Aspects of the British Constitutional and Political Experience

What aspects of the British constitutional and political experience do not allow the Prime Minister to become a dictator?

The core constitutional principle of the British political system and cornerstone of the Westmister model is parlamentary sovereighnty: Parliament can make or overturna by law.[1] In a classic parliamentary democracy, the prime minister is answerable to the House of Commons and may be dismissed by it. [2]

Britain operates within a system of fusion of powers at the national level. The British cabinet bears enormous constitutional responsibility. Through its collective decision making, the cabinet and not an independent prime minister, shapes, directs and takes responsobility for government.[3] Parliamentary sovereignty, parliamentary democracy and cabinet government form the core elements of the British or Westminster model of governmnet, which many consider a model democracy and the first effective parliamentary democracy.[4]

One key feature of the constitution is the continuation of arbitrary, unlimited and unaccountable power -all of which derive from the Crown . Most of these are exercised by the government, some continue to be exercised by the Queen.[5]

The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the head of government and performs many of the functions, nominally owned by the sovereign, who is the head of state.[6] According to the tradition, the Prime Minister and the Cabinet (which he chairs) are responsible for their actions in front of the Parliament, of which they are members.

The primary responsibility of the Prime Minister is the formation of the government, i.e. creation of a Cabinet, which will be able to retain the support of the House of Commons after the appointment of the Monarch. [7] The power of the Prime Minister is also limited by the House of Commons, the support of which it is to maintain.

The house of Commons partially controls the actions of the Prime Minister through the hearings in the committees and from time to time issues, the time allocated once a week, in which the Prime Minister must answer the questions of the opposition leader and other members of the chamber.[8] Many sources, such as former Ministers argue that in the government of Tony Blair’s main decisions were taken by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, and the Cabinet remained on the sidelines. [9]

The only other constitutionally mandated mechanism for checking the prime minister is a defeat on a vote of no confidence in the House of Commons. Collective responsibility is a crucial aspect of the Westminster model of democracy. The Cabinets role in containing the chief executive remains the only routine check on his or her power.[10]

 

 Do citizens of the Great Britain have to demand a written constitution to defend their rights in the 21st Century?

The British constitution is often described as an unwritten constitution. Although many of the sources of the constitution are written and documented, the British Constitution remains uncodified. This means that, unlike in most modern democracies, there is no single document which explains how people are governed.[11] A constitution sets out the way in which a country will be run.[12]

Three aspects are generally defined in any constitution: First is the way in which power is balanced between the institutions (or governing bodies) of the nation State. Second is the limits to the powers exercised by such institutions, imposed to safeguard the rights and freedoms of individuals. And most important for citizens is the extent to which individual rights and freedoms within the nation State are protected. [13]

The governing elites of many European nations, such as France and Germany, have been forced to draw up constitutions in response to popular revolt or war. Great Britain, by contrast, remained free of the revolutionary fervor that swept much of the Continent in the 19th century. As a result, this country’s democracy has been reformed incrementally over centuries rather than in one big bang.[14] Instead constitutional experts point to a number of treaties, laws and conventions (another word for ‘habits’) which together make up the constitution.

These include: Acts of Parliament, Treaties, EU law, Common Law, Conventions, Royal Prerogative, and Works of authority. [15] Justice Secretary Jack Straw said:

“The constitution of the United Kingdom exists in hearts and minds and habits as much as it does in law.”[16]

Nor is there a single statement of citizens’ rights and freedom. As the Justice Secretary put it:

“Most people might struggle to put their finger on where their rights are.”[17]

Britain’s arcane hotch-potch of freedoms and rights cannot be defended in the 21st century.[18] It could help citizens clarify their rights and protect themselves against the state. Most flourishing democracies base their institutions on a written constitution. The proposition is that the United Kingdom should adopt a written constitution, explicitly outlining the rights of citizens, the roles of all organs of the government, and the powers of the state.

Parliament enjoys “sovereignty,” whereby it may pass whatever laws it wishes with no higher law limiting its legislation nor any judicial power to question the fundamental legitimacy of the law.[19]  Adopting such a constitution would restrict the behavior of the government, and subject all exercises of state power to judicial review. In 2007 then Prime Minister Gordon Brown made proposals for a British constitution and bill of rights which would have restricted the powers of the prime minister in areas such as declaring war however these proposals never came to anything.[20]


[1] Krieger J.Britain. Ch.2. No: Kesselman M., Krieger J. Joseph W. (eds.) ( 2007) Introduction to Comparative Politics. Houghton Mifflin Company. Boston, N.Y., pp.62

[2] Ibid page 62

[3] Ibid page 62

[4] Ibid page 63

[5] The British Constitution. http://www.republic.org.uk/What%20we%20want/In%20depth/The%20British%20Constitution/index.php

[6] Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. http://dic.academic.ru/dic.nsf/ruwiki/88725#.D0.92.D0.BB.D0.B0.D1.81.D1.82.D1.8C_.D0.B8_.D0.B5.D1.91_.D0.BE.D0.B3.D1.80.D0.B0.D0.BD.D0.B8.D1.87.D0.B5.D0.BD.D0.B8.D1.8F

[7] Ibid

[8] Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. http://dic.academic.ru/dic.nsf/ruwiki/88725#.D0.92.D0.BB.D0.B0.D1.81.D1.82.D1.8C_.D0.B8_.D0.B5.D1.91_.D0.BE.D0.B3.D1.80.D0.B0.D0.BD.D0.B8.D1.87.D0.B5.D0.BD.D0.B8.D1.8F

[9] Chapter 12 Blair’s Cabinet: Monarchy Returns, British Government in Crisis, Christopher Foster, Hart Publishing, 2005

[10] Krieger J.Britain. Ch.2. No: Kesselman M., Krieger J. Joseph W. (eds.) ( 2007) Introduction to Comparative Politics. Houghton Mifflin Company. Boston, N.Y., pp. 63

[11] The British Constitution. http://www.republic.org.uk/What%20we%20want/In%20depth/The%20British%20Constitution/index.php

[12] The British Constitution, law reform and the parliamentary legislative process. http://cw.routledge.com/textbooks/9780415458528/chapterone.pdf

[13] Ibid page 7

[14] The Big Question: Why doesn’t the UK have a written constitution, and does it matter? http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/the-big-question-why-doesnt-the-uk-have-a-written-constitution-and-does-it-matter-781975.html

[15]The British Constitution. http://www.republic.org.uk/What%20we%20want/In%20depth/The%20British%20Constitution/index.php

[16] Diversity of the human spirit. David Schiff. https://sites.google.com/site/davidschiff83/diversity

[17] The Big Question: Why doesn’t the UK have a written constitution, and does it matter? http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/the-big-question-why-doesnt-the-uk-have-a-written-constitution-and-does-it-matter-781975.html

[18] ibid

[19] Debates that the UK should have a written constitution.
http://idebate.org/debatabase/debates/constitutional-governance/uk-should-have-written-constitution

[20] Debates that the UK should have a written constitution.
http://idebate.org/debatabase/debates/constitutional-governance/uk-should-have-written-constitution

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