‘Entrenchment and the United Kingdom constitution’ – new discussion paper

In recent times developments in the UK system have suggested a more widespread attraction to the idea that some constitutional rules should have a protected position, and should not be as easy to alter as more regular laws and arrangements. Current constitutional turmoil may make entrenchment of this kind a necessity, though to do so would entail a challenge to more traditional constitutional traditions.

In ‘Entrenchment and the United Kingdom constitution’, Andrew Blick considers the different options available for any effort to entrench constitutional principles and provisions.

Download this paper here. 

16th December 2014

New paper by Scott Kelly: The slow death of the ‘Efficient Secret’

The Constitution Society’s paper, ‘The slow death of the “Efficient Secret”: The rise of MP independence, its causes and its implications’ by Scott Kelly, is available online.

In recent years, MPs from the main political parties have become increasingly rebellious, defying their Whips on a regular basis. While this trend has been thoroughly analysed, the reasons behind it and the consequences of it have not received comparable attention. This pamphlet assesses the causes and constitutional implications of this dramatic development in the workings of UK political institutions.

The author concludes that the growth in rebellion, more usefully described as the rise of MP independence, coincides with the ‘professionalisation’ of the job of being an MP and, in particular, the increasing amount of time MPs devote to constituency work. In the tug-of-war between the national party and the local constituency for an MP’s attention, it is the constituency that is gaining greater pulling power. The pull of the constituency has important implications for constitutional principles such as Collective Responsibility, that lies at the heart of accountable government in the UK. Read more ›

25th November 2014

‘Electoral Collision Course?’ paper

The Constitution Society paper ‘Electoral Collision Course? The Boundaries and the Register after May 2015’ by Lewis Baston is available online.

A common complaint about the constitutional reform programme pursued by the Labour governments of 1997–2010 was that it was disjointed. The same problem has recurred under the Coalition since 2010, even in those bits of ‘the biggest shake up of our democracy since the Great Reform Act of 1832’ (Nick Clegg, 2010) that have been seen through to completion.

Two of these changes have created a particularly malign combination. These are the changes that were introduced in 2011 to the way parliamentary constituency boundaries are drawn, which were paused rather than cancelled in 2013, and the radical changes to the basis of electoral registration.

After May 2015 the two measures will collide horribly. The current government intends (subject to Parliamentary approval) to purge the electoral registers in late 2015. Even if (and this is doubtful) Individual Electoral Registration produces a more complete and accurate register in due course, the post- transitional register in December 2015 is likely to be severely incomplete. Read more ›

28th October 2014

Young People and the Constitution ‘Albion’ event

As part of its Young People and the Constitution series, the Constitution Society is co-curating with the Electoral Reform Society a debate taking place at the Bush Theatre, London, on 13 October.

The event starts at 10.00 p.m. after a performance of ‘Albion’ by Chris Thompson. Discussion will take issues raised in the play as its starting point.
 
The debate is free to those who book for the play (which commences at 7.30 p.m.) but tickets for the debate still have to be booked separately.
 

9th October 2014

‘How not to change the constitution’: Opinion paper by Nat le Roux

A paper by the co-founder and former Director of The Constitution Society, Nat le Roux, is published online today. It discusses the handling of the Scottish referendum, its aftermath, and the implications for the way in which constitutional reform takes place in the UK.

The paper expresses the personal views of the author.

Download a copy here. 

24th September 2014

After the Referendum…

Political developments around the ‘No’ vote in Scotland last Thursday have highlighted the salience of two recent papers published by The Constitution Society, both available online:

After the Referendum: Options For a Constitutional Convention, by Alan Renwick, was produced in partnership with Unlock Democracy. The pamphlet argued that, whatever the result of Scotland’s independence referendum, careful constitutional thinking would be needed. It examined how such constitution-making should take place. It set out the options, gathered evidence from around the world on how these options might work, and weighed the advantages and disadvantages of each alternative. It concluded that constitutional proposals in the UK should best be developed by a convention comprising a mixture of ordinary members of the public and politicians; and that these proposals should be put to a referendum. This approach, the paper argued, offers the best route to high-quality debate, stronger democratic engagement, and, ultimately, deeper legitimacy for our governing structures.

