New Paper on the Human Rights Act

Repeal of the Human Rights Act, its replacement with a British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities, and withdrawal from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights are core parts of the constitutional programme of the newly-elected Conservative government. For this reason, the recently-published Constitution Society and UK Constitutional Law Association paper, “‘Common Sense’ or Confusion? The Human Rights Act and the Conservative Party” by Stephen Dimelow and Alison L Young, available online, is of particular salience.

The enactment of the Human Rights Act 1998 was undoubtedly a significant moment in the United Kingdom’s legal and political history. But while many view it as a positive development, many others view it much more negatively, regularly voicing the need for far reaching reforms. Of the main Westminster parties, unhappiness with it has long been most prominent in the ranks of the Conservative Party. The publication of a policy document in October 2014 entitled ‘Protecting Human Rights in the UK: The Conservatives’ Proposals for Changing Britain’s Human Rights Laws’, was an important step towards understanding both what the Conservative Party believes is wrong with the current regime and how it plans to resolve these perceived problems. This paper scrutinises the Conservative Party’s proposals in an attempt to determine the Conservative Government’s likely success in both achieving the proposed reforms and addressing the perceived problems. 

Read more ›

28th April 2015

A United Kingdom Constitutional Convention

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Reform, Decentralisation and Devolution in the UK has published its paper ‘A Parliament for Reform 2015-2020′ which can be downloaded here.

The paper includes the following proposed wording for inclusion in the manifestos of all parties at the coming General Election:

“We will establish a UK Constitutional Convention to mark the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta in 2015. The Convention will operate independent of government and will include members of the public as well as representatives of the political parties, local authorities and the nations and regions of the UK. Members of the public will make up more than half of the total membership.

Sitting for no longer than a year, the Convention will consider, and publish recommendations on:

  1. The relationship between the nations, and all parts within the UK, including their fair representation in the Westminster Parliament.
  2. Arrangements for the governance of England.
  3. Other issues that may require the attention of a successor Convention.
We will bring before Parliament proposals to respond to the recommendations of the Convention within six months of its reporting.”

12th March 2015

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

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

‘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