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by RAY FLEMING

IN the Commons yesterday the Prime Minister announced a number of important constitutional changes. These included long overdue measures to separate the executive, the legislature and the judiciary - essentially by abolishing the post of the Lord Chancellor whose role as a member of the Cabinet with responsibility for appointing judges and duties as a judge has been held for too long. Mr Blair said these “essential measures of constitutional reform” would be subject to a period of consultation and in due course would have to passed in legislative form by both Houses of Parliament. Or rather, that's how it should have gone. Instead, Mr Blair had been told by the Speaker (who, for some reason, was absent) to put in an apearance to explain the chaos and confusion that surrounded the announcement of last week's Cabinet re-shuffle and, in particular, the changes affecting the Lord Chancellor's role. So Mr Blair was on the defensive and the leader of the Opposition, Iain Duncan Smith was on the warpath, shouting at the Prime Minister at regular intervals that “Nobody believes a single word he says any more”. Thus the substance of the changes that the Government is proposing was lost in a welter of accusation and counter-accusation about the way in which they emerged from Downing Street. Mr Blair failed to explain how constitutional change became mixed-up with a Cabinet re-shuffle and Mr Smith failed to say what his party thought about the proposed reforms. It was left to Charles Kennedy to strike the right balance praising the reforms but regretting the sloppy way in which they were launched.