‘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

Mandates, Manifestos and Coalitions – Report Launch and Seminar

The Constitution Society is delighted to invite you to the launch of a new pamphlet: ‘Mandates, Manifestos and Coalitions: UK Party Politics after 2010′, by Tom Quinn, Senior Lecturer in Government at the University of Essex. The pamphlet considers the democratic implications of the hung Parliament and coalition government of 2010, asking whether it is necessary to rethink the basic relationship between voters, parties and governments in the UK political system.

 The event is organised in conjunction with Graham Allen MP and takes place Tuesday 15th July 3:00-4:30pm in House of Commons, Committee Room 19. The report’s author will speak, with Prof. Vernon Bogdanor of King’s College London responding. Questions from the audience will follow the two speakers.

 This will be the first in a series considering different aspects of the UK constitution, intended to feed into the work of the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, chaired by Mr. Allen, on the possibility of codifying the UK constitution.

A hard copy of the report will be available on the afternoon. We plan to film the event for subsequent online distribution. 

To RSVP please email events@constitutionsoc.org.uk

 A summary of the paper is set out below: Read more ›

30th June 2014

‘Options For a Constitutional Convention’ paper online

The Constitution Society’s latest paper, After the Referendum: Options For a Constitutional Convention, produced in partnership with Unlock Democracy, is now available online.

Whatever the result of Scotland’s independence referendum, careful constitutional thinking will be needed. If Scots vote Yes, Scotland will need a new constitution and the rest of the UK will have to rethink its governing structures. Even in the event of a No vote, everyone agrees that the shape of the Union will need to change over the coming years.

This paper examines how such constitution-making should take place. It sets out the options, gathers evidence from around the world on how these options might work, and weighs the advantages and disadvantages of each alternative. It concludes that constitutional proposals in the UK should best be developed by a convention comprising a mixture of ordinary members of the public and politicians; these proposals should be put to a referendum. This approach, the paper argues, offers the best route to high-quality debate, stronger democratic engagement, and, ultimately, deeper legitimacy for our governing structures.


12th May 2014

New Director Appointed

The Constitution Society is pleased to announce the appointment of Dr. Andrew Blick as Director. Based at King’s College London, Andrew has extensive experience working in political, public policy and academic environments.  He has written on a wide range of constitutional issues, including special advisers to ministers, the contemporary significance of Magna Carta, the office of Prime Minister and the possibility of codifying the United Kingdom constitution.

Andrew said:

“In the relatively short time since it was established in 2009, The Constitution Society has already become well-established in its field. It has a valuable niche as a provider of astute analysis, taken seriously by the people who count. I am pleased to have the chance to help build on these achievements to date. With the Scottish referendum imminent, followed by a General Election, and possible challenges to the position of the UK within the European Union, it is an exciting period to be working on constitutional issues.”

In his consultancy role at The Constitution Society Andrew will focus on strategic direction, research programmes and dissemination. He will continue as Lecturer in Politics and Contemporary History at King’s.

Read more ›

8th May 2014

Audio of Lord Steel and Dr Meg Russell discussion on Lords Reform

The Constitution Society was pleased to work with our friends at the Constitution Unit to deliver a high profile discussion on the latest attempts at Lords Reform. Chaired by Dr Ruth Fox from the Hansard Society with Lord Steel and, constitutional expert, Dr Meg Russell, the event was attended by numerous members of the House of Lords and other key stakeholders.

To promote a free and frank discussion questions and comments were raised under the Chatham House Rule, but we are able to provide an audio recording of both Dr Russell’s and Lord Steel’s interventions. 

The issue of whether the current bill constitutes a threat to the current model of Commons and Lords relations was addressed by both speakers. The potential for Peers to ‘retire’ from the Lords and stand for election to the Commons was raised by Dr Russell and her article outlining her concerns can be read here.

The recording of the meeting is available to listen to here.

7th April 2014

Judicial Review and the Rule of Law: Who is in Control?

