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Volume 50 Number 3, January 25, 2020 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

The Government's Programme on the Constitution and Rights

The Queen's Speech on December 19 at the end of last year set out the government's agenda for the new parliamentary session. Amongst the policies and proposed legislation, it announced: "A Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission will be established[1]. Work will be taken forward to repeal the Fixed-term Parliaments Act." This announcement was immediately followed with declaration of further pro-war government[2].

No further details have been given, but it is partially elaborated in the Conservatives' election manifesto[3], which said:

"After Brexit we also need to look at the broader aspects of our constitution: the relationship between the Government, Parliament and the courts; the functioning of the Royal Prerogative; the role of the House of Lords; and access to justice for ordinary people. The ability of our security services to defend us against terrorism and organised crime is critical. We will update the Human Rights Act and administrative law to ensure that there is a proper balance between the rights of individuals, our vital national security and effective Government. We will ensure that judicial review is available to protect the rights of the individuals against an overbearing state, while ensuring that it is not abused to conduct politics by another means or to create needless delays. In our first year we will set up a Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission that will examine these issues in depth, and come up with proposals to restore trust in our institutions and in how our democracy operates."

This is the Conservative Party's take on what it, together essentially with all of the factions of the ruling elite, calls "the necessary task of restoring public trust in Government and politics" after the fiasco and shenanigans of the last Parliament. It is an attempt to square the circle of appearing to stay within the existing constitutional norms, while casting those norms aside for self-serving purposes and to rule through arbitrary power alone. It is an attempt to deprive the population of an outlook, confining the debate to how to defend and reform the outdated unwritten constitution, rather than renew democracy itself.

The manifesto and Queen's Speech therefore declared that the Government will repeal the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, which it claims "has led to paralysis at a time the country needed decisive action". What will replace this Act has not been stated, but the implication is that this Prerogative power will simply return to the Prime Minister.

The theme of "effective government", "decisive action", "getting things done" and preventing "needless delays" runs throughout.

The rule of law under existing arrangements involves the outdated notion of balancing "the rights of individuals", as the manifesto puts it, civil rights, against "national security", meaning the security of the person of state. This conception of rights as a matter of balance, rather than what people possess by virtue of being human, has increasingly been used to negate the rights of the people, criminalise conscience and strengthen the police powers of the state. Yet the government's proposals go further, offsetting even this balance against the need for "effective government". This amounts to overthrowing the rule of law and is a further move towards overt government by police powers.

Reviewing "the relationship between the Government, Parliament and the courts" will therefore mean further strengthening of and removing the impediments to executive power. The Prime Minister wishes no repeat of the blocking of his exercise of the Royal Prerogative by the Supreme Court. Hence the government is planning to restrict the arrangement of judicial review to ensure it is not used "to conduct politics by another means or to create needless delays". The reference to the role of the House of Lords should also be understood in this light.

Not present in the Speech, but featuring in the manifesto, are plans to redraw again the Parliamentary boundaries - thought likely to follow the 2018 proposals of the Boundary Commissions, will cut the number of MPs from 650 to 600 in a manner that will significantly favour the Conservatives[4] - as well as to introduce voter identification at polling stations. The manifesto also reiterates continued support for the First Past the Post electoral system.

The problem of empowerment posed by modern conditions is the objective need for all citizens to be able to meaningfully participate in decision-making over the direction of the economy and politics and any other questions facing society. Moreover, the need is for new mechanisms through which people speak and act in their own name - in other words, exercise power directly - rather than authorise some other figure to exercise power on their behalf via the mediation of the cartel parties that block people from power.

The reform required is that the electoral process guarantee that all citizens have the same right to elect and be elected, regardless of status, wealth or any other consideration.

Specifically, neither the fielding of candidates nor the constituting of the government should be done on a party basis. Rather, candidates should be selected on the basis of elections in the workplaces, universities, and other places defined by the productive, social and cultural activities in which people are engaged in a particular location. Such a selection process should be used to form the list of candidates for a constituency, which are at present defined on a party basis. The entire expense of such a selection process should be funded by the state, while any state funding of parties either directly or indirectly should be ended.

Further, the division of parliamentary politics into parties in power and opposition is out of date. Instead, once elected, the parliament should elect the government and then support it in carrying out its programme while holding it to account.

The role, then, of parties should be to raise the level of politics by putting forward their thinking and solutions to the problems faced by society, encouraging people to field candidates for selection and ensuring that the government remains on track.

The proposals of the Conservative Party do nothing to address any of these concerns, but rather manipulate the sharpening consciousness over the need for democratic renewal for self-serving ends. This needs to be borne in mind by those fighting to block the neo-liberal direction within the Labour Party, as well as fighting for new arrangements. Nor will they sort out anything amongst the ruling elite. They do nothing to address the underlying problem that governments wield political power on behalf of private interests. Instead, they raise the spectre of "foreign interference" in elections to justify the expansion of police powers and serve to further criminalise conscience.


1. For the full text of the Queen's Speech, see:

2. The Government will continue to "honour the NATO commitment to spend at least two per cent of national income on defence." It "will work to promote and expand the United Kingdom's influence in the world. An Integrated Security, Defence and Foreign Policy Review will be undertaken to reassess the nation's place in the world, covering all aspects of international policy from defence to diplomacy and development"; "It will stand firm against those who threaten the values of the United Kingdom"; etc.

3. The Conservative Party election manifesto can be downloaded from

4. For example, see: "Boris Johnson would have 104-seat majority under boundary change plans, exclusive study reveals", The Telegraph, December 18, 2019,


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