How effectively has the UK constitution been reformed since 1997

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How effectively has the UK constitution been reformed since 1997? (40 marks)
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When Labour came to power in 1997 it was determined to reform the UK constitution significantly.
This was partly because it was a popular idea but they also wanted to create more democracy and to
make the constitution more modern. They also believed government was too powerful, especially
after 18 years of Conservative rule. There were public demands for devolution in Scotland especially
and also a growing belief that human rights were not well protected. Therefore they passed a
number of reforms which will be described below. In a similar way the Tories and the coalition
proposed reforms after 2010. This was partly because people were disillusioned with politics and
partly because of the `Big Society' agenda. This essay will examine the reforms and determine how
much they have achieved their aims and made the system more effective.
Devolution was the main reform. This was very popular in Scotland and Northern Ireland, though the
Welsh people were less enthusiastic. Devolution has been a huge success and is now more popular
even in Wales. It created greater democracy and brought government closer to the people. The
recent success of the SNP in parliamentary elections shows how popular devolution is. The Welsh
have now voted for more power. Devolution has made a difference because there are noticeable
differences between politics in Scotland, Wales and England. In Northern Ireland it has also brought
peace. The big remaining problem is the West Lothian question. This allows Scottish and Welsh MPs
to vote on English issues but not vice versa. This is a remaining problem of this policy. Some also say it
will break up the United Kingdom but, as this has not happened, it could be said that it has been
effective in keeping the UK together.
The other big measure was the Human Rights Act. This has been a huge success in that rights are much
better protected and many people have successfully secured their rights through the British courts. It
has also brought the UK into line with the rest of Europe. However, some say it has not been
effective and has actually made it more difficult to govern. In particular it has caused problems over
how we deal with suspected terrorists, asylum seekers etc. So, it has helped with the rights of
people like women, gays, suspected people in general, prisoners and so on, but has not helped
government. Almost the same is true of Freedom of Information. The FOI Act has been very effective
in forcing government to be more open. Its greatest success was concerning the MPs' expenses
scandal. However, Tony Blair has said it was a huge mistake, because it has made it hard to govern
because too much information is now known by the media.
The more independent Supreme Court may also have backfired on government. The new court has
been very active and so has used the HRA to prevent government taking too many powers. Recently
it was accused of `making law on the hoof' over the privacy laws. The government claimed it should
be Parliament that makes such laws. The court has also made it difficult to deal with suspected
terrorists. So, supporters of human rights say it has been hugely effective, but many politicians feel it
is slowing down government.
House of Lords reform has been something of a failure at first sight. The reform was a very minor one
and it is still an undemocratic institution. So democracy has not improved. However, the removal of
most of the hereditary peers has made it slightly more legitimate and this has meant that it has tried
to make government more accountable, for example over such issues as NHS reform.
The elected London mayor has been a partial success. It has been effective in bringing government
closer to the people, especially in London. It also has to be said that London has prospered under the
elected mayors. However, the turnouts at the elections are low, which calls into question whether it
is effective.

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The reforms under the coalition government are new and it is too early to say how effective they will
be. The idea of fixed-term parliaments certainly gives an element of certainty in an uncertain political
world. It also takes away from the prime minister a key power of the election date, which makes
things more democratic. We also do not know whether any MPs will be recalled under new powers,
but it does show that the government is serious in making elected representatives more
accountable.…read more


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