Unit 2: The Constitution

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The Constitution
Constitution ­ The rules that govern the government. Meant to check and constrain
Constitutionalism ­ Constitutional rule or authority. The government rules under the
laws of a constitution.
Codified ­ Written: all the rules and regulations of the constitution are written in one
single legal document.
Uncodified ­ Unwritten: all the rules and regulations of the constitution are written in a
variety of sources, not one single legal document.
Unitary ­ A constitution that concentrates sovereign power in a single body of national
Federal ­ a constitution that is based on the principle of shared sovereignty, in that
there are two relatively autonomous levels of government; the national/federal and the
Parliamentary Sovereignty ­ the absolute and unlimited legal authority of Parliament,
reflected in its ability to make, amend or repeal any law it wishes. The central piece of the
UK constitution. Due to the absence of higher law.
Pooled Sovereignty ­ The combination of the national sovereignties of member states
to enhance their power and influence; the whole is greater than its parts.
Devolution ­ the transfer of power from central government to subordinate regional
institutions. To devolve = to pass powers or duties down from a higher authority to a
lower one. Devolved bodies have to share in sovereignty.
Quasi-Federalism ­ a division of powers between central and regional government that
has some of the features of federalism without possessing a formal federal structure.
Elective Dictatorship ­ a constitutional imbalance in which executive power is checked
only by the need of governments to win elections. In the UK, it is reflected in the ability
of a government to act in any way it pleases as long as it maintains control of the House
of Commons.
What is a constitution?
The rules that govern the government
Meant to check or constrain the government
Gives a practical expression to the principle of limited government ­ a form of
government in which its power is subject to limitations and checks, providing
protection for the individual.
Seen as a solution to the rule of absolute monarchs.
Defines the relationship between the state and the individual ­ The extent of civil
The Westminster Model:

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The UK has the classic example of a `Westminster Model' government.
It has been adopted by other countries, especially former colonies.
The government governs through Parliament: the central to the constitutional
structure to the UK, located at Westminster.
Government is drawn from Parliament and is accountable to Parliament: Parliamentary
The focal point of political conflict is the House of Commons.
The Westminster Model is upheld by:
UK's uncodified constitution ­ Parliament is legally supreme
Ministers are accountable to, and removable by, Parliament.…read more

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Establishes the constitutional supremacy of central government over principal or
local bodies.
They do this by resting sovereignty in the national legislature: abolish the weak, or
strengthen all other institutions.
The UK possesses an unrivalled and unchangeable legislative authority.
Parliamentary Sovereignty
A Federal Constitution:
A constitution that is based on the principle of shared sovereignty: the
national/federal and the regional/state.
They both possess a range of powers that the other cannot encroach on.…read more

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Key unwritten element of the constitution.
Lacks clear and unambiguous definitions.
No legal consequences if government ignored conventions.
Upheld by practical political circumstances: they make politics workable.
The convention that the Royal Assent (monarchs agreement to Legislation) is always
granted that it is upheld by the monarchs desire not to challenge the `democratic will'
of Parliament.
Often assume Historical Authority: based on custom and precedent.…read more

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Sovereignty: the principle of absolute and unlimited power, implying either supreme legal
authority or unchanging political power.
It defines the location of the supreme constitutional power.
The sovereign body has the ability to shape or reshape the constitution itself.
It defines the powers of subordinate bodies.
Located in the `Crown in Parliament'.
Legal Sovereignty: Parliament can make, unmake or remove any law it wishes.
"Parliament can do anything except turn a man into a woman" ­ John Stewart Mill.…read more

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To warn
To encourage
EU Membership:
Has growing implications for the UK
Sovereignty within the UK is now best understood as `Parliamentary Sovereignty
within the context of EU membership'
Membership encroaches on Parliamentary Sovereignty in 3 main ways:
European Law is higher than statute law: since the Factor tame Case in 1991
Some EU bodies have supranational powers: Notably the European Commission.
Parliament has no power to resist or ignore the directives issues by the
commission.…read more

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Government decisions cannot be Creates the possibility that the
overturned by judges. government may become oppressive
Parliamentary Government: based and tyrannical.
on Westminster Model: Centralisation
Government gets its own way in The PM seems to dominate the cabinet
Parliament.…read more

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Referendums were held to approve the creation of each of the new government
PR electoral systems were used for each of the newly established bodies
Human Rights Act, 1998
`Stage One' of the reform of the House of Lords, 2000 ­ removal of all apart
from 92 hereditary peers
Created momentum for further reforms:
More independence for the newly created bodies.
`Stage Two' of the reform of the House of Lords.…read more

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Cameron held a referendum (in which both parties compromised) and gave the
public the choice of a majoritarian system AV.
Lords Reform: Both parties were committed to a largely or entirely elected
second chamber. But the elected second chamber may become a rival to the
Commons. But, May 2011 ­ Clegg brought forward proposals for Lords reform.…read more

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Greater certainty that rules can be Can easily become outdated and fail to
enforced. respond to an ever-changing political
Limited Government environment.
Cut government down to size. Judicial Tyranny
Provide a solution to elective Judges are unelected and socially
dictatorship by ending Parliamentary unrepresentative.
Sovereignty. Will reflect the preferences and values
Higher law safeguards the constitution of senior judges.
from government interference. Legalistic
Neutral Interpretation Created by people at one point in time
Would be policed by Senior Judges.…read more


Old Sir

This well-organised and fairly comprehensive overview of UK constitutional arrangements will be very useful for many students as an exemplar of how to organise revision notes. Students wishing to develop their ability to discuss issues such as the efficacy of the Westminster model nor constitutional reform will find some good prompts in the example sections.



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