Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
Subscribers to this edition of Red Pepper will find as an insert the Democratic Audit pamphlet The Unspoken Constitution. Many attempts have been made in recent years to draft a written constitution for the UK – by John MacDonald QC, Tony Benn and the Institute for Public Policy Research, to name but three – setting out the respective powers that government, parliament and the courts should have, and the rights that should be guaranteed to citizens. And the case for a codification of Britain’s system of government has most recently been made by Vernon Bogdanor, arguably the leading contemporary academic authority on the British constitution.
However, the prospect of achieving a written constitution looks more remote than ever, given the way that the major parties together block crucial constitutional issues and prevent them reaching the political agenda. It seems we will continue to be one of only two countries in the world without one.
This is where our pamphlet comes in. We thought it was time to write down or ‘codify’ not what should happen to make our system democratic, but what happens in practice; and to do so from the standpoint of the governing elite that exercises power on our behalf but would prefer that its operation be mystified as much as possible. They recognise how important it is that such a document should never see the light of day.
The constitution begins by extolling the virtues of being unwritten:
It is a collection of laws, fictions, powers left over from the old monarchy and powers that we make up as we go along. It allows us to decide what governments can do; and best of all, only we have the power to change it … The great advantage of this flexibility is that once we have hit on a new way of behaving, it becomes part of the constitution. And we can modernise easily. So we have moved on from old-fashioned cabinet government to sofa government by the prime minister with trusted allies and special advisors. Presidential, yes, but faster and more efficient. This excellent state of affairs allows us to exercise executive power more or less as we please while the whole world admires us as a democracy.
There then follows a list of the ‘unspoken articles’ of what Jack Straw has termed our ‘executive democracy’. We understand that Sir Humphrey and his colleagues have chuckled particularly loudly at the following articles:
Government, like every subject, shall be free to do whatever is not unlawful. The government shall decide what is unlawful.
The government shall have the power to enact ministerial edicts, known as statutory instruments or Orders in Council, this secondary legislation being in effect law-making that can almost wholly escape parliamentary scrutiny and debate.
In the event of controversy over government actions, the government may have recourse to carefully chosen judges or former civil servants to hold an inquiry that has due respect for government’s need for support and discretion. The government shall set the terms of reference for any inquiry, have powers to suspend it or restrict public access to it, and may censor an inquiry report to prevent any information emerging which we say may harm state economic and security interests.
Civil servants … shall be allowed to enhance generous pensions by taking advantage of their departmental experience and contacts through lucrative appointments in relevant private companies.
We hope you will read the whole document with similar amusement. But we expect that it will also make you angry that this is the way we are governed in the 21st century.
We like to think that it makes an irresistible case for a written constitution, rooted in sound democratic principles and in popular sovereignty; but we would urge proponents of the status quo to come forward and make their case for its defence, on democratic, or indeed any other, grounds.
Of course, debate is not enough in itself, and particularly not if it is limited to converts to the cause. Some matters are simply too urgent to be left until the glorious day when our written constitution is unveiled. At the same time, voters need to be offered more than a Hobson’s choice at the 2010 election between political parties making rival claims about which areas of government spending they will cut.
The issues of how power is exercised, by whom and in whose interests, must be forced to the fore of the election debate. Over the next six months, the Power 2010 initiative will seek to bring these issues back onto the political agenda. It is a good job somebody is – the party conference season confirmed that it would be foolhardy to leave it to our political masters.
Download a copy of the pamphlet here
Michael Calderbank profiles Jeremy Corbyn's new supporters in parliament
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) continues to witness devastating political violence, but the world refuses to act. Ishiaba Kasonga and Serge Egola Angbakodolo ask why?
When fire safety has become a privilege for the rich, it’s time to stop austerity and fund emergency mass works to raise standards immediately, writes Jane Shallice
The election result has irreversibly changed political discourse in the UK, writes James Fox
In commemoration of the 30th anniversary of Bernie Grant's election to parliament, Ayo Wallace explores the life and legacy of his radical representation of Tottenham's black communities.