Judicial review faces an uncertain future. The government’s proposed reforms in this area – not least, restricting who may bring a claim – are attracting controversy.

 Our new report takes a step back from the heat of that debate to illuminate the broader picture from a constitutional perspective. What are the constitutional implications of attempts by the executive to limit the ability of individuals or organisations to challenge its decisions – and the power of the courts to rule on the lawfulness of its actions?

 What is the impact on the rule of law and the relationship between institutions of state? What are the potential consequences of altering the constitutional balance between our judges and Parliament? And why is this issue so important to the government, to Parliament and to lawyers?

Download this paper as a pdf here.


by Amy Street.

24th March 2014

Risk Management: Government Lawyers and the Provision of Legal Advice within Whitehall

Government lawyers are a powerful and influential group within Whitehall, and as such they deserve greater understanding. Law and legality are now ever-present consideration in the policy and decision making process. Government cannot escape the reach of the law – if it ever could. The result is that lawyers have become more integrated into the policy and decision making process in Whitehall because of the increasing penetration of law into government. But because law is inescapable, and its effect uncertain, lawyers talk of legal risk rather than legality and illegality. Government lawyers see themselves not as ‘guardians’ but as managers of legal risk.

This short study examines the work of government lawyers in Whitehall, looking at the changes over the past thirty years in the way that legal advice has been provided. It examines the role of lawyers in the policy and decision making process, the hierarchy of legal advice and the professional norms that government lawyers adhere to. Finally, there is a case study of the role of government lawyers in the decision to use military force against Iraq in 2002-2003.

Download this paper as a pdf here.


by Dr Ben Yong.

24th March 2014

Parliamentary Privilege: Evolution or Codification?

Parliamentary privilege is essential to the functioning of a modern, democratic Parliament. Free speech in Parliament is as crucial now as it was when the Bill of Rights was enacted in the seventeenth century. However if Parliament has an ‘adversary’ in the twenty-first century it is no longer an over-powerful monarch but may be an over-powerful judiciary.

 While its constitutional importance remains paramount, the modern context of Parliamentary privilege has changed. Moreover, the word ‘privilege’ in our modern, democratic society has negative, elitist connotations. If the Houses are to justify privilege in the twenty-first century it is essential to convince the public that it remains a vital element in the functioning of Parliament in a democratic age.

 This paper examines whether this is best achieved by leaving things alone or by principled legislation. It considers the Government’s Green Paper on Parliamentary privilege and asks how real is the danger of judicial activism in the affairs of Parliament and whether that danger is increased or diminished by a new statue.

Download this paper as a pdf here.


by Richard Gordon Q.C. and Sir Malcolm Jack KCB, PhD, FSA.

24th March 2014

Where the Party Finance Debate Stands and Prospects for Reform

The Constitution Society is pleased to announce the following event from our friends at the McDougall Trust.

Speaker:  Professor Justin Fisher, Brunel University London

Chair:  Michael Steed, McDougall Trust

Venue: Conference Room, City Temple Conference Centre, Holborn Viaduct, London EC1A 2DE (link to map below)


About the topic: An opportunity to hear where the long-running debate stands on party finance and prospects for reform.

About the speaker: Justin Fisher is Professor of Political Science in the Politics and History department at Brunel University London.

Trust contact point: the Trust’s Administrator, Paul Wilder (telephone: 020 7620 1080 or e-mail: events@mcdougall.org.uk or post: 6 Chancel Street, London SE1 0UX). Reminders will be sent confirming event details. Do check the website for details of future workshops.

21st March 2014

Nat Le Roux gives evidence to the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee

Director of The Constitution Society Nat le Roux, gives evidence to the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee on the role and powers of the judiciary in the UK and elsewhere, with particular respect to the UK constitution and powers of judicial review.

The video of this can be viewed here.

Additionally please download our paper on Judicial Review and watch an expert panel debate the subject at the paper’s launch here.

10th March 2014