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Reinventing Britain

Reinventing Britain: Constitutional Change under New Labour

Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: 1
Pages: 274
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  • Book Info
    Reinventing Britain
    Book Description:

    Contrary to popular myth, Britain does have a constitution, one that is uncodified and commanded little political interest for most of the twentieth century. In the late 1990s, Tony Blair's New Labour Government launched a program of reform that was striking in its ambition. Reinventing Britain tells the story of Britain's constitutional reform and weighs its long-term significance, with essays both by officials who worked on the reforms and by other leading commentators and academics from Britain and North America.Contributors:Mark Bevir, Jack Citrin, Joseph Fletcher, Robert Hazell, Ailsa Henderson, Kate Malleson, Craig Parsons, Kenneth MacKenzie, Peter Riddell

    eISBN: 978-0-520-91618-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-ii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. iii-iv)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. v-vi)
    Lord Falconer

    The government came to power in May 1997 committed to a programme of radical social change — to a renewal of our country. We wanted to break free from the class-based politics which had shaped much of British political life in the twentieth century. Our ambition was to leave behind the politics of division and to nurture an egalitarian society. A society of equal citizens, each of us with rights and responsibilities; each of us with the freedom to pursue our ambitions and to fulfil our potential. A society no longer dominated by elites.

    This egalitarian spirit has animated our approach...

  4. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
    Andrew McDonald
  5. Part I: The story

    • 1 What happened next: constitutional change under New Labour
      (pp. 3-28)
      Andrew McDonald and Robert Hazell

      Just nine years after it was written, Anthony Barnett’s breathless attempt to capture the mood of 1997 already sounds like a period piece. The death of the Princess of Wales may have moved the nation to tears, but it was not the constitutional landmark his book claimed it to be. And few would suggest that Britain’s entry into the euro is now imminent. Instant history is a perilous business and it is now clear that some of Barnett’s observations were wide of the mark. But his basic contention has been confirmed: 1997 held out the prospect of profound constitutional change....

  6. Part II: Origins

    • 2 Labour’s conversion to constitutional reform
      (pp. 31-54)
      Peter Riddell

      Constitutional reform has an ambivalent place in the history of the Blair government. The changes to the way Britain is governed are unquestionably among the main legislative landmarks since 1997, and are likely to be among the most significant, and lasting, legacies of the Blair years. Yet the Labour Party, and in particular Tony Blair himself, have never fully embraced constitutional reform and a pluralist view of politics. At times, it has seemed that constitutional reform has been additional to, and separate from, the main New Labour programme. This chapter will examine the roots and consequences of these ambiguities. The...

    • 3 Socialism and democracy
      (pp. 55-75)
      Mark Bevir

      How can democratic theory help us to make sense of the constitutional reforms introduced under New Labour? We could compare the reforms with different concepts of democracy. Perhaps we might thereby judge how well the reforms do or do not fit with whichever concept of democracy we find most compelling. We could give the reforms marks out of ten. It is arguable, however, that the marks we gave would say more about our own visions of democracy than about the reforms. An alternative approach becomes possible once we allow that concepts of democracy are embedded in the traditions which inspire...

    • 4 Rights culture and constitutional reform
      (pp. 76-100)
      Joseph F. Fletcher

      Since taking office in 1997, Tony Blair’s New Labour government has brought about a remarkable programme of constitutional innovations. These include devolution to Scotland, Wales and London, the introduction of new rights protection instruments including Human Rights and Freedom of Information Acts and the removal of most of the hereditary peers from the House of Lords. In Chapter 2, Peter Riddell details the varied roots of this agenda in longstanding Liberal calls for constitutional reform, the Charter 88 movement and Labour’s own policy reviews and manifestos including its 1997 call for a ‘new politics’.

      The point of departure for this...

  7. Part III: Process

    • 5 How the reforms came about
      (pp. 103-130)
      Kenneth MacKenzie

      Within a year of the Blair government taking office, one of the more erudite British political commentators was accusing it of presiding over ‘a frenzy of constitutional reform’ which needed ‘to be underpinned by some unifying political vision’.¹

      This chapter describes how that situation came about and how the programme got off to such a flying start despite – or perhaps because of – its lack of coherent political vision. The government showed little appetite for contemplating or presenting constitutional change in the round and found some of the consequences of its own reforms to be a source of embarrassment or frustration....

  8. Part IV: Meaning

    • 6 Judicial reform: the emergence of the third branch of government
      (pp. 133-150)
      Kate Malleson

      Forty years ago the judiciary in the UK was regarded as an essentially legal institution, occupying a ‘place apart’ from the political order. The requirements of the overriding principle of parliamentary sovereignty were interpreted as limiting the remit of the courts to a relatively narrow or legalistic application of the law as passed by Parliament. The concept of judicial independence was consequently understood in restricted terms as a notion which related to the individual judges in their role as adjudicators and not to the judiciary as a collective institution or branch of government. Today, these basic assumptions are in the...

    • 7 A porous and pragmatic settlement: asymmetrical devolution and democratic constraint in Scotland and Wales
      (pp. 151-169)
      Ailsa Henderson

      Upon its election in 1997 New Labour honoured its promise to reform political institutions, bringing in legislation to establish a Scottish Parliament, a Welsh Assembly and an elected authority in London. It signed the Good Friday Agreement to bring about devolution in Northern Ireland and introduced reforms to the House of Lords. These developments are significant for they represented a clear step away from unitary government and signalled a commitment to democratic reform. They are, however, an example of adaptation rather than a wholesale transformation of the character of the British state: more radical options might, for example, have included...

    • 8 Britain and Europe: a tale of two constitutions
      (pp. 170-192)
      Craig Parsons

      British citizens have heard more talk of constitutions in recent years than in any period in living memory. They have participated in (or been subjected to) not one but two explicitly constitutional discussions. Almost simultaneously with the domestic reform agenda that is the topic of this book, the European Union launched a process to draft a European constitution. The discussions often seemed to run in parallel and mutually supporting directions. Reform discourse in the two arenas shared many themes: rights, transparency, devolved powers in multi-level government, and attempts to bring politics closer to the people. At a broad level, each...

    • 9 Constitutional reform and British political identity
      (pp. 193-218)
      Jack Citrin

      Two successive revolutions have transformed the textbook version of the British political system. First, the Thatcher regime elevated the market over the state, ending the post-war consensus of nationalised industries and a generous welfare state. Privatisation and competition became the new watchwords of social policy, but, paradoxically, the reduction in the power of economic monopolies was accompanied by the centralisation of administrative authority.

      What largely made Labour ‘New’ in the 1990s was its acceptance, however resignedly, of the main principles of Margaret Thatcher’s reforms. To be sure, New Labour promised a kinder and gentler version of capitalism than Thatcher had...

  9. About the contributors
    (pp. 219-220)
  10. Notes
    (pp. 221-241)
  11. Appendices
    (pp. 242-256)
  12. Index
    (pp. 257-261)