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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 July 2007, 16:33 GMT 17:33 UK
Why Brown led on constitution
By Nick Assinder
Political correspondent, BBC News website

Gordon Brown's first Commons statement as prime minister was classic Brown - weighty, strategic, littered with traps for the opposition and with just a sprinkle of re-announcements and spin on top.

Gordon Brown and Cabinet
Mr Brown made constitutional changes a priority
There were very big changes proposed, such as creating a written Bill of Rights for the first time, and there were some minor ones, such as repealing the ban on demonstrations near parliament.

There were large sections that are so open to discussion and debate over coming weeks, months and maybe even years that it is hard to tell how significant they may be - such as creating that Bill of Rights or changing the voting system in elections.

And there was a bit of good old-fashioned Gordon Brown, Budget-style spin.

For example, despite hints this was something new, the slightly re-vamped code of ministerial conduct will still be overseen by an individual appointed by the prime minister and who can only launch investigations at the prime minister's request.

There was certainly one change that will apply immediately and which might have a swift impact. The attorney general, Baroness Scotland, has decided she will no longer make key prosecutions in individual criminal cases.

Go to war

In other words, if there are moves to prosecute individuals in the cash-for-honours affair, the attorney general will not rule on it - something that had previously sparked controversy.

David Cameron
Mr Cameron welcomed some measures
Issues of national security will be exempted, so a decision to halt an investigation such as the recent BAE-Saudi one would still be allowed.

And there was a re-announcement of his decision to give MPs the right to vote on whether Britain goes to war.

The traps for the opposition parties were pretty clear. This was an attempt by the prime minister to push them onto the back foot by promising to offer cross-party talks in an attempt to forge a genuine consensus in the interests of the whole country.

So, when David Cameron got to his feet to punch some holes in the package - notably over his opposition to the continuation of the human rights act, his calls for English votes for English MPs and a new relationship with the EU - he risked sounding unnecessarily confrontational and dismissive.

It allowed Mr Brown to throw his own words about wanting an end to "Punch and Judy politics" back at him.

Broken trust

In fact, Mr Cameron has some genuine quarrels with this huge package of proposed reforms.

Jack Straw
Mr Straw swill lead the consultation process
But he was also eager to make some political points, specifically that the man who had spent a decade as chancellor attempting to avoid telling Parliament of his stealth taxes and destroying trust was not best placed to talk about restoring it.

The constitution was not the cause of broken trust, broken promises were, he declared.

How all this will turn out is largely unclear and the biggest constitutional changes are now going to be put out to debate between the parties and with the public, with Justice Secretary Jack Straw leading the effort.

No one doubts that Mr Brown wants to tackle the breakdown of trust between politicians and the public head on. He knows that if he is to push through other radical reforms he must start rebuilding that bond.

Similarly, he is eager to distance himself from the Blair government which, in the wake of the Iraq war, was accused of being largely responsible for the breakdown in trust.

Much of the package will be welcomed by all sides and is likely to be enacted fairly swiftly.

But more, and probably the most difficult elements, may simply become bogged down in lengthy arguments, fail to reach a consensus and never come to fruition.

Brown Commons statement on constitutional reform

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