‘If Scotland says ‘No’: What Next For The Union?’ examined the implications of a ‘No’ vote for the UK constitution. It concluded that a ‘no’ vote would not mean ‘no change’, and that it was very likely that unionist parties would adopt proposals for more devolution. It examined the possible consequences for Scotland and for the Union as a whole. To produce this paper,  The Constitution Society brought together three leading think tanks from across the political spectrum to explore these questions and propose some possible answers. With contributions from Professor Michael Keating, Magnus Linklater, Jim Gallagher and Philip Blond, this collaboration with CentreForum, the Fabian Society and ResPublica set the scene for the post-referendum debate.

22nd September 2014

‘Distinguishing Constitutional Legislation’ paper

The Constitution Society’s latest paper ‘Distinguishing Constitutional Legislation: a modest proposal’ by Andrew Blick, Nat le Roux and David Howarth is now available online.

In most democratic states, the mechanisms for constitutional change are clearly separated from mechanisms for enacting ‘ordinary’ legislation. They are also designed to make any significant alteration in existing constitutional arrangements a relatively difficult undertaking. In Britain, however, there is no legislative process for constitutional change other than ordinary legislation, nor is there any clear or generally agreed distinction between constitutional and other laws.

The potential shortcomings of this approach have become increasingly evident in the period since 1997, which has been marked by frequent, sometimes hectic, constitutional change. Constitutional modification is now an established part of every government’s legislative programme. If elected governments too often seem to amend these rules in a self-interested way then trust in the legitimacy of the political system may be progressively undermined.

This paper considers the options and proposes a mechanism whereby Parliament could identify and impose the special procedures it deems appropriate for legislation of first-class constitutional importance. It concludes that if Parliament wants to, it has the power to bring about a better approach in this area.

19th August 2014

‘The Reality of the British Constitution’ paper by David R. Howarth and Shona Wilson Stark

A paper by David R. Howarth (University of Cambridge) and Shona Wilson Stark (Christ’s College, Cambridge) is available online. It breaks new ground in its assessment of the British constitution.

Using interviews with senior UK officials about their views of the rules of recognition, change and adjudication, it concludes that there may be in effect three different constitutions operational in this country.

An abstract follows. The full paper is available on the SSRN website here.

  Read more ›

15th August 2014

‘Unconstitutional Democracy?’ discussion paper by Nat le Roux available

A paper by the founding Director of The Constitution Society, Nat le Roux, is published online today, discussing the background and underlying constitutional tendencies against which the Society was formed in 2009.

The paper expresses the personal views of the author, but provides an insight into the decision to establish the organisation and the problems it was intended to address.

Download a copy of the paper here. 

30th July 2014

‘Mandates, Manifestos and Coalitions’ paper online

The Constitution Society’s latest paper Mandates, Manifestos and Coalitions: UK Party Politics after 2010 by Thomas Quinn is now available online.

One of the most important assumptions in British politics since 1945 has been the existence of single-party, majority governments deriving their mandates from voters. The hung parliament and subsequent coalition government of 2010 therefore raised some difficult questions about the operation of the democratic system.

If no party enjoyed a parliamentary majority, what sense did it make to speak of mandates? What was the role of manifestos if no party possessed a majority to implement one in full? What was the democratic legitimacy of the comprehensive coalition agreement on public policy goals negotiated by the coalition parties after the election? What is the relationship between manifestos and coalition agreements? Can mandates follow from coalition agreements? Ultimately, is it necessary to rethink the basic relationship between voters, parties and governments in the UK political system?

Thomas Quinn is Senior Lecturer in Government at the University of Essex. His research focuses on British party politics, and he as published on party leadership elections, modernisation in the Labour and Conservative parties, the UK coalition agreement of 2010, and the UK party system.

15th July 2014