Composition of the Judiciary
Despite the creation of a judicial appointments commission, there have been no significant changes to the make-up of the UK Supreme Court. Lord Neuberger, the president of the Court himself stated “We are not getting the best people as judges, because there are a whole lot of women out there who will be better than some of the men.” This was after three new appointments to the Court of twelve were all male.
New appointments: Lord Justice Hughes (64); Lord Justice Toulson (66); Lord Hodge (59)
The only female on the Court remains Lady Hale who is tipped to become deputy president when the post becomes available in May.
There is a mandatory retirement age of 70 which should allow for periodic injections of youth as evidenced above!
Given their key role in the interpretation of the law and the soon to be acquired powers in “secret courts”, such a narrow social background might be viewed as a concern. In the past, judges have been accused of being conservative and Conservative. Recruitment that resulted in a Supreme Court that looked more like UK society would help allay some of those fears. The fact that the last four appointments have been male would suggest that Judicial Appointments Commission is yet to have an impact.read more...»
THE HOUSE OF LORDS
Reform of the House of Lords (HoL) continues to be an on-going saga in British constitutional reform. With Labour’s reforms in 1999 which ended the right of most of the hereditary peers to sit in the House, and with promise of stage II to be delivered in the imminent feature, it was reasonable to assume that there would be some sort of closure to this long outstanding issue. Since then however, no progress what so ever has been made.
The government proposed a second chamber that would be:
a. 80 directly elected
b. Serve a 15 year term with a third elected every 5 years
c. Represent regions
d. The number of peers to be reduced from 826 to 450
e. The number of church of England bishops would be reduced to 12 from 26
f. The remaining hereditary peers would be removedread more...»
If you wanted to give your A level students something to talk about this week, why not show them this article from the BBC about arguments for and against giving votes to 16 to 18 year old young adults. The debate has been re-ignited by the announcement that any up-coming referendum on Scottish independence will allow 16 and 17 year old Scottish citizens to have a say as well as those who are 18 or over. The debate may be a little one-sided if your class is dominated by strong-minded 16 and 17 year old people so it may be an opportunity (before you give out the article) to ask them to sum up the arguments for and against and see how many of their own answers they find within the responses of the commentators in this piece.
The debate in the Commons today on Britain’s relations with the EU was, as you are probably aware, prompted by an e-petition.
Jackie Ashley in today’s Guardian writes an excellent piece in support of the e-petition process. It’s definitely one I will be looking to use with my AS students when assessing the pros and cons of direct democracy, and ways to improve the democratic system in the UK.
I also include a study note below on arguments for and against direct democracy. I know pedants would argue that e-petitions are a form of consultative democracy, but for Edexcel they do fall under the direct democracy umbrella on Unit 1.read more...»
Today the House of Lords gave their assent to Coalition plans to bring the UK into line with much of the western world by fixing the date for national elections.
The EU topic has been slimmed down since new AS specs came in a few years ago. Opinion was divided among teachers on whether this was desirable. In the edexcel course for instance it is subsumed within discussion of the extent to which the UK Parliament is sovereign.
But comments today from the Commission President are sure to reopen serious debate. According to today’s Indy:
“The economic crisis has turned into a “fight for European integration”, the president of the European Commission warned today.
Jose Manuel Barroso insisted that the answer to the growing threat to the euro was a more, and not less, integrated European Union.”
Essentially the question is whether we want to move to something closer to the USA, where Washington DC exerts far greater power as a central authority than most people can imagine Brussels doing.
I have included some notes below that go far beyond the demands of the current AS level (since they were written with the old one in mind, though I have tried to update them) but should provide some help in supporting your arguments about what future direction the EU should takeread more...»
Issues such as free university tuition for Scots have made devolution a controversial topic
A potential ban on non-English MPs being able to vote on matters Westminster considers English only is back on the agenda. This is a chance to revisit the old chestnut that is the West Lothian Question - for this special occasion I have also dug out a set of arguments for and against whether the issue is of any real significance.
“Mark Harper, the constitutional reform minister, announced yesterday that a group of non-partisan independent experts would look at how parliamentary procedures at Westminster work and whether they needed reforming to reflect the changed constitutional make-up of the United Kingdom.
He said: “The Government is clear that the commission’s primary task should be to examine how this House, and Parliament as a whole, can deal most effectively with business that affects England wholly or primarily, when at the same time similar matters in some or all of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are lawfully and democratically the responsibility of the separate parliament or assemblies.”
He said that the commission would be made up of a small group of non-partisan experts with constitutional, legal and parliamentary expertise.”read more...»
I frequently get asked for an easy to understand guide to the UK political system. Until recently I lacked an adequate answer. But BBC’s Democracy Live page has a whole host of simple guides to UK institutions. Useful for citizenship, lower school PSHE (for teachers and pupils) and those new to AS looking to do a bit of home research.
