openness to new ideas.

Many leading Labour figures sympathise with Mr Straw. 'Ninety per cent of the party would be republican if we were starting from scratch,' one said. 'But we're not; and Labour is not about to become a republican party.'

Smith's warning, page 7