Free Essay About Elective Dictatorship: Issues And Concerns
Is there an “elective dictatorship” in the UK?
Jones and Norton (2014, p. 256) states that the 1970s and the 1980s saw fomenting demands for political restructuring of the United Kingdom’s fundamental law. The mode of government seemed to be bogging down and performing below par; the United Kingdom was reeling from a serious economic crisis, labour and industrial disruptions, civil conflict in Northern Ireland, and domestic disturbances in cities such as Bristol and in Liverpool. Detractors of the UK Constitution proffered the position that the fundamental law needed to be retooled.
In the context of the UK, a coupling of sharp party discipline and an inequitable electoral system where a “simple plurality” of votes will permit the Executive branch to dictate upon the legislative branch (Heywood, 2013, p. 310). One of the more significant concerns about the unrecorded Constitution of the state is that the lawmaking body, Parliament, is basically unfettered in the exercise of its power. Its mandate is such that it can adopt or repeal any law without any restraint. The concern here is the fact that one component of the government has absolute power over the others and the other branches will not be able to restrain the powers of the Parliament and in addition, no branch will be able to countermand this branch.
In the existing structure of the government, the Executive branch of the government can be countermanded by the Parliament as well as the court system. Nevertheless, the majority in the Parliaments, supported by unyielding party whips, translates to the domination of the Executive of the legislative branch. This development has led to the observation of the Lord Hailsham, the past Lord Chancellor that Great Britain has evolved into an “elective dictatorship (Williams, 1998, p. 15).
Simply put, given that the Executive and the legislative come from a single party, the Executive in effect can dictate upon the legislative to such a degree that it can rewrite the undocumented British Constitution any way that suits its agenda. In this light, the perception here is that the United Kingdom does not have any Constitution. In the opinion of Griffith (1997), the fundamental law of the UK is “what happens.” The other issue in this concern is that given the expanding powers of the government, there is a lingering fear that the government will evolve into a repressive and totalitarian (Heywood, 2011, p. 185).
Lord Hailsham’s arguments centred on the domination of the legislative branch of government by the executive branch of government; here, Aldons (2002, pp. 72-73) citing Evans (1993), notes that in this situation, the sole restraint left are the courts. However, the Executive is ineffective if the government does not adhere to the dictate of the legislative. Here, it is argued that though the courts are effective restraints, the legislative is also a strong restraint on the executive if the Executive does not retain the confidence of the legislative (Heywood, 2013, p. 311).
Enhanced powers for judicial oversight can inflict a significant effect on the other components of government. Parliamentary independence would be subdued since the power of Parliament would not go uncontested. For example, when Lord Rees-Mogg contested the capacity of the government to adopt the 1993 Maastricht Treaty, the leader of the House of Commons issued a strong warning that reminded the adjudicators that from the time of the 1689 Bill of Rights, that the independence of Parliament has been the operating and dominant model of governance; in this frame, the power of Parliament would be uncontested (Williams, 1998, p. 184).
An infinite majority of positions in Parliament buttresses the positions of the Prime Minister; the victory of the candidate can be directly interrelated to the performance of the party in an elections. Magnetic political candidates from Margaret Thatcher to Tony Blair have nearly satisfied the requirements for an “elective dictatorship.” Among the basic features of the British governance model is the synthesis of the mandates of the legislative and executive branches. The bureaucracy is composed of elected Members of Parliament (MPs) and their colleagues. The Executive is in a dominant position in regards to its position to Parliament, though there have been a few occasions that the party in power was in conflict with the legislature.
One of the main reasons the British executive branch possesses a fragmentary contemporary “separation of powers” is the overarching political mechanism that has changed over the centuries and is still innately imbued with a number of medieval features. One of these archaic features was the previous position of the “Lord High Chancellor,” who is responsible for the monitoring and operation of the UK judicial mechanism.
The High Chancellor formerly had to accomplish three offices; as State Secretary of constitutional affairs in the Council of Ministers, the Speaker of the House of Lords, and as the head of the British judiciary. This position was unique among all the nations in Europe. However, in 2004, a significant retooling of the position was conducted, distinguishing the positions, though the position of Secretary of State for justice has maintained the archaic title of Lord Chancellor (Magone, 2013 ).
Retooling the House of Lords is the most compelling democratic restructuring proposal in the near-term political horizon, one that is highly improbable to occur, though the government is committed to adopt laws to this effect. The laws are geared to establish the initial electoral exercise for a retooled House of Lords in 2015. The reform platform is one of the more critical measures of the “Take Back Parliament” movement. The current offer is one of the most critical on board; at present, the House of Commons cannot and are not able to act out the primary responsibility of lawmaking body and that is to provide a counterbalance to an inordinately powerful Executive branch and force it to submit its legislative agenda for scrutiny.
