At the start of the year ConservativeHome noted Gordon Brown’s emerging constitutional thinking. That thinking included giving MPs the right to veto any decision to go to war. In a speech to launch the Democracy Policy Group – under Ken Clarke’s chairmanship – David Cameron will match that right…
“I believe that one of the factors causing disillusionment with politics is the decline in the status and power of Parliament… Just last week, we first heard about the Government’s decision to send 4,000 troops to Afghanistan in the pages of The Sun newspaper. Restoring trust in politics means restoring trust in Parliament and one way to do that is to enhance the role of Parliament in scrutinising the Government’s decisions… While there was a vote on the decision to go to war in Iraq, albeit very late in the process, there was no vote on the action in Kosovo. So shouldn’t there be a formal process for parliamentary approval?”
The Guardian notes that "Tony Blair has set himself against the change." The Prime Minister is concerned that such parliamentary powers would frustrate Britain’s security interests if there was an urgent need for action – perhaps under Britain’s Article V obligations to another NATO member that had been attacked. For Mr Cameron this is another example of the way Mr Blair has become presidential in attitude:
"If elected, I am determined to lead this country as a democratically accountable prime minister and to abandon the personal, presidential style that has taken hold under New Labour."
Mr Cameron appears determined to go further still, however, on constitutional reform. He wants Mr Clarke’s policy group/ taskforce – whose membership will include Lord Butler of Brockwell, the former Cabinet secretary – to examine whether MPs should approve senior public appointments, such as the chief executive of the NHS and the BBC Chairman.
Reminding some of Michael Howard’s "people want a date with the dentist, not with destiny", Mr Cameron will also call on politicians to make "credible promises". "Incredible promises" and ‘Punch and Judy politics’ have alienated people from politics: "Where we agree with our opponents, we should say so," he will say.
It is not clear from the pre-briefing whether or not Mr Cameron’s speech will address the ‘West Lothian Question‘. Last night’s Westminster Hour included a fascinating discussion of Lord Kenneth Baker’s ‘English Votes for English Laws’ bill. The former Tory Chairman believes that it is essential that Scottish MPs be stopped from voting on bills that do not affect their constituents. Frank Field MP was interviewed and agreed with Lord Baker. The whole topic is exceedingly tricky for the MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, Gordon Brown. Mr Field argued that the would-be PM Brown’s repeated interest in Britishness owes everything to his concern at governing nations (England and Wales) from a seat in a semi-independent Scotland.