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- Taking Back Control: Why the House of Commons Should Govern its own Time (19 January 2021)
'Taking Back Control: Why the House of Commons Should Govern its own Time' is a Constitution Unit report which explores why MPs lack control of their own institution, what problems this causes, & what should be done. The Constitution Unit hosted a launch event to discuss the findings of the report.
Speakers: Karen Bradley MP, Chair of the House of Commons Procedure Committee; Valerie Vaz MP, Shadow Leader of the House of Commons; Sir David Natzler, former Clerk of the House of Commons, also formerly Clerk of the Wright Committee; Professor Meg Russell FBA (co-author), Director of the Constitution Unit, Senior Fellow at the UK in a Changing Europe, and former specialist adviser to the Wright Committee; Dr Daniel Gover (co-author): Lecturer in British Politics at Queen Mary University of London.
Chair: Jill Rutter, senior research fellow of UK in a Changing Europe.
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- Boris Johnson and Parliament (27 January 2021)
In partnership with The UK in a Changing Europe two seasoned Conservative parliamentarians and the director of the Constitution Unit look back at Boris Johnson’s relationship with parliament, reflect on the highs and lows, expectations and reality, and lessons for the future.
Speakers: Mark Harper MP, Lord Young of Cookham and Professor Meg Russell.
Chair: Jill Rutter
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- Attitudes to Democracy in the UK Today (25 February 2021)
How do people in the UK view democracy? How do they think UK democracy ought to operate? What roles do they think should be played by parliament, government, the courts, and the public themselves? How do such attitudes vary across the population, and what shapes them?
The Constitution Unit has just embarked on a major new research project – Democracy in the UK after Brexit – that seeks answers to such questions. But what do we already know on these matters? What do we not know? And what can we learn from research conducted in other countries about the best ways to find out more? In this seminar, Alan Renwick – who leads the new project – will explore these questions with three of the leading experts in the field.
Speakers: Professor Jane Green, Professor Claudia Landwehr and Deborah Mattinson.
Chair: Dr Alan Renwick.
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- Can Johnson prevent indyref2? (22 March 2021)
If the SNP win a majority in the Scottish Parliament elections in May, Nicola Sturgeon will declare they have a mandate for a second independence referendum. Boris Johnson has said he will refuse to allow one. But can he can really resist? Prof Aileen McHarg explains the legal issues; James Forsyth the politics, and the need for an alternative offer; and Dr Alan Renwick the referendum process, if the Scots are to make a fully informed decision.Speakers: Prof Aileen McHarg, Professor of Public Law and Human Rights at Durham Law School; James Forsyth, political editor of The Spectator magazine; and Dr Alan Renwick, Deputy Director of the Constitution Unit and Associate Professor in British Politics at UCL.
Chair: Prof Meg Russell, Director of the Constitution Unit and Professor of British and Comparative Politics at UCL.
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- Regulating public appointments (29 April 2021)
Peter Riddell steps down as the Commissioner for Public Appointments in September. The Commissioner’s role is to ensure fair and open competition, with the final choice made by ministers. His predecessor Sir David Normington had warned on departure that changes made by government would weaken OCPA. Peter Riddell had different criticisms in his final annual report. In this valedictory talk, he will reflect on the system of public appointments, and discuss what changes are needed to provide public confidence in the system.
Chair: Prof Meg Russell, Director of the Constitution Unit and Professor of British and Comparative Politics at UCL.
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- Ministerial standards (24 May 2021)
Westminster and Holyrood have both been engulfed by scandals over ministerial behaviour in the past year. The Committee on Standards in Public Life (CSPL) has launched a further review, Standards Matter 2, to evaluate the institutions and processes that uphold standards of conduct in Westminster and beyond. Sir Alex Allan, former Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests, will discuss the standards regime in Westminster and Whitehall; to discuss the standards regime in Scotland we have Susan Deacon, former Minister for Health in Scotland, and former chair of the Scottish Police Authority; and Richard Thomas CBE, Member of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments, will discuss recent evidence submitted to the CSPL and PACAC on this topic.
- Sir Alex Allan, former Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests
- Susan Deacon, former Minister for Health in Scotland, and former chair of the Scottish Police Authority
- Richard Thomas CBE, Member of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments and former Information Commission
Chair: Professor Robert Hazell, The Constitution Unit
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The Working Group on Unification Referendums on the Island of Ireland published its Final Report on 26 May. The report explores how any potential future referendum or referendums on the constitutional status of Northern Ireland would best be designed and conducted.
The Working Group takes no view on whether such referendums should take place or what the outcome should be. It concludes that referendums should not be called without a clear plan for the referendum processes that would follow, and it identifies difficult issues that need to be addressed. For example, what evidence would inform the decision to call such a vote? Would referendums take place before or after proposals for the shape of a united Ireland had been developed? How would the referendum campaigns be regulated?
This webinar discusses the Working Group’s analysis and conclusions, and considers how debate on these issues is likely to develop. The webinar is jointly hosted with the Democracy Unit, Queen's University Belfast; the Trinity Centre for Constitutional Law and Governance (TriCON), Trinity College Dublin; the Institute for Irish and British Studies (IBIS), University College Dublin; and the Transitional Justice Institute, Ulster University, and includes contributions from the Working Group’s Chair, Dr Alan Renwick, and a panel of distinguished external speakers:
- Professor John Coakley, Queen’s University Belfast and Geary Institute, University College Dublin
- Sarah Creighton, solicitor, writer and political commentator
- Dr Avila Kilmurray, Migration and Peacebuilding Executive at The Social Change Initiative
- Patrick Maguire, Red Box editor for The Times
Chair: Professor Cathy Gormley-Heenan, Professor of Politics at Ulster University and member of the Working Group.
