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The Constitution Unit
78 minutes | Jan 25, 2023
The Brown Commission: What Next?
The Labour Party’s Commission on the UK’s Future, chaired by Gordon Brown, has published recommendations for sweeping constitutional change, including major reforms to the devolution framework and the House of Lords. What does the Commission’s report propose? What does it leave out? Could its proposals be practically implemented? If so, how might this be done? A panel of experts discusses these questions. Speakers Professor Aileen McHarg is Professor of Public Law and Human Rights at Durham University. Akash Paun is a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Government. Professor Meg Russell is Director of the Constitution Unit. Chair: Professor Alan Renwick, Deputy Director of the Constitution Unit. Further reading: Report of the Commission on the UK’s Future The Future of the Territorial Constitution under Labour? The Report of the Commission on the UK’s Future by Aileen McHarg. Five things we’ve learned about the Brown Commission on the UK’s future by the Institute for Government.
35 minutes | Dec 21, 2022
A Primer on Reform of the House of Lords
Proposals for reform of the UK’s House of Lords are in the news. In the wake of a report by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Labour leader and – if the polls are to be believed – likely future Prime Minister Keir Starmer has said that he would abolish the House of Lords and replace it with a so-called Assembly of the Nations and Regions. This week Alan Renwick is joined by Meg Russell, Director of the UCL Constitution Unit and Professor of British and Comparative Politics in the UCL Department of Political Science. Meg is the leading expert on the House of Lords and on second chambers more broadly, having conducted research on the subject for more than two decades. Meg gives us a primer on the House of Lords and helps answer the questions: does it need reform? What is the best way of doing it? Associated reading: The Contemporary House of Lords: Westminster Bicameralism Revived. Meg Russell The problem(s) of House of Lords appointments. Meg Russell
65 minutes | Dec 14, 2022
Reform of the Prerogative
From the prorogation of parliament to military action, the executive’s prerogative powers have been at the heart of some of the most heated political controversies of recent years. This seminar marks the publication of a new book and report on this little-understood but crucial topic. Robert Hazell will explains the main prerogative powers, the successes and failures of recent attempts to regulate them, and the respective roles of parliament and the courts. Other speakers then look at specific instances of the prerogative: Arabella Lang (Head of Research, Public Law Project) discusses the effectiveness of parliamentary scrutiny of treaties Prof Philippe Lagassé, Carleton University, Ottawa evaluates parliamentary attempts to regulate the war making power, in Australia, Canada and New Zealand as well as the UK Sir Peter Riddell, Honorary Professor at UCL, talks about regulation of public appointments This seminar is chaired by Prof Meg Russell, Director of the Constitution Unit. The book, Executive Power: The Prerogative, Past, Present and Future by Robert Hazell and Timothy Foot (Hart Publishing) The Constitution Unit Report, Reforming the Prerogative by Robert Hazell and Charlotte Sayers-Carter.
36 minutes | Nov 30, 2022
How should politicians’ behaviour be regulated?
This episode was originally recorded for recorded for our sister UCL Political Science podcast - 'Uncovering Politics'. Questions about politicians’ behaviour have been high on the political agenda here in the UK in recent months and years. Boris Johnson’s premiership was dogged – and ultimately ended – by allegations that he was serially dishonest and tolerated bullying and other misconduct from his inner circle. Liz Truss sidelined independent sources of expertise and presided over catastrophic policy failure. And Rishi Sunak – though he entered Downing Street promising integrity, professionalism, and accountability – appointed a Home Secretary who only six days previously had left government for breaching the Ministerial Code, installed two other ministers against whom there are allegations of bullying, and (at the time of recording) yet to appoint an Ethics Adviser. So how can we ensure high standards of behaviour from our politicians? Can we rely simply on political accountability, and the disciplining role of the ballot box? Or do advisers, regulators, and perhaps even judges need also to play a role? This week our host Professor Alan Renwick is joined by two real experts: Professor Robert Hazell, who founded the UCL Constitution Unit in 1995 and remained its Director until 2015. Sir Peter Riddell, Honorary Professor in the UCL Department of Political Science, ex- Political Editor of the Financial Times and Chief Political Commentator at the Times, Director and Chief Executive of the Institute for Government between 2012 and 2016, and Commissioner for Public Appointments from 2016 until 2021. Related reading: Parliament’s watchdogs, Robert Hazell, Marcial Boo and Zachariah Pullar, UCL Constitution Unit report. Constitutional standards matter: the new Prime Minister must not forget that voters care about the honesty and integrity of their leaders, Peter Riddell, UCL Constitution Unit Blog.
