Whats Wrong with the British Constitution?

Paperback | September 1, 2012

byIain McLean

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In this provocative new study, Iain McLean argues that the traditional story of the British constitution does not make sense. It purports to be both positive and normative: that is, to describe both how people actually behave and how they ought to behave. In fact, it fails to do either; it isnot a correct description and it has no persuasive force. The book goes on to offer a reasoned alternative.The position that still dominates the field of constitutional law is that of parliamentary sovereignty (or supremacy). According to this view, the supreme lawgiver in the United Kingdom is Parliament. Some writers in this tradition go on to insist that Parliament in turn derives its authority fromthe people, because the people elect Parliament. An obvious problem with this view is that Parliament, to a lawyer, comprises three houses: monarch, Lords, and Commons. The people elect only one of those three houses.This book aims to show, contrary to the prevailing view, that the UK exists by virtue of a constitutional contract between two previously independent states. Professor McLean argues that the work of the influential constitutional theorist A.V. Dicey has little to offer those who really want tounderstand the nature of the constitution. Instead, greater understanding can be gleaned from considering the 'veto plays' and 'credible threats' available to politicians since 1707. He suggests that the idea that the people are sovereign dates back to the 17th century (maybe the 14th in Scotland),but has gone underground in English constitutional writing. He goes on to show that devolution and the UK's relationship with the rest of Europe have taken the UK along a constitutionalist road since 1972, and perhaps since 1920. He concludes that no intellectually defensible case can be made forretaining an unelected house of Parliament, an unelected head of state, or an established church.The book will be essential reading for political scientists, constitutional lawyers, historians, and politicians alike.

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In this provocative new study, Iain McLean argues that the traditional story of the British constitution does not make sense. It purports to be both positive and normative: that is, to describe both how people actually behave and how they ought to behave. In fact, it fails to do either; it isnot a correct description and it has no pers...

Iain McLean has previously worked at Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Warwick, and held visiting appointments at Washington and Lee, Stanford, Yale and Australian National Universities. He has written copiously about UK public policy; political history; and historical applications of rational choice theory. He is a Fellow of the British Academ...

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:400 pagesPublished:September 1, 2012Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0199656452

ISBN - 13:9780199656455

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Table of Contents

Table of ContentsPrefaceContentsList of TablesPart I: Introduction1. The English Public Lawyers' Constitution2. A Social-science-based Alternative - Veto Player TheoryPart II: The Constitution from Below3. Iain McLean and Alistair McMillan: 1707 and 1800: a Treaty (Mostly) Honoured and a Treaty Broken4. Iain McLean and Jennifer Nou: Why Should we be Beggars with the Ballot in our Hand? The 1909 Budget and the House of Lords5. Iain McLean and Tom Lubbock: The Curious Incident of the Guns in the Night Time - Curragh, Larne and the ConstitutionAppendix to Chapter 5. How Much did Bonar Law Know about the Larne Gun-running?6. The Contradictions of Professor Dicey7. Causes and Consequences of the Unionist Coup d'etatPart III: The Erosion of Diceyan Ideology8. The Impact of UK Devolution9. The Impact of Europe10. The Impact of Human Rightsa) Appendix to Chapter 10. European Convention on Human Rights and Protocols Adopted by the United Kingdom as of 2008.Part IV: Things to Leave out of a Written Constitution11. Unelected Chambers12. Monarchsa) Appendix to Chapter 12. 'The Constitutional Position of the Sovereign': Letters Between King George V and Prime Minister H. H. Asquith, Autumn 191313. Established ChurchesPart V: Things to Put In14. We the PeopleDramatis PersonaeReferencesIndex

Editorial Reviews

"The received doctrine, which goes back to the late 19th-century legal theorist A.V. Dicey, is that there is no limit to what the Queen in Parliament can do: make wars, abrogate individual rights, suspend habeas corpus, and so on. Iain McLean, the Oxford professor of politics, has written anew book, Whats Wrong with the British Constitution?, arguing that this is obsolete, if it was ever true. A viable constitution should contain rules for its own amendment, as the US constitution does. No written document can prevent misconduct, but it can raise barriers to make such misconduct moredifficult." --Samuel Brittan, Financial Times