Sound bites vs. quiet reflection: Better Government requires a considered approach - Saturday 1st May 2010
In a letter published in the Financial Times this week, members of The Constitution Society and the Better Government Initiative came up with a compelling, yet remarkable simple, proposition: even without fundamental constitutional change we could enjoy better government. The letter outlines four straightforward, perhaps even rather obvious ‘principles of good government’, which in essence suggest that a government should think carefully before acting and base legislation on evidence and analysis.
The signatories to the letter are not alone in their concerns; Sir John Baker and Nick Raynsford have both expressed anxiety at the perceived growing tendency of governments to introduce ‘sloppy’ legislation on a rushed timetable in response to media pressure, based on the apparent belief that every issue in the public eye can be dealt with by legislative intervention. The passing of new laws has become the default response when the ‘public’ (or perhaps only the media) demand that ‘something should be done’. It is hard to find fault with the reasonable proposition that governments should take time to consider the evidence, consult properly and act only when necessary, but if there is an obvious problem with the principles advanced by the signatories, it is that enforcement of them would depend on a change in behaviour of politicians and in particular a willingness to face down media pressure for rapid visible action. John Jackson, writing on the Open Democracy website, argues that these desirable standards cannot be achieved without wholesale constitutional change; moreover that such changes ought to be determined by open and public debate, rather than in response to pressure from one group.
In our digital age of rapid communication, 24 hour news coverage, blogs and twitter will any government have the gumption to take time for consideration in preference to the productions of sound bites?
The full text of the letter appears below.
A joint conference of the Better Government Initiative and The Constitution Society was held on April 22. In its report “Good Government” the BGI drew attention to notorious examples of what the public and media have come to regard as bad government such as the poll tax, the Dangerous Dogs Act, the failure of the Child Support Agency, the Hunting Act and the sad history of the Millennium Dome.
Further examples from many different policy areas were mentioned by speakers at our April 22 conference, among them the introduction by the Home Office of more than 60 criminal justice acts during a period of 17 years including the huge Criminal Justice Act 2003 with 339 sections and 38 schedules, some of which the government has still not been able to bring into effect.
We, the undersigned, believe that one of the most urgent tasks facing the next prime minister is to restore public confidence in the institutions and processes of government. Since the expenses scandal there has been a good deal of debate about constitutional reform, but little apparent consensus around any specific proposal. We believe that a significant improvement in the conduct of government, and in the legislative process in particular, can in fact be achieved without structural constitutional change.
The incoming administration could do much to avoid the serious and often cumulative policy failures of the past 20 years by observing basic principles of good government:
* New legislation should be introduced only when it is genuinely needed, and not as part of the governing party’s attempt to dominate the media agenda.
* Policy should be based on evidence and analysis.
* Legislation should be properly prepared and clearly drafted.
* New bills should be limited to their essential purposes and to a volume compatible with thorough parliamentary scrutiny without automatic guillotining in the Commons.
These principles have not always been followed. As far as we are aware, no senior political figure of any party opposes the proposals we are endorsing. They can be implemented without legislation. We urge the incoming prime minister to reflect on the responsibilities of his high office.
Sir Christopher Foster,
Chair, Better Government Initiative
Nat le Roux,
Chair, The Constitution Society
Sir David Arculus,
Prof Sir John Baker,
University of Cambridge
Lord Butler of Brockwell,
Former Cabinet Secretary
Secretary, Better Government Initiative
Senior Research Associate, University of Oxford Centre for Criminology, and former senior Home Office civil servant
Former MP for Cambridge and Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge
Lord Jenkin of Roding
Sir Nick Monck,
Former Permanent Secretary, Department of Employment
Prof Dawn Oliver,
University College London
Sir David Omand,
Visiting Professor, Dept of War Studies, King's College London, and former UK Security and Intelligence Co-ordinator
Former Head of the Cabinet Office Economic and Domestic Policy Secretariat
Andreas Whittam Smith,
Professor Sir Alan Wilson,
University College London
Tue, 28th February 2012
The next meeting of the APPG on the Constitution will take place on Tuesday 28th February at 7pm in Committee Room 3.
Mon, 20th February 2012
Bulletin for 20th February 2012
Mon, 6th February 2012
A summary of The Constitution Society's recent seminar exploring routes towards improved processes for constitutional change.
Thu, 2nd February 2012
An interesting look at the historical roots of modern constitutional law as it effects the issue of Scottish independence.
Would the Conservatives benefit from Scottish independence? - Michael Everett, Researcher, The Constitution Society
Wed, 1st February 2012
Michael Everett looks at the possible effects of Scottish independence on the balance of power between parties in the UK.
