The Sketch: This nebulous Renewal Bill is a non sequitur

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The Independent Online

The Constitutional Renewal Bill. Why did it change its name from the Constitutional Reform Bill? These things must be significant, one of the committee Lords said. He may be right. I'd just been listening to a Commons minister explaining that the Interfaith Strategy had been renamed the Interfaith Framework (less prescriptive, obviously). So, where a Reform Bill might be a big fidget, a Renewal Bill is more a little miracle of... I forget what, frankly. You hear the words but you can't put them together in a sentence that makes sense.

Jack Straw answered in the approved way. We dozed. No one realised what toffee it was until the grumpy antiquity Lord Campbell demanded a proper answer and declared with ancien régime hauteur that he would not entertain "a nebulous and repetitive conversation" with the minister. That's the difference between the Lords and the Commons – and the reason why the Commons wants to reform it. With an axe.

Straw and Wills kept telling us the point of their (nebulous and repetitive) Bill is that it "rebalances" or "recalibrates" the relationship between the executive and Parliament. Lord Campbell asked "which specific proposal in the Bill shifted power" from the one to the other.

"War-making powers," Straw told him patiently. Parliament is going to have the final decision on going to war by being given the right to vote on it. "But that's not in the Bill," Lord Campbell said.

Er, well not as such, that's true in a sense, that's right, technically speaking, not as such, no. But it could be, if people wanted it to be.

It's candy. Charlie Falconer is surely right: "There's next to nothing of significance in the Bill."

Giving more voting rights to the Commons doesn't help anything while the Government gives it the right to do what the hell it's told. Would 42 days have passed under the Great Renewal? Unquestionably.

And as for voting down a war when the troops were on their way to theatre – what parliament would dare? And if Parliament threatened to be so daring, the PM will be allowed to declare it "an exceptional circumstance" and go ahead anyway. It would always be an exceptional circumstance for the governing party to pass a vote of no confidence in its leader so the new right is, in a polite word, otiose.

This began life as part of Gordon Brown's honeymoon strategy "Let the work of change begin!" he said. The Sketch, I might say, was almost alone in its snickering malice at this piece of positioning. But the work of change has nearly done for them now.

simoncarr@sketch.sc

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