The motion of the government for another chamber with a majority or all of its members elected into office; if adopted, the new agency will now be able to have the democratic foundations to be able to countercheck the Executive and to make it answerable to Parliament. Nevertheless, the operative word in this proposal is “if (Weir, 2011, p. 1).
One of the major flashpoints in the reform initiative is that the British government is “over centralized,” one that is beset with deficient and impotent counterbalances. One of the critical characteristics of a progressive democracy is that state power is tempered by “internal tensions” between the branches of government. Withal, the British government is better described and understood as an entity with an inordinate concentration of power rather than a redistribution and equality of the power. The constitutional amendments that have been adopted since 1997 have attempted to resolve this dilemma, specifically by way of devolution and the preliminary phases of the Lords retooling. Though these reorganizations have been widely imputed for a degree of dispersing the state’s power, there are still those that proffer that the reforms leave much to be desired (Heywood, 2011, p. 186).
Irish political theorist and orator Edmund Burke was well aware of the threat of unfettered power. Burke wrote that in a democratic society, the majority of the citizenry is capable of exercising the most cruel oppression upon the minority.” This position was in contradiction of Dicey 30 years later. In his position, Dicey reiterated that the ultimate source of advancement and life of the British fundamental law was the unbridled power of Parliament. Nevertheless, there are fears that an “elective dictatorship” is detrimental to the affairs of the state (Commonwealth of Australia, n.d.).
Refusing to enact any legislation designed to retool the powers of Parliament will ultimately result in allowing the Commons to enact any type of law without any meaningful opposition. Furthermore, the balance of the Lords will be effectively relegated to nothing more than token resistance. The “elective dictatorship” of Lord Hailsham, one that had been forewarned by the Lord High Chancellor Charlie Falconer, would have arrived. The Lords have been recognized as a less sectarian and wiser organization compared to the House of Commons.
As a wiser body, the Lords have always recognized when to desist from further opposing the Commons. The Lords have faithfully adhered to the tenets of the “Salisbury-Addison Convention” and have only stood its ground when the body believed that the Lords were more “in tune” with the public sentiment than the stance taken by the Commons (Heffer, 2006, p. 1).
Regrettably, the retooling restructured prevailing constitutional mechanisms; nevertheless, these did not address more deep seated issues. Specifically, the retooling was inadequate in providing a resolution for the issue of “elective dictatorship,” which is indisputably the most glaring weakness of the constitutional system in the United Kingdom. The largest “chink” in the restructuring initiatives of then British Prime Minister Tony Blair was the dearth of any meaningful, substantive reform of Parliament.
It was noteworthy to cite that the government backtracked on issues that could have triggered this instance. These are the electoral retooling at Westminster and elected and more potent Second Chamber. In addition, there was no allusion was done on the potential of having the UK Constitution written down or a perpetual Bill of Rights. The change from the Blair to the Brown administrations in 2007 seemed to point to a revival in the discussion regarding constitutional concerns.
This instance happened in the light of the decreasing support of the Labour Party among the British electorate. In this light, Prime Minister Brown was keen to trumpet the government’s position that “things had changed.” Brown’s proposition of a ‘citizen’s state’ involved short-term policies to cede or restrict the mandate of government as well as the influence of the Prime Minister. Long term measures will involve the need to evaluate and discuss additional long term policy changes (Heywood, 2011, p. 190). Nevertheless, as long as the dominant party retains or attains a majority in Parliament, what is assured is the government will not be coerced to turn to the legislature or seek the approval of Parliament for its agendas (Heywood, 2011, p. 190).
Aldons, M., 2002. The “elective dictatorship”-fact or fiction [online] Available at:<http://www.aspg.org.au/journal/2002spring_17_2/6-Aldons-Dictators.pdf (accessed 11 February 2015).
Heffer, S., 2006. We’re teetering on the brink of an elective dictatorship. The Telegraph 5 Apr
Heywood, Andrew, 2011. Essentials of UK politics. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan
Heywood, Andrew, 2013. Politics. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan
Jones, B., Norton, P. ed., 2014. Politics UK. New York: Routledge
Magone, J., 2013. Contemporary European Politics: A comparative introduction. New York: Routledge
Parliament of Australia, n.d. What is wrong with an elective dictatorship [online] Available at:<http://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Senate/Research_and_Education/hamer/chap11 (Accessed 11 February 2015).
Quinlan, M., 2004. Blair has taken us towards an elective dictatorship [online] Available at:<http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2004/oct/22/butler.media (Accessed 11 February 2015).
Weir, S., 2011. Lords reform should redistribute power, not promote “elective dictatorship [online] Available at:<https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/stuart-weir/lords-reform-should-redistribute-power-not-promote-elective-dictatorship (Accessed 11 February 2015).
Williams, A. 1998. UK government and politics. Portsmouth: Heinemann
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