The Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission will be established probably this year. Nothing in the Conservative Manifesto suggested radical changes in the constitution – it is, after all, a conservative manifesto – but Parliament would be failing in its duty were it not to knock a few blocks back into line where they have become dislodged.
Even a majority of 80 is not enough to overturn the fundamental elements even if that were tempting. The changes proposed are barely even changes. This reality has not stopped incontinent rages on social media.
The Commission from the first day must handle its work sensitively. The objective has been set out up front: rebalancing our understood constitutional norms, strengthening the rule of law and strengthening the operation of democracy. Momentum-type commentators like Owen Jones and his endless identikit clones are prophesying instead the destruction of democratic norms and the rule of law, rather like a socialist state I suppose: this accusation must be met by such demonstrable practical contradiction that the likes of Jones are humiliated.
The motto for any Conservative with a position of strong political power should be one from Shakespeare: “Oh it is marvellous to have a giant’s strength; but it is tyrannous to use it as a giant”.
The essential duty is to do the right thing. Politically though it is not enough to do right – the whole process must be handled in an open manner with clear, unarguable objectives and all decisions must be traced to those objectives. Left-wing commentators will claim credit for preventing a destruction of democratic norms (which is a lovely irony), so politically the derivation of the result must appear as a logical outcome of principles.
There is a trust issue. It is legitimate for commentators to be wary of constitutional changes when there is a government with enough strength in the Commons to drive through almost anything. Trust must be won by demonstrating trustworthiness.
All this will not be enough to quieten shouty people on Twitter as reason does not rule in that sphere. Lack of credibility does not stop people getting on Sky News to talk of their fantasies of tyranny. (In America, where not a jot nor tittle of the Constitution can be changed without 34 bickering states and Congress agreeing every word, there are Twitter warriors sincerely telling their followers that the President can cancel elections and rule for life.) The answer to lunacy is lucidity.
Nothing grand will come of this – Parliament can do anything to the constitution, but members overwhelmingly believe in the system that got them elected. Dire warnings are welcome, but thy must be realistic to be credible, and so we start with what we know.
There will be popular and unpopular decisions to be made, and timing these will be crucial. It is tempting to make unpopular choices at the beginning and finish the rest of the term with popular ones to boost poll ratings, but government does not work like that, and voters are not so daft either. Tony Blair announced from the beginning of his time a series of measures to win over opinion, rebalancing power away from the government to the people, and the warm glow in opinion permeated through his period in office in spite of all the other things he did that centralised power more than had been seen in a generation. Establishing goodwill and trust early is valuable.
The problem areas for any government determined on doing the right thing are measures which do good but sound bad. Tax cuts for the wealthy may fall into that sphere. The most relentless drain on poll-ratings may be cuts and virtual cuts (‘virtual cuts’ being where money was spent as an exceptional item one year and is not available the next, or where the same money is switched to different priorities). We know this from day-to-day policy, that the right decision looks wrong, and this will apply throughout this parliament, sapping at support and trust. In that context of contested reforms and mistrusted motive, constitutional reform must be handled very delicately and with openness, but not at the cost of failing to do the right thing.
- The work begins: Get Brexit Done
- Judicial review: the Manifesto
- Things they won’t do with the British Constitution
- Our plan for the new Prime Minister
- Wednesbury reform will not reverse the Cherry/Miller decision
- The rule of lawyers
- Some foolish Opinions of Lawyers concerning the making of Lawes (Thomas Hobbes)
- Boris unleashed
- Believe in the bin
- Constitutional & Administrative Law by Neil Parpworth
- The Rule of Law by Tom Bingham (former senior Lord of Appeal)
- Trials of the State: Law and the Decline of Politics by Jonathan Sumption (former Justice of the Supreme Court)
- Montesquieu: The Spirit of the Laws
- The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, by Malcolm Gladwell
- Rising Tides: Facing the Challenges of a New Era by Liam Fox
- The Secret Barrister: Stories of the Law and How It’s Broken
- Black Rednecks & White Liberals by Thomas Sowell
- 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan B Peterson
- Political Correctness Gone Mad? by Jordan B. Peterson, Stephen Fry, Michael Eric Dyson and Michelle Goldberg
- The Right Side of History: How Reason and Moral Purpose Made the West Great by Ben Shapiro
- By Thomas Hobbes:
- By Boris Johnson:
- All Out War: The Full Story of How Brexit Sank Britain’s Political Class by Tim Shipman
- Brexit: Why Britain Voted to Leave the European Union by Harold D. Clarke, Matthew Goodwin and Paul Whiteley
- Brexit: How the Nobodies Beat the Somebodies by Sebastian J. Handley
- Brexit and Ireland: The Dangers, the Opportunities, and the Inside Story of the Irish Response by Tom Connelly
- Beyond Brexit by Vernon Bogdanor
- From Partition to Brexit: The Irish Government and Northern Ireland by Donnacha O Beachain
- Brexit: Its Necessity and Challenge by Tony Kosuge