Power to the People

Power to the People

Born of the ancient traditions of these islands or drawn here from around the globe; followers of every faith both religious and secular; diverse in culture and habit, the people of Britain have come together to affirm in this constitution the principles by which we wish to order our government and to set out for the benefit of every citizen the rules which are the basis of our life together.

1. This constitution affirms as its founding principle that the people are the one and only legitimate source of political power in Britain. Parliament, the Crown or Head of State and governments at every level are subject to the sovereignty of the people.

2. The people of Britain instruct and require their elected representatives at every level of government to work in the best interests of all citizens; to defend and uphold this constitution and at all times to respect fully the rights and responsibilities both individual and collective that it sets out.

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The above clauses are based on the original idea set out below and incorporate comments made by GavinRuss and Malcolm Ramsay.

“Who’s boss?” is the first question that a constitution must answer. The primary reason why Britain needs a written constitution is that at present, there’s no clear answer to this question.

Is it Parliament that’s boss or the people or in some arcane and deliberately ill-defined way, is it still the Crown?

Public debate is conducted as though we live in a simple democracy, a political system in which power is ultimately controlled by the people.

And we do, but only up to a point…

By tradition, Parliament, once elected, is sovereign. It has the right to do whatever it wants, even if, as with the GLC in 1986, this means its abolishing other democratically elected bodies. However radical the constitutional implications of Parliament’s actions – the transfer of additional powers to Scotland or to the European Union for example - it's under no obligation to seek specific consent from voters.

Perhaps that makes it sound as though - subject to voters’ approval every five years – it’s Parliament that’s boss. If only our unwritten constitution were that clear…

Governments still conduct business by means of Orders in Council made under the royal prerogative which bypass Parliament altogether. The right to declare war remains a royal prerogative so jealously guarded that Parliament’s not even allowed to debate it without the Queen’s consent.

This series of fudges may be convenient to central government, but it marginalises voters, encourages their mistrust of politicians and muddles debate about constitutional change.

So the first principle that a constitution must recognise is that it’s the people - not Parliament, not the government and above all, not the Crown - who are the one and only legitimate source of political power in Britain.

Once that first principle is clearly established, constitutional questions about the role of Parliament, the Monarchy and the Judiciary or about transfers of responsibility among different levels of govenment are much more easily answered.

The US Constitution famously begins: “We the People”.

The British constitution must begin with a similar declaration.

 

edited on Apr 16, 2015 by Alastair Bruton

Salka Margrét Sigurðardóttir Apr 9, 2015

Alastair Bruton, how would you like to reword/shorten this provision so it is more precise for a Constitution? I really like the title, it pretty much says it all. I also like this sentence: "The first principle that a constitution must recognise is that it’s the people - not Parliament, not the government and above all, not the Crown - who are the one and only legitimate source of political power in Britain."

I think we can definitely produce something good out of this. Hopefully you are still up for going working on it. 

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Alastair Bruton Apr 10, 2015

Like many other ideas that have been voted through, this one overlaps another one - Real Sovereignty at https://constitutionuk.com/post/85078. Debate is quite active on that idea, so maybe we should incorporate this idea into what's being discussed there.The wording that I've proposed there is as follows: 

"This constitution affirms as its founding principle that sovereignty belongs to the people of Britain not to the Monarchy or to Parliament."

But perhaps we should make it more emphatic along the lines that I originally suggested in Power to the People:

"This constitution affirms as its founding principle that the people - not Parliament, not the government and above all, not the Crown - are the one and only legitimate source of political power in Britain."

What do you think?

 

 

Cecilia Rossler Apr 10, 2015

I think both are excellent. To clarify: would you like to incorporate this idea into the other one you posted, since that one has been more active? If so, I will put a note at the top of your idea so people are directed there.

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Salka Margrét Sigurðardóttir Apr 10, 2015

Thank you for this suggestion Alastair. I actually think it might be good not to combine these two ideas. The other one is highly related to international relations, and in what way the people of the UK should be sovereign from them. I think having the words 'power to the people' in the values section of a Constitution is really important. Values say what the UK stands for, rather than how it relates to other countries. 

This current provision wouldn't have to be very long. Just the title and a few sentences. Cecilia and Alistair, don't you think 'power to the people' needs to be emphasised as a value? 

Tom Austin Apr 11, 2015

I'll second that. Just where sovereignty lies needs to be readily understood.

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Gavin Russ Apr 10, 2015

Briefly, 'we the people' defines us as a national community. If 'we the people' are granted the mechanisms and values to decide what 'we the people' decide, we become more powerful and can empower? 

So 'we the people instruct and require elected representatives to work in the best interests etc. of all citizens and will work to uphold all aspects of the consitutionl respecting fully the dignities and rights of all citizens' ... Struggling with ths language!? 

Salka Margrét Sigurðardóttir Apr 11, 2015

Alastair had suggested the following lines: "This constitution affirms as its founding principle that the people - not Parliament, not the government and above all, not the Crown - are the one and only legitimate source of political power in Britain."

I think this is a good start but I think what you said GavinRuss is also good and it can be added. I think, however, that we should refrain from using the words 'we the people' since it is from the US Constitution. I think 'power to the people' is a good way of making this statement our own.

Alastair, since you are the owner of the idea, could you take this into consideration and come up with a few sentences that would be the formal refined idea, and then add that text to the original post? 

Malcolm Ramsay Apr 11, 2015

I'd prefer removing the negative clause (particularly 'above all'!) and replacing it with a positive statement of the relationship. For example:

This constitution affirms as its founding principle that the people are the one and only legitimate source of political power in Britain and that Parliament, the government and the [Head of State] are their servants.

Alastair Bruton Apr 14, 2015

Yes, I'd very much like to take this idea further - and thanks for all the comments. I'll try to post a revised wording in the next 24 hrs.

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