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- Johnson's Constitutional Reform Agenda: Conference (17–18 June 2021)
The government had a wide ranging agenda for constitutional reforms on page 48 of its 2019 election manifesto. This conference, co-organised by the Constitution Unit, the Department of Politics & International Relations at the University of Oxford and UK in a Changing Europe (UKICE), brought together politicians, policy makers and academic experts to discuss the government’s progress so far, and what lies ahead. We have put together a webpage where you can access outputs from the conference such as videos, podcasts, blogposts, and reading lists.
- The Gun, the Ship and the Pen: Warfare, Constitutions and the Making of the Modern World (29 July 2021)
The latest book by prize winning author Prof Linda Colley FBA (Professor of History at Princeton) is about the global history of written constitutions from the 1750s to the modern day, and the close connections between constitutions and warfare. She will be discussing the ideas in the book with Dr Harshan Kumarasingham (Edinburgh) and Robert Hazell (Constitution Unit).
- Professor Linda Colley FBA, Professor of History at Princeton
- Dr Harshan Kumarasingham, Senior Lecturer in British Politics at the University of Edinburgh
Chair: Professor Robert Hazell, Professor Robert Hazell, The Constitution Unit
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- The Johnson government's constitutional reform agenda: prospects and challenges (04 February 2020)
The Conservatives’ 2019 manifesto commits the new government ‘to look at the broader aspects of our constitution: the relationship between the government, parliament and the courts; the functioning of the Royal Prerogative; the role of the House of Lords; and access to justice for ordinary people’. There were also specific commitments: to update the Human Rights Act; to ensure that judicial review is not abused; and to set up a Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission.
In this seminar two Conservative experts, Lord (Andrew) Dunlop (member of the House of Lords Constitution Committee and former Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Scotland and Northern Ireland) and Chris White (former Special Adviser to Conservative Cabinet Ministers William Hague, Andrew Lansley and Patrick McLoughlin) discuss how the new government might implement this agenda, the obstacles it might face, and how they could be overcome.
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- Former Father of the House of Commons Ken Clarke in conversation with Meg Russell (27 February 2020)
Rt Hon Kenneth Clarke QC has had a unique parliamentary career. First elected to the House of Commons in 1970, he finally stepped down as an MP in December 2019 after 49 years, holding the status of Father of the House (i.e. longest serving member). During his time in the Commons he served as a minister under Margaret Thatcher, John Major and David Cameron, holding posts including Secretary of State for Health, Home Secretary, Chancellor of the Exchequer and Lord Chancellor.
Always a passionate European, his last years in parliament saw him take a rebel stand on key occasions over Brexit, and he was ultimately among the 21 members who lost the Conservative Party whip in September 2019.
In this session, kindly hosted by the Lord Speaker, Ken Clarke reflects on his parliamentary career in conversation with the Constitution Unit's Meg Russell.
This event was organised jointly with the Study of Parliament Group.
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- Deliberation in a virtual parliament and online citizens’ assembly: challenges and opportunities (1 June 2020)
The Covid-19 lockdown has seen parliament conducting much of its business online, and Climate Assembly UK (commissioned by six parliamentary committees) also forced to hold its final weekend online. What has been lost as a result, and what lessons might be learned for future online deliberation? What do these developments teach us more broadly about the dynamics of political deliberation, including the role played by informal communication when face to face?
Speakers: Baroness (Nicky) Morgan of Cotes, (former Secretary of State for Education, and Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and former Chair of the Commons Treasury Committee) Greg Power, (Founder and Board Chair of Global Partners Governance. Between 2001 and 2005 he was Special Adviser to successive Leaders of the House of Commons, Robin Cook and Peter Hain) Sarah Allan, (Head of Engagement at Involve and project lead for Climate Assembly UK) and Doreen Grove (Head of Open Government in the Scottish Government).
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- Reporting on politics in lockdown (2 July 2020)
This webinar is about the challenges of reporting on politics, and on parliament, during the lockdown. What have journalists lost with no access to the lobby, and what alternative sources can they use instead?
Speakers: Mark D’Arcy, Parliamentary Correspondent of the BBC; Esther Webber, reporter for The Times Red Box; and Brian Taylor, the Political Editor for BBC Scotland.
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- The Role of the Monarchy in Modern Democracy (30 September 2020)
'The Role of Monarchy in Modern Democracy: European Monarchies Compared' is the first ever comparative study of European monarchies, written with 20 academic experts from Belgium, Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden and the UK.
The book explores how an ancient, hereditary institution has survived as a central part of these democracies. How much power does a monarch really have? How much autonomy do they enjoy? Who regulates the size of the royal family, their finances, the rules of succession? What happens when they become engulfed in scandal? What is the secret of their success, and their survival?
To discuss the book’s main findings we have an expert panel:
Chair: Jonathan Dimbleby (biographer of Prince Charles)
- Lord (Robin) Janvrin, Private Secretary to the Queen 1999-2007
- Valentine Low, royal correspondent of The Times
- Professor Jean Seaton, British contributor to the book.