If you are embarking on a UK politics course, you may start with an overview of the pros and cons of the UK system. Certainly if you are doing edexcel then unit 1 pretty much brings this into focus fairly quickly by asking students to consider how democratic Britain is.
An obvious target for criticism is one half of Britain’s bicameral legislative body, the House of Lords.
But a little snippet of news from today’s Indy reminds us that it is not without its advantages…read more...»
If you are a constitutional reform anorak like me, you will probably have already been accessing the new and significantly improved site at UCL’s Constitution Unit.
In addition to the very detailed reports they publish on the constitution, it is now possible to watch videos of events held at the unit, and details of forthcoming events are laid out more clearly.
Not only can it be plundered for detailed analysis of constitutional reform, but if Politics students want to supplement their personal statements in order to show that their level of interest really does extend beyond the classroom, then making use of what’s on offer from the unit creates a much better impression than saying you like watching the BBC’s Question Time.
Here is a link to a video recording of an excellent presentation by Professor Vernon Bogdanor on the coalition and the constitution as a starting off point for investigating the site’s contents.
Former government minister, and current member of the House of Lords, Lord Adonis has co-written an article this weekend arguing for politicians to get behind reform of the second chamber.
How do his points stand up against the usual arguments in favour of leaving things as they are, as outlined below?read more...»
On Twitter I have been posting links to news stories that are an essential daily read for students of Politics that I have come across as part of my personal reading on the web.
This type of heads up on what is in the news is not a substitute for students doing their own reading, but I know that for many students it is the case that there is so much information freely available on the web that it is not always easy to discriminate between items in terms of their direct relevance to the syllabus. This is where the posts are supposed to fill the gap. Just a couple of links each day, and if students have time to read more then they can use these stories as a starting point for further browsing.
My students have already said they find it useful, and I hope more can.
Follow me on @bgsmacca
A good example here of how the US Constitution allows for the defence of rights and liberties.
OK, many states in the US have passed amendments or penned legislation banning same sex marriage, but it remains the case as Andrew Sullivan once pointed out in a column comparing the UK and US, that in certain states gays can do things that those in the UK can’t, i.e. tie the knot.
New York state may soon join Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and the District of Columbia in allowing same sex marriage. Mass was first off the mark, allowing same sex unions in 2004.
Thus states act as laboratories of democracy (Justice Brandeis) experimenting by pioneering different laws in a way that a unitary state such as the UK cannot.
The clash between Parliament and the Judiciary in recent weeks has raised important questions about the independence and neutrality of the judiciary.
It is important to recognise that the twin issues of independence and neutrality are distinct, but they do overlap when we consider who it is that should be making the law.
This debate is also a useful one to consider in terms of constitutional reform issues.read more...»
ITV played a blinder this week with their screening of “Human Rights and Wrongs” as part of the “Tonight” series. Okay, it was a little biased in favour of the notion that the ECHR is a criminals’ charter and the presence of Shami Chakrabarti did seem a token gesture but as an access to the judiciary route for AS it was first rate.
Following the stunning victory in the Scottish elections by Alex Salmond’s SNP, much has been made about whether we are now closer to the break up of Britain. This debate in exam terms is subsumed into a wider debate about constitutional reform and whether (a) it has been a success (b) it has gone far enough.
In the latest edition of the exambuster I stripped out most of the lengthy analysis of devolution since it was rendered superfluous by new style questions on Edexcel Unit 2. But here is a snippet on the Scottish devolution debate.read more...»
As apathy upon wave of apathy has been heaped on the AV referendum debate, I thought I’d share with you a leader from the Times yesterday, urging voters to vote against. I don’t necessarily share the preference against, but it’s a useful addition to the compendium of material on electoral systems that teachers may have accumulated over the past several months. The strength of the argument presented, however, relates to the more glaring weaknesses in our government furniture. That said, it is likely that a wider debate on our constitution would stir up as much interest as the one focusing on this narrow feature of it.read more...»
The Sunday Times carried a couple of good stories rich with examples and argument relating to the ECHR. Useful at AS when looking at judges and civil liberties, as well as consideration of parliamentary sovereignty. Also useful for OCR comparative papers when looking at the idea of legislating from the bench.
If you have paywall access, they can be found here.
Just over 20 days left to catch More 4’s excellent behind the scenes documentary on Britain’s Supreme Court.
A couple of good articles here for students of AS Politics on stories that tend not to feature much (perhaps for good reason, in the view of some) on the main news programmes at the minute.
One by Henry Porter on the Con-Lib coalition’s plans to undo Labour’s attacks on civil liberties.
And another on the proposed elections referendum and the significance of changing the voting system from one columnist’s perspective.
