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Evaluate the view that constitutional reforms have not gone far enough. (30 marks)
Constitutional reform is changing or modernising the way we are governed or how the country is run. Since 1997, the UK has witnessed many constitutional reforms to keep people are the devolved nations content and to construct a government which sustains the notions of democracy. However, there is still a scope for further reforms hence why this essay will argue that constitutional reforms have indeed not gone far enough.
Some could argue that constitutional reforms have gone far enough due to devolution. Devolution was granted by a referendum in 1998 which decentralised power from Westminster and dispersed it to the devolved nations. For example, now Scottish Parliament has taxation powers - they can set tax levels to within 3% of Westminster levels. This indeed is democratic as it advocates the idea of “local issues for local people” and hence makes it easier for local issues to be addressed more effectively whilst also facilitates people who want to hold elected representatives to account. It is worth noting how this reform would be concurred by Liberals as they advocate for the central government to stop abusing their power and be reflective of most of the constituency. It would also be concurred by Conservatives who believe in the notion of ‘changing to conserve’ and hence devolution is a pragmatic way of preventing a revolution from the Scottish who wanted independence; devolution renders them some power which keeps them content, ensuring democracy prevails. One the contrary, others could argue that reforms have not gone far enough due to the West-Loathian Question (the Welsh, N.Irish and Scottish MPs can vote on England only issues, but not the other way round) which has yet to be adequately answered. For example, the increase in student tuition fees in England and Wales in 2004 was only passed with a vote of Scottish MPs. This means that MPs are making decisions about things that affect people who cannot hold them accountable, undermining one of the key democratic principles. In the long term, if the legislative preferences of England’s representatives are overrules by future British government, there is a potential of formation of a constitutional crisis. This elucidates that devolution lacks democratic uniformity. Hence, the introduction of the EVEL which gives English and Welsh MPs the power to strike down legislation that affects their constituencies. EVEL has now been abolished which hence shows that even though devolution is a significant constitutional reform, it still requires further reform. One of the UK constitution’s key feature is that it is unitary, which means power may be distributed to other bodies, but they are not sovereign. Westminster, which the the central sovereign body can overrule other organisations and restore sovereignty to itself. This is the result of parliamentary sovereignty which implies that with enough parliament votes, devolution can be revoked.
Some could argue that constitutional reforms have gone far enough due to the judiciary. For example, the Constitutional Reform Act (2005) established the UK Supreme Court, removing the Law Lords from the House of Lords. This enhances the separation of powers - legislation and judiciary act as checks for each other, a significant aspect of a representative democracy as it ensures that power is not abused and hence are independent of each other. Furthermore, under the rule of law, judges must be politically independent and neutral which is a vital aspect of democracy not only so that the wider public has confidence in their expertise but also because it assures that judges uphold the rights of citizens by reviewing all cases fairly and in accordance with the law. Also, they cannot strike down laws only declare them ‘incompatible’ with ensures that democracy is not threatened and Parliamentary sovereignty is still upheld. On the contrary, others could argue that the judiciary has not gone far enough. For instance, in 2019 when Boris Johnson wanted to prorogue Parliament, Gina Miller took him to court where his action was declared ‘unlawful’ by the judges. This ruling was criticised, and equally championed by others, for frustrating the will of the government and the Prime Minister. They had outlined on their manifesto that they would get Brexit done hence the people had given them the mandate to trigger Article 50 but since the judiciary concluded that they lacked the authority to do so. This in turn raises questions as to whom the unelected judiciary is accountable to. Hence, whilst the argument that constitutional reforms have gone far enough due to the the Constitutional Reform Act is compelling, it still requires further reform due to the fact that the judiciary is still not as effective. A codified constitution would empower the judiciary to strike down laws and actions it deemed to be unconstitutional which in turn would prevent a constitutional crisis.
Lastly, on one hand it is arguable that constitutional reform has indeed gone far enough due to parliamentary reforms. For instance, the House of Lords Act 1999 saw the removal of all but 92 hereditary peers from the House of Lords. This is significant as it allowed modernisation to the otherwise anachronistic peers who predominantly support the Conservative government, subsequently reducing Labour support. Consequently, he Act gave more power and legitimacy to the Commons to carry out their duties which is more democratic as they are the representatives of the people who make up our democracy. Conservatives would endorse this as they believe that change is inevitable; what matters is that the change occurs in an appropriate manner and rather than risk revolution. Furthermore, members are now appointed on the grounds of merit, representing a wide variety of fields (e.g. politics, business etc.) This expertise has a highly prominent impact as not only they can scrutinise legislations and check the Commons but their quality of debates will also meet a high standard eg. Iraq War debate. Liberals would endorse this as well as they view humans in an optimist way who should possess equality of opportunity and to achieve that they must be defined by merit and ability rather than the social circumstances of their birth. On the other hand, it is argued that constitutional reform has not gone far enough. For example, the Conservative manifesto 2019 was committed to the Boundary Reform which reduces the number of constituencies from 650 to 600. This reform was seen to be politically motivated and hence was criticised as it would favour the incumbent party by giving Conservatives a tactical advantage. Tories would gain between 5-10 seats meaning that some MPs would find themselves in safer seats, sitting on larger majorities, questioning the legitimacy of the decisions made by the Commons. Furthermore, this reform is unfair to smaller parties such as the SNP and Plaid Cymru, who not only suffer due to the FPTP which supports a two-party system but now given the reduction in constituencies in Scotland and Wales, it would threaten democracy. Additionally, it would also threaten devolution as powers would be reduced and tyranny of the English would be imposed on the devolved nations. Therefore, whilst it is recognised that the parliamentary reform has been somewhat successful due to the removal of the majority of the peers, it still requires further reform particularly due to the still 92 unelected but active Lords members who do possess certain powers such as the power to delay bills. But also, because Conservatives are still committed on the Boundary Reform which is possible due to Boris Johnson’s large and arguably united majority lacking in previous governments, a potential result of elective dictatorship.
To conclude, I agree that the constitutional reforms have not gone far enough. It can be seen that there have been many constitutional reforms over the past two decades such as devolution which decentralised power from Westminster to devolved nation, judiciary whose role is to uphold the rule of law by remaining independent and neutral and reforms in parliament with the intention of modernising it. However, the view that the constitution still requires further reform is more persuading as in every reform there is a sort of injustice, eg. Devolution disregarding the English, the judiciary going against government who has a mandate to perform their manifesto policies and parliamentary reform such as the boundary reform which is to a great extent politically motivated.