- Jonny Dymond, royal correspondent of the BBC
- Professor Rudy Andeweg, Dutch contributor to the book
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- Repealing the Fixed Term Parliaments Act (5 October 2020)
The Conservative party manifesto had a clear commitment to repeal the FTPA (as did the Labour party), which was repeated in the Queen’s speech. Nothing further has happened from the government. But in September two parliamentary committees published reports explaining the complications, which include reviving the prerogative power of dissolution, allowing the Prime Minister to decide the timing of elections, and whether parliaments should run for four or five years.
In this seminar Baroness (Ann) Taylor, chair of the Lords Constitution Committee, discussed their report; Lloyd Russell-Moyle MP, member of the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, talked about the report from PACAC; and Professor Petra Schleiter (Oxford) put the issues in a comparative perspective.
The seminar was chaired by Professor Meg Russell, Director of the Constitution Unit.
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- Constitutional Reform, Then and Now (3 November 2020)
As part of the Constitution Unit’s 25th anniversary celebrations, this online seminar looked back at the constitutional reform agenda of the 1997 Labour government, and forward at the constitutional reforms proposed in the 2019 Conservative manifesto. What were the key questions, and motivating factors, then and now?
Jack Straw, who held senior positions in the Brown and Blair cabinets, and Professor Francesca Klug OBE, discussed the origins of New Labour’s constitutional reform programme, its implementation and its legacy. David Gauke, Lord Chancellor under Theresa May, discussed the current government’s constitutional reform proposals.
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- Report launch: Interim Report of the Working Group on Unification Referendums on the Island of Ireland (3 December 2020)
The Interim Report of the Working Group on Unification Referendums on the Island of Ireland was published on 26 November. The report explores how any potential future referendum or referendums on the constitutional status of Northern Ireland would best be designed and conducted. This webinar discussed the report’s purposes, analysis, and conclusions.
The following speakers examined the possible answers to these questions in the UK political and legal context: Dr Alan Renwick, chair of the Working Group and Deputy Director of the Constitution Unit; Clare Salters, former senior civil servant in the Northern Ireland Office and NI constitutional adviser; Alan Whysall, Working Group member and former senior civil servant in the Northern Ireland Office; and Martin Kettle, associate editor and columnist at The Guardian. The event was chaired by Professor Meg Russell, Director of the Constitution Unit.
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- Devolution and the Union (4 December 2020)
How will devolution and the Union change post-Brexit?
As the final part of the Constitution Unit’s 25th anniversary celebrations, we examined devolution and the Union. Devolution had a deceptively easy start in the UK, thanks to Labour-controlled governments in London, Edinburgh and Cardiff, the breakthrough of the Good Friday Agreement in Belfast, and lack of interest in England. But with the election of governments of different persuasions tensions have grown, and been hugely exacerbated by the rupture of Brexit. To chart this increasingly bumpy ride, and discuss whether the Union can survive, we had four academic experts, one from each part of the UK:
- Professor John Denham is Director of the Centre for English Identity and Politics at the University of Southampton and Director of the Southern Policy Centre. He is a former Labour MP, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee.
- Cathy Gormley-Heenan is Professor of Politics and Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Ulster University. She is an expert on Northern Irish politics and the politics of peace processes and divided societies, and has published a notable range of articles and reports on Northern Ireland’s peace walls. She is also a member of the Working Group on Unification Referendums on the Island of Ireland
- Michael Keating is Professor of Politics at the University of Aberdeen, and Director of the Centre on Constitutional Change. He is the author or editor of over thirty books on Scottish politics, European politics, nationalism and regionalism.
- Laura McAllister is Professor of Public Policy and the Governance of Wales at the Wales Governance Centre. Her research centres on Welsh politics, devolution, electoral reform, and gender. She works closely with the National Assembly for Wales on constitutional and political matters, most recently as Chair of the Expert Panel on Assembly Reform.
- Chaired by Professor Robert Hazell, Professor of Government and the Constitution and former Director of the Constitution Unit.
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- Brexit and the Constitution: A Conversation with Vernon Bogdanor (11 February 2019)
Brexit will be a momentous event. Discussion has so far centred on the economic consequences. But it will also have momentous consequences for the British constitution. Brexit is intended to `take back control’, to restore the power of Westminster. Will it in practice increase the power of government rather than Parliament or the courts? Will it affect our rights? And how will it affect relationships between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland? Could it, as some fear, lead to the disintegration of the United Kingdom? Could Brexit prove our constitutional moment, a new beginning in our constitutional development? Professor Vernon Bogdanor, author most recently of beyond `Beyond Brexit’, explored these questions which should be of interest to all those concerned with the fundamental problems facing our country and how it is governed. This book was published with Bloomsbury on 7 February.
Vernon Bogdanor was, until 2010, Professor of Government at Oxford University. He is now a Research Professor at King's College, London, Gresham Professor of Law, a Fellow of the British Academy and an Honorary Fellow of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies. The discussant was Dr Claudia Sternberg, Principal Research Fellow at the UCL European Institute. The event was co-hosted by the UCL European Institute and the UCL Constitution Unit.
- Public Appointments: Two Years on from Grimstone - Finding the Right People to Run Public Bodies (21 February 2019)
Dame Sue Owen is Permanent Secretary at Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. She joined the Civil Service in 1989 as an economic adviser, and has worked in the Treasury, FCO, No 10, DfID and DWP, before becoming Permanent Secretary at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport in 2013.
Rt Hon Peter Riddell is Commissioner for Public Appointments. From 1991 to 2010, he was a political commentator for The Times. He has been a member of the Hansard Society council since 1996 and was its chair from 2007 until 2012. He was a senior fellow at the Institute for Government from 2008 until 2011, and since January 2012 has been director of the Institute for Government. On 20 April 2016, the Cabinet Office announced that Riddell would replace Sir David Normington as the new Commissioner for Public Appointments.
