The constitution

May 1, 1998

Tony Blair's government is one year old today. What challenges lie ahead, what has it achieved so far and, if Labour celebrates ten years in power, how will Britain look in 2007? The experts give their verdicts.

The government has moved faster and further on the constitution than on anything else. There have been bills on a Scottish parliament, a Welsh assembly, a Northern Ireland assembly, and a new form of local government for London, all to be elected by proportional systems. Accompanying them has been an unprecedented use of referendums, implicitly questioning the sovereignty of Westminster.

There have also been clear moves on reforming the House of Lords, on freedom of information and on human rights. The government has been more cautious on changing the Westminster electoral system and on European convergence. The choice of constitutional priorities simply reflects popular attitudes.

The constitution in 2007

There will be a greater variety of centres of power. The UK will be part of a European Monetary Union. A changed electoral system for Westminster will entrench the centre-left in power for many decades. So much will be desired by Labour modernisers. But the new governing system will be fissiparous, because the old British imperial polity will no longer have any obvious purpose. There will have been high-profile conflicts between Scotland and Westminster, and the Scottish National Party will be leading a Scottish consensus that the 1997 devolution settlement was inadequate. Wales will have taken to devolution enthusiastically as a self-confident European region, and Ireland will be on the way to a confederal arrangement for the whole island. But whatever the problems it will be generally accepted that the Blair government was the most constitutionally innovative since 1832, shaping how these islands are governed for the next century.

Lindsay Paterson is professor of educational policy, Moray House Institute, Edinburgh.

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