The four years preceding 2022 were a fascinating time to be writing about the UK constitution, its institutions and those involved in working within them. It had got to a point where it didn’t seem life could get any more interesting. And then 2022 gave us two prime ministerial resignations and an end to the longest monarchical reign in British history. As the year comes to an end, blog editor Dave Busfield-Birch offers a roundup of the 12 months just gone, as well as a look at the reach of the blog through the lens of its readership statistics.
2022 included a seven-week period in which we transitioned from one monarch to another and had three Prime Ministers. Two of those Prime Ministers – Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak – were fined for breaking COVID-19 lockdown regulations earlier this year and the third, Liz Truss, now has the dubious distinction of being the Prime Minister to have held office for the shortest time in modern history. In addition, we lost the longest-reigning monarch in British history and welcomed the first monarch to have the benefit of a seven-decade apprenticeship and a new Prince and Princess of Wales. The state of the Union also appears less stable, with Scotland found to be unable to legislate for an independence referendum and May’s elections in Northern Ireland leading to political deadlock that has no immediate end in sight. Below are our most popular blogs from the past year, preceded by a personal selection by me, at the end of my fifth year as blog editor.
As good as this blog is, the real meat is in the excellent journal article that it summarises. In this post, my colleagues Tom and Lisa analyse to what extent parliament and its members influenced the outcome of the Brexit process. The answer might surprise you.
Our most popular new blogs by month
Laura McAllister explained in this post why Wales has made a conscious decision to take hold of its own destiny with the formation of a new independent Commission to review its constitutional future, of which she is co-chair.
Back in February, Northern Ireland appeared to be heading for political turbulence – a prediction that sadly proved to be accurate. In this post, Alan Whysall assesses the current crisis and argues that the foundations of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement are at serious risk of crumbling.
Sadly, parliament did not follow the advice in this post, in which colleagues Tom Fleming and Meg Russell argued cogently that the bill should have included some limitation on the Prime Minister’s power to call early elections.
After Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak were fined for breaking lockdown laws, Meg Russell argued that these clear breaches of the Ministerial Code should not have been consequence free. She argued that as the Prime Minister had proved unable to police the Code, backbench MPs had a constitutional responsibility to do so.
Rebecca McKee drew on research conducted as part of her project on MPs’ staff to author this post, in which she examines the evolution of MPs’ staffing arrangements, providing some context to the current arrangements so we can understand how best to reform them. Her report on MPs’ staff will be published early next year, and will be both fascinating and incredibly timely, as the employment arrangements for these often ‘unsung heroes of Westminster’ are currently being examined by a special Speaker’s conference.
Before the UK Supreme Court ruled on the Scottish government’s draft independence referendum, David Torrance discussed the wording of the relevant legislation and the impact of subsequent caselaw, concluding that the prevailing legal understanding is that even a consultative referendum would be outside the scope of the parliament’s powers. The Supreme Court ended up agreeing with him on that. This post was also the most popular new blog of 2022.
The government has consistently taken a ‘muscular’ approach to the Union, arguing for its retention on the basis of the unitary nation state model. As Michael Keating says in this post, that demonstrates a fundamental misconception of what union means, and argues that the nationalism implied by the nature of a union maintained by law, rather than the consent of its people, represents a threat to the continuing Union of the United Kingdom.
Rebecca wrote two blogposts in 2022 and they both proved popular enough to make this list. In the second of her posts on MPs’ staff, she analyses how three of the UK’s legislatures recruit, employ and pay members’ staff.
Unsurprisingly, this post on the constitutional steps that were to follow the announcement of the Queen’s death was our most read post in September, as the country adapted to a new head of state for the first time since before the first human had journeyed into outer space. In addition to describing the accession process, they also discussed how the new king will have to adapt to his changed constitutional status.
Meg Russell argues in this post that Liz Truss made a mistake by following Boris Johnson’s trend of sidelining experts and regulators and shutting out government MPs. That error would soon cost the Prime Minister her position, and as Meg argued in this post, the mini budget crisis was a compelling advertisement for respecting – and rebuilding – appropriate constitutional checks and balances.
Shortly after acceding to the throne, King Charles III asked parliament to pass legislation to increase the numbers of Counsellors of State who can stand in for him when he is unavailable due to absence or illness. As Craig Prescott explains, the brief bill adding Princess Anne and Prince Edward to the list of Counsellors was a neat solution, but it postponed decisions on whether or not a shift to a new model of monarchy means a need for new constitutional machinery.
Following on from Robert’s appearance on the popular Netflix documentary about the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, he and long-time collaborator Bob Morris argue in this post that a lack of privacy is a common problem across European monarchies and reducing the size of the royal family might allow more of its members to escape their ‘gilded cage’. For those of you interested in the monarchy, you should take the opportunity to buy their book, The Role of Monarchy in Modern Democracy (now available in paperback with a 30% discount for readers of this blog: use the code RMMD30).
The year in numbers
As of 22 December, our blog has been read 203,384 times this year (up from 184,313 times in 2021), averaging out at almost 17,000 views per month. The majority of our readers are based in the UK, but the blog has been read by people in 210 different countries and territories, including Cape Verde, Greenland, Laos, Montserrat, Tuvalu and Yemen. The graphic above shows the countries in which we were most popular. For some reason, we remain very popular in Malaysia, with only the USA and UK supplying more readers. France, Canada, Ireland, Germany, Australia, India and Italy complete the top 10. This is the same list as last year, with the exception of Italy, which takes the place of the Netherlands.
The blog would be nothing without its contributors. They are too great in number to list here, but I am very grateful for their expertise and their time. In addition, I am personally grateful for the support I have had from everyone at the Unit during my five years as editor of the blog and Monitor. Meg Russell and Alan Renwick, as well as our former Director, Robert Hazell, deserve a special mention on that front: the blog would not be what it is without them. They all had a hand in recruiting me, although any errors after that point remain mine. Our Impact Research Fellow Sophie Andrews-McCarroll has also been a wonderful colleague to work with. My life would be infinitely harder without her. And a final thank you to Rachel Cronkshaw and Edd Rowe, for all of their help over the last five years and making sure I get paid on time (truly the greatest gift a colleague can give).
We hope that you enjoyed our content this year and that you come back in 2023. In previous years, I have signed off with a sentiment along the lines of ‘next year cannot be as constitutionally interesting as the past 12 months’. I will not tempt fate by doing so again.
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