For a few short months, both Parliament and the media resounded to the sound of clarion calls for political reform. Despite the absence of war, revolution, or other traditional stimuli, Britain was, according to commentator Timothy Garton-Ash, on the cusp of a “constitutional moment.”
This low period generated a movement to tie together the confusing mess of laws, precedents, and gentlemen’s agreements that make up Britain’s “unwritten constitution,” to create a new system that would reenergize the nation’s politics and restore the trust of its people.
Suddenly, the corridors of Westminster were crackling with ideas once more. Hoping to encourage ordinary people to break career politicians’ virtual monopoly over Parliament, the Conservatives proposed using US-style “open primaries” to select new candidates. The Liberal Democrats (Britain’s third party) suggested readjusting the political system to ensure fairer representation for minorities. Labour and others proposed replacing the appointed House of Lords with an elected senate.
All were measures aimed at expanding the British voters’ stake in their own political system. But well-intentioned as they were, not one proposed reform made it much further than the drawing board. As fall came, stories of corruption at home gave way to news of electoral chaos in Afghanistan, and the summer’s electric atmosphere fizzled. The constitutional moment, it seemed, had passed.