For years some Peers’ strategy in the face of all reforming governments has been resistance and then snail-like reluctance in retereat. Witness the hard fought, last ditch rear-guard actions of the hereditaries to the Blair government’s removal of much of their number in 1998/99. Their watch word was always as little as possible, as slowly as possible.
Now there seems to be a new mood, promoted enthusiastically by the ultra-conservatives to be found on some of the Labour benches.
Their strategy is to demand a comprehensive, all embracing “Constitutional Convention”, before ANY more modest individual improvements are to be agreed. For example, their argument goes, there should be no progress at all on the method by which members of this part of the legislature get here until all the other outstanding issues have been successfully addressed. The unfortunate Leader of the Opposition – caught between the few remaining radicals and the reactionaries behind her – was at it again this week, in responding to the statement on further devolution in England. Her plea for an end to incremental reform is sometimes echoed in other parts of the House. It is a seductive excuse for ever extending delay.
Whatever consistent advocates of a comprehensive written constitution (and I am one) may think, many of these more recent recruits to our cause have a destructive agenda: they simply hope to delay ALL reforms for as long as possible.
However, this is not the way in which – traditionally – we have made changes of this sort in Britain. We have almost always adopted an evolutionary rather than a revolutionary approach, at least since the time of Cromwell.
For example, the extension of the franchise has always been a matter of successive incremental progress. And the 2014 example of this – the inclusion of 16/17 year olds – is especially relevant.
After the triumphal arrival of these young voters in the September Scottish referendum (turnout 75% among 16-17 year olds, compared with 69% for 16-34 and 85% for all voters) nobody can now claim this age group to be either uninterested or immature – especially since they seem to have taken a more responsible attitude than many of their middle-aged contemporaries.
So, having taken the opportunity of the Wales Bill to potentially extend this reform to that age group there, I am delighted that the Prime Minister has this week agreed to permit a further extension for Holyrood elections. Where Scotland and Wales lead, England cannot be far behind. It is surely now unthinkable that an all-UK referendum on continuing EU membership could exclude 16 and 17 year old citizens ? The wedge is no longer thin !
This is another success story for the traditional British method of constitutional reform, step by step and incremental change. Beware siren voices who say nothing may be sorted until everything is sorted.
Happy Christmas and best wishes an evolutionary New Year!