You know a country is in trouble when it starts messing with its constitution. Rejigging the rules was a regular activity in Latin America. Does anyone know how many constitutions Peru or Argentina has gone through? Political scientists stopped counting decades ago.
Brown is now talking about a new constitutional reform bill. What he has in mind isn't clear, but term limits for MPs and an elected Lords look two likely reforms. In a belated attempt to calm voter anger over corruption in the Commons, he is going to cobble together a bill before autumn, so that Parliament can quickly approve it when it returns from its recess. Whatever he conjures up, it will be ill-conceived. and largely driven by a panic and fear.
It is ironic that in the dying months of this discredited government, that they should be pushing for constitutional reform. Since the day it was elected, New Labour has been messing with the rules; we have new parliaments in Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales, elected Mayors, the removal of hereditary peers, the abolition of the Lord Chancellor plus a host of restrictions to civil liberties.
Any constitution reform can only do three things. It can; a) restrict politicians, b) empower politicians, and c) redistribute power amongst politicians. If, for example, we have an elected Lords, the Commons will be weaker. With any change in the rule book, there are always winners and losers.
Constitutional change will not make our politicians more honest. It won't pay off our debts and it won't resolve our economic difficulties. Moreover, once you start reconfiguring the rules, it is hard to stop. This is the key lesson that Latin America and their experience of constitutional change.
Besides, Brown has no mandate to mess around with the constitution. At the last election, there was nothing in the New Labour manifesto about a new reform bill.
However, this difficulty could easily be resolved if he called an election for the autumn. He would present his ideas for change to the electorate, who could approve it by re-electing him and New Labour.
Somehow, I doubt that his commitment to empowering the people extends that far.