New Research Paper by Professor George Jones: ‘The Power of the Prime Minister: 50 Years On’

New Constitution Society Research Paper: ‘The Power of the Prime Minister: 50 Years on‘, by Professor George Jones.

With a new Prime Minister taking office today, The Constitution Society is publishing a pamphlet providing a timely discussion of the nature of the British Premiership.

A little over 50 years ago in 1965 the journal Parliamentary Affairs published an article by George Jones titled “The Prime Minister’s Power”. He wrote it against a then fashionable view. According to this outlook the British Constitution had radically changed. It was held that the power of the prime minister had grown to such an extent that it had supplanted cabinet government with a system of almost presidential government or of an elected monarch. Contrary to such theses Jones concluded “The Prime Minister is the leading figure in the Cabinet whose voice carries most weight. But he is not the all-powerful individual which many have claimed him to be. His office has great potentialities, but the use made of them depends on many variables, the personality, temperament, and ability of the Prime Minister, what he wants to achieve and the methods he uses. It depends also on his colleagues, their personalities and temperaments and abilities, what they want to do and their methods. A Prime Minister who can carry his colleagues with him can be in a very powerful position, but he is only as strong as they let him be.” This last sentence has been much quoted in later years, especially by students writing their essays. This pamphlet updates the Jones thesis. Taking into account all that has transpired in the intervening period, it concludes that the basic principle Jones advanced in 1965 remains true. 

13th July 2016

“The EU referendum and some paradoxes of democratic legitimacy” – by Nat le Roux of The Constitution Society

In a parliamentary democracy, referendums are potentially destabilising because they generate alternative, competing, sources of democratic legitimacy. A majority of elected representatives may hold one view on a matter of major national importance. If a referendum demonstrates that a majority of the public hold the opposite view, which manifestation of democratic legitimacy should trump the other? 

In Britain, Parliamentary Sovereignty is the governing norm of the Constitution: it would seem to follow that a Parliamentary majority can always overturn a referendum result. The reality, at least in the particular circumstances of the EU referendum, is less clear cut:

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8th July 2016

Pushing The Boundaries of Democratic Practice: Individual Registration and Boundaries, Revisited

The Constitution Society paper: ‘Pushing The Boundaries of Democratic Practice: Individual Registration and Boundaries, Revisited’, by Lewis Baston is available online.

This paper by Lewis Baston follows up on his previous Constitution Society pamphlet, Electoral Collision Course, published in 2014. The 2014 report dealt with the interaction between two apparently unrelated changes to electoral law. These were the transition to Individual Electoral Registration (IER) which was then underway, and the new mechanism for distributing and designating parliamentary constituencies established under the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011. Baston warned then that: ‘If the register numbers in December 2015 are inaccurate, the boundary review will contaminate the entire basis of the electoral system.’ In this paper he argues this has duly come to pass.

by Lewis Baston. This paper presents the personal views of the author and not those of The Constitution Society, which publishes it as a contribution to debate on the subject.

See the earlier Lewis Baston pamphlet on this subject here.

13th June 2016

New Paper by Lewis Baston: ‘Pushing The Boundaries of Democratic Practice: Individual Registration and Boundaries, Revisited’

New Constitution Society pamphlet: ‘Pushing The Boundaries of Democratic Practice: Individual Registration and Boundaries, Revisited’, by Lewis Baston.

This paper by Lewis Baston follows up on his previous Constitution Society pamphlet, Electoral Collision Course, published in 2014. The 2014 report dealt with the interaction between two apparently unrelated changes to electoral law. These were the transition to Individual Electoral Registration (IER) which was then underway, and the new mechanism for distributing and designating parliamentary constituencies established under the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011. Baston warned then that: ‘If the register numbers in December 2015 are inaccurate, the boundary review will contaminate the entire basis of the electoral system.’ In this paper he argues this has duly come to pass.

This paper presents the personal views of the author and not those of The Constitution Society, which publishes it as a contribution to debate on the subject.

See the earlier Lewis Baston pamphlet on this subject here.

10th June 2016

New Paper by Richard Gordon QC and Rowena Moffatt: ‘Brexit: The Immediate Legal Consequences’

The Constitution Society Paper, Brexit: The Immediate Legal Consequences’, by Richard Gordon QC and Rowena Moffatt, is available online.

The outcome of the referendum on 23 June 2016 will, in practice, bind the government on the question of whether or not the United Kingdom will remain in the EU. This paper does not engage in the issues about ‘remain’ or ‘leave’ about which it is neutral. But if there is a vote for Brexit the legal implications of such an outcome will suddenly occupy centre-stage. Thus far, they have hardly been addressed. Here, the authors explore the two pressing and immediate legal consequences of Brexit. Part 1 examines the constitutional consequences of a vote to leave the EU and Part 2 focuses on the consequences of such a vote for EU citizenship rights. The thesis presented is that identifying the immediate legal effects of Brexit can neither be avoided nor deferred and that, once identified, they need to be planned for well in advance of any exit from the EU. Constitutionally, these legal challenges encompass the uncertainties surrounding the operation of Article 50 TEU regulating the exit of member states, the complexities of uncoupling EU law from domestic law, and the implications of Brexit for devolution including the engagement and justiciability of the Sewel Convention. There are also likely to be substantive legal effects on EU citizenship rights that are vested and that may become the subject of legal proceedings either in the UK or elsewhere in the EU.

This pamphlet presents the views of the authors and not those of The Constitution Society, which publishes it as a contribution to debate on this important subject. 