Across Britain, hundreds of thousands of people have now taken part in mass rallies for Corbyn's Labour. Eli Regan soaks up the atmosphere in Warrington
The under-30s could be decisive in the general election. Frances Grahl meets young people hit by Tory austerity and looks at what's driving their support for Labour
“To them it’s just another number, someone else being sent back. But when you’ve got three children being left without their dad … it’s quite major,” writes Rebecca Omonira-Okeykanmi.
Hundreds of people surrounded the fences this weekend. Hera Lorandos spoke to women who have suffered inside.
Grassroots posters giving an alternative take on the general election
The government played the public for fools, and lost
The High Court has ruled that the government cannot veto local council investment decisions. This is a victory for local democracy and the BDS movement, and shows what can happen when we stand together, writes War on Want’s Ross Hemingway.
An ‘obscure’ party? I’m amazed at how little people in Britain know about the DUP
After the Tories' deal with the Democratic Unionists, Denis Burke asks why people in Britain weren't a bit more curious about Northern Ireland before now
The Tories’ deal with the DUP is outright bribery – but this government won’t last
Theresa May’s £1.5 billion bung to the DUP is the last nail in the coffin of the austerity myth, writes Louis Mendee
Brexit, Corbyn and beyond
Clarity of analysis can help the left avoid practical traps, argues Paul O'Connell
Paul Mason vs Progress: ‘Decide whether you want to be part of this party’ – full report
Broadcaster and Corbyn supporter Paul Mason tells the Blairites' annual conference some home truths
Contagion: how the crisis spread
Following on from his essay, How Empire Struck Back, Walden Bello speaks to TNI's Nick Buxton about how the financial crisis spread from the USA to Europe
How empire struck back
Walden Bello dissects the failure of Barack Obama's 'technocratic Keynesianism' and explains why this led to Donald Trump winning the US presidency
Empire en vogue
Nadine El-Enany examines the imperial pretensions of Britain's post-Brexit foreign affairs and trade strategy
Grenfell Tower residents evicted from hotel with just hours’ notice
An urgent call for support from the Radical Housing Network
Jeremy Corbyn is no longer the leader of the opposition – he has become the People’s Prime Minister
While Theresa May hides away, Corbyn stands with the people in our hours of need, writes Tom Walker
In the aftermath of this disaster, we must fight to restore respect and democracy for council tenants
Glyn Robbins says it's time to put residents, not private firms, back at the centre of decision-making over their housing
After Grenfell: ending the murderous war on our protections
Under cover of 'cutting red tape', the government has been slashing safety standards. It's time for it to stop, writes Christine Berry
Why the Grenfell Tower fire means everything must change
The fire was a man-made atrocity, says Faiza Shaheen – we must redesign our economic system so it can never happen again
Forcing MPs to take an oath of allegiance to the monarchy undermines democracy
As long as being an MP means pledging loyalty to an unelected head of state, our parliamentary system will remain undemocratic, writes Kate Flood
7 reasons why Labour can win the next election
From the rise of Grime for Corbyn to the reduced power of the tabloids, Will Murray looks at the reasons to be optimistic for Labour's chances next time
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 25 June
On June 25th, the fourth of Red Pepper Race Section's Open Editorial Meetings will celebrate the launch of our new black writers' issue - Empire Will Eat Itself.
After two years of attacks on Corbyn supporters, where are the apologies?
In the aftermath of this spectacular election result, some issues in the Labour Party need addressing, argues Seema Chandwani
If Corbyn’s Labour wins, it will be Attlee v Churchill all over again
Jack Witek argues that a Labour victory is no longer unthinkable – and it would mean the biggest shake-up since 1945
On the life of Robin Murray, visionary economist
Hilary Wainwright pays tribute to the life and legacy of Robin Murray, one of the key figures of the New Left whose vision of a modern socialism lies at the heart of the Labour manifesto.
Letter from the US: Dear rest of the world, I’m just as confused as you are
Kate Harveston apologises for the rise of Trump, but promises to make it up to us somehow
The myth of ‘stability’ with Theresa May
Settit Beyene looks at the truth behind the prime minister's favourite soundbite
Civic strike paralyses Colombia’s principle pacific port
An alliance of community organisations are fighting ’to live with dignity’ in the face of military repression. Patrick Kane and Seb Ordoñez report.
Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports
On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.
Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns
Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for a political organiser
Closing date for applications: postponed, see below
The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections
In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines
Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.