76 minutes | Nov 24, 2022
What does the new Prime Minister mean for the constitution?
Rishi Sunak’s agenda for government will inevitably be focused on the UK’s economic woes. However, Sunak also faces important questions about constitutional change. How might he approach his predecessors’ legislative proposals relating to the Northern Ireland Protocol, retained EU law, and human rights? How will he deliver on his pledge to prioritise integrity, professionalism, and accountability? Will his approach to the civil service differ from that of Boris Johnson or Liz Truss? This expert panel provides a constitutional stock-take at the start of the Sunak premiership. Speakers: Jill Rutter is a Senior Research Fellow at UK in a Changing Europe and a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Government. Dr Ruth Fox is the Director of the Hansard Society. Professor Colm O’Cinneide is Professor of Constitutional and Human Rights Law at University College London. Chair: Professor Meg Russell, Director of the Constitution Unit Useful reading: How Sunak can restore integrity, professionalism and accountability - Meg Russell, Alan Renwick, Sophie Andrews-McCarroll and Lisa James Ministers should protect the UK’s system of constitutional guardians - Jack Pannell
39 minutes | Nov 4, 2022
Parliament’s Role in Brexit
Politics in the UK is in a state of turmoil. Every time we think it can’t get any crazier, it finds a way of doing just that. Many of the roots of the trouble can be found in Brexit. Whatever you think of Brexit, it’s clear that the referendum of June 2016 forced parliament to implement a massive switch in the direction of the country that most MPs thought was wrong, and split the main parties – particularly the Conservative Party – down the middle. The politics of ideology trumped the politics of competence. This episode comes from our sister UCL podcast - Uncovering Politics and looks at a new piece of research by two researchers here at the Constitution Unit UCL, which sheds light on an important aspect of the story. It assesses just how much influence parliament had in shaping the various laws that had to be passed to make Brexit a reality and put alternative arrangements in place. The authors of the study are: Dr Tom Fleming, Lecturer in British and Comparative Politics here in the UCL Department of Political Science and a member of the UCL Constitution Unit, and Lisa James, Research Fellow at the Constitution Unit and co-author of the forthcoming OUP book, The Parliamentary Battle over Brexit. Mentioned in this episode: Fleming, T. and James, L., 'Parliamentary Influence on Brexit Legislation, 2017–2019', Parliamentary Affairs Russel, M. and James, L., 'The Parliamentary Battle over Brexit'. Oxford University Press
73 minutes | Oct 27, 2022
Planning for the next Coronation, and the new Reign
The next big event for King Charles after accession will be his coronation, planned jointly by the monarch, church and state. Parliament will need to update the Regency Acts to provide for additional Counsellors of State. Meanwhile several Commonwealth countries have declared their intent to leave the monarchy and become republics. Three experts come together to discuss what these developments tell us about the new reign: • Catherine Pepinster, author of Defenders of the Faith: the British Monarchy, Religion, and the next Coronation • Dr Craig Prescott (Bangor), author of a forthcoming book on the Regency Acts • Dr Sue Onslow, Director of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London. Chair: Professor Robert Hazell, Constitution Unit Further reading: The Coronation of Charles III Constitution Unit report by Dr Bob Morris Swearing in the New King: Accession and Coronation Oaths Constitution Unit report by Professor Robert Hazell and Dr Bob Morris
72 minutes | Oct 18, 2022
Caretaker Conventions in British Government
After Boris Johnson announced his resignation as prime minister, he was widely described as leading a ‘caretaker government’. But this episode has highlighted that the conventions surrounding such governments are far from clear in the UK. What are the UK’s caretaker conventions? When do they apply? Should the existing conventions be clarified, codified, or reformed? If so, what lessons might be learned from experience in other countries? A distinguished panel will discuss these timely questions. Speakers: Lord (Gus) O’Donnell is a crossbench peer who served as Cabinet Secretary from 2005 to 2011, and oversaw the drafting of the UK’s Cabinet Manual. Lord (Gavin) Barwell is a Conservative peer who worked as Theresa May’s Downing Street Chief of Staff from 2017 to 2019, including a similar ‘caretaker’ period following her own resignation as prime minister. Professor Anne Tiernan is an Adjunct Professor at the Griffith Business School, and the co-author of Caretaker Conventions in Australasia: Minding the Shop for Government. Chair: Professor Meg Russell, Director of the Constitution Unit Useful reading: Caretaker Conventions in Australasia: Minding the Shop for Government by Jennifer Menzies and Anne Tiernan Chief of Staff by Gavin Barwell Must a caretaker government be a zombie government? by Robert Hazell Cabinet Manual, paras 2.27 to 2.34
