Recent suggestions that one of Gordon Brown's first actions as Prime Minister would be to promote a codified constitution has reignited a debate as old as the nation. Where that debate leads could have an unparalleled impact on the way public power is used and how we all relate to and work with the public sector.
As many of you will be aware, the UK is amongst the handful of countries (like Israel and New Zealand) whose rules about the use of state power and resources are not contained in a single, written document. Instead our constitution is extrapolated and deduced as necessary from a series of unwritten norms and conventions. Traditionally the flexibility that this has afforded our governments has been considered advantageous but Gordon Brown has recently suggested that it could underlie a breakdown of trust between the people and the government.
Adopting a written constitution could be one way in which the roles, responsibilities, rights and powers of all people and arms of the state could be clarified and re-focused. The key to that refocusing will not lie in the actual task of writing the document itself, but in resolving the necessary questions about what we think those roles and responsibilities are and what we would want them to be. Recent legal arguments about the definition of 'public authority' will have nothing on the arguments that could surround those questions. But in those arguments will lie many opportunities – opportunities to take the lessons learned from the devolution of power to Scotland and Wales, the introduction of the Human Rights Act and membership of the EC and to ensure that any constitution creates the clarity that individuals and businesses will need whilst ensuring the trust and protection that Gordon Brown advocates.