The British General Election: what now for our constitution?

Two documents are never read by the overwhelmingly majority of people.

The first is our constitution, not least because it does not exist as a single codified document, but it is nevertheless something vital to our democracy and needs reform but the right reform.

The second is election manifestos because they are essentially only available online, they are long, and they are boring. But one part of the manifesto of the victorious Conservative Party – the notorious page 48 – deserves some attention because of the constitutional reforms that it proposes, not least the threat that in future voters will only be allowed to cast a ballot if they can prove their identity and the promise to change the Human Rights Act.

For your edification and illumination, I offer you the text of the relevant part of the Tory manifesto here:

As Conservatives, we stand for democracy and the rule of law. Our independent courts and legal system are respected throughout the world.

One of the strengths of the UK’s constitution is its ability to evolve – as times have changed, so have Parliament, government and the judiciary.

Today, that need is greater than ever. The failure of Parliament to deliver Brexit – the way so many MPs have devoted themselves to thwarting the democratic decision of the British people in the 2016 referendum – has opened up a destabilising and potentially extremely damaging rift between politicians and people. If the Brexit chaos continues, with a second referendum and a second Scottish referendum too, they will lose faith even further.

It is only by getting Brexit done that we can start the necessary task of restoring public trust in government and politics:

 We will get rid of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act – it has led to paralysis at a time the country needed decisive action.

 We will ensure we have updated and equal Parliamentary boundaries, making sure that every vote counts the same – a cornerstone of democracy.

 We will continue to support the First Past the Post system of voting, as it allows voters to kick out politicians who don’t deliver, both locally and nationally.

 We will protect the integrity of our democracy, by introducing identification to vote at polling stations, stopping postal vote harvesting and measures to prevent any foreign interference in elections.

 We will make it easier for British expats to vote in Parliamentary elections, and get rid of the arbitrary 15-year limit on their voting rights.

 We will maintain the voting age at 18 – the age at which one gains full citizenship rights.

 We will ensure that no one is put off from engaging in politics or standing in an election by threats, harassment or abuse, whether in person or online.

 We will champion freedom of expression and tolerance, both in the UK and overseas.

 To support free speech, we will repeal section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2014, which seeks to coerce the press. We will not proceed with the second stage of the Leveson Inquiry.

 We will ensure redundancy payments can be clawed back when high-paid public servants move between jobs.

 We will improve the use of data, data science and evidence in the process of government.

Once we get Brexit done, Britain will take back control of its laws. As we end the supremacy of European law, we will be free to craft legislation and regulations that maintain high standards but which work best for the UK. We want a balance of rights, rules and entitlements that benefits all the people and all the parts of our United Kingdom.

After Brexit we also need to look at the broader aspects of our constitution: the relationship between the Government, Parliament and the courts; the functioning of the Royal Prerogative; the role of the House of Lords; and access to justice for ordinary people. The ability of our security services to defend us against terrorism and organised crime is critical. We will update the Human Rights Act and administrative law to ensure that there is a proper balance between the rights of individuals, our vital national security and effective government. We will ensure that judicial review is available to protect the rights of the individuals against an overbearing state, while ensuring that it is not abused to conduct politics by another means or to create needless delays. In our first year we will set up a Constitution, Democracy & Rights Commission that will examine these issues in depth, and come up with proposals to restore trust in our institutions and in how our democracy operates.

I will be watching out for the formation and operation of this Constitution, Democracy & Rights Commission. 


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