75 minutes | Jul 25, 2022
The ‘Brexit Freedoms’ Bill and Retained EU Law
The UK government has promised to introduce a new ‘Brexit Freedoms’ Bill in the current parliamentary session. The government’s aim is to make retained EU law – former EU legislation placed on the British statute book during the Brexit process – easier to amend. However, this may mean increasing ministers’ ability to make important policy changes via delegated legislation, with relatively little parliamentary scrutiny. What can we expect the ‘Brexit Freedoms’ Bill to look like? What could it mean for the relative power of parliament and ministers? What might this mean for laws and regulations that affect the everyday lives of UK citizens? This seminar will bring together an expert panel to discuss these important questions. Speakers: Professor Catherine Barnard, Professor of European Union Law and Employment Law, University of Cambridge Dr Tom West, Delegated Legislation Review Manager, Hansard Society Ruth Chambers, Senior Parliamentary Affairs Associate, Greener UK Chair: Dr Joe Tomlinson, Senior Lecturer in Public Law, University of York
58 minutes | Jul 15, 2022
Keynote Speech by Rory Stewart - The State of the Constitution: Constitution Unit Conference 2022
Rory Stewart was Conservative MP for Penrith and the Border between 2010 and 2019. He served in government under David Cameron and Theresa May, including as a Home Office minister and Secretary of State for International Development. As a former diplomat, he served on the House of Commons Foreign Affairs and Defence Committees, the latter of which he chaired from 2014 to 2015. In 2019, he contested the Conservative Party leadership against Boris Johnson, before being stripped of the party whip over Johnson’s approach to Brexit, and then stepping down from parliament. Among other things he is currently the co-host, with Alastair Campbell, of the popular podcast 'The Rest is Politics'.
74 minutes | Jul 14, 2022
Parliament: the decline of scrutiny? - The State of the Constitution: Constitution Unit Conference 2022
Johnson’s premiership has been marked by various controversies about parliament. On COVID-19, the government was accused of overusing delegated powers – adding to already long-standing concerns in this area. Subsequently, some primary legislation has been rushed, and the relationship between whips and backbenchers often difficult. Most recently, the proposed fast-track procedures for amending Retained EU Law and on human rights risk further sidelining parliamentarians. How concerned should we be about these developments, and how best can parliament respond? Speakers Baroness (Angela) Smith of Basildon – Labour peer, and Shadow Leader of the House of Lords William Wragg MP – Conservative MP for Hazel Grove, and Chair of the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs CommitteeDr Ruth Fox – Director of the Hansard SocietyDr Hannah White – Deputy Director of the Institute for Government Chair: Professor Meg Russell FBA – Director of the Constitution Unit, UCL
71 minutes | Jul 12, 2022
The Role of the Courts - The State of the Constitution: Constitution Unit Conference 2022
The 2019 Conservative manifesto promised to review the relationship between government, parliament and the courts. In particular, ministers had concerns about the growth of judicial review. Since then, there have been consultations on judicial review and the Human Rights Act, the Judicial Review and Courts Act has reached the statute book, and the government has proposed a new Bill of Rights. Simultaneously, some detect a ‘chilling’ effect on the courts. So, in the third year of the Johnson premiership, how much rebalancing has taken place, and what might still lie ahead? Speakers Joanna Cherry QC MP – Scottish National Party MP for Edinburgh South West and former party spokesperson on Justice and Home Affairs Sir Bob Neill MP – Conservative MP for Bromley and Chislehurst, and Chair of the Commons Justice CommitteeHelen Mountfield QC – barrister and Principal of Mansfield College, University of Oxford Martha Spurrier, Director, Liberty Chair: Joshua Rozenberg QC (Hon) – legal commentator and journalist
76 minutes | Jul 7, 2022
The Future of the Union and Devolution - The State of the Constitution: Constitution Unit Conference 2022
