Sep 23 2014

Video: Our Constitutional Carnival

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ConstitutionUK Team

ConstitutionUK Team

Scotland has had its say, now it is the turn of the whole UK – and the LSE has already begun! On 26 June 2014 LSE’s new Saw Swee Hock Student Centre hosted a very special celebration of democracy: ConstitutionUK’s Constitutional Carnival. Featuring special guests including Peter Tatchell, Martin Lewis, and Baroness Joyce Quinn, amongst others, this special one-off event brought together members of the School and of the general public in order to create LSE’s very own constitutional moment in the run-up to the project’s second stage: hacking a written constitution for the United Kingdom.

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Sep 15 2014

There are substantial and unacceptable risks in moving to a legal constitution from our current political one

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Sir Stephen Laws

Sir Stephen Laws

Calls for a written UK constitution are not new, but, Sir Stephen Laws argues, a move from a ‘political constitution’, like the one we have, to a ‘legal constitution’, in the form of a new written one, risks paralysing the flexibility that has made the UK model so successful.

I worked at the interface of government, Parliament and the law for 37 years, led the drafters of UK legislation and gave constitutional advice. I’d like to share with the project my doubts about the practicability and wisdom of a written constitution for the UK.

Pre-legislative analysis

One of the first things new legislative drafters learn is that Acts of Parliament can do only one thing: change the law.

The preparation of legislation involves three stages.

  • First, you identify the political objective: the practical change in the real world which is desired.
  • Secondly, you identify whether the law needs to be changed to achieve that objective, and if so what the change is: the legal policy. It may, for example, be the removal of a legal obstacle or “mischief”, such as a restriction on powers or capacity, or it may involve new legal incentives to particular conduct.
  • Lastly, you determine the best way to make that change. Both the legal detail of the change and the drafting must ensure, not only that the change works in purely legal terms to implement the legal policy, but also that it works in practical terms to promote the political objective.

Legislation is likely to go wrong when elements of this process become disconnected. One common risk is the making of false assumptions about how the legal policy might serve a particular political objective. An obvious example is an assumption that prohibiting the way people currently achieve X will prevent them from wanting to achieve X, so they will not try to find another way to achieve X.

Another risk is that, in the development of the legal policy or the polishing of the drafting, those involved will lose sight of how that policy connects with the political objective. Both the political objective and the legal policy are likely to involve modifications of complex systems. Modifications of each will have effects elsewhere in that system, and on the other. Legislating involves assessing the likely impact throughout both systems of the proposed changes. Continue reading

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Sep 1 2014

Enough with the Sanctions: Why Social Security should be just that

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Edward Rice

Edward Rice

In light of recent news stories regarding the sanctioning of benefits claimants, and its aftermath, Edward Rice argues that all citizens should be entitled to a basic level of assistance, reflected in the benefits paid to them by the state in times of need.

There are many bizarre things in our world, things that don’t quite ring true or make sense. Things that we can’t quite process.

Last month, David Clapson died next to a pile of CVs. He death was caused by diabetic ketoacidosis – a lack of insulin. His fridge, needed to keep his insulin cool, was not working as his electricity had been switched off. A few items of food were left in his flat – one can of tomato soup, a tin of sardines, and six tea bags.

What did he do to deserve such a death? He failed to attend two appointments at Jobcentre Plus, of course, resulting in the Jobcentre ‘sanctioning’ him, and withdrawing his income for perceived bad behaviour. Continue reading

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Jun 26 2014

ConstitutionUK Asks Students In Glasgow About The Equality Of Esteem

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The ConstitutionUK team travelled to Glasgow to ask students at the University of Strathclyde about the value of equality of esteem.  They discuss the meaning and implications of everyone in the UK being able to claim the same entitlements. Have your say about the equality of esteem and the other values that underpin ConstitutionUK at our Constitutional Carnival on Thursday 26 June 2014.

