15th November 2020
My column this month for Prospect magazine is on something I have wanted to write about for some time.
It is about the issue which both dominates and ruins constitutional discussion in the United Kingdom: the topic of a ‘written constitution’.
Whenever there is some constitutional calamity, the instant – knee-jerk – response of many liberals and progressives is to demand a ‘written constitution’.
And that is where their response also then ends; it is the entirety of their reaction.
As such it is not so much a way of thinking about constitutional issues in the United Kingdom, but an excuse for not thinking about them.
In my Prospect column I set out various reasons why this preoccupation with demanding a written (more correctly, codified) constitution is misguided:
– written constitutions are not inherently liberal and progressive, and even those which purport to be so may not guarantee rights and freedoms in practice;
– there is no plausible path for the United Kingdom to get to an entrenched constitution, absent a war, invasion or similar – and even if there was, the process would still be hijacked by an executive eager to strengthen its powers and privileges;
– the subject is a distraction from putting in place actual reforms to the constitutional arrangements of the United Kingdom.
For many this may seem like a heresy or a blasphemy, so wedded are they to all constitutional conversations having to be about their hobby-horse.
Others will say that somehow we can spend our finite time for discussing constitutional issues on both particular reforms and idealistic projections.
But as we get drawn again and again into this A-level essay topic of an issue, real constitutional changes are not taking place that could and should be taking place.
And so, although I realise the Prospect column is provocatively titled: I aver that it is time for us to stop talking about a written constitution.
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