The UK’s ‘devolution settlement’ is unsettled. Alternative visions abound for how to achieve stability: through ‘muscular unionism’; by reforming intergovernmental relations; through wholesale federalisation; or by breaking up the Union. What is the current state of each of these options? How are they likely to develop in the foreseeable future? In so far as they are implemented, what impacts are they likely to have? Speakers Lord (Andrew) Dunlop – Conservative peer, and former Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Scotland Office and Northern Ireland OfficeProfessor Laura McAllister – Wales Governance Centre, University of Cardiff, and co-chair of the Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales Sarah Sackman – Public and environmental lawyer, Matrix ChambersProfessor Michael Keating – Emeritus Professor of Politics, University of Aberdeen, and Fellow of the Centre on Constitutional Change Chair: Professor Alan Renwick – Deputy Director of the Constitution Unit, UCL
72 minutes | Jul 5, 2022
Northern Ireland: how can power-sharing be revived? - The State of the Constitution: Constitution Unit Conference 2022
Northern Ireland finds itself again without a functioning Executive or Assembly. All mainstream voices agree that the 1998 Belfast/Good Friday Agreement offers the only viable framework for politics in Northern Ireland in the coming years, but the risk of breakdown is severe. How can Northern Ireland’s power-sharing arrangements be restored in the coming months? How far are solutions to be found in changes to the Protocol or to the 1998 Agreement? And what role should the government in London play in seeking a healthy outcome? Speakers Julian Smith MP – Conservative MP for Skipton and Ripon, and former Secretary of State for Northern IrelandDr Mary Murphy – Department of Government and Politics, University College Cork Dr Clare Rice – Research Associate, Department of Politics, University of LiverpoolAlan Whysall – Honorary Senior Research Associate at the Constitution Unit and former civil servant in the Northern Ireland Office Chair: Professor Alan Renwick – Deputy Director of the Constitution Unit, UCL
74 minutes | Jun 30, 2022
Constitutional Standards - The State of the Constitution: Constitution Unit Conference 2022
The Johnson premiership has sparked numerous concerns about constitutional standards – from respect for checks and balances and the rule of law, to standards of behaviour among ministers, officials, and parliamentarians. A major review by the Committee on Standards in Public Life in 2021 proposed significant change. These debates take place within a wider framework of concern about ‘democratic backsliding’. How can constitutional and democratic standards best be upheld, and norms of good behaviour be maintained? Speakers Sir Jeremy Wright QC MP – Conservative MP for Kenilworth and Southam, and member of the Committee on Standards in Public LifeProfessor Elizabeth David-Barrett – Director of the Centre for the Study of Corruption, University of Sussex Sir Peter Riddell – former Commissioner for Public Appointments and Honorary Professor at UCLProfessor Petra Schleiter – Joint Head of the Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Oxford Chair: Professor Meg Russell FBA – Director of the Constitution Unit, UCL
77 minutes | Jun 24, 2022
The 1997 Labour government's constitutional reform programme: 25 years on
May 2022 marked the 25th anniversary of the election of Tony Blair's first Labour government. It entered office with an ambitious set of manifesto proposals for constitutional reform. These included devolution in Scotland, Wales and London, a new settlement for Northern Ireland, the Human Rights Act, Freedom of Information Act, Lords reform, regulation of elections and referendums, and a referendum on the voting system for the House of Commons. Not all of these ambitions were reached, but further changes occurred beyond 2001, most obviously the establishment of the Supreme Court. This event will look back at the Labour reforms, asking what they sought to achieve, the extent to which those objectives were realised, whether in retrospect mistakes can be identified, and what has been the lasting legacy of these reforms. We are joined by a senior panel who were closely involved from different perspectives.Speakers: Lord (Charlie) Falconer of Thoroton is a Labour peer, who has held various frontbench positions including as Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor 2003-07 Baroness (Shami) Chakrabarti is a Labour peer and former Shadow Attorney General, who before this was Director of Liberty 2003-16 Professor Robert Hazell was founding Director of the Constitution Unit, a position he held from 1995 to 2015. Chair: Professor Meg Russell, Director of the Constitution Unit
36 minutes | May 12, 2022
Politics in Northern Ireland
In this episode, Professor Alan Renwick is joined by Senior Research Associate Alan Whysall, and Professor Etain Tannam, Associate Professor of International Peace Studies at Trinity College Dublin to discuss the implications of the Assembly elections for the future of power-sharing and the institutional arrangements in Northern Ireland. Read further about these themes in Alan Whysall's discussion paper on the future of the institutions and blogpost on challenges after the elections, and Etain Tannam's blogpost on the existing institutions under the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement.
