The Sketch: The PM's constitutional renewal Bill is just PR

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The Independent Online

We better get this over with; I don't want to dwell on constructive suggestions. It gets habit-forming. Then I'll start wanting to make the world a better place, and by some very precise if obscure mechanism, that will start World War Three.

I'm suggesting a measure to put in Jack Straw's Constitutional Renewal Bill ( sic). It will have more observable effect than anything in there now. It will raise general election turnout from 61 per cent to 80 per cent and will cost the Government some chickenfeed. Here it is: Make election day a public holiday. But people only get their day's pay by returning to their employer a chit signed by a polling station official.

Now, back to the Renewal Bill. Jack Straw is a wily, urbane charmer so I'm sure he won't mind my saying his proposals are a self-defeating mish-mash of bilge, bollocks and fudge. He said it was all designed to "surrender significant executive powers to Parliament". These words were quoted from the Prime Minister and produced the only good laugh of the day. The idea of Gordon Brown surrendering anything of significance to anyone at all is Pythonesque.

The Attorney General is to have no power any more to quash prosecutions or investigations "save in certain exceptional cases which give rise to issues of national security". So no change there, then. There will have to be a vote in Parliament before going to war. That suggests one important thing. Gordon Brown isn't planning on going to war.

And no vote is necessary if special forces are to be deployed. This may involve regiments being renamed for the occasion, or perhaps a later piece of delegated legislation may provide ministerial power to direct forces "to act in a special capacity". (I'm getting the hang of this now.)

The "core values" of the Civil Service are to be "enshrined in law". Really? Will ministers be able to call in the police? Will civil servants go to jail for lacking "objectivity"? Or is it just an excuse for filling up the parliamentary calendar with legislative therapy? This isn't law-making, it's PR.

Oh, and MI5 and MI6 will be exempt from the legal duty of impartiality. Yes, the Government might need intelligence that the Isle of Man is concealing weapons of mass destruction.

Patrick Cormack stood up to the Tories' stupid cheers (and a small smile from John Bercow). He said this government had done more than any other to sideline parliament. Would the Justice Secretary relax the timetabling that prevents Commons scrutiny of whole sections of Bills?

Absurd idea. Constitutional renewal doesn't mean constitutional improvement.

simoncarr@sketch.sc

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