This year, 2020, marks a full 25 years since the foundation of the Constitution Unit. It has been a hugely eventful period, both in terms of real-world constitutional change and controversies, and in terms of the Unit’s own work. To mark our silver anniversary, we are celebrating some of the key ways in which the Unit has contributed to public debates, and helped to inform policy change, over this period. What better way to celebrate 25 years than with 25 of our most notable achievements?
Note that this post reproduces the text from a new page on our website celebrating our 25 years. That contains a full set of 25 images, so some readers may prefer to access the website version.
1. Hitting the ground running
Robert Hazell founded the Constitution Unit in 1995, with funding from six charitable trusts, to help with detailed planning for big constitutional reforms following a possible change of government. The initial research team included Graham Leicester (from the Foreign Office), Nicole Smith (Home Office) and Katy Donnelly. The Unit published seven book-length reports the following year: the first on how to prepare and deliver a big constitutional reform programme, and others on devolution to Scotland, Wales and the English regions, reform of the House of Lords, human rights legislation, and the conduct of referendums (the latter recommending the establishment of an Electoral Commission). From 1997, the new Labour government began to implement its constitutional reform programme, which often reflected Unit recommendations. Responding to the intense reform activity in government, the Unit published 17 further reports in 1998 and 20 more in 1999.
2. Monitor goes to print
In September 1997 the Unit published the first issue of Monitor, its regular bulletin of constitutional news. Monitor continues today to provide an essential digest of political and constitutional changes three times a year, valued by over 4800 subscribers – if you are not among them, you can sign up here.
3. Reform of the House of Lords
From its earliest years, the Unit has fed in regularly to debates about reform of the House of Lords. It published ten briefings for the Royal Commission on the Reform of the House of Lords in 1999, several of them authored by the Unit’s future Director Meg Russell and drawing on analysis of overseas experience. In 2000, she published the book Reforming the House of Lords: Lessons from Overseas. This body of comparative research has influenced debates on second chamber reform in various other countries as well as the UK – including Canada, Italy and Japan. Meanwhile Meg’s 2013 book The Contemporary House of Lords is today’s definitive work on the chamber, underpinned by research funded by the ESRC.