Pages tagged "English Parliament"
Article by Jonathan Clark
The British have, typically, little interest in constitutional law. Unlike the French, who regularly rewrite their constitution in revolutions or attempts to prevent revolutions, the British tend to assume that little changes and that all is well. Alas, the constitutional problems accumulate nevertheless. Dominic Grieve was right in a recent Commons debate to say that there are areas of the British constitution that need clearer definition. But what exactly are they? Why is the Brexit question so difficult to resolve through the familiar Westminster machinery?
The big issues of constitutional conflict are so fraught because they happen in legal grey areas, in which agreement and definition have never emerged. Today there are two such major areas, though many minor ones.
The first is the question of sovereignty: where does ultimate authority reside? It is many centuries since any significant number of people claimed that it resided with the person of the monarch alone. But the decline of that image was followed by the growing popularity of another, ‘the Crown in Parliament’, that is, the monarch, the Lords and the Commons acting together. This image never went away, but was upstaged by the doctrine of the lawyer A. V. Dicey (1835-1922) that ‘Parliament’ (meaning, increasingly, the House of Commons) was sovereign. Yet from the Reform Bill of 1832 into the 20th century, successive rounds of franchise extension strengthened another old idea, that the ultimate authority lay with ‘the People’, however defined.
From 1973, when the UK joined the EEC, it slowly became evident that the answer was ‘none of the above’: ultimate authority lay with Brussels. Parliament rubber-stamped increasing amounts of secondary legislation from an evolving super-state. In 2019, departure from the EU would remove that layer of command. This prospect inevitably reopens an old debate, which had never really been settled: was Parliament or the People finally supreme? Its re-emergence reminds us that Dicey’s doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty was the opinion of one commentator only. That opinion partly corresponded to contemporary practice, partly not.
Today, the tide is everywhere running in the opposite direction. Deference and duty daily fade; the key word everywhere is ‘choice’, and this means the choices of the many, not just the few. The transformation of communications places steadily more power in the hands of a steadily more educated, better informed ‘People’. But this trend has been matched by another, seen across the West in recent decades and at all levels: in increasingly complex societies, the executive has everywhere grown more powerful vis-a-vis the legislature. Political scientists have largely ignored this tide, but it has swept forwards nevertheless. It means that two powerful social forces now collide. Across western democracies, ‘ordinary people’ find means of complaining that they are ignored by elites who ‘just don’t get it’; elites decry ‘populism’ and exalt the opinion of ‘experts’, expressed to within one decimal point in forecasts of outcomes 15 years hence.
This collision reopens a second, equally old, question. What is a Member of Parliament: a delegate, or a representative? Edmund Burke famously outlined the case for the second: MPs, once elected, represent the nation as a whole; they owe the nation their best judgment; they are in nobody’s pocket. But another idea is just as old, and equally honourable: MPs are sent to Westminster by their electors to redress the electors’ grievances, and are accountable to them. Against Burke, we can set another intellectual, Andrew Marvell, MP for Hull in 1659-78, who was paid by his constituents and regularly reported back to them. Understandably, Burke’s high-sounding doctrine proved the more popular among MPs. But after he framed it, his constituents in Bristol threw him out for favouring Irish commercial interests over theirs, and he represented thereafter only his patron’s pocket borough.
Both ideas in their pure form are unacceptable. But how the balance between the two is to be struck can never be quantified or defined, and a crisis like the present makes the impossibility of a definition clear. ‘The People’ voted by 52 to 48 for Leave, and a larger percentage now says ‘just get on with it’; but about five-sixths of the House of Commons are for Remain.
Among Conservative MPs, something under 100 are evidently for Leave; of the other 200 or so, over half are on the Government payroll in one capacity or another, and more would like to be. So profound a dissociation between elite and popular opinion is rare. Worse still, public opinion polls and the growing practice of referenda quantify the problem as never before; the issue is easily expressed in binary terms (Leave or Remain); and the arguments have been fully rehearsed. Other countries show similar problems of relations between the many and the few, but in the UK these are brought to a focus. Since the constitution has failed to resolve them, public debate is full of expressions of elite contempt for the ignorant, prejudiced, xenophobic, racialist populace on the one hand; of popular contempt for the self-serving, condescending, out-of-touch Establishment on the other.