The steady erosion of civil liberties in Britain has been cited in recent years by campaigners as evidence of weaknesses of the UK constitution, or the poor state of our democracy. It was said that Labour seemed to give with one hand, whilst taking with the other. Despite steps in the right direction as a result of the introduction of the European Convention on Human Rights, through the Human Rights Act (HRA) 1998, rights are still not adequately protected since they lack entrenchment in our political system. That civil liberties receive little protection was illustrated in full Technicolor by Blair’s fourfold extension of detention without trial. ASBOs have created a criminal class of innocent civilians. So what of the current government?
The House of Commons is regarded in comparative terms as one of the weakest legislatures in the world. Moreover it is argued that plans to cut the number of MPs will weaken it further since a higher proportion of MPs will be on the government payroll (so long as the number of ministers is not cut also).
Notwithstanding this, a major development in the ability of the House of Commons to scrutinise the executive is the introduction of departmental select committees in the UK in 1979. These non-partisan bodies can call for ‘persons, papers and records’ and can be seen to have resulted in more open government and act as a useful deterrent on an over mighty executive. Peter Riddell has argued that select committees have ‘been a major factor in the opening up of the workings of government over the past twenty years’.
And this week, according to the BBC website:
‘The scale of health reforms being made in England has taken the NHS by “surprise” and could threaten its ability to make savings, MPs say.
The Commons health committee has criticised the “significant policy shift” of scrapping primary care trusts and passing control of budgets to GPs.’
Therefore select committees continue to be a thorn in government’s side and there is a strong argument for strengthening their powers, especially given that we have a coalition government which has drafted policies that voters of the Conservative and Lib Dem parties didn’t know they were getting (most obviously the hike in tuition fees, which the Lib Dems pledged to oppose pre-election).
As a follow up to Owen’s earlier post, here are another couple of links to the AV issue.
I have been surprised by how many people are unaware of the referendums coming up later in the year. All the more surprising considering large numbers are (a) Politics students (b) eligible to vote in either of the polls (c) both!
So that’s the AV vote, but what’s the other one? The clue is in the picture on this posting. See here.
Whilst this week’s announcement that Gus O’Donnell, the UK’s most senior mandarin, we have a draft Cabinet manual in circulation doesn’t bring us any closer to codification of the constitution, it does offer lots of interesting source material on what government is and does.
Promises made by leaders in Holyrood and Cardiff Bay that the devolved governments will pay for the proposed hike in tuition fees have led some to argue that we are witnessing the development of educational apartheid.
This latest controversy gives us a chance to revisit the debate on devolution.read more...»
I’ve just been doing some research on the arguments for and against the alternative vote.
This is a summary of my initial findings. I also link to some resources.
It’s not an exhaustive account of the debate, but makes a good starting point if you are looking to integrate the potential introduction of AV for Westminster into your essays on ditching fptp.read more...»
I have no doubt that blog readers have been following the student protests about the proposed tuition fee hike and plan to end the EMA closely (indeed many of you may well have taken part).
The issue raises all sorts of questions about the state of democracy in the UK.read more...»
According to guardian.co.uk:
“The controversy over honours for political benefactors was reopened today with the appointment of a clutch of party donors and political apparatchiks as working peers.
The millionaire car importer Bob Edmiston, who gave £2m to the Tories, the Conservative party treasurer Stanley Fink, and the Labour donor Sir Gulam Noon were among 54 new working peers announced by Downing Street today.
Howard Flight, a former deputy chairman of the Conservative party, and Tina Stowell, a former deputy chief of staff to William Hague when he was opposition leader, were also on the list.”read more...»
Following the defeat in the Lords this week of a plan by the opposition to kill the government’s planned twin AV and constituency resizing bill, it looks more likely that there will be a referendum next May—only the second national referendum in the country’s history.
This means that consideration of the arguments for and against what the government plans are of increased importance. Voting reform can be a bit dry to newcomers, seeming like an unfortunate blizzard of systems and figures. But ultimately it comes down to what type of government, legislators and legislature we want. There is a fine balance between voter choice, representation, accountability and ease of use. So, of course, there is no such thing as a perfect electoral system given the competing and varied strengths they possess.
But I thought I’d draw your attention to a couple of articles by the Labour peer, David Lipsey, a man who served on the Jenkins Commission and is former deputy ed of the Economist. Both worth reading.read more...»
The status of Britain’s second chamber has been the very definition of a dilemma: a choice between two contrasting options, neither of which are ideal. It is impossible to claim it is a legitimate body when over 90 of its members are there by bloodline. Contrastingly, the best kept secret in British politics is that it actually does a very good job.
It is according to statistics, the most active second chamber in the world, sitting for longer and more frequently than anywhere else. Morover, it is impossible to question the quality of its output. A case in point comes this week with the publication of a cross party report which is scathing about the consequences of the current government’s plan to equalise constitutency sizes, slash the number of MPs and hold an AV referendum.read more...»