Constitutional reform is a process whereby the fundamental nature of the system government (as well as the relationships between governing institutions) is changed, or where change is proposed. In the case of the UK this may also involve the process of codification. Such reforms have arguably been frequently present over recent years, with the introduction of numerous constitutional reforms since 1997-the Golden Date, some might argue. The UK currently has a Two-and-a-Half Party System, with the Liberal Democrats being the half.
As such, there are of course many competing points of view, some of which differentiating due to a party’s position on the political spectrum. This essay will identify and explain the differences in opinion concerning whether or not constitutional reform has gone far enough. The Conservative party, made up of many traditionalists of Great Britain, very much believe that constitutional reform has gone too far. They believe that numerous sudden changes have occurred since 1997 under Labour, but there has not been a pause.
Britain therefore needs to stop and see if the system is working, before any further/additional-and perhaps unnecessary-changes are made. One of several major constitutional reforms that the Conservative party are opposed to/believes that it is a step too far, is having a codified (written) constitution. This codified constitution would to some extent limit government power, which the Conservatives are very much against; preferring strong government.
The party also believe that an uncodified constitution allows it to evolve gradually and naturally over time, ensuring that it suits that particular time period. For example, if the constitution would have been codified one hundred years ago, then the women of today would not be able to vote. The Conservatives therefore argue that the constitution should remain uncodified as many aspects would soon be outdated. The Conservatives also believe that the constitution should only change when there is an obvious problem; and where a clear solution that will improve things exists.
The Conservatives also believe that devolution (a process of constitutional reform, whereby power, but not legal sovereignty, is distributed to national or regional institutions) was a step too far, but have reluctantly accepted it. However, they did warn that devolution-especially at the speed that it has occurred at in recent years-may lead to the eventual break up of Great Britain. This is a possible reason for Prime Minister, David Cameron, attempting to dictate the referendum concerning Scottish Independence.
The formation of the Scottish Parliament-a result of devolution-has limited the power of the British government over subjects such as education and health in devolved areas. Moreover, although the Conservatives have reluctantly ‘accepted’ devolution, they have given a definite no to Scottish Independence, much to the annoyance of Alex Salmon. The Conservative party, the traditionalists of Great Britain are very much against ‘reform for reforms sake. ’ They were therefore rather reluctant to reform the House of Lords.
However, as they are currently in a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, who wish to dramatically reform the House of Lords, they had to come up with a compromise. This compromise came in the form of proposing for 80% of the members to be elected, with the remaining 20% being appointed by Appointment Committees. The Conservatives have argued against a fully elected House of Lords because they believe that it is sensible to have experts present in the legislative process.
Although such constitutional reform has been proposed, the Conservatives would much rather have not reformed the Lords at all, keeping true to traditional views, which have aided Britain so well in the past. On the other hand, the Conservatives have agreed to reduce the number of MPs in the House of Commons from 650 to 600. As a result, there will be less representation of the people and also less scrutiny; which is the main negative repercussion. Less scrutiny could allow an ajar backdoor for further corruption and manipulation in politics to be present.
This particular constitutional reform is one of the few that the Conservatives believe has not gone too far, insisting that it has the potential to aid Great Britain. A further constitutional reform that links to the previous point is the attempt at making boundary sizes more equal. This is to be done in order to achieve political equality, for votes. A prime example of this is the Isle of Wight which has one representative for the entire area. With the implementation of equal boundary sizes, there will be several representatives for the area, which would go some way to ensuring that votes are equal.
Nevertheless, this particular constitutional reform is favourable to the Conservatives, as the Isle of Wight is a predominantly Conservative area. The Liberal Democrats, made up of many eager reformists, strongly believe that constitutional reform has not gone far enough. With this view in mind, they wish to reform many aspects of Britain, in the hope of promoting democracy. The Liberal Democrats also believe that prior reforms have laid some of the basic foundations for democracy to be developed, such as the proposed reforms to the House of Lords, but believe they should continue.
One of several constitutional reforms that the Liberal Democrats believe have not gone far enough is the constitution remaining uncodified. The Liberal Democrats favour a codified (written) constitution as it outlines the rights of the people, and in a sense, limits government power. A codified constitution could also allow human rights to become entrenched (the device which protects a constitution from short-term amendment). As human rights and liberties are at the heart of many Liberal Democrats, it is obvious why they wish to have a codified constitution, and are not at all content with the current uncodified constitution.
