A Level Politics

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Why did New Labour reform the constitution?

Posted by Matt Walker on January 4, 2010

Magna Carta Constitutions in themselves can seem rather dull. However, as you explore them further you start to see how the choice of rules used to regulate politics can have a fundamental impact upon how politics operates in general.

Between 1979 and 1997 the Labour Party were in opposition. Over this period they developed a series of constitutional reforms, often in partnership with the Liberal Democrats, which they eventually implemented when in government. So why did Labour develop such a programme?

Firstly, they believed that many of the practices of British politics were out-of-date, and therefore sought to modernise the constitution. The secrecy, centralisation, and reliance on privilege within British politics were deemed unacceptable. Secondly, it was believed that owing to the UK’s uncodified and unentrenched constitution, insufficient protection was afforded to individual human rights.

Thirdly, the Labour Party believed that the executive had to much power, with a relatively weak legislature incapable of restraining it. Finally, offering constitutional reform to the electorate was a useful way for Labour to distinguish itself from the Conservative Party, at a time when its own economic and social policy appeared to be converging with the Tories.

Consequently, once Labour won power in 1997 they embarked upon a radical programme of reform.


3 Responses to “Why did New Labour reform the constitution?”

  1. Emma Marshall said

    Did Labour actually do anything about the unentrenched-ness and uncodified-ness of the constitution to increase protection of individual human rights?
    I know they introduced the Human Rights Act, but does the Human Rights Act actually do anything to change the entrenched-ness or codified-ness of the constitution?

    • Matt Walker said

      Well spotted Emma. The Human Rights Act does not entrench the constitution, nor of course codify it. What it does do is try to deal with the problem of human rights in the context of lack of entrenchment. Whilst it exists, I guess it does offer greater protection for people. But because it is unentrenched, the Human Rights Act could be repealed fairly easily.

      • Matt Walker said

        Hi Emma. Just to let you know that today we looked at Brown’s proposed constitutional reforms (check out blog and article), and we started looking at devolution – read the first couple of pages on this and take notes. Hope you are well.

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