Reforming the constitution: process matters

Andrew Blick

Policies impacting significantly on the UK constitution were central to the programme underpinning the formation of the Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition in May 2010. They include fixed-term parliaments; a reduction in the number of MPs combined with an equalisation in the population size of parliamentary constituencies; a referendum on AV; and a requirement for referendums on ‘transfers of powers’ from the UK to the European Union. Because of the centrality of these reforms to the coalition agreement reached between the two parties it was deemed politically necessary that they be implemented swiftly and altered as little as possible by outside influences or institutions. Continue reading

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Police reform: why democracy is not just about elections

Andrew Blick

Amongst the many pieces of legislation with important democratic implications the present government has introduced, the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, currently passing through its final stages in the House of Lords, has received comparatively little attention. Yet it has fundamental constitutional implications. Moreover, a consideration of the bill helps illustrate the inconsistent – and in some cases worrying – way in which the Coalition is approaching democratic reform.

The feature of the legislation which gives cause for concern is its provision for replacing police authorities currently responsible for overseeing police forces with directly elected Police and Crime Commissioners. The Commissioners will themselves be accountable to newly-established Police and Crime Panels, mainly composed of local councillors. The stated aim is ‘improving police accountability’. Continue reading

Special advisers and the ‘phone-hacking’ scandal

Andrew Blick

One of the many issues involving the functioning of UK democracy raised by the phone hacking/police corruption scandal is that of the role of the special adviser in Whitehall.

An important facet of this affair, underlining claims of an inappropriate closeness between the ‘Murdoch press’ and politicians, involves Andy Coulson, Editor of the News of the World from 2003-2007. During his tenure at the tabloid – though he denied knowledge of it – phone hacking took place, and he resigned from the paper early in 2007 following the prosecution of its former Royal Editor, Clive Goodman. Continue reading

The Cabinet Manual – ‘by the executive, for the executive’?

Andrew Blick

Last December the government published in draft form a document known as the ‘Cabinet Manual’. It sets out to describe the laws, conventions and rules impinging upon the operation of the executive branch of the UK constitution.

The Cabinet Manual is not a written constitution – something which the UK lacks – although it does share some features with one. However, when the production of the manual was first announced by the then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown early last year, it was intended as a first step towards the possible codification of the UK constitution. This idea has since been dropped, but the Cabinet Manual project was kept on by the Coalition government. Continue reading

The Inverclyde by-election: business as usual for Scottish voters

Lewis Baston 

Labour’s result in the Inverclyde by-election (30 June 2011) was an impressive electoral performance, particularly coming so soon after Scottish Labour’s humiliation at the hands of the SNP in the Scottish Parliament elections in May. The principal Scottish Parliament constituency in the area, Greenock & Inverclyde, saw Labour squeak to a 511-vote majority over the SNP in the election in May, while the SNP won the other local constituency (Renfrewshire North and West). The result in the area covered by the Inverclyde Westminster seat was probably nearly a tie between Labour and SNP.  For Labour to win by 5,838 votes (20.8 per cent) in June marks a considerable recovery. Continue reading