Sue Owen spoke about the challenges of making public appointments to 45 public bodies in the fields of culture, media and sport, drawing on her five years’ experience as Permanent Secretary at DCMS. Peter Riddell reflected on how the system of public appointments has developed in the light of the Grimstone review of spring 2016, and discussed his role as advocate for greater diversity in appointments.
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- Challenges for Parliament: Looking Back and Looking Forward – Sir David Natzler in conversation (19 March 2019)
On 1 March 2019 Sir David Natzler retired from his role as Clerk of the House of Commons (the most senior Commons official), a position he held since March 2015. Sir David joined the House Service in 1975, and has held various senior appointments during his career, including Secretary to the House of Commons Commission, Clerk of Committees, Clerk of Legislation and Clerk Assistant. He has also clerked several select committees, including the Defence Committee, Health Committee, Trade and Industry Committee, and Committee on Reform of the House of Commons (the ‘Wright committee’).
In this event, less than three weeks after his retirement, Sir David reflected on his more than 40 years in parliament, and the challenge ahead for parliament, in conversation with the Constitution Unit’s Director Professor Meg Russell. There was also time for audience questions and discussion.
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- Rethinking Democracy: Is Our Democracy Fit for Purpose? (14 May 2019)
This seminar was held to launch Rethinking Democracy, a collection of essays edited by Andrew Gamble and Tony Wright, in which leading academics explore the problems of democracy and suggests ways it might now be extended and deepened.
The event was hosted jointly with the Political Quarterly. Andrew Gamble discussed his views about what needs to change if British democracy is to continue, Joni Lovenduski explained how British representative democracy fails women and why it will continue to do so, Tony Wright explored ways to save democracy, and Albert Weale will explored the nature and significance of different kinds of democratic majorities. Meg Russell (The Constitution Unit) chaired the event.
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- Who Should Select Party Leaders? MPs, Members or a Wider Public? (17 June 2019)
This seminar brought together four experts on all the main political parties to discuss the selection of party leaders. Tim Bale and Paul Webb have been leading the ESRC Party Members project, Jess Garland is an expert on extending leadership voting rights in the Labour party, and Mark Pack is an expert on the Lib Dems, and editor of Liberal Democrat Newswire.
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- Citizens' Assemblies: What are they good for? (1 July 2019)
This event brought together Joanna Cherry QC MP; Lilian Greenwood MP, chair of the House of Commons Transport Select Committee; Sarah Allan, head of engagement at Involve; and Graham Smith, Professor of Politics and Director of the Centre for the Study of Democracy, University of Westminster. The panellists offered their responses to the following questions. How do citizens’ assemblies work in practice? What are they good for? Are there topics or circumstances for which they are not suitable?
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- Brexit and the Constitution (15 July 2019)
This full-day event brought together experts, academics and politicians to consider the implications of Brexit for the constitution. The event was co-badged with the UK in a Changing Europe and the Hansard Society.
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- Parliament and Brexit: An end of term report card (22 July 2019)
Hilary Benn MP, Meg Russell, Brigid Fowler and Chris White analysed parliament's handling of Brexit thus far. Key questions included whether procedures have been used appropriately, what recent events tell us about parliament's power over government, and what the effect has been on public perceptions of both.
- If there is a snap election, what can we do to improve the campaign? (12 September 2019)
The rules governing election campaigns in the UK are no longer fit for purpose: parliamentary committees, independent reports, and even the government have all acknowledged that. Yet if, as looks likely, an early election is called in the coming weeks or months, those rules will not have been updated. A vital question therefore arises: What can others – journalists, regulators, researchers, campaigners – do in the meantime to improve the information available to voters and enhance the quality of political discussion?
Building on the Constitution Unit’s recent work on these themes, this seminar will draw together some of the leading voices across a range of sectors to examine what practical steps can be taken.
Speakers were Dorothy Byrne (Channel 4), Ed Humpherson (UK Statistics Authority), Joe Mitchell (Democracy Club) and Will Moy (Full Fact) and the Chair was Dr Alan Renwick.
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- UCL It's All Academic Festival - Brexit, Parliament and the Constitution (5 October 2019)
The Constitution Unit hosted a talk as part of the 2019 UCL It's All Academic Festival.
Brexit continues to be the central controversy in British politics. Not only has it divided the public, it has brought key aspects of the UK constitutional settlement into doubt. Recent months have been dominated by stories of parliament seeking to "seize control' from the executive, and of a Prime Minister seeking to prorogue parliament to force through a 'no deal' Brexit – even bringing into question the role of the Queen. The Constitution Unit's work has focused on many topics central to the Brexit debates: including the conduct of the 2016 referendum, the prospects for a further referendum or a citizens assembly on Brexit, and the proper place and power of parliament.
This session included a panel of expert commentators reflecting on recent controversies and possible ways forward, followed by audience discussion.
Speakers were Meg Russell, Jeff King, Alan Renwick and the Chair was Lisa James.
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- Prerogative versus Parliament: What can be Done? (23 October 2019)
Does the prerogative need to be more tightly regulated, and how might that be done?
