We need a written constitution not proportional representation

Gordon Brown’s desperate attempt to win Liberal Democrat votes at the general election, by dangling the proposition of electoral reform in the shape of the Alternative Transferable Vote (ATV) in front of them if Labour returns to government after the election, has sparked much debate.  But one of the better articles on the subject can be found over at The Economic Voice, written by Andrew Withers (Looking for a Voice). Withers includes an excellent summary of the constitutional mess the UK finds itself in, attributed to the vandalism of the spiteful Labour administration, that should be burned into the mind of every voter.

But the real reason why Withers’ piece stands out for me is the way he gets beyond the narrow vested interests of the main political parties that will debate Brown’s proposal.  For as he rightly identifies, any reform needs to have at its heart a truly democratic focus that empowers the individual, or as Withers puts it:

We need a new Constitutional Settlement, not a Soviet style one imposed from above, but a written Constitution that guarantees the rights of the individual over that of the State. Not Jack Straw’s perversion of what duties we all owe to the State.

He is absolutely right.  The UK needs a written constitution.  The existing dog’s breakfast that passes for a constitutional settlement leaves it to a couple of dozen influential members from the three main political parties, whose elected voting fodder inhabit the House of Commons, to dictate on an ad hoc basis the extent of the permissions that will be granted to the population on any number of issues.  The most clear recent example of this was the stitch up known as the Lisbon Treaty.  Ireland was forced to put the decision on ratification to the voters because it was a constitutional requirement to vote on such a substantial shift of power.  With the benefit of a written constitution the political class would have been unable to put their own interests first and bypass British voters to impose more EU control on this country.

The existing settlement is not only completely unacceptable, it is fundamentally anti-democratic.  It is reminiscent of the self serving Parliamentary era witnessed in the days between the execution of Charles I and the start of Oliver Cromwell’s reign as Lord Protector.  It is a corruption that needs to be dismantled.  And let’s not forget the absence of a written constitution also allows judges to interpret the law in very different ways, as their own personal biases see fit.  This makes the legal system little better than a lottery.  The cumulative effect is that the establishment – or the state if you will – is an effective dictatorship that rules us, whereas its purpose and role should always be to serve the public.  Not for no reason did the Americans, having rejected British control, ensured the enduring rights of citizens by enshrining them in a constitution.  Britain has long had the need for a constitution of its own and that must be the focus of people who believe in real democracy.

While there is much where I agree with Withers, I am not convinced however that the way to a written constitution is through proportional representation.  He certainly makes a powerful case for a written constitution, but the introduction of proportional representation (be it ATV or the German and Swiss models of PR that he lauds) does not guarantee such a constitution would be delivered.  As an electoral system First Past The Post is far from perfect.  But it still feels preferable to a system that entrenches the political parties, the increasing consensus between which is negating opposition to the prevailing groupthink and is at the root of the democratic deficit suffered by England, as well as the mish mash of electoral systems in force in various parts of the UK.  A system that elects the most popular candidate, rather than the least unpopular one, is more positive in my opinion.

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5 Responses to “We need a written constitution not proportional representation”

  1. 1 jameshigham 04/02/2010 at 8:38 pm

    We do need one but the people who would draft it are the corrupt above and so it is not a safe exercise until they are removed.

  2. 2 WitteringsfromWitney 04/02/2010 at 9:30 pm

    If we have got to have a written constitution, something I don’t totally accept, then can it be written in simple, plain English that even these bastards can understand?

  3. 3 Jonathan Crewdson 27/04/2011 at 10:37 pm

    Britain is only one of three countries to still lack a written constitution, the other two being Israel and New Zealand. Personally I think we do need something like a constitution or a basic law but the main issue is who would actually write the constitutional document. Clearly there would have to be public involvement but without strong co-ordination this would just end up with a muddled contradictory set of wishes, a bit like the present constitutional dog’s breakfast the UK operates.

    There is also very little evidence of any significant public interest in this matter. As a result there is a real danger a written constitution would simply codify our existing unsatisfactory regime. De-centralised power, more participatory democracy and a stronger entrenchment of rights and responsibilities is not guaranteed. And what would we do with the final document – a series of referenda on different sections or a “yes” or “no” style take it or leave it ballot?

    Then of course who actually interprets and enforces it? China, for example, has a bill of rights but it isn’t worth the paper it is worth on and the same can be said of so many dictatorial regimes.

    My argument is that we first need to engender public interest of a sufficient level to involve people in such a process and that is something that will take years, decades perhaps, to achieve. In the meantime I think the best we can do is tidy up our messy constitutional settlement by, for example, having co-terminus levels of devolution for Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England, to have just one electoral system for all levels of government (at least within each of the four nations) rather than the illogical proliferation we have now, to have a right to trigger recall elections at all levels, and to have fix all out terms based on a common length of office, say 5 years, so one year we elect parish/town/community councils, one year district/county/unitary councils, one year devolved elections, one year UK elections and one year EU elections rather than this mess of different terms and cycles.

  1. 1 Cold cold cold « TWAWKI Trackback on 04/02/2010 at 9:25 pm
  2. 2 The worst injustice: Contemptuous UK establishment has one law for us, another for them | Autonomous Mind Trackback on 28/07/2013 at 12:24 pm
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