UK constitutional reform

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RickLewis
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UK constitutional reform

Post by RickLewis »

Many historical philosophers had an interest in constitutions, and it's a longstanding aspect of political philosophy.

For instance, Plato and Aristotle considered the relative advantages and disadvantages of different forms of government. Aristotle and his students allegedly wrote descriptions of more than 170 different constitutions, including The Constitution of the Athenians. Plato's Republic is, in a way, an attempt at producing a constitution for a new type of society. John Locke actually wrote a constitution for the Colony of Carolina, and we all know that his Two Treatises of Government later influenced the Framers of the United States Constitution.

The UK is currently in a period of constitutional instability and there is quite widespread dissatisfaction with its political institutions. It used to be a unitary state, until in 1997 substantial powers were devolved to elected parliaments in Wales and Scotland (and later, to Northern Ireland). Since then the whole structure has begun to look lopsided and shaky. There is dissatisfaction with the First Past The Post voting system, and there are complaints about the unelected House of Lords. There is unhappiness with the way the voters in individual parts of the union can be outvoted on important questions by those in other parts (notably England, which contains about 80% of the UK's population). There is a renewed push for Scottish independence, despite the proposal being defeated in a referendum in 2014. Many in Scotland and elsewhere have suggested turning the UK into a federal union, partly to save it from collapse.

There are several groups now pushing for a new constitutional settlement on federal lines, but they have differing ideas and little public visibility. If there is to be fundamental constitutional reform, surely that should arise out of an open public debate? How would such a debate be structured, in order to be open to all, but also constructive, so that it didn't become a useless cacophony? I don't know. But a philosophy forum seems like a good place to kick off a conversation about a topic with lots of philosophical points of interest.

Below are various links to groups either calling for UK constitutional reform or offering platforms for debate of UK constitutional matters. Please feel free to add extra links on this subject, or to pitch in with any relevant ideas that occur to you.

Groups talking about constitutional reform include:

Constitution Reform Group:
https://www.constitutionreformgroup.co.uk
A group including politicians of different parties which has been pressing for federal reform and tried at least once to introduce legislation in parliament.

The Labour Party has quite a lot of people pressing for reform, including an official Labour constitutional commission:
https://labourlist.org/2021/01/constitu ... ederal-uk/
https://labourlist.org/2020/12/keir-sta ... ommission/
https://www.theguardian.com/politics/20 ... orm-for-uk

https://www.parliament.uk/globalassets/ ... ttenev.pdf

Gordon Brown:
https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/u ... ed-kingdom
(An article with the personal ideas of the former Prime Minister, but he is also involved in advising Labour's constitutional commission.)

The UK Govt is also considering constitutional issues:
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-56193743

There are also various academic forums:
The Constitution Society:
https://consoc.org.uk
("The Constitution Society is an independent, non-party educational foundation which works to promote informed debate about constitutional reform. We take no position on specific reform proposals but advocate better legislative standards and oppose ill-considered, piecemeal change.")

The Constitution Unit, University College London:
https://www.ucl.ac.uk/constitution-unit/

UK Constitutional Law Association:
https://ukconstitutionallaw.org
Impenitent
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Re: UK constitutional reform

Post by Impenitent »

perhaps the UK should start with a charter of rights for each citizen and limit what the government will/can do...

-Imp
RickLewis
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Re: UK constitutional reform

Post by RickLewis »

Do you mean like a Bill of Rights?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_of_rights

The list on this page for Bills of Rights in different countries includes the 1689 Bill of Rights Act (England) and 1689 Claim of Right Act (Scotland) as well as the Human Rights Act of 1998, which incorporates the rights from the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law.

Is this the kind of thing you have in mind, only extended? My understanding is that bills of right are usually rights of individuals but I suppose it would also be possible to have a charter imposing more general limitations on what powers governments can give themselves.
RickLewis
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Re: UK constitutional reform

Post by RickLewis »

Having said which, here is something I was recently told by Prof. Matt Qvortrup, a constitutional expert who is also our "Philosophy Shorts" columnist in Philosophy Now.

I may have the details wrong - any misunderstanding is down to me - but I think he said that one feature of the UK system is the doctrine of the sovereignty on Parliament, according to which no legislation that Parliament passes can bind its hands in the future. Therefore Parliament is always able to repeal acts it has made previously and make a new act instead. I'd have thought this was a fundamental problem if Parliament creates a guarantee like a Bill of Rights. On the other hand the 1689 one lasted for centuries without being repealed or overwritten by later legislation.
Impenitent
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Re: UK constitutional reform

Post by Impenitent »

RickLewis wrote: Fri Mar 12, 2021 8:04 pm Having said which, here is something I was recently told by Prof. Matt Qvortrup, a constitutional expert who is also our "Philosophy Shorts" columnist in Philosophy Now.

I may have the details wrong - any misunderstanding is down to me - but I think he said that one feature of the UK system is the doctrine of the sovereignty on Parliament, according to which no legislation that Parliament passes can bind its hands in the future. Therefore Parliament is always able to repeal acts it has made previously and make a new act instead. I'd have thought this was a fundamental problem if Parliament creates a guarantee like a Bill of Rights. On the other hand the 1689 one lasted for centuries without being repealed or overwritten by later legislation.
if rights come from government, they are malleable and ultimately worthless

if rights come from god or some other supreme authority they may be a bit more lasting...

but any parliament or congress can erode individual rights through civil action and law if the individuals allow it...

an armed populace helps keep the ruling class from becoming tyrannical although the leftists in control of America at the moment are doing their best to become said tyrants.

the underlying point being, if one has individual freedoms and rights as primary, the government is set up as secondary to serve said rights...

Leviathan exists in many forms...

one retains the right through one's might

-Imp
RickLewis
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Re: UK constitutional reform

Post by RickLewis »

We have a Queen, and I vaguely remember being told in civics classes in high school that her role was to safeguard the constitution. I still wonder if she could play that role, for example by refusing to sign constitutional amendments into law unless they have been ratified by a referendum. The might overcome the problem of guaranteeing rights without the slightly problematic measure of having to arm the whole population.
Impenitent
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Joined: Wed Feb 10, 2010 2:04 pm

Re: UK constitutional reform

Post by Impenitent »

RickLewis wrote: Mon Mar 22, 2021 11:27 pm We have a Queen, and I vaguely remember being told in civics classes in high school that her role was to safeguard the constitution. I still wonder if she could play that role, for example by refusing to sign constitutional amendments into law unless they have been ratified by a referendum. The might overcome the problem of guaranteeing rights without the slightly problematic measure of having to arm the whole population.
eventually the infant grows beyond the nutritive capacity of the mother and finds their own food

the population remains secondary

-Imp
RickLewis
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Re: UK constitutional reform

Post by RickLewis »

Didn't totally follow that, but I guess it is an expression of disapproval towards the monarchy. Blah blah Ole King George III blah etc. :D

Still, as a mechanism for ensuring continuity in a time of constitutional change, having an otherwise powerless hereditary monarch has some advantages.
Impenitent
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Re: UK constitutional reform

Post by Impenitent »

RickLewis wrote: Thu Mar 25, 2021 8:52 pm Didn't totally follow that, but I guess it is an expression of disapproval towards the monarchy. Blah blah Ole King George III blah etc. :D

Still, as a mechanism for ensuring continuity in a time of constitutional change, having an otherwise powerless hereditary monarch has some advantages.
all I meant was that eventually, as the typical human matures, they desire and create more and more autonomy and independence...

the egocentric predicament comes into play first...

alas, change itself is the only ensured continuity...

-Imp
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