Brexit has seen the government not merely proroguing Parliament for five weeks, but also threats that the Queen might be advised to withhold Royal Assent from bills passed by Parliament, or even that the Privy Council might suspend Acts of Parliament which the government doesn’t like. It is unprecedented in Britain for the prerogative powers to be deployed in this way. But it is not unprecedented in the Commonwealth. In this seminar Prof Anne Twomey (Sydney University), world expert on the use and abuse of reserve powers of heads of state in Westminster systems, was joined by Prof Alison Young (Cambridge), to discuss whether the prerogative needs to be more tightly regulated, and how that might be done.
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- Do We Need a Written Constitution? (28 November 2019)
‘Brexit has triggered a constitutional as well as a political crisis, and it is time that we had a written constitution’. So many people believe; but are they right? And how should we set about drafting one?
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- Election Replay with the Experts (16 December 2019)
In this seminar three UCL experts came together with Dr Sofia Collignon (Royal Holloway) to discuss key aspects of the general election. Prof Ben Lauderdale analysed the accuracy of polling and expectations before the election; Dr Sofia Collignon talked about the main characteristics of the candidates; Dr Alan Renwick about the performance of the campaign rules and the electoral system; and Prof Meg Russell about the likely political dynamics in the new parliament.
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- The Independent Commission on Referendums: who, what, why and how? (17 January 2018)
In October the Constitution Unit launched an Independent Commission on Referendums, to review the role of referendums in British democracy and consider how their rules and practice could be improved. The Commission is meeting monthly and intends to report in the summer of 2018.
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- Taking a Deliberative Approach to Complexity: What can we learn from the Citizens' Assembly on Brexit? (23 January 2018)
This seminar, held in Edinburgh, examined what we can learn from the experience of holding a Citizens' Assembly about Brexit and considered the role of participatory processes like this in current decision-making in Scotland.
- Dominic Grieve QC MP: 'A backbencher's view of Brexit' (23 January 2018)
This event was the inaugural annual lecture of The Constitution Society, hosted by the Constitution Unit.
- Online targeting of voters on social media (21 March 2018)
In recent elections and in the EU referendum, concerns have been raised about online targeting of voters in social media and use of voter data. It has been said that this breaches the laws on data protection; the overall caps on election spending; and restrictions on foreign funding, with suggestions of interference from Russia. Dr Martin Moore's research for his latest book suggests there is cause for concern. He is director of the Centre for the Study of Media, Communication and Power at King's College London, and was previously founding director of the Media Standards Trust.
- Intimidation of candidates and others in public life (21 March 2018)
In December the Committee on Standards in Public Life (CSPL) published its report on intimidation of parliamentary candidates and others in public life. At this seminar, Lord Bew, the chairman, and Jane Ramsey of CSPL spoke about the Committee's recommendations, which are directed to government, social media companies, political parties, the police, broadcast and print media, as well as to MPs and candidates themselves. Sofia Collignon Delmar (Royal Holloway, University of London) from the Parliamentary Candidates UK team spoke about the impact on candidates, and potential candidates. The seminar was chaired by Jennifer Hudson of the Constitution Unit, and leader of PCUK.
- Political Polling and Digital Media (17 April 2018)
The House of Lords created an ad hoc Committee to inquire into the influence of political polling and digital media on politics and democracy in the UK. They received evidence about the impact of social media, the coverage of polling by the mainstream media, the possible regulation of pollsters. The Committee is due to reported in March 2018. Lord Lipsey, chair of the committee, spoke about the committee's findings and recommendations, with responses from Prof Will Jennings (Professor of Political Science and Public Policy at the University of Southampton) and Martin Boon (ex-pollster at ICM Unlimited).
- Regulating Debate in Elections and Referendums (15 May 2018)
There is wide concern about the quality of debate that precedes elections and referendums. Campaigners' claims are often seen as false or misleading. Many voters feel they cannot find reliable information on the options before them. But what can be done to improve this situation? This seminar explored emerging ideas and compared how the issue is tackled in other countries.
- Planning the next Accession and Coronation (30 May 2018)
Robert Hazell and Bob Morris presented the findings of their two most recent reports.
- Representation in Britain (18 June 2018)
Drawing on a four-year ESRC funded study of parliamentary candidates standing in the 2015 and 2017 general elections, this event shared research and insights into key questions around selection, campaigning, election and representation in Britain. Who are our parliamentary candidates? What motivates them to stand? How much does it cost to run? Are they representative of the constituents they serve?
- The Future of Referendums in the UK: Launch of the Report of the Independent Commission on Referendums (11 July 2018)
In October 2017 the Constitution Unit established the Independent Commission on Referendums to review the role and conduct of referendums in the UK. The Commission met over eight months, took evidence, deliberated, and produced a detailed report containing comprehensive recommendations. At this seminar, held to mark the report's launch, the Chair, Research Director and members of the Commission discussed the recommendations and how they were reached, and considered what could be done to take the proposals forward and thereby improve the future practice of referendums.
- Brexit: The Endgame (27 September 2018)
This event brought together Dr Jack Simson Caird, Senior Research Fellow in Parliaments and the Rule of Law at the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law; Dr Alan Wager, Research Associate at The UK in a Changing Europe; and Matthew Bevington, Public Policy Researcher at The UK in a Changing Europe. They addressed the following questions: How many days’ debate will the Brexit legislation require? How many votes will Theresa May need to stave off confidence motions? What counts as a confidence motion under the new rules of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act?
