How to tackle Edexcel Unit 3B

This is the Introduction to Political Ideologies for the old exam.  The Specification (syllabus) says:

Key concepts:

  • individualism
  • freedom
  • justice
  • rationalism
  • equality
  • liberal democracy
  • constitutionalism
  • consent

Content explanation

  • A knowledge of core ideas, doctrines and theories of liberal ideology, particularly as they affect liberal views on human nature, the state, society and the economy.
  • An ability to discuss differing views and tensions within liberal ideology, notably between classical liberalism and modern liberalism

Key concepts:

  • tradition
  • organic society
  • hierarchy
  • authority
  • property
  • paternalism
  • libertarianism
  • authoritarianism
  • neoliberalism
  • neoconservatism

Content explanation

  • A knowledge of core ideas, doctrines and theories of conservative ideology, particularly as they affect conservative views on human nature, the state, society and the economy.
  • A knowledge of differing views and tensions within conservative ideology, particularly related to divisions between traditional conservatism and the ‘New Right’

Key concepts:

  • co-operation
  • fraternity
  • collectivism
  • social equality
  • communism
  • social democracy
  • social justice
  • third way

Content explanation

  • A knowledge of core ideas, doctrines and theories, particularly as they affect socialist views on human nature, the state, society and the economy.
  • An awareness of differences within socialism, in particular differences between revolutionary and evolutionary socialism and between fundamentalist and revisionism socialism. (Questions will not be set on the features of 20th-century communism alone.)

Liberalism questions


  • Explain the link between liberalism and rationalism (2016)
  • To what extent have liberals disagreed over freedom? (2015)
  • Why and how have liberals supported the fragmentation of government power? (2014)
  • On what grounds have modern liberals defended the principle of social welfare? (2014)


  • To what extent have liberals endorsed the principle of equality? (2015)
  • To what extent are liberals divided over the role of the state? (2014)

Socialism questions


  • How and why have socialists supported collectivism? (2016)
  • How far do Marxists and anarchists disagree over the role of the state? (2016)
  • Why have some socialists supported an ‘evolutionary road to socialism’? (2016)
  • Why have some socialists supported a revolutionary ‘road’ to socialism? (2015)
  • Why has social class played such an important role in socialist analysis? (2014)


  • ‘Socialism is defined by its commitment to collectivism.’ Discuss. (2015)
  • To what extent have socialists disagreed over the means of achieving socialism? (2014)

Conservatism questions


  • On what grounds do conservatives justify social hierarchy? (2016)
  • How do traditional conservatives and the liberal New Right differ in their views of society? (2015)
  • On what grounds have conservatives defended authority? (2014)


  • There is more that unites the New Right than divides it.’ Discuss. (2016)
  • To what extent is conservatism a philosophy of human imperfection? (2015)
  • Conservatism is defined by its support for free market capitalism.’ Discuss (2014)


In dealing with the questions, first group them.  Liberal questions will be about freedom or equality or the differences between classical and modern liberals or the powers of government.  After you have grouped them, answer the questions in bullet-pointed lists, making sure you PEE (Point, Evidence Explanation/ Amplification).

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A few thoughts on valence voting

Valence voting is voting based on ‘leadership images, partisanship, and evaluations of economic performance.’

  1. Economic performance.  The Tories have traditionally been the party of strong economic governance, largely because they are the party of the rich.  Believing in hierarchy, and also that an individual should be able to keep whatever wealth they have earned (or inherited), Tory policy will promote company profits and individual wealth.  The Tories recently have been banging the austerity drum:  we need to be very sensible and stop spending so much; we need to balance our budget.  They have blamed Labour for crippling government expenditure.  Labour has been seen as the party of government expenditure – increasing spending on the welfare state, and so on.  Labour will put taxes up.  Let’s take the last election as an example.  Labour proposed raising corporation tax from 19% to 26%; the Tories were aghast (they proposed lowering it to 17%).  The national media was pretty negative about this.  Here’s a good example from Cityam – a newspaper for business-types.  ‘Labour has revealed dramatic plans to hike corporation tax as part of a bid to raise cash for a schools spending spree.’  Notice the use of language here:  ‘dramatic’, ‘hike’, ‘schools spending spree’.  The message is clearly ‘Labour is going to cripple business so that it can spend money like water.’  The fact that Labour’s 26% is not even as high as the USA’s, and is really only as high as some of our European neighbours, seemed to escape the media.  Because Labour is the party of expenditure, it has been portrayed yet again as financially incompetent.  That was behind a large part of the vote.
  2. Partisanship.  Traditionally, you voted the way your parents, and everyone else in your community, did.  It’s a bit like supporting a football team.  That was an explanation for the dominance of the Conservative and Labour Parties.  This declined, and, either as a cause or correlation, new parties sprang up, with clear policy bases:  the SNP or Plaid Cymru – (left-wing) nationalist -, the Greens, UKIP.  Partisanship, though, can also mean identification with particular policy areas or issues – so, for example, the SNP’s vote went up when it came out with support for the NHS, and so on:  it managed to combine its tradition Scottish identity with a protest at the British government eroding public services.  People do vote according to policy.  This can be seen in the New Labour victory of 1997:  the Labour Party fought its reputation for financial incompetence and promoted centrist economic policies; almost immediately, a load of the liberal middle classes voted Labour.  Partisanship here is connected to economic competence!  Brexit has been a hugely partisan issue:  many people mistakenly voted Labour in protest against Brexit, forgetting that Corbyn has Brexit tendencies himself…
  3. Leadership images.  Hugely, hugely important.  Theresa May’s real weak spot is that she’s no public figure:  she’s competent, but finds communicating with the public really rather difficult.  Cameron was charming, even if he was a straw man.  We need look no further than the Sun for how leaders come across – just search Google images for ‘Sun wot one it’.  Do not underestimate the media in our perceptions of parties.  The Sun is overtly biased, but the BBC indulges in biased reporting occasionally – this piece is very, very subtly biased.  I myself had to tell Private Eye off for anti-Green bias.  Corbyn has managed to survive being lambasted by all sorts of media for being an out-of-touch dreamer, but Clegg didn’t survive media blasts for being a middle-class intellectual.

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New-look Hawksbox Blog

The new-look Hawksbox Blog is chiefly for A level students. Here you will find posts on politics, history and other subjects.  If you want my previous posts, on a variety of different topics, please click here.

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Distinguish, with examples, between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ power. (15)

‘Soft power’, coined by Joseph S. Nye, is the power of attraction; hard power is the power of government or a state to coerce or persuade. They can be hard to distinguish, especially since governments have grasped the efficacy of ‘soft’ power and are now using it with ‘hard’ power in a combination that Nye has termed ‘smart’ power.

Hard power is the traditional magazine of powers a state has, viz. military, diplomatic and economic. We could also include ‘political’, slightly more nebulous.  An example of the last is the Israeli’s occupation of the West Bank: encouraged by the government, backed by the military, but a citizen-led land-grab. Hard power could be economic sanctions, such as the international ones against apartheid South Africa, Iran and North Korea. These have variable effects – South Africa was effective, but North Korea stumbles on, chiefly because one country will not join the trade embargo.  The Iranian sanctions were followed by diplomacy between the West and Iran, and this led to the sanctions being recently lifted.  At the moment, the USA is threatening North Korea with the hardest power of all, the military.
Soft power is not centred in the government, but is spread diffusely in civil society.  The strength and impressiveness of America can be seen in the number of military bases it has globally, but these are matched by the number of Walmarts globally.  In buying American products, such as Coca Cola, from American stores (to use the American word), the consumer is buying into American culture, and, as politics springs from culture, will become receptive to American political ideