The time has come for a Constitutional Revolution! This has very recently been a topic that has consumed certain elements of the British press as well as raised heated discussion amongst those us who enjoy a good politically orientated chin-wag. Who are the great Political commentators who have sparked this ‘not so fresh’ debate? You may well ask that question and would be comforted to hear that Britain’s political future now rests in the ‘politically capable hands’ of Russell Brand and Robert Webb.
You now more importantly will be asking yourself why this particular blog piece is being posted on an academic site for Political Economies and International Commerce. Well I assure you we do have an answer to that! As some of you will already know one of the projects the centre (PEIC) is involved with is to look at the effects of 17th century commerce on the evolution of English constitutionalism. To this end the recent articles published in the New Statesmen (despite what Russell Brand and his apathetic followers believe) have brought nothing new to the debate of the English political constitution but instead echoed a 400 year old dialogue.
In 1876 Thomas Hardy described one of his characters as being “like the British Constitution,” in that she owed “her success in practice to her inconsistencies in principle.” Hardy failed to mention that historically these ‘inconsistencies’ though sometimes successful were also prone to drastic failures. An example of the ‘double-edge’ of the English constitution has been raised by Will Pettigrew in his book Freedoms Debt (coming to all high quality book stores this December!) In which he points out that from the 1650’s to 1833 participation from the English population with the constitution and political state protected, expanded and eventually abolished the slave trade. Historically illustrating that the great ‘inconsistencies’ of the English constitution have through active participation sought to benefit the participants for better or worse.
The fact that unlike the written constitutions the world is now so familiar with the un-codified nature of the English/British constitution has meant that it has not remained static but has adapted, evolved or been changed. These changes which have in the past been enacted, whether we now perceive them to have been negative or positive, have involved some form of popular participation. The tumultuous seventeenth century depending on your interpretation of political development saw public involvement induce a Civil War, regicide, restoration and a ‘Glorious’ Revolution. However, public involvement and debate with the system has also brought about more obvious positive change from universal suffrage, equal rights to that most British of institutions the NHS.
The issues Russell Brand recently raised are not new but rather part of a wider historical narrative which more often than not called for participation rather than distance to engender change. You do not have to join a political party, but history illustrates that the English constitution can be changed for better or worse through active engagement, embodied in “x-ing a little box” obediently or disobediently!