- Citizens’ Assemblies: How can the UK learn from Ireland? (15 October 2018)
Citizens’ assemblies have gained attention as ways of invigorating the democratic process and enabling informed public discussion of major policy questions. The country with most experience of citizens’ assemblies is Ireland. The Irish Constitutional Convention of 2012–14 led to the 2015 referendum on same-sex marriage. More recently, the Irish Citizens’ Assembly paved the way for this year’s referendum on abortion. Supporters of such exercises argue that they allow much deeper and more effective public participation in policy-making than either traditional consultations or standalone referendums. Detractors worry about whether they are sufficiently representative and about how they interact with the rest of the democratic process. At this seminar, two of Ireland’s leading experts on citizens’ assemblies reflected on Irish experience and drew out potential lessons for the UK.
- Planning the next Accession and Coronation (19th November 2018)
Robert Hazell and Bob Morris worked on how to revise and update the three statutory oaths which the new sovereign must swear at accession and coronation. The new King must swear to be a true and faithful Protestant; to uphold the Presbyterian Church of Scotland; and the rights and privileges of the Church of England.In a newly published report they presented for discussion different reformulations of the oaths, updated for the UK’s more diverse and secular society. A second report explained how the next coronation cannot be anything like that in 1953. The coronation defines not just royalty, but British identity: how is that identity best represented in all its 21st century diversity?
(Please note that this event was a repeat of an earlier one held on 30th May 2018)
- The Burns report on Shrinking the Lords: Where are we, One Year on? (28 November 2018)
In recent years the size of the House of Lords has become increasingly controversial, with the number of members standing at around 800 – up from fewer than 700 in 1999. In December 2016, following a motion in the House of Lords itself demanding action, the Lord Speaker's Committee on the Size of the House was established, chaired by the Crossbencher Lord (Terry) Burns. It reported at the end of October 2017, proposing a system of phased retirements, crucially combined with a more regulated and sustainable system for new appointments. At this event Lord Burns reflected upon progress (or lack thereof) since his report was published, alongside Labour's Baroness (Ann) Taylor of Bolton, who served on his committee and chairs the House of Lords Constitution Committee, and Conservative Sir Bernard Jenkin, who chairs the House of Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC).
- Digital Democracy: Brave New World or Bubble and Hype? (3 December 2018)
Digital campaigning has received a bad press recently. But the internet also has huge potential to engage and mobilise people, and enable them to be more active citizens. This seminar brought together three leading figures from new democracy organisations who spoke about ways in which technology can enhance democratic participation, and also about some of its limitations. Speakers included Areeq Chowdhury, Chief Executive at Webroots Democracy, Joe Mitchell, Coordinator at Democracy Club, and Will Moy, Director at FullFact.
- Ian Shapiro: Democratic Competition: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (12 December 2018)
In this seminar, distinguished US academic Ian Shapiro drew from his new book with Frances Rosenbluth – Responsible Parties: Saving Democracy from Itself (Yale University Press, 2018). He discussed the varieties of political competition across the democratic world and suggested in particular that efforts to reform political parties over the past several decades to make them more democratic have backfired – compounding voter alienation, undermining good governance, and empowering demagogues and other populists. He also provided his analysis of what needs to be done to reverse the trend. Dr Sherrill Stroschein offered a response to these thoughts.
- Brexit in the Supreme Court: The Case of the Century (30 January 2017)
An expert panel of lawyers discussed the reasoning behind the court's judgement, public and press reaction, and the constitutional implications of the Supreme Court's ruling.
- Brexit, Federalism and Scottish Independence (13 February 2017)
Jim Gallagher has suggested that the return of powers from Brussels not only to Whitehall, but also the devolved governments, presents an opportunity to move the UK towards a confederal constitution (Constitution Unit Blog 10 October). Kezia Dugdale has called for a People's Constitutional Convention to devise a new Act of Union. Kenny MacAskill sees some advantages in a confederal solution, and federalism is a longstanding policy aim of the Liberal Democrats. These issues and more were discussed at this Constitution Unit seminar.
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- LGBT Candidates in UK Elections: How much has changed? (6 March 2017)
Recent research shows that the UK parliament has more openly LGBT members than any other legislature in the world. This seminar will brought together the author of that research - Professor Andrew Reynolds of the University of North Carolina - and four of the UK's most prominent LGBT politicians. It will explored how the barriers faced by LGBT candidates and politicians have changed in the UK , why the UK appears to stand out so far among liberal democracies in the presence of openly LGBT politicians, and whether any problems remain.
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- Brexit at Westminster: Can Parliament play a meaningful role? (12 March 2017)
Brexit presents Parliament with daunting challenges, politically and procedurally. Every Select Committee has an interest, and over 40 committee inquiries have been launched. A new Brexit Committee of twice the normal size was established in October. At this seminar, its Chair, Hilary Benn, spoke about the challenges it faces; Baroness Kishwer Falkner explained the work of the Lords EU Committee and its sub-Committees; and Commons legal adviser Arnold Ridout spoke about the Brexit work of the other Select Committees in the Commons.
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- Devolution in England (10 April 2017)
Professor Tony Travers (LSE) spoke about the prospects for further devolution in England, in an age of greater austerity and growing uncertainty post-Brexit.
- Ruth Davidson 'Nationalism should not be confused with patriotism' - our divided politics (15 May 2017)
The Orwell Prize Shortlist Lecture 2017, Ruth Davidson MSP, Leader of the Scottish Conservatives, discussed partiotism, nationalism and the current state of politics in the United Kingdom.
- Reassessing the Fixed Term Parliaments Act (22 May 2017)
This event featured a debate between two legal experts, Carl Gardner (author of What a Fix Up!) and Professor Gavin Phillipson (Durham University).
