A Peculiarly British Revolution

Between 1832 and 1928, Britain modernised its political system by a series of Reform Acts. This incremental approach worked well and is part of the reason why Britain escaped the traumatic revolutions by which the cause of liberal democracy was advanced in most Continental European countries.


I’d like to suggest that we adopt a minimalist approach to drafting a written constitution that would draw on this pragmatic, peculiarly British tradition of political reform.


There’s nothing about a constitution that means that it has to tackle all the ills of the world in one go. It’s not a once in a life time opportunity. On the contrary, experience elsewhere suggests that establishing a written constitution would be only the beginning; the US Constitution was amended twelve times in its first fifteen years.


The primary aim of a minimalist constitution would simply be to record as accurately as possible the existing rules of Britain unwritten constitution.


We’re all aware of the fudges, inconsistencies and obscurities convenient to government and monarchy that such a process would reveal. Laid before the public in black and white, exposed to public debate in the press and parliament, few of these inconsistencies would survive the first draft.


But that wouldn’t be all. The second part of the constitution would deal with the procedure to establish the constitution (?a two thirds majority in a referendum across the whole of the UK), give powers to a constitutional court to act as guardian of the constitution and set out the procedure for its amendment.


Adopting such written constitution would clearly be a democratic process, but it would also amount to a revolution in how Britain is governed. Given the British people’s particular pride in their history, associating this change with the process of modernisation that began with the Great Reform Acts of the C19th and even earlier with the Magna Carta, the Civil War and the Glorious Revolution, would give this peculiarly British revolution its best chance of success.


Cecilia Rossler Apr 12, 2015

Your idea makes a lot of points, could you clarify if you meant it as a point of discussion or as a specific idea for a clause that should be in the constitution? If the latter, could you please try and summarise it in one or two sentences. Thanks

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Alastair Bruton Apr 14, 2015

This idea is part of a discussion that's come up on a number of threads about what sort of constitution we should be drafting. Should it be idealist with all sorts of ideas that we'd love to see in a constitution but which have little chance of ever being implemented, or should we be trying for a minimalist constitution that we think has a real chance of being adopted. My impression is that I'm not the only person who's done quite a lot of work on this project to be frustrated by LSE's failure to address this fundamental question and also to begin a discussion on what we should be doing with this constitution once we have a decent draft. I'd like to see both of these subjects opened up for discussion and eventually put to a vote.

Salka Margrét Sigurðardóttir Apr 14, 2015

Thanks for expressing your thought about this. I can at least address the first worry you mention. The LSE cannot decide or start of by deciding what ideas or how narrow or wide ideas the British people want in their Constitution. This project is open for all, and it was the aim of it to find out what the people actually want. I started this project thinking it would be fairly minimalist, but I see now that many agree with provisions that aren't. In the end it's all about the votes, so if everyone truly wants a minimalist Constitution that would be the conclusion, there however doesn't seem to be an agreement on that and therefore no one can take the lead and say it should be so. Thanks for your understanding. 

Malcolm Ramsay Apr 14, 2015

The crowd seems to have plumped quite clearly for an elected Head of State so I'd say we're well into the realm of idealism.

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