Constitutional Change in the United Kingdom

By F. N. Forman | Go to book overview

Preface

This is a comprehensive account of constitutional change in the United Kingdom. Because such change has often taken place over a very long period of time, the book does not focus exclusively on what has happened since Labour came to power in May 1997, but reaches back, where appropriate, to explain the historical background to the significant reforms pursued by successive Blair Administrations. It also uses a broad definition of what is involved in constitutional change for the very good reason that in the United Kingdom, to a greater extent than elsewhere, almost all significant political reforms can have constitutional consequences.

New Labour came to power in May 1997 on the basis of a Manifesto in which it declared:

our system of government is centralised, inefficient and bureaucratic. Our citizens cannot assert their basic rights in our own courts. … There is unquestionably a national crisis of confidence in our political system to which Labour will respond in a measured and sensible way.

Four or five years later we are in a better position to judge the significance of these words and the extent to which the Labour Government has met the expectations which it raised.

Certainly the scope of constitutional reform under Labour has been wide-ranging; but in the eyes of some people it has been essentially cautious, pragmatic and occasionally incoherent in its implementation. This has left campaigners for constitutional reform, such as those in Charter 88, in the Liberal Democrats and in the academic community, disappointed with Tony Blair's apparent unwillingness to exploit huge Labour majorities in two successive Parliaments in order to transform the constitutional context within which our system of government operates. In particular, there has been disappointment in these quarters at the lack of substantial progress towards radical reform of the House of Commons, full British participation in Economic and Monetary Union in Europe, and the introduction of proportional representation as the basis for elections to the Westminster Parliament. Yet it remains possible that these outstanding goals will be achieved during the remainder of Labour's period in office and the author of this work is in no doubt that future historians will acknowledge the enduring significance of the constitutional reforms introduced by successive Blair Administrations.

The attentive reader will quickly appreciate that there are several important themes running through the agenda of constitutional change in this country, although the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg, was content to say that 'principled pragmatism' is the unifying thread which has run through the whole of Labour's programme. In the author's opinion, one theme has undoubtedly been the political determination of Ministers to honour

-xv-

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