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Jun 24 2014

ConstitutionUK Asks Young Mothers About The Guarantee Of Human Security

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The ConstitutionUK team travelled to Derby to ask young mothers about the importance of human security. They discuss what the state must do to guarantee a decent life for the people who live in it. Have your say about the guarantee of human security and the other values that underpin ConstitutionUK at our Constitutional Carnival on Thursday 26 June 2014.

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Jun 16 2014

A Constitution Can Protect Democracy But We Need To Organise To Win Power For The People

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Melanie Strickland

Melanie Strickland

Melanie Strickland explains how a constitution created by the people can best protect democracy. She draws on the experiences of Bolivia and Iceland and how they have attempted to distribute power to citizens. 

A constitution sets out the duties and limits of state power, and the rights of the people. In a democracy, governments rule by the will of the citizens. In the UK today the government is pushing through an unpopular neoliberal agenda including a comprehensive austerity programme, the privatisation of the NHS, a range of corporate-benefit measures including deregulation and economic ‘growth’ laws, corporate tax cuts, tax breaks and other incentives to engage in fracking and other extreme energy projects across the UK, and the stealthy removal of institutions and policies to curb climate change emissions. Such unpopular moves frequently go unchallenged by the corporate and compliant media, who remain silent on issues of public interest, or side with the Establishment by only selecting voices that represent business and Establishment interests. We can see this with the entirely media manufactured popularity of Nigel Farage and UKIP, supposedly a ‘man of the people’.  It cannot be said that we live in a democracy, at least not in any meaningful sense of the term.

(Credit: MrTin.DC, CC by 2.0)

(Credit: MrTin.DC, CC by 2.0)

Before considering what a constitution for the UK could look like, we should first consider who has power in the UK. Today, those who exercise most political power are those who wield greatest economic power.  In the UK, the City of London, as a financial centre, perhaps exercises the greatest political power, by influencing (if not dictating) what laws get passed and what people and policies are promoted. The rewarding of those who helped cause the economic crash and subsequent austerity measures, with taxpayer funded bank bailouts and ongoing support is a stark example of who wields power in the UK. Continue reading

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Jun 10 2014

What To Expect At Our Constitutional Carnival

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Conor Gearty

Conor Gearty

A ‘carnival’ at a university?  On the ‘Constitution’?  What is going on?

For over eight months now we at LSE’s Institute of Public Affairs have been crowd-sourcing a new Constitution for the UK.  Many believe that our current system of government is irretrievably broken down and that it is time for a wholly fresh start.  Our job on the ConstitutionUK project is not to declare our scholarly views on what should be done, but rather to act as a kind of midwife to the views of the public: making suggestions, drawing out ideas, and eventually delivering a constitution that will belong to all, a child of the people.  The final document will be written over next year, in time for the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta in June 2015.

Before that, though, we need another direct hit with the people.  On 8 October last year we had a large public meeting with a series of votes on key issues of principle. Since that exciting evening we have had active discussion on our web site, many essays, suggestions and proposals, and also taken our constitutional road-show out of town, to the regions of England and also Scotland.

The Carnival marks our return to our home base at LSE, and in particular our newly-opened, award-winning Saw Swee Hock Student Centre. We start at 4pm on Thursday 26 June with some introductory remarks and then we send our ‘facilitators’ out to man their various stalls. Our carnival-goers will be able to dip into the sessions they choose, throwing in their opinion, arguing with the facilitators and voting for the kind of Britain they want.  Each stall will run its subject two or three times so there’ll be time to cover more than one.

And what are our subjects?  The exploration on the web since 8 October has guided us to the following topics on which we need decisions from the crowd. Continue reading

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May 30 2014

Why The Time Has Come For Crowdsourcing In Public Policy

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As we draw closer to ConstitutionUK’s Constitutional Carnival, Chris McMillan explores the benefits of crowdsourcing. He explains how crowdsourcing plays an important role in developing public debate. Chris is a board member of ShouldWe.org, a crowd sourced online summary of public policy debates. 

The problem: Our media does not act as an effective forum for independent, accurate public policy debate.

