Monday, 7 September 2009

Britain needs a written constitution

By Timothy garton Ash, The Guardian, 20 May 2009

We need a written constitution. That is the largest conclusion we should draw from a crisis that is also an opportunity. Our legislature has compromised itself. Our executive has long been over-mighty. Our judiciary remains largely credible, but its independence needs to be reinforced.

In 10 years' time, I wish to walk round Westminster and show a visitor the three great buildings housing the three separate powers of a renewed democracy. Every schoolchild should know what each of them does, by what explicit rules, and how they relate to each other. And how our individual rights and liberties are secured within this constitution. Nothing less will do.

This does not need to be a revolution. Most of the elements of a constitution are there already. Unlike the country in which I write these lines – Poland – and unlike many other countries after wars or dictatorships, we won't have to start rebuilding from rubble. Many British institutions function well, and even many aspects of our parliament work well. We should beware the hyperbole of crisis. But we do need to put together these elements as we never have done before, add a few, reform some, and make the whole thing explicit, clear and transparent.

The immediate question is how we go about this. In the final analysis, we will need a government ready to propose to parliament a new great reform bill. We must build a constitution by constitutional means. But before we reach that point, we need a great debate. That can start right now, and right here.


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