One of the premises of this blog is that when the same issue starts being addressed visibly by two different communities, then it’s likely to be a weak signal of some sort of change. And that seems to be happening now with concerns over the loss of civil liberties in the UK in the last decade, expecially since 2001.
For most of that time, Liberty – and a small collection of radical lawyers – along with the anti-ID card campaign NO2ID, have been the only people making these arguments, and it’s been easy – politically – to box them into a corner of the ‘they would say that, wouldn’t they?’, while playing the anti-terror card.
But the constitutional debate seems suddenly to have shifted with Blair’s resignation. Even before Brown’s remarks about a written constitution on emerging from Chancellor’s purdah, the issue had gained impetus.
Anthony Barnett at Open Democracy – usually a good bellwether on these things – had launched a blog-come-campaign, Our Kingdom, which is attracting energy from a range of contributors (in terms of their political views).
Last week, Jack Straw became (apparently) the first serving Cabinet Minister to say that he was in favour of a written constitution (at a Smith Institute event).
And beyond the political classes, there’s the imminent launch of a film called Taking Liberties, a documentary made by a young team of film-makers which will get a cinema release next month. To judge from previews, the approach seems to be more Michael Moore than Panorama. But as well as usual suspects such as Tony Benn, interviewees include Boris Johnson and the former Conservative Cabinet Minister Ken Clarke. (The trailer is here, and a preview last night was hosted by Vanity Fair).
There’s an argument made in Scotland (about the second devolution vote in 1997) that it succeeded because the ‘Constitutional Convention’ which was created after the first failed vote in the 1970s created a foundation which meant that people understood the issues; they had assimilated the need for change. It’s possible that the Power Commission, which published its final report a bit more than a year ago, has done something similar here.
And perhaps Charter 88 (now become Unlock Democracy following a merger) has had some impact on this as well. But I’m more sceptical about this.