With just two weeks until polling day, the major parties have all published their manifestos: we now know their stated plans for the constitution. Stephen Mitchell, Elspeth Nicholson, Harrison Shaylor and Alex Walker examine what each party has to say about constitutional reform of the UK’s institutions, altering the devolution settlement and developing a written constitution.
This election sees a series of radical proposals for constitutional reform from all the political parties. You would not glean this from the introduction to most of the manifestos, or the table of contents; the parties are keenly aware that most voters are not interested in constitutional reform. So we have had to dig deep to extract the key constitutional pledges from the manifestos. We start with their high level plans for a constitutional convention and a written constitution, before discussing devolution and the Union, electoral reform and parliamentary reform. We have not included their plans for Brexit, because these are well known; but Brexit will obviously be a significant – if not the biggest – constitutional change, with major knock-on effects elsewhere. Nor have we included the parties from Northern Ireland, in the interests of space: this analysis is confined to the parties standing for election in Great Britain.
A number of political parties have promised citizen-led democratic initiatives in their manifestos, particularly on constitutional questions. Several parties want to develop a written constitution via this participatory route, and some have also promised citizen involvement on other questions, such as climate change.
Labour have set out their plan for a ‘UK-wide Constitutional Convention, led by a citizens’ assembly’. The scope of the proposed convention is broad – considering the renewal of parliament, how power is distributed and the relationship between the nations and regions of the UK. The convention will also consider the Welsh Government’s 20-point devolution plan, published in October.
The Conservatives agree that ‘proposals to restore trust in our institutions and in how our democracy operates’ are needed. However, they stop short of a citizens’ convention, opting instead for a ‘Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission’ to be set up in their first year. One of the Commission’s key stated tasks will be to ‘update the Human Rights Act and administrative law to ensure there is a proper balance between the rights of individuals, our vital national security and effective government’; and ‘ensure that judicial review… is not abused to conduct politics by another means or to create needless delays’.
The Liberal Democrats and the Brexit Party both mention a written constitution and set out measures for greater citizen involvement. The Liberal Democrats promise a written federal constitution that enshrines home rule and makes permanent the Scottish Parliament and National Assembly for Wales. They also plan to introduce a range of citizens’ assemblies at both local and national level on ‘the greatest challenges we face’, including climate change and the state’s use of artificial intelligence. Continue reading