Mon, 16th January 2012
Aidan O'Neill QC (Matrix Chambers) discusses the legal issues surrounding a referendum on Scottish Independence.
Mon, 16th January 2012
The UK government’s legal argument for a binding referendum on Scottish independence runs counter to international and constitutional law - Dr. Matt Qvortrup
Thu, 12th January 2012
Answers to some key questions about the methods and effects of the Boundary Review underway.
Thu, 8th December 2011
The House of Lords grand committee met yesterday to debate the Constitution Committee's report on the process of constitutional change
Wed, 2nd November 2011
The Joint Committee on the Draft House of Lords Reform Bill met with four academic experts to hear their views on the merits of the Draft Bill.
Tue, 25th October 2011
A backbench motion debate on Britain’s relationship with the European Union has led to a significant rebellion of government MPs.
Mon, 24th October 2011
Today the government published the Cabinet Manual, heralding it as 'the ultimate user's guide to government'. It brings together a range of sources and aims to give a descriptive account of the procedural arrangements of the executive.
Fri, 21st October 2011
With Parliament preparing to follow the call of a public petition to debate the future of Britain’s relationship with the EU, questions about the appropriate role of direct popular influence on the political process have returned to the spotlight.
On whether or not to repeal; a briefing on the debate surrounding the Human Rights Act and a UK Bill of Rights
Tue, 4th October 2011
This week, as senior politicians from both sides of the coalition express differences in opinion regarding the future of the 1998 Human Rights Act and the prospect of a new UK Bill of Rights, we present some of the best recent writing on the issue as well as some useful background information.
Mon, 19th September 2011
After 14 months, and no small amount of controversy, the government's plan to fix the duration of parliamentary terms becomes law.
Thu, 15th September 2011
As Harriett Baldwin's Private Member's Bill is defeated at it's Third Reading, the government announces plans to create a commission to find a solution to the long-standing debate.
The Boundary Commission for England publishes its proposals for revised constituency boundaries to be contested in 2015
Tue, 13th September 2011
As the Boundary Commission for England releases its revised constituency proposals, we look at the implications of its new focus on equal population distribution.
Thu, 18th August 2011
The Scotland Bill faces its second reading with the Lords' return in September. But does it get to the heart of the devolution debate?
Baroness Royall on House of Lords Reform: The government’s draft bill ducks the crucial constitutional questions.
Tue, 9th August 2011
Shadow Leader of the House of Lords, and contributor to "The end of the peer show?", Baroness Royall sets out her view on House of Lords reform.
Thu, 26th January 2012
An archive of all regular bulletins
Tue, 9th August 2011
Downing Professor of the Laws of England at the University of Cambridge, and contributor to "The end of the peer show?", Sir John Baker sets out his view on House of Lords reform.
Thu, 21st July 2011
The Lords Constitution Select Committee concludes that the current variable treatment of constitutional proposals is unacceptable. It argues that there should be a “clear and consistent process” applied to all cases of “significant constitutional change”.
Tue, 19th July 2011
A debate at the LSE this week launched The Constitution Society's publication of a collection of responses to the draft bill on Lords reform from distinguished academics, peers and MPs.
Fri, 22nd July 2011
Minister for Political and Constitutional Reform, and contributor to "The end of the peer show?", Mark Harper sets out the government's view on House of Lords reform.
Tue, 28th June 2011
The House of Lords significantly amended the European Union Bill during its third reading in the Upper House last week. Peers used this last opportunity to amend the Bill to demonstrate their unwillingness to accept its controversial proposals.
Mon, 6th June 2011
Dr Robin Archer of the LSE has explained the lessons the UK might learn from examining the history of the Australian Senate. The insights he offered, in an interview with The Constitution Society, are of particular interest in light of the government’s new proposals on Lords reform.
Thu, 2nd June 2011
On May 17th the government introduced its House of Lords Reform Draft Bill in the Commons and the Lords. The Draft Bill suggests a move to an 80% elected upper house, with the remaining members appointed by recommendation of the Prime Minister. The new House of Lords would be made up of 300 members, with the 240 elected members sitting for 15-year terms.
Sat, 7th May 2011
The electorate has resoundingly rejected a proposal to introduce a system of alternative voting. The fall out will be the deferral of electoral reform for another generation and the political manoeuvring which underpinned the referendum is unlikely to have done anything to improve public perception of the integrity of politicians and our political system.