- Parliament's biggest test: The EU Withdrawal Bill (12 September 2017)
The prospects for the Withdrawal Bill's passage were discussed by the BBC's parliamentary correspondent Mark D'Arcy and Ruth Fox, Director of the Hansard Society: they assesses the balance of forces in each House, and the main amendments which were proposed.
- Legislation at Westminster: The impact of parliament on government bills (15 November 2017)
Meg Russell's latest book Legislation at Westminster, co-authored with Daniel Gover, demonstrates that parliament has much greater influence over legislation than is often supposed. She discussed the book at this seminar.
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- Organising a Snap Election: At the centre, on the ground, and in Parliament (20 November 2017)
In April the Prime Minister announced a snap general election to be held on 8 June. This created a six month hiatus in Parliament, with legislation rushed through before the election, and then a long delay before Parliament was fully up and running again. Meanwhile election officials had just seven weeks to prepare for polling day. In this seminar we discusses the preparations necessary for a snap election.
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- Citizens' Assemblies on Brexit: What kind of Brexit do people want? (13 December 2017)
In September the Constitution Unit convened a Citizens' Assembly to engage in detailed, reflective and informed discussions about what the UK's post-Brexit relations with the European Union should be. 50 members of the public - carefully selected to reflect the diversity of the UK's population - met over two weekends in Manchester. Its findings were presented at this seminar.
- Individual Electoral Registration: The Inside Story (25 January 2016)
Individual electoral registration has been a huge project, running for several years, and requiring tight co-ordination between the Cabinet Office, Government Digital Service, Electoral Commission, and individual Electoral Registration officers in local authorities. Representatives from all four bodies will spoke at this seminar about the challenges they faced, and how the project was brought to a successful conclusion.
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- Citizens' Assemblies and Democracy in the UK: Lessons from Two Successful Pilots (10 February 2016)
Two pilot citizens' assemblies were held in Sheffield and Southampton in autumn 2015. The speakers, Dr Alan Renwick, The Constitution Unit and Katie Ghose, Electoral Reform Society discuss - both members of the team that ran these assemblies - presented evidence on how well they functioned and discussed the degree to which they engaged citizens in policy-making.
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- The Human Rights Act 1998: Past, Present and Future (7 March 2016)
The UK government intends to replace the Human Rights Act with a new 'British Bill of Rights'. However, any change to existing human rights law promises to be a complex and difficult project. Reform of the HRA has the potential to impact upon devolution, as well as on the UK's relationship with its European partners. It also risks generating greater legal complexity and may dilute rights protection. This seminar explored the state of play and considered the past, present and future of the HRA.
- The Policy Impact of Parliament (15 March 2016)
The Westminster parliament is classically presented as a rather weak institution with respect to the all-powerful UK executive. But is this really the case? A major workstream at the Constitution Unit in past years has focused on the policy impact of parliament - including both the Commons and the Lords. Various publications have argued that Westminster is far more influential than commonly assumed, in part due to changes such as reform of the Lords in 1999 and growth in select committees, and in part, because common assumptions about how parliamentary power is exercised are too simplistic. This seminar drew on extensive research by two of the leading academic experts on the Westminster parliament, with practitioner input from a parliamentarian whose work featured in the 2015 BBC series 'Inside the Commons'. The event was organised in collaboration with the Hansard Society and the Parliament and Constitution Centre of the House of Commons Library.
- Brexit: Its Consequences for Westminster & Whitehall (21 April 2016)
This seminar considered the implications for Whitehall and Westminster both of Brexit itself and of the process of negotiating Brexit. How would Whitehall manage the negotiating process and what would be the role of Westminster? How would the UK's new relationship with the EU be managed post-Brexit? Would Brexit require a re-configuration within Whitehall or Westminster?
Chair: Dr Nick Wright, Teaching Fellow in EU Politics at UCL
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Speakers include:Sir Simon Fraser, former Permanent Under Secretary at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Professor Hussein Kassim, UEA, co-author of The European Commission of the Twenty-First Century Lord Lisvane, former Clerk of the House of Commons
- Brexit: Its Consequences for the EU political system (5 May 2016)
How would Brussels manage the negotiation process, constitutionally and politically? What would be the short-term institutional consequences of Brexit for the UK's MEPs, the 2017 UK Presidency, and voting rights in the Council of Ministers? In the long run, how would Brexit impact on the balance of power between member states in the EU's policy-process?
Speakers include:Professor Kenneth Armstrong, Professor of European Law, University of Cambridge Professor Simon Hix, Harold Laski Professor of Political Science, LSE Sir Stephen Wall, Official Historian at the Cabinet Office and former Permanent Representative to the European Union
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Chair:Dr Christine Reh, Senior Lecturer in European Politics at UCL
- Brexit: Its Consequences for Devolution and the Union (19 May 2016)
What will happen if the UK votes to leave the EU, but a majority in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland vote to remain? Will such an outcome trigger a second Scottish referendum on independence? Would Wales or Northern Ireland follow suit? What would the broader implications of Brexit be for the devolved areas of the UK, for example in terms of loss of EU funding?