British citizens are failed by their news media. Rolling news and ever-increasing pressure on business models mean journalists are under more pressure than ever before. Today’s print, TV, radio and online journalists – and news organisations – have neither the resources nor the incentives to make sense of an ever more complex world.  The short-cuts they are forced to take skew public debate in invidious ways, privilege established power networks and large organisations and result in shoddy, inaccurate and unchecked journalism.

The issues have been well documented by various studies:

  • Lack of independence: Cardiff University research revealed only “one in five press articles (19%) appear to be based mainly on information that does not come from pre-packaged sources.”  Often these pre-packaged sources are the PR representatives of companies, political parties or lobby groups.
  • Insufficient accuracy: David Walker, the journalist and first Director of the Royal Statistical Society’s ‘getstats’ campaign, claimed in an interview in 2012 that “journalists, who are supposed to be professionally sceptical, often become gullible when numbers are involved and fail to interrogate them or their provenance.
  • (Credit: Ged Dackys, CC by 2.0)

    (Credit: Ged Dackys, CC by 2.0)

    Limited Pluralism: Erik Albaek, a professor at the Centre for Journalism at the University of South Denmark, studied the relationships between journalists and ‘experts’ (which he defined for the purpose of the study as scientists, including social scientists, at independent institutions) and discovered what “When journalists contact researchers… researchers who have been used extensively in the past are simply used further.” Continue reading

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May 13 2014

The Role Of The Monarchy And Britain’s Head Of State

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Graham Smith

Graham Smith

The role of the monarchy in the UK is a controversial constitutional subject. Graham Smith, chief executive officer of Republic, believes that the monarchy should be replaced by a non-partisan, elected head of state. He explains the current role of our monarch and goes on to discuss how an elected head of state could better represent the voice of the people.

Every country has a head of state, whether it is a president or a monarch.  In many countries the head of state is a different person to the head of government, who is often referred to as Prime Minister.  This is true of monarchies like Britain, Sweden and Denmark as well as republics like Ireland, Germany and Poland.

What is a head of state for?

The phrase “ceremonial head of state” can be misleading. It suggests that the role is purely for decoration, when it is actually a crucial part of the political system.

Unlike our monarch, an elected head of state’s neutrality is prescribed by law, so they can be genuinely independent of government, acting as an impartial referee of the political system and an extra check on the power of government.  If there’s a risk that a new law may breach fundamental rights or principles, for example, a head of state may refer it to the Supreme Court. Or if there is widespread public opposition to a bill, the president may consult the people in a referendum. These powers are rarely used, but vitally important in a democracy.

Aside from these formal functions, a president represents their country on the world stage and takes a leading role at times of national celebration, uncertainty or tragedy. In carrying out these parts of the job, an elected head of state knows they will be held to account for their words and actions, providing a strong incentive to be unifying and inclusive. Continue reading

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Apr 24 2014

A New Magna Carta?

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Graham Allen MP

Graham Allen MP

Graham Allen MP discusses the importance of codifying a UK constitution. With the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta approaching in June 2015, he asks whether we need a contemporary Magna Carta. 

We need to look forward as well as back as the nation celebrates the Magna Carta. What would a written constitution look like today or tomorrow?

For the last four years the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee has been preparing a major report on the need for a written constitution entitled ‘Mapping the path to codifying – or not codifying – the UK’s Constitution’. When finalised, the report will set out three possible options for future codification of the UK constitution. I hope that this report will make a major contribution to the necessary and important debate about the future of the UK’s constitution.

For many, the UK’s uncodified constitution is an acceptable, even desirable means of regulating state power. They point to the long-term stability of our democracy, and highlight the flexibility that has allowed our constitution to evolve gradually and to avoid the political ruptures experienced in many other countries around the world.

But political crises – perhaps arising from the European election results or the Scottish independence referendum – have a way of shaking complacency. While political activism through campaigning organisations and protest movements is thriving in the UK, membership of political parties is in serious decline. And this trend is most pronounced among younger people: according to figures published by the Hansard Society in 2013, only 41% of those interviewed said they would definitely vote in the event of an immediate general election, but this figure dropped to a mere 12% among 18-24 year olds. Continue reading

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