Before 1914, Conservative peers making technical points over a budget were manoeuvred by Lloyd George into a constitutional confrontation that could be memorably summed up as ‘Peers versus the People’. In this clash, the peers could only lose. Now, the Remainers have been manoeuvred into a constitutional confrontation that, if it goes much further, will be labelled ‘Parliament versus the People’. In such a conflict it can only be Parliament that will lose. In that event, the damage would be considerable.
These great questions of constitutional definition are seldom solved; rather, the issues are defused by building next to them a new practice. The present challenge is to accommodate that new arrival in the political arena, the referendum, and to turn it into a clearly specified, moderate, and constructive institution, as it is in Switzerland. Those concerned about daily policy should think again about a subject, once salient in university History departments but now everywhere disparaged: constitutional history.
THE DISSOLUTION OF THE UNITED KINGDOM COMES A STEP CLOSER!
Warring Tories have put a hurricane in the sail of the nationalists
Are you just more of the same old politicians?
English Democrats are conviction politicians. Our party has gradually grown in numbers since 2002 to now well over 4,000. All our activists are volunteers, they receive no expenses for their travel, telephone etc, from the English Democrats or the UK or European taxpayer – unlike those of the British Establishment parties all too many of whom are experts in milking the system.
Are you against the United Kingdom?
“English & Proud” – that’s what English Democrats are. We reject the Unionists’ argument that “England is too big” to the break-up of England. England is a proud and historic nation and we should restore equality between the British nations and stop the English being treated as being second class citizens in our own country! There have been referendums in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland leading to Home Rule. Devolution in these countries has had a major impact on the governance of England. The people of England too are entitled to be consulted and there should be a referendum for English Independence which takes us automatically outside the European Union!
What are your origins?
The founding members of the English Democrats came together in 2002 when the party was launched at Imperial College London. Many of the founding members were members of the political campaign group the “Campaign for an English Parliament” (CEP). Our party consists of normal patriotic people from all walks of life and backgrounds.
Politically our policies are neither left nor right. We have a commitment to a mixed economy and the provision of essential public services. We are implacably opposed to blind acceptance of globalisation with its economics based on cheap labour and the off-shoring of English jobs. We believe that there is a need to support our own manufacturing industry. We also believe that Charity Begins at Home and would prioritise help for the vulnerable and pensioners in our own country rather than borrowing to give away so much money to foreign governments and institutions – often ones with well-deserved reputations for financial malpractice.
Are you racist?
Of course not! Comments about being racist are the favourite insults used by Liberal Democrats, Tories and Labour, as well as the politically correct in general, as their objective is to trade on self-hatred and anti-Englishness. National pride is nothing to be ashamed of and being proud to be English is not racist. Every country has ethnic minorities. You do not have to be English to support the English Democrats and we welcome support from all who share our aims. All the people of England are affected by the injustices created by the current British Political Establishment.
Are you anti-European?
There is often confusion in answering this question. We are very interested in having good and productive relationships with all the countries in Europe, but we do not believe in political union, i.e. we reject the concept of a United States of Europe under the auspices of the European Union (EU). We believe that the people of England have been betrayed by British Labour, Liberal Democrats and Conservatives & Unionists alike, with half-truths and lies being told which have resulted in our country being stripped of its right to make laws on our own behalf. We reject any attempt to break England into Euro Regions, removing England’s status as a nation.
We want to be friends and trading partners with Europe – but we don’t want to be run by Brussels. We would never support joining the Euro and believe laws to penalise people who buy goods in imperial measures are draconian and antidemocratic.
What would we do if we left the EU?
We do not believe the EU has brought many advantages to English businesses, in fact we believe the contrary to be the case. Onerous and expensive bureaucracies have flourished issuing masses of legislative requirements which make our industries uncompetitive in comparison to the rest of the world. At the same time the EU is admitting vast amounts of trade from low cost countries like China and India, without their need to meet the same stringent standards. The consequence is our manufacturing base and production facilities are closing down and re-locating, where the bureaucracy and costs are so much cheaper. This process will in time be catastrophic for England and many European nations. The EU seems powerless to protect its own vital strategic interests and we have no faith that the people who are running the EU have the skills or ability to make a success of the venture. We will always oppose being part of the Eurozone.