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  1. 1. Politics – The ConstitutionWhat is a constitution?• “A constitution is a system of rules which describes thestructure and powers of Government, the relationshipbetween different parts of the Government, and therelationship between the Government and the citizen.”• The aim of a constitution is to allocate power within astate. To do this, it defines ‘Where, How and What’ …• What limits there are upon power• How power is to be exercised, and• Where power is located
  2. 2. Politics – The ConstitutionThe SIX sources of the UK Constitution
  3. 3. Politics – The ConstitutionThree written sources• Statute law (i.e. an Act of parliament). This is the mostimportant source• EU Laws and Treaties, such as the Maastricht Treaty• Works of authority, such as Dicey and Bagehot
  4. 4. Politics – The ConstitutionThree unwritten sources• Conventions within Cabinet, such as IMR and CMR• Royal prerogative (e.g. the PM can decide to go to war)• Common law – Where a judge sets a precedent. This istermed a judicial precedent
  5. 5. Politics – The ConstitutionHistory of the UK Constitution• 1215 - Magna Carta• 1679 – Habeas Corpus Act• 1688 to 1690 – Glorious Revolution established a Bill of Rights for theUK Parliament• 1832 – Great Reform Act• 1867 – Great Electoral Reform Act• 1911 – Parliament Act (Lords’ power of delay limited to 2 years)• 1928 – Women get the vote• 1949 – Parliament Act (Lords delaying powers reduced to just 1 year)• 1973 – UK joins the European Community (now called the EuropeanUnion). It was the most significant change to the UK’s constitution
  6. 6. Politics – The ConstitutionChanges to the UK Constitution since 1997• 1997 – Devolution to Scotland and Wales• 1998 – Devolution to Northern Ireland• 1998 – Freedom of Information Act• 1999 – Reform of the House of Lords (abolition ofhereditary peers)• 2000 – Human Rights Act (European Convention of HumanRights adopted into UK law)
  7. 7. Politics – The ConstitutionFact sheet on the UK Constitution• Uncodified (and largely unwritten) constitution• It is not an entrenched document, unlike the USconstitution• Constitutional laws are not superior to any other law• Any existing element of the constitution can be scrappedsimply by an Act of Parliament
  8. 8. Politics – The ConstitutionWhat is sovereignty ?• Relates to the concept of authority (“the right of someperson or institution to make political decisions”)• Sovereignty refers to the main source of power in acountry. In the UK, that source is Parliament• This is why we use the term “Parliamentary sovereignty”
  9. 9. Politics – The ConstitutionFour types of sovereignty• Internal• External• Political• Legal
  10. 10. Politics – The ConstitutionIs Parliament sovereign?NO• Undermined by the EU, which can overturn Parliamentarylaws (e.g. the Factortame case)• Referendums undermine the role of elected MPs• The “elected dictatorship” can often impose its will uponparliament• On the day of an election, it is the people hold politicalsovereignty• Most laws derive from the Government, not Parliament• Pressure groups can challenge the authority of Parliament• International obligations (such as membership of NATOand the UN) impose restrictions on what Parliament can do
  11. 11. Politics – The ConstitutionIs Parliament sovereign?YES• Parliament is the most important source of the UK’sConstitution• Ultimately Parliament can pass legislation that would takeBritain out of the EU• Parliament can withdraw from any of its internationalcommitments, including membership of NATO• Parliament can claim back devolved power at any time(and did so in 2002 with the Northern Ireland Assembly)• Far from being “lobby fodder”, Labour backbench MPshave been more willing to vote against the Governmentsince 2001; thus re-asserting the power of the legislature• Parliament can ignore the result of a referendum
  12. 12. Politics – The ConstitutionWhat is a unitary state ?• Britain is a unitary state made up of 4 countries in which“the powers of Government are held by a central authority.Devolved assemblies can exist, but their powers can bewithdrawn at any time”• In the case of the United Kingdom, all legal sovereigntyderives from …• … Parliament at Westminster
  13. 13. Politics – The ConstitutionWhat is a federal state?• In a federal state such as Australia and the United States,power and authority is shared between different levels ofgovernment.• The Federal government cannot transfer power fromanother level of government.• Federal states are also common in the rest of Europe
  14. 14. Politics – The ConstitutionThe two types of constitutionCODIFIED• Constitution is written down inone single document• Constitutional law is higher thanany other type of law• Most countries have a codifiedconstitution• The pressure group Charter 88,and the Liberal Democrats, arein favour of Britain adopting acodified constitutionUNCODIFIED• Both written and unwrittenelements, although the UK isoften described as having anunwritten constitution• Britain has always had anuncodified constitution• Our constitution has evolvedover time, and consists of 6sources (3 written, 3 unwritten)
  15. 15. Politics – The ConstitutionArguments FOR an uncodified constitution• More flexible than a codified constitution, and can thereforeadopt to changes within society• Any alternative may be worse (e.g. in the United States,judges hold considerable political power)• Unlikely to become out of date, unlike a codifiedconstitution• Any reform would be unnecessary, unachievable andunworkable (the 3 U’s)
  16. 16. Politics – The ConstitutionArguments AGAINST an uncodified constitution• Civil rights are not protected. All it takes is an Act ofParliament to undermine civil liberties such as Habeascorpus• Can result in an “elected dictatorship” – a quote from LordHailsham
  17. 17. Politics – The ConstitutionAdversarial politics• Common in Westminster• The layout of the House of Commons encouragesadversarial politics, with one team pitched against theother, and the distance between them being determined bythe length of two swords• More prevalent during PMQs, which is little more thanpolitical theatre• FPTP also encourages adversarial politics
  18. 18. Politics – The ConstitutionConsensus politics• A consensus is a “broad agreement between two ormore political parties on basic principles, rather thanpolicy details”• More common in legislatures designed on a curve or semi-circle formation. Examples include the EU Parliament, andthe devolved assemblies• Tends to be characterised by coalitions, as in the case ofthe Scottish Parliament
  19. 19. Politics – The ConstitutionWhat do the parties agree on?• There are several issues in which the two main partiesshare similar views, and therefore reflect a cross-partyconsensus. Examples include;– Support for Bank of England independence– In favour of ‘free’ at the point of use health care– Britain’s continued membership of the EU• However, policy differences still remain• In recent years the main parties have moved closertogether on a wide range of issues
  20. 20. Politics – The ConstitutionThe three branches of government• Legislative Executive• Judiciary All governments have3 roles
  21. 21. Politics – The ConstitutionFusion, or separation, of powers?FUSION• Britain has a fusion of powers• All 3 branches of governmentare joined together• For example, Tony Blair is amember of both the legislatureand the executive, and …• … the Lord Chancellor is amember of all three• More effective than a separationof powers, but weaker in termsof scrutinySEPARATION• The USA has a separation ofpowers• All 3 branches of governmentare separate from each other• Ensures that the powers of eachbranch are limited and checkedby another branch (e.g. theAmerican President can beimpeached by the SupremeCourt)• More democratic than a fusionof powers, and better atscrutinising the executive• Can lead to deadlock