A Level Politics

Improving your grade

FAQ: What is the nature of the UK constitution?

Posted by Matt Walker on December 8, 2009

Erskine May Unfortunately, studying the UK constitution is not straightforward. First of all, we need to find it! Many people think that the UK constitution is unwritten. This is quite wrong. The best description  is that it is partly-written and uncodified.

The UK constitution is uncodified. It is not to be found written up in a single document. Much of it is to be found in statue law. Statute laws are laws that have been passed by Parliament. Those laws which have a constitutional impact are part of the UK constitution, for example the 1911 Parliament Act, and the 2000 Human Rights Act. This part of the constitution is written.

A second source of the constitution is  conventions. These are accepted ways of behaviour that have evolved over time, such as the Salisbury convention. This convention asserts that the House Lords will not reject any policy the governing party included in its manifesto at the previous election. Conventions are an unwritten part of the constitution.

Other sources of the constitution include common law (ancient rights such as freedom of speech and movement, which go back centuries), foreign treaties (for example, the Lisbon Treaty), and works of reference such as Dicey and Erskine May.

All of this seems very odd, and in many ways it is. So don’t worry! The UK constitution has evolved over centuries and no one has ever bothered to scoop it up into a single document, arguably because it would take so long.

But what do you think? Is this any way to run a modern democracy?

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9 Responses to “FAQ: What is the nature of the UK constitution?”

  1. Sam Dalton said

    Who would make the decision for the UK’s constitution to become codified if it was to happen?

    And if the UK’s constitution was to become codified, then would the party in power have full say over what would go in it, or would all parties in Parliament have to come to an agreement together? If the latter is true, then there would probably be alot of disagreements wouldn’t there?

  2. cassidy gaffney said

    surely the fairest way would be to have all three main leaders meet and discuss it together, all the leaders dilute each other so that we would end up with a fair enough constitution to keep almost everyone happy-except the BNP, and james…

  3. Sam Dalton said

    You would hope something like that would happen wouldn’t you Cassidy? But does the PM really have an obligation to include other party members in the decision-making process? Could he not just say that only he and his own party will decide what goes in the codified constitution?

    Hopefully parties would discuss it together though, especially if the Tories were in power at the time eh Cassidy?

  4. dan tomlinson said

    erm, been looking at the stuff that the exams lady printed off, and its really interesting.

    To get an A you need only to get 47 out of 80 a B is 41 and a C is 35. So, the examiners are just harsh markers and even though i got 63 UMS in June to get 80 i only need to get roughly 10 more marks..

    Oh i got a PPE offer, AAA.

    Also, what is there to know about the reformed Law Lords and the new High Court?

  5. Cassidy Gaffney said

    well samuel of course the conservative party would be that considerate, they do of course have the welfare of the entire state in mind not just their own party. What we really need to be concerned about is if labour decide to codify the constitution in the five months they still have in power because i dont see how the thought of the public welfare would even enter the minds of people who are perfectly happy taking taxes to rebuild a bell tower or buy a garlic peeler.
    but i dont think any party would truly be naiive enough to rebuild the constitution for their own benefit whilst the government is under so much scrutiny from the public at the moment. I think we need to trust in the beleif that our leaders are working to help us, not undermine us, eh Sam?

  6. Sam Dalton said

    Well Cassidy, I fully take on board your point about Labour’s expenses. I mean, Tory MPs would never do such a thing would they? A Tory MP would never use taxes to pay for a moat in their garden or to buy rubbish bags. A Tory MP would never claim for expenses on an imaginary “second home” that never even existed.

    Anyway Cassidy, I agree with your point saying that there is no chance of the constitution being codified at the moment. Codifying it now, where there’s a massive general election round the corner, would probably be one of the strangest political decisions ever made. It would take ages and attention would be drawn away from the most important issues. Alot of people say Gordon Brown hasn’t been a good PM, but even you must admit he ain’t that stupid Cassidy?

  7. cassidy gaffney said

    well sam i agree with you Gordon Brown is a good prime minister he has just had some very unlucky set backs for example, the recession, and alistair darling.
    although you are right that some tories misused the expenses system when they were found out they didnt deny it and paid it back straight away- im not trying to defend the tories but they are only human- and politicians, so you would expect some issues in an unmonitered system. however my problem is that the conservative party comes from a history of lords, ladies, barons etc. and so they are used to stealing from the working class but how could labour really say that they are for the public when they act so much like the tories that they claim to oppose ?

  8. Sam Dalton said

    Politics has changed alot since those days though hasn’t it Cassidy? Both Labour and the Tories now try to represent the whole of society rather than one specific section, so I think the way the Tory MPs abused the expenses system was just as bad as the way Labour MPs did so.

    Talking of wasting taxpayers money, have u seen this new proposal from the Tories Cassidy: ? http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/8435186.stm

    Maybe it’s a good idea to consider public opinion more in making policies (thought James might not agree) , but £1m is surely too much of a prize fund for such an untried experiment that could go horribly wrong.

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