Wed, 18th May 2011
The Constitution Society’s evidence to the House of Lords Constitution Committee’s inquiry into Constitutional Reform was published on the 13th of May 2011 (link). The Society used agreed principles of Good Government to assess the quality of the legislative process behind the recently enacted Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Act (which led to May 5th’s referendum).
Fri, 13th May 2011
Elizabeth Truss, Member of Parliament for South West Norfolk, has called for councils to be “more free to take their own decisions”, warning that an excessive concern for equality between local government bodies disempowers British communities. Ms Truss made the case for a stronger localism in Britain during an interview with the Constitution Society.
Tue, 26th April 2011
Alan Renwick of the University of Reading explores the arguments around the AV referendum.
Mon, 18th April 2011
Chris Nicholson, Chief Executive of the liberal think tank Centre Forum, explains his reasons for supporting a move to the Alternative Vote at the forthcoming referendum.
Tue, 12th April 2011
Lord Kinnock recently spoke to The Constitution Society about his support for AV and his reaction to the negativism of the no campaign in the lead up to the referendum on May 5th. Here we report his thoughts.
Wed, 6th April 2011
A collection of resources to help you make up your mind ahead of Thursday's referendum.
Tue, 5th April 2011
Former Chair of the Labour party Baroness Hayter defends First Past the Post ahead of next month's referendum on the Alternative Vote.
Wed, 6th April 2011
Former cabinet minister Peter Hain MP explains why he supports the yes to AV campaign.
Fri, 6th May 2011
The AV referendum ballot papers are being counted. We show you the latest figures.
Wed, 13th April 2011
Links to The Constitution Society's Briefing papers on AV. We explain what it is and how it might affect our political system? We also report on our findings when we commissioned YouGov to ask 2000 people what they thought.
Mon, 17th January 2011
Direct links to briefing papers produced by The Constitution Society.
Fri, 25th March 2011
As more of the Government's legislative programme reaches the Lords, we consider the implications of Coalition for the Upper Chamber.
Tue, 1st March 2011
In the context of Thursday's Welsh vote on broader legislative independence, we consider the genesis and implications of the wave of referendums currently planned for the UK.
Fri, 18th February 2011
Cameron and Clegg have stated their cases for and against AV. The public now has 10 weeks to decide the future of the electoral system.
Fri, 11th February 2011
We take stock of the changes made to the Voting System Bill during its epic scrutiny session in the Lords.
Mon, 17th January 2011
We assess the progress made in a century of debate on reform of the House of Lords. Are we any closer to knowing what we want from a reformed Upper House and are we sure we know how to achieve it?
Thu, 17th February 2011
Almost seven months after being introduced in the Commons, the Voting Systems Bill has received royal assent in time for the May 5th referendum.
Tue, 25th January 2011
This month's meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Constitution hosted a fascinating discussion on the Cabinet Manual. Despite broad consensus on the potentiality of the document, the merits of its implications could not be agreed.
Wed, 2nd February 2011
A promised "package of concessions" at report stage has permitted the Voting System Bill to conclude its marathon committee stage debate in the Lords.
Mon, 31st January 2011
Facing their 17th day of programmed discussion of amendments to the Voting System Bill, the Lords for the first time face a guillotine on debate.
Tue, 25th January 2011
The Government yesterday afforded the European Union Bill a further day of debate in the Commons but critics argue it that the Government continues to curtail proper scrutiny.
Wed, 5th January 2011
The infinite questions on Lords reform left unresolved by a century of debate.
Tue, 21st December 2010
Following the publication of the Draft Cabinet Manual, the Constitution Society talks to the experts.
Fri, 17th December 2010
Reform of the House has been on the political agenda for more than a century yet the Lords stands largely unchanged. The Coalition have made the most recent pledge in the line of policy promises but what do we want from reform?
Fri, 10th December 2010
Notoriously difficult to define, the tangible face of constitutional reform can be glimpsed in the recent debate over tuition fees. The cries of 'unfairness' and 'punishment' reignite the devolution debate amidst a continuing trend towards increasing regional autonomy.
Fri, 3rd December 2010
Will the dramatic pace of the Voting System Bill be slowed as it navigates resistance in the Lords?
Thu, 25th November 2010
Constitution expert Meg Russell makes powerful plea for Government to reform appointment policy or face "serious damage" to the House.
Fri, 26th November 2010
A group of new MPs have launched a bid to introduce an electronic voting system in the House of Commons.
Thu, 18th November 2010
Lord Howarth's passionate response to the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill is indicative of a broad appetite for continued debate on electoral reform and boundary revision.