This may be because the government has found ways to go around issues in the past, due to the uncodified constitution not distinctly outlining their power, roles and limitations. The Liberal Democrats also believe that a codified constitution could be more democratic, in the sense that popular sovereignty (sovereignty lies with the people, as is the case in America) could be integrated. The Liberal Democrats are also in favour of devolution, which fits in with the idea of federalism (the process by which two or more governments share powers over the same geographic area).
During the 1990s and in the run up to the 1997 general election, the Liberal Democrats developed a joint policy with Labour, showing their commitment to devolution. After the invitation onto a cabinet sub-committee, the Liberal Democrat leader and a number of senior figures found itself working with the machinery of government. The policies that they worked on were some of those closest to the hearts of many Liberal Democrats. Although the Liberal Democrats agree with devolution, many would like to take it a step further and go federal.
This is why the Liberal Democrats believe that constitutional reform has not gone far enough when it comes to devolution, as a crossover between devolution and federalism is not yet present. Furthermore, the beloved idea of federalism links to both devolution and a codified constitution, which is present in both America and Germany. Nevertheless, the Liberal Democrats disagree with Scottish independence; even though it fits in with the beloved idea of federalism. It therefore seems that the Liberal Democrats are only in favour of constitutional reform that suits them/increases their power and number of seats.
The Liberal Democrats believe that constitutional reform has not yet completely reached the House of Lords. The Liberal Democrats are eager for 100% of members of the House of Lords to be elected, similar to a senate present in America and Australia. The members would be elected by proportional representation instead of FPTP, as this has been strongly argued by the Liberal Democrats to be undemocratic. However, due to the coalition, a compromise had to be made which allowed the proposal of a House of Lords with 80% of its members elected to be put forward.
This is a clear compromise between the coalition members as the Liberal Democrats are eager to reform many aspects of Britain, including the House of Lords, whereas the Conservatives, the dominant member of the coalition, would prefer not to reform the Lords at all as it has never caused any violent uprisings or revolutions in the past. The Labour party, ‘a party of the working class,’ was the party that first introduced ‘radical’ reforms, stemming from 1997 under Tony Blair.
The current Labour party, under Ed Miliband, are reviewing all of their policies and are yet to publish a manifesto. However, the policies that are yet to be published may go back to the roots of Old Labour, have influence from Tony Blair’s Third Way or may set out on a completely different path. The Labour party are said to be somewhere in the middle, agreeing that constitutional reform has gone too far in some aspects, but not far enough in others. For example, when it comes to the constitution, the Labour party are very much in agreement with the Conservatives.
This is true in the sense that they also believe that the constitution should be allowed to evolve naturally, instead of being dictated by predecessors. The Labour party also argue that introducing a codified constitution would be very time consuming and very costly. At this point in time, considering that a deficit of over ?1tn exists, introducing a codified constitution would not necessarily be the best thing to spend a large sum of money on. Labour argues that a codified constitution would be fixed/static and could not be easily changed, which would not be ideal in a crisis.
The Labour party are in favour of reducing the number of MPs in the House of Commons from 650 to 600, as long as it is done in the old manner, which would be more beneficial to them. However, the party give a firm ‘no’ to equal boundary sizes. This is predominantly because they would lose out significantly, making it very difficult for Labour to form a significant majority. On this particular issue, Labour believes that equalling boundary sizes is a constitutional reform that is just a step too far.
As previously stated, this is most likely because they would lose out dramatically. Similar to the Liberal Democrats, the Labour party are strongly in favour of devolution, but are against Scottish Independence. This is because Labour has a strong grasp on Scotland, and if Scotland was to go independent, they would lose many seats. This loss would make it very difficult for Labour to form a majority, meaning that their chances of being elected as the next government would be extremely slim.
This would of course be very beneficial to the Conservatives, but would be very damaging to Labour. Hence why Labour believe that Scottish Independence is a step too far. In conclusion, each of the three main parties have different opinions concerning the true extent of constitutional reform: with the Conservatives predominantly believing that it has gone too far, the Liberal Democrats believing that it has not gone far enough and Labour lying somewhere in between.
However, under the coalition, the two members have compromised and have strayed slightly from their original views. The Conservatives, for example, have proposed to reform the House of Lords, which is arguably quite ‘untraditional’ of them. The Liberal Democrats have agreed to reduce the number of MPs in the Commons, even though there will be less scrutiny and they will lose out.
The numerous differences in opinions and views over constitutional reform has sometimes allowed for some parties to spring up: the bid for Scottish Independence created the Scottish Nationalist Party and issues concerning the EU have created UKIP. It can be strongly argued that constitutional reform has not gone far enough, in the sense of improving democracy, as several aspects of the UK remain undemocratic, such as reducing the number of MPs in the Commons and not completely reforming the House of Lords.