20th May 2016

The Crisis of the Constitution, 2nd Edition

The general election of 2015 answered conclusively, to the surprise of most commentators, the question, ‘Who governs Britain?’ by yielding a single-party government with an overall majority in the House of Commons. But it did not answer two of the fundamental constitutional questions facing Britain. The first is how Britain is to be governed in an era of party fragmentation in which the electoral system, even when, as in 2015, it produces a single-party majority government, yields one enjoying just over one-third of the popular vote.

The second and even more fundamental question is – will there still be a Britain to be governed, will the United Kingdom remain in being, or has the outcome of the election in Scotland, where 56 of the 59 seats were won by the SNP, given an irreversible push to separatism.

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. In the second, post-2015 General Election, edition of this pamphlet, Vernon Bogdanor addresses these issues.

Download this paper as a pdf here.

by Vernon Bogdanor (This pamphlet presents the personal views of the author and not those of The Constitution Society, which publishes it as a contribution to debate on this important subject). 

17th March 2016

New paper by Professor Vernon Bogdanor: ‘The Crisis of The Constitution’, 2nd Edition

The Constitution Society paper, ‘The Crisis of the Constitution’ (2nd Edition) by Professor Vernon Bogdanor, is available online.

The general election of 2015 answered conclusively, to the surprise of most commentators, the question, ‘Who governs Britain?’ by yielding a single-party government with an overall majority in the House of Commons. But it did not answer two of the fundamental constitutional questions facing Britain. The first is how Britain is to be governed in an era of party fragmentation in which the electoral system, even when, as in 2015, it produces a single-party majority government, yields one enjoying just over one-third of the popular vote.

The second and even more fundamental question is – will there still be a Britain to be governed, will the United Kingdom remain in being, or has the outcome of the election in Scotland, where 56 of the 59 seats were won by the SNP, given an irreversible push to separatism. Read more ›

3rd February 2016

New paper by Professor Dawn Oliver: ‘Constitutional Guardians’

The Constitution Society paper,‘Constitutional Guardians: The House of Lords’ by Professor Dawn Oliver, is available online.

This pamphlet explores the arrangements for guardianship of the UK constitution and its values and the role of the House of Lords in particular.

Effective constitutional guardianship is important in any liberal democracy. In most democracies the courts have important roles in deciding whether laws breach the constitution and striking them down if so. This is not a role that the courts are able to perform in respect of legislation passed by the UK Parliament, since it possesses legislative supremacy. Protection of constitutional values in the UK is therefore essentially a matter for parliamentarians, and particularly a responsibility of the second chamber and its committees: party political partisanship is less strong there than in the Commons, the government does not have a majority in the House of Lords, and an independent and professional element in the membership of the Lords enables that chamber to carry out its guardianship roles authoritatively and fairly. However the composition of that chamber presents political problems for the guardianship role which need to be overcome.

(This pamphlet presents the personal views of the author and not those of The Constitution Society, which publishes it as a contribution to debate on this important subject). 

19th December 2015

‘Labour and the electoral system: The myth of defeat and the chimera of victory’ – by Nat le Roux of The Constitution Society

The political commentariat comprehensively failed to predict either the Conservative victory in the May general election or the emergence of Jeremy Corbyn as the eventual victor of the Labour leadership contest. Following a perhaps inappropriately brief period of reflection, the mainstream media have lighted on a consensus interpretation of these events which many in the Parliamentary Labour Party apparently share. Two soundbites of received wisdom now seem to frame most conversations about the result of the general election and the future of the party. They can be summarised succinctly:

Labour lost the 2015 general election because it lost the argument with the Conservatives on the economy’

‘Labour is unelectable in 2020 with Jeremy Corbyn as leader’ – and is thus by implication electable under a different leader

An analysis of the electoral arithmetic provides very limited support for either proposition.  

Read more ›

4th November 2015

New Advisory Board members announced

We are delighted to be able to announce four new appointments to The Constitution Society Advisory Board. They are: Prof. Vernon Bogdanor, The Rt. Hon. the Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, The Rt. Hon. Dominic Grieve MP and Sebastian Payne.

Professor Vernon Bogdanor CBE

Vernon is Research Professor at the Institute for Contemporary British History, King’s College London. He was formerly Professor of Government at Oxford University and Senior Tutor and Vice-Principle at Brasenose College, Oxford. He has written widely on government and politics. Vernon has been an adviser to government and parliamentary bodies. He is a fellow of the British Academy.

The Rt. Hon. the Lord Foulkes of Cumnock

George Foulkes is a Labour member of the House of Lords. He was a Member of the House of Commons from 1979 – 2005 and a Member of the Scottish Parliament from 2007 – 2011. From 1997 to 2001 George was Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Department for International Development and from 2001 – 2002 he was Minister of State at the Scotland Office.

The Rt. Hon. Dominic Grieve MP

Dominic has been Conservative MP for Beaconsfield since 1997 after working as a barrister and serving in the Territorial Army and as a Hammersmith councillor. He first joined the front bench of the opposition in 1999 as a spokesperson on Constitutional Affairs. He was Attorney General from 2010 to 2014. Presently he is a member of the House of Commons Standards and Privileges Committee.

Sebastian Payne

Sebastian is President of the United Kingdom Constitutional Law Association, a Lecturer in Public Law at the Kent Law School and a Barrister of the Inner Temple. As well as publishing on the law relating to terrorism he is the editor (with Professor Maurice Sunkin) of The Nature of the Crown (Oxford University Press 1999).

Details of all Advisory Board members can be found here: http://www.consoc.org.uk/other-content/about-us/who-we-are/

29th June 2015