Fri, 19th November 2010
Simon Hix, Professor in the Department of Government at the LSE, has criticised Government proposals to hold a referendum on AV in an interview with reconstitution.org.uk.
Tue, 16th November 2010
A "lawyer's wheeze" or a serious matter of constitutional principle? A group of peers claimed on Monday 15th November that the Pariamentary Voting System and Constiuencies Bill is technically "hybrid" and as such should undergo a longer process of scrutiny by committee. A subsequent vote in the Lords was narrowly defeated, meaning that the progress of the Bill will not be slowed as anticipated.
Mon, 8th November 2010
From the perspective of proposals to "reduce and equalise" parliamentary constituencies, we probe the ties between the Government's broader programme for constitutional reform.
Mon, 25th October 2010
Harriett Baldwin, Conservative MP for West Worcestershire, speaks to ReConstitution about her private members’ Bill, seeking to find a solution to the issue commonly known as the ‘West Lothian Question’, and the future of constituency boundaries.
Mon, 1st November 2010
Following a lecture by the former President of the New Zealand Labour Party, we look for lessons to be learnt from their experience of constitutional reform.
Wed, 6th October 2010
Results of our specially commissioned YouGov poll on AV and the referendum. 2548 people were asked various questions about their voting intentions and their understanding of voting systems generally. They were also asked to give their reasons; with surprising results.
Fri, 13th August 2010
Although people tend to talk about Alternative Voting as if it is a single concept, there are in fact many different variants on the AV system. Our briefing paper gives a clear explanation of the AV system currently proposed by the Government, together with worked examples.
Thu, 16th September 2010
Like the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill, the Fixed term Parliaments Bill is being rushed through Parliament, with woefully inadequate time for scrutiny. Yet the Bill contains novel provisions which will have a profound impact on votes of no confidence and dissolution of Parliament - not least the abolition of one of the Queen's prerogative powers. Why the hurry?
Thu, 7th October 2010
The Constitution Society (TCS) commissioned YouGov to carry out an on-line poll to gauge public opinion on a broad range of issues around electoral reform and the government’s referendum proposal. 2548 people were asked various questions about their voting intentions and their understanding of voting systems generally. They were also asked to give their reasons. The survey produced some surprising results .
Thu, 21st October 2010
An archive of agendas and resources from previous meetings of the APPG on the Constitution.
Fri, 20th August 2010
Following the Electoral Commission's confirmation of funding rules for the AV referendum campaign, we look at how this interesting campaign might evolve, and whether either camp is advantaged from the start.
Fri, 30th July 2010
A Bill is currently before Parliament to propose a referendum on electoral reform and boundary changes. To date, none of the main political parties has given reasons why a change from our First Past the Post system of electing members to the House of Commons ought to be changed to a system of Alternative Voting. We examine the implications of a change in voting system and look at some of the, perhaps unforeseen, consequences of the changes which the Bill proposes.
Looking for that special someone: the enduring relationship between politicians and special advisers
Thu, 29th July 2010
We take a look at special advisers, often thought of as a recent phenomenon. However closer examination reveals that special advisers have been around as long as politicians.
Sat, 17th July 2010
On 15th July 2010 Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister became the first witness to the newly-formed Select Committee on Political and Constitutional Reform. The committee cross-examined Mr Clegg both on the timing and content of reform proposals.
Sun, 11th July 2010
The first weighty debate of proposals to reform the House of Lords took place on 29th June 2010. Though ignored in the media, the debate included some of the most cogently reasoned arguments for and against a move from an appointed to an elected House, with a majority of the 65 peers participating in the debate expressing concern at the prospect of the creation of 'a pale imitation of the House of Commons'.
Sat, 24th July 2010
In a further valuable contribution to the burgeoning debate on constitutional reform in general, and the codification of the British constitution in particular, a group of constitutional experts led by Stephen Hockman QC and Professor Vernon Bogdanor have called for a holistic approach to the constitution. In a paper published by JUSTICE, the group analyses the questions which need resolution before any moves can be made towards the creation of a codified constitution.
Fri, 2nd July 2010
Prompted by the recent publication of a book on the subject by Richard Gordon QC, the PR consultancy SPADA recently sponsored a debate on whether the UK now needs a written constitution. Read more, or watch a video of the debate in full.
Wed, 16th June 2010
The Rt Hon John Bercow, Speaker of the House of Commons outlined his vision of a revitalised chamber of the House of Commons. The new Parliament has seen an encouraging number of new faces in the House taking an active interest in the business of the Chamber. But what will it take to sustain that enthusiasm and reinvigorate debate in the House?
