A brilliant study on UK’s nascent coalition experiment?
By Manju Gupta?
The Coalition and the Constitution, Vernon Bogdanor, Oxford and Portland, Pp 148 (HB)?
This is a book pertaining to Britain and meant essentially for the British and citizens of native countries where the British established their rule or where the British constitution is followed.
Today Britain is ruled by the first peace-time coalition government since the 1930s. This coalition arose out of Britain’s first hung parliament since 1974. The process by which the 2010 coalition came into being raises fundamental questions about the British constitution, the processes of government formation in a hung parliament and the role of the incumbent Prime Minister in a hung parliament.
When Gordon Brown came to power, some said he should have resigned as he had not won the election, while others argued the opposite. The author of the book feels that in a coalition government the voters are given no choice to endorse or repudiate the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition and it would be a fact that many would have repudiated it and in Britain, nor were the voters given the chance to endorse or reject the coalition’s Programme for Government drawn by the partners shortly after the elections. So the author tries to answer the question of the role of the mandate in British politics, its relevance and limits.
The coalition promised a “whole raft of constitutional reforms, the most important of which are fixed-term parliaments, a directly elected second chamber and referendum on the alternative vote method of elections which was held in May 2011.” The Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg in a speech had declared that these reforms amounted to “the most significant programme of empowerment by a British Government since the great enfranchisement of the 19th century… and the biggest shakeup of our democracy since 1832 when the Great Reform redrew the boundaries of British democracy, for the first time extending the franchise beyond the landed classes.”
The author tries to show that the era of constitutional reform which began with the Tony Blair government in 1997 is by no means over. “Far from the British constitution having reached a stable regime in place, it remains in flux. Reform of the constitution is most definitely a process, not an event.” The working or evolution of a constitution cannot thus be independent to political circumstances.
The author says, “Thus, if we are once again entering a world of multi-party politics, hung parliaments and coalition governments, the constitution will have to change to accommodate this changed political landscape.”
The book seeks to analyse this changed landscape, to consider how the coalitions might work in Britain and to evaluate the constitutional consequences of regular coalition governments. It also tries to chart the future of a constitution whose fabled adaptability and flexibility are likely to be severely tested in the years ahead. In doing so, it seeks to penetrate the cloud of polemic and partisanship to provide an objective analysis for the informed citizen.
(Hart Publishing Ltd, 16C Worcester Place, Oxford, OX1 2JW; www.hartpub.co.uk