New paper by Vernon Bogdanor: The Crisis of the Constitution

The Constitutions Society’s paper, ‘The Crisis of the Constitution: The General Election and the Future of the United Kingdom’ by Vernon Bogdanor, is available online.

Who governs Britain? That is the question being put to the voters on 7th May. But there are other questions lurking in the background, constitutional questions, that are the subject of this pamphlet. The first of them is – how is Britain to be governed in an era of party fragmentation in which the electoral system either fails to yield a single-party majority government; or, if it does yield such a government, it is likely to be a government enjoying little over one-third of the popular vote?

The second and even more fundamental question is – will there remain a Britain to be governed, or will the election give a further push to those forces in Scotland calling for separation? But these are not the only constitutional questions that Britain will face. There are in addition a European Question, a Human Rights Question and an English Question. The constitution, which many politicians hoped might have been disposed of after the Scottish referendum, has returned to the political agenda with a vengeance. Vernon Bogdanor discusses both the problems and possible solutions. Read more ›

12th February 2015

‘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

‘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

‘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

 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