So Ed Miliband’s statement that a Labour government led by him would actually do something needs to be read in the historical context, and is probably not worth a great deal as promises go. Besides, at this stage his suggestion of it becoming some sort of Senate with regionally-elected representatives has not been thought through a great deal – apparently that’s to be left to the constitutional convention that he plans to establish. Giving them a few years – perhaps the whole term of a parliament – is enough to sound like a commitment to radical reform whilst leaving Miliband with a cunning ruse to kick the issue immediately into the long grass.
It raises a question, though, about the purpose of the constitutional convention itself. Slowly but surely, he’s announcing all the decisions in principle before it’s even established – the second chamber will be retained with similar functions, but with the method of election to be determined; there will be more power delegated to cities; there will not be two or more different classes of MP; the list grows.
Setting up a convention to carry out a thorough review of the constitution sounds like a radical idea, but it increasingly looks like it’s going to be little more than a means of getting someone else to put the flesh on the bones of an already determined Labour policy.
Still, sounding radical whilst delaying action is a familiar approach. It’s been successfully deployed by many of his predecessors, so why wouldn’t it work for him too? I suspect that their lordships will still be around for a few more decades yet, sadly.