It's time for radical constitutional reform - embedded in a written constitution.
Without a written constitution as a solid foundation, a progressive political agenda, that seeks legislative remedies for multiple injustices, is like building a house on sand: whatever we build will be short term, incomplete and subject to reversal at the next election. That holds true whether we consider the NHS re-instatement bill, the restoration of strong public services, or a cap on private housing rentals.
There are no solid foundational laws and rights on which to build the good society.
A written constitution sets out broad foundational laws, principles and human rights that direct the work of government at every level. It defines clear rules on the limits of power, how it is exercised and by whom. In liberal democracies this normally involves the ‘separation of powers’ between executive, the legislature and the judiciary as well as the relationship between central and local government, how elections are run and how political parties are funded. Most importantly it sets out a comprehensive bill of human rights.
In Britain we don't have a written, codified constitution. Instead we have an archaic constitution composed of unwritten ‘conventions’ and principles, piecemeal legislation, ‘royal prerogatives’ and an unelected Lords, all of which has evolved over time and all of which can be easily changed through routine legislation. The result is deep imbalances in power and how it is exercised.
For example, there is no clear ‘separation of powers’ but rather a fusion of the executive (government) with the legislature (House of Commons). The executive dominates the legislative agenda of the House of Commons through party discipline and patronage. MPs voting according to party diktat rather than conscience. The executive also has additional powers in the form of ‘royal prerogatives’ and Statutory Instruments to sign treaties and amend laws without the need for Parliamentary approval.
This has led to what some have called ‘elective dictatorship’ and the unlimited power it affords the government of the day mean that our most fundamental laws and rights - whether we consider the Magna Carta to the Human Rights Act - can be amended for reasons that have more to do with short term party interest and dogma than the broader public good.
This over-concentration of power at the top is mirrored by an over-centralisation of power at the centre. Deep imbalances in power between Westminster and the regions and between central and local government in particular, have grown over the last forty years. Punishing budget cuts as part of a decade of austerity politics, along with outsourcing of services have effectively reduced local government to role to a delivery arm of the central state.
For all these reasons, we believe that we urgently need a written constitution to re-balance power, entrench human rights and restore real democracy. Legislative remedy is not enough for all the reasons we have outlined above. Our most fundamental rights and our laws must be placed beyond narrow party considerations and executive power exercised in accordance with a body of laws and rights which have been designed and approved by ordinary citizens and mandated by referendum. Only in this way can we replace our archaic rules with a modern, codified constitution fit for the twenty first century.
In January 2018 the Centre for Welfare Reform published an Open Letter with "a new settlement between people and government in the form of a written constitution that embeds a comprehensive bill of human rights, including economic, social and environmental rights." This constitution should be developed by a Citizen's Convention.
Our campaign is backed by many different organisations:
- Beyond Limits
- Bridgeman Healthcare
- Bringing Us Together
- Centre for Inclusive Futures
- Centre for Welfare Reform
- Chronic Illness Inclusion Project
- Co-production Network for Wales
- disAbility Cornwall and Isles of Scilly
- Equality Trust
- Foundation for Families
- Inclusive Solutions
- Justice and Peace Network, Liverpool
- Local Democracy and Health
- Local Sovereignty
- National Brokerage Network
- New Prospects Association
- NOTA UK
- Open Democracy
- Partners for Inclusion
- Pat's Petition
- People Focused Group
- Peter Tatchell Foundation
- Public Matters
- Quaker Social Action
- Real Democracy Movement
- Tax Justice UK
- Tax Research UK
- Treaty for Government
- Unlock Democracy
- Welfare Weekly
- We Own It
- West Lancs Peer Support Group
- 5 Quid for Life
So far several political parties have written to us to express their support:
- Green Party
- Liberal Democrats
- Party for Cornwall
- Plaid Cymru
- Yorkshire Party
Does your organisation want to add its name to this list and stay in touch with the campaign?
You can also join the conversation on Twitter @CitizenReform