I recently caved in and bought a Kindle, the ‘paper white’ if you must know. I’d resisted it for years and for the life of me, I don’t know why. Of the many benefits, the instant access to literature is great, but the access to non-publisher e-books is a revelation. This is probably the end of traditional publishers as we know them via disintermediation. We now get to ask the question which is an absolute death knell for any business “What are you for?” More importantly, the internet enlightenment is unleashing a new generation of Pamphleteers in the mould of Tom Paine, wholly unshackled from the analogue publisher-industrial complex.
And it is with this in mind, I came across an Amazon suggestion called “If it ain’t broke, the case against constitutional reform in the UK” which is an examination of British constitutional change since 1997. Now this may not strike you as the most interesting read. As an anarchist, any constitution is by definition, invalid. And this could have turned into just another dreary anti-Blair polemic. But it’s much, much more.
The author engages in a forensic examination of the pre-1997 UK constitution and its relationship to democracy, monarchy, the sovereignty of the crown in parliament, various voting methods, the judiciary and UK culture and social cohesion. He goes on to look at post 97 changes and assesses their impact.
He notes some of the spectacular failures such as the devolved assemblies and the obvious instability of the current settlements* along with some of the more damnable creations such as the “supreme court” the ill-judged rush to get rid of the lord chancellor’s office along with the problems inherent in direct democracy. He attributes California’s record deficit with the impact of the various voter initiatives. There is a section on federalism which is brilliantly insightful where the author points out the two great threats of power siphoning away to higher European and lower regional structures which confuse accountability. He quite correctly argues accountability should be with the office holder, not the office. There is a very interesting section on the problems of partisan, activist judges, how else can we explain the banning of handguns in Washington DC despite the crystal clear second amendment?
There is much to disagree with, I’m not a monarchist and whilst I am sure he realises there are more than two options, the confines of the study mean he looks at only the hereditary head of state vs elected President, the oft quoted Queen vs President Blair argument. Similarly, I think he gives too much credence to the role of Christianity as a cultural (rather than a religious) force in the UK; if anything, I think it’s on a long-tail residue rather than a live force.
The book is clearly well researched and well referenced, often citing the great Victorian constitutional expert A V Dicey amongst others. For me, it’s greatest strength is the recognition that the UK has traditionally been a country where if it is not specifically banned, it is permitted, whereas written constitutions suggest if it is not specifically permitted it is banned.
A good argument may not entirely change your mind, but it will engage you and leave you perhaps slightly different after you have processed it, and that’s what this book did to me. Interestingly, I downloaded it less than 48 hours ago and have just finished it. The best £1.83 I spent over the weekend. If you have digital access to books, read it. You’ll be glad you did and almost certainly better informed.
*The West Lothian question can’t be ignored for too much longer