Wednesday, 11 June 2014

The Surprising Core British Value In The Torygraph

With Education Secretary Michael Gove calling on schools to promote British values, the Daily Telegraph had a go at defining these.

The one that struck me was:

Second is the sovereignty of the Crown in Parliament. The Lords, the Commons and the monarch constitute the supreme authority in the land. In recent years this has been extended to the Supreme Court.

Go back into the murky mists of time, to an era when there was no Supreme Court. In other words, go back 5 years (a strange time when - and this will shock you - one party would win over half the seats in the House of Commons and form a Government on its own). Yes, the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, which created the Supreme Court, was already law, although the Court itself did not replace the Law Lords until October 2009.

I recall one thing about the passage of that Act, which was the criticisms from those who did not want a Supreme Court. I was always amused how some would criticise it as being "American-style", others as being "European-style", which says a lot about their view of the world.

Before its fifth birthday, the Supreme Court has become something that even the Telegraph can see as part of our British values.

But this itself is part of Britishness. When we had the referendum on changing the voting system for the House of Commons from Single Member Plurality (aka First Past The Post) to the Alternative Vote, it sounded sometimes from the NO2AV lobby as if in 1066 William the Conqueror had gone up Mt Sinai and come down with tablets of stone with the current voting system inscribed on them.

Even as late as the July 1945 general election, there were two-member constituencies (such as Southampton). Yet in two-thirds of a century, all MPs being elected by SMP in single-member constituencies has been accepted as how we've always done it. Yet, if in 1918 the House of Lords and House of Commons had come to an agreement, we would just accept a patchwork of single-member rural constituencies using AV and multi-member urban constituencies using the Single Transferable Vote as how we've always done it. That would be part of our Britishness.

In May 2015 we have a general election. This time, it won't be the Prime Minister, David Cameron, going to Buckingham Palace to ask the Queen to dissolve Parliament, but an automatic dissolution under the terms of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011. This is now part of our constitutional framework.

Go back 15 years and, amid controversy, the Scottish Parliament had been elected, and was waiting to take over legislative powers as prescribed by the Scotland Act 1998. Even more controversially, the House of Lords Act 1999, was making its way through Parliament. Yet no main party is calling for Holyrood's powers to be transferred back to Westminster, or for the hereditary peers to return. Things which were once The End Of Civilisation As We Know It are now accepted as how we do things in this country.

No doubt, if we ever became a republic, within a few years the Telegraph would see the Presidency as an essential part of our Britishness.

One key aspect of Britishness is that it is ever-evolving. The United Kingdom has become quite a different country to the one I was born in.

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