Mon, 7th June 2010
Both the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru have stated that they intend to exploit the hung parliament to their own advantage, once again putting the spotlight on the 'English question' - that Scottish and Welsh MPs may vote in Westminster on issues that affect only England, whilst English MPs have no say in relation to the deliberations of the Scottish parliament or the Welsh assembly. We look at whether there will ever be a solution to this problem.
Sat, 29th May 2010
Amid the calls for electoral reform and the coalition government's promise to put the Alternative Voting system to a referendum, we look at what difference a change to the voting system would make. Is democracy in the voting or the counting?
Tue, 18th May 2010
The European Union has been criticised in the past for failing to develop a more effective foreign policy, but the External Action Service is supposed to bring new cohesion and coherence to this area of European cooperation. However, the new High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Baroness Ashton, has already run into opposition to her plans and, although a compromise has been struck, the road ahead scarcely looks any easier.
Wed, 12th May 2010
The negotiations leading to the formation of the new coalition government have turned, in part, on the question of electoral reform. A matter of such constitutional importance should, it is argued, form part of a wider review of the constitution and should not be used merely as a political bargaining chip. Will sufficient time be given to consider the implications of change before reforms are pushed through?
Should civil servants have the tyranny of the first draft? Peter Lloyd considers the Cabinet Secretary’s “Cabinet Manual”
Thu, 6th May 2010
Peter Lloyd questions the provenance of the recently disclosed 'Cabinet Manual'. Amid suggestions that the manual might form the basis of a written constitution, he questions whether it should be for a civil servant to generate the first draft of such a fundamental document.
Tue, 13th April 2010
At a debate of the Society of Cogers on 19th April 2010, Nat le Roux, Chairman of the Trustees of the Constitution Society, argued that our problem may not lie with our constitution itself, but rather with the conduct of our politicians. He suggested that the single biggest problem of contemporary democracy - is that all politicians are terrified of losing power, because the lesson of the last 30 years is that once you’ve lost power you don’t get it back for a generation.
Mon, 26th April 2010
In an article published for the first time on the ReConstitution website, Professor Dawn Oliver argues that we should resist political pressure to reform the House of Lords by making it an elected body. She proposes abolishing the House of Lords and starting from scratch by the creation of a wholly appointed Commission for Executive Scrutiny, with proposals which chime with views expressed by Lord Bingham.
Thu, 4th March 2010
The head of the Civil Service is warning Gordon Brown not to leave Number 10 if it is unclear who has won the upcoming election. Sir Gus O’Donnell told MPs that it is “the Prime Minister’s duty not to resign” until a successor can be found.
Wed, 21st April 2010
Will the problems with Parliament be solved by the retirement of many of the worst expenses offenders and an influx of new MPs? There is a perceptible mood for change amongst voters, but will altering some of the personnel be enough to restore confidence in both Parliament and the ‘constitution’ of the United Kingdom?
Wed, 7th April 2010
Campaigners are expressing their dismay, as the government’s legal commitment to hold a referendum on reforming the electoral system looks set to be scrapped as part of the ‘wash up’.
Mon, 29th March 2010
Legendary anti-corruption campaigner Martin Bell is spearheading a campaign to make the ‘wash up’ more transparent. Mr Bell is criticizing the process, which takes place during the final days of a parliament to try and get as many of the remaining bills finished as possible, as a “stitch-up by and for the main political parties”.
Wed, 17th March 2010
A senior government minster has laid into David Cameron’s plans to reduce the number of MPs should he get into power.
Mon, 15th March 2010
The controversial libel judge at the centre of a storm over the development of privacy law in the UK has hit back at his tabloid critics. Justice Eady, who rose to notoriety after punishing the News of the World for publishing intimate photos of Formula 1 boss Max Mosely’s private life, accused tabloids of having a vested interest in stunting privacy for financial gain.
Wed, 10th March 2010
A senior Tory is expressing her support for an elected House of Lords. Margot James, a vice-chairwoman of the Conservative party, made the announcement during an interview with Reconstitution where she claimed the current system was “out of kilter”.
Mon, 8th March 2010
Academics are calling for “immediate assurances” from the government that it will implement the recently agreed Wright reforms before the end of this parliament. Dr Meg Russell of the UCL Constitution Unit warned them “this is the timetable the Commons voted for and party leaders must work together to honour that.”
Tue, 23rd February 2010
The parliamentary reform movement is split over whether the proposed Wright Reforms go far enough.
Mon, 1st February 2010
Better Government Initiative launches major report.
Mon, 1st February 2010