73 minutes | Apr 29, 2022
Citizens’ Assembly on Democracy in the UK
Recent years have raised fundamental questions about the operation of democracy in the UK. Polarisation is high and many citizens feel detached from politics. The ethical standards of those in public life have been called into question. Governing and opposition parties throughout the UK have pledged to review the system’s operation. But how do ordinary citizens want democracy in the UK to work? This seminar follows the launch on 7 April of the Report of the Citizens’ Assembly on Democracy in the UK – the second report of the Unit’s Democracy in the UK after Brexit research project. Following six weekends of deliberation last year, the Assembly agreed 8 resolutions and 51 recommendations, proposing many changes to how our democracy works. In the seminar, the key conclusions will be presented and discussed with leading experts and some of the Assembly’s members. Speakers: Professor Alan Renwick, Deputy Director of the Constitution Unit and Project Lead Kaela Scott, Director of Innovation and Practice at Involve and Design and Facilitation Lead for the Citizens’ Assembly on Democracy in the UK Professor Catherine Barnard, Professor of European Union and Labour Law, University of Cambridge Frances Foley, Deputy Director of Compass Members from the Citizens’ Assembly Chair: Professor Meg Russell, Director of the Constitution Unit
75 minutes | Apr 11, 2022
What role should party members have in leadership elections?
If Boris Johnson leaves office before the next general election, Conservative Party members will have a decisive say in who replaces him as party leader and Prime Minister. This prospect raises the wider question of what role ordinary members should play in party leadership elections. The UK has seen extensive variation in the role of ordinary grassroots members, as compared to MPs, in leadership contests – both between the different parties, and over time. This has previously led to some controversies, most obviously around the election (and re-election in 2016) of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader. What consequences does the role of members have for the kinds of leaders and policies that parties adopt? How should this be balanced with the role of MPs? This seminar will explore the key arguments. Speakers: Paul Goodman, Editor of Conservative Home and former Conservative MP for Wycombe Cat Smith MP, Labour Member of Parliament for Lancaster and Fleetwood Dr Tom Quinn, Senior Lecturer, Department of Government, University of Essex Chair: Professor Meg Russell, Director of the Constitution Unit
78 minutes | Feb 14, 2022
What Kind of Democracy Do People Want?
Recent years have raised fundamental questions about the kind of democracy that people in the UK want. How do they think government and parliament should relate to each other? What role do they want for the courts? Do they want more or fewer referendums? What standards of behaviour do they expect from their politicians, and how do they expect those standards to be upheld? These and many other related questions are explored by the Constitution Unit’s Democracy in the UK after Brexit project. This seminar marks the launch in late January 2022 of the project’s first report, which sets out the findings of a major survey of UK public opinion fielded in July 2021. In the seminar, the key findings will be presented and discussed with leading experts.Speakers: Professor Alan Renwick, Deputy Director of the Constitution Unit Paula Surridge, Senior Lecturer in Political Sociology, University of Bristol, and Deputy Director of UK in a Changing Europe James Johnson, founder of J.L. Partners and former Senior Opinion Research and Strategy Adviser to Prime Minister Theresa May Chair: Professor Meg Russell, Director of the Constitution Unit.
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