The Constitution Under Pressure

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  • The Constitution Under Pressure
    • Early 20th Century
      • At times however, the constituion was the focus of serious political dispute. The 'Irish Question' came close to provoking civil war before a solution of sorts was reached in 1921-22 with the creation of the Irish Free State which became the Republic of Ireland in 1949, and a six country Northern Ireland that remained part of the UK
      • A constitutional crisis also arose when the House of Lords refused to support the Liberal governments budget of 1909. It was resolved when the Parliament Act 1911 reduced the powers of the House of Lords
    • The 1970s
      • The 1970s brought further challenges to the traditional constitution including the decline of the two party system, the 'Troubles' in Northern Ireland and EEC membership
      • Conservative Lord Hailsham warned that executive dominance of the legislature created an elective dictatorship and proposed a codified constitution
      • Political scientists S.E.Finer believed that the FPTP electoral system produced adversarial politics in which parties entering government systematically overturned the policies of their predecessors, creating instability. He advocated proportional representation as a remedy
    • Thatcher and Major
      • The Conservative governments of Margaret Thatcher and John Major had important constitutional consequence, there was a further centralisation of political power, evident in the abolition of the Greater London Council
      • In areas where the Conservatives maintained the constituional status quo- by refusing demands for Scottish devolution, for example, they were criticised for undermining the legitimacy and efficiency of the traditional constitution. The FPTP electoral system came under further pressure- it enabled the Conservatives to carry out radical reforms having won 4 successive elections with securing a majority of the vote
      • In the 1990s traditional methods of government gave way to new forms of governance. Formal institutions such as government departments and local authorities had been responsible for allocating public funds and implementing polcy decsions but many of these functions were now transferred to quangos
      • Nationalized industries were privatized and new regulatory agencies established. Public trust in parliament and politicians wanted as sleaze cases hit the headlines, not even the monarchy was immune from this lloss of faith in the traditional constitution
    • The Case for Reform
      • Labour had viewed constitutional reform as an unwelcome distraction from its main goal of improving conditions for the working class
      • Modernisation: institutions such as parliament, the executive and the civil service were using outdated and inefficient procedures that were in need of reform
      • Democratisation: participation in the political process would be encouraged through electoral reform and greater use of referendums
      • Decentralisation: decision making powers would be devolved to new institutions in Scotland and Wales and the role of local government enhanced
      • Rights: the rights of citizens would be strengthened and safe guarded
      • Labour advocated policies such as devolution, a Bill of Rights and reform of the House of Lords but it did not support electoral reform for Westminster or a written constitution. Labour and the Liberal Democrats worked together to develop proposals for Scottish devolution and after Labours 1997 general election victory senior Liberal Democrats sat on a cabinet subcommittee examining constitutional reform

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