Speakers include:Professor Sionaidh Douglas-Scott, QMUL, author of Constitutional Law of the European Union Jim Gallagher, former Director General, Devolution Strategy, Cabinet Office; Visiting Professor, University of Glasgow; Associate Member, Nuffield College, Oxford Professor Cathy Gormley-Heenan, Professor of Politics, University of Ulster Dr Rachel Minto, Research Associate, Centre for European Law and Governance, Cardiff School of Law and Politics
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Chair:Professor Robert Hazell, Professor of Government and the Constitution at UCL
- Things flying apart? Analysing the results of the devolved elections (25 May 2016)
On 5 May voters go to the polls for the devolved assembly elections in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The next five years will be critical for devolution and the future of the Union, with devolution of significant tax powers to Scotland, further powers for Wales, and the promise of a fresh start in Northern Ireland. Much will depend on the new assemblies and the governments they elect. A panel of three distinguished electoral and political experts will discuss the implications for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and for the rest of the UK
- Brexit: Its Consequences for Other Member States (2nd June 2016)
What are the likely effects of Brexit on politics within other member states? Would Brexit change remaining member states' relationships with the EU? Would it affect decision-making within member states? We will explore how these issues might play out in a diverse range of member states, including Ireland - the UK's closest neighbour - long-standing member states such as Germany and the Netherlands, and newer members such as Poland and Romania.
Speakers include:Agata Gostyńska-Jakubowska, Research Fellow at the Centre for European Reform and former Senior Research Fellow at the Polish Institute of International Affairs Dr Sara Hagemann, Assistant Professor, LSE European Institute Alan Posener, Correspondent on Politics and Society for Die Welt Brian O'Connell, UK Consultant Director of the British Irish Chamber of Commerce and former London Editor for RTE News
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Chair:Dr Alan Renwick, Deputy Director of the Constitution Unit
- The UCL EU Referendum Debate: To Remain or To Leave? (16 June 2016)
Following the shocking murder of the MP for Batley and Spen, Jo Cox, campaigning for the EU referendum was suspended on 16 June 2016. The planned UCL EU Referendum Debate, which had been due to feature leading figures from both campaigns, was therefore changed into a Meet the Experts Q&A. A panel of academics with expertise in the politics and economics of the EU and the processes around the referendum answered a wide range of questions from audience members.
The panellists were:Professor Anand Menon, Professor of European Politics and Foreign Affairs at King's College London and Director of the UK in a Changing Europe initiative Dr Swati Dhingra, Lecturer in Economics at the London School of Economics and at the LSE's Centre for Economic Performance Dr Simon Usherwood, Senior Lecturer in Politics at the University of Surrey and Fellow of the UK in a Changing Europe initiative Dr Alan Renwick, Deputy Director of the Constitution Unit at UCL.
Read the blog post >
The event was organised by the UCL Constitution Unit, UCL School of Public Policy, and UCL European Institute.
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Professor Meg Russell, Director of the Constitution Unit
- Five years as Lords Speaker: Reflections on the Lords and its Future (20 July 2016)
The position of Lord Speaker is very different to that of Speaker of the House of Commons, and much less well understood. In this event Baroness D'Souza reflected on her term of office in discussion with Meg Russell, outlining the Lord Speaker's role, the highs and lows of the last five years, her achievements and her hopes for the future - including the future of the Lord Speaker position, and more generally of the House of Lords. The discussion was informal and wide ranging, and was followed by questions from the audience.
- Book Launch: 'Faces on the Ballot: The Personalization of Electoral Systems in Europe' (26 July 2016)
The publication earlier in 2016 of Alan Renwick's new book, Faces on the Ballot: The Personalization of Electoral Systems in Europe was celebrated in late July with a launch event held at UCL. Dr Renwick introduced the book, which he co-authored with Professor Jean-Benoit Pilet of the Université libre de Bruxelles and which is published by Oxford University Press. He also discussed implications for current electoral reform debates in the UK. Three leading expert experts on electoral systems then presented their responses to the book: Professor Justin Fisher (Brunel University), Professor Roger Scully (Cardiff University), and Darren Hughes (Deputy Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society). The Unit's Dr Jennifer vanHeerde-Hudson chaired.
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- The Regulation of the EU Referendum (15 September 2016)
The EU referendum in June raised many questions about how referendums in the UK should best be conducted. Is it appropriate that the government could pump substantial resources into promoting the case for Remain before the final weeks of the campaign? Should there have been controls on the ability of campaigners to make misleading claims? Ought broadcasters to have interpreted their duty to maintain impartiality differently? Is the system of designating lead campaigners fit for purpose? Could anything have been done to promote more informed and thoughtful engagement from the public? This seminar explored these and other questions with four speakers who were uniquely well placed to provide a broad range of fresh insights.
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- English Votes for English Laws: One Year on: A Critical Evaluation (28 November 2016)
In October 2015 the House of Commons approved an important set of procedural changes, designed by the government, known as 'English Votes for English Laws'. This new system has proved contentious in both political and constitutional terms, provoking claims that it has fundamentally altered the terms of representation at Westminster. But what should be made of this and other criticisms? This event marked the publication of a major new report by Michael Kenny and Daniel Gover about EVEL's first year in operation, which set out the results of an in-depth academic investigation into the reform. It included detailed analysis of how the new procedures have worked in practice, and also raised questions about their wider constitutional implications. The authors propose a number of changes to the current system and discussed their main recommendations at this seminar.
- Public Appointments: Should Ministers Have more control? (8 December 2016)
Earlier in 2016, the Government published Sir Gerry Grimstone's report on public appointments proposing major changes to the way in which Ministerial appointments to public bodies are regulated. Sir David Normington, the former Commissioner for Public Appointments and an outspoken critic of the proposals, reviewed the arguments for and against giving Ministers more control over public appointments. He discussed the background to the report, explained why, in his view, it represented a step in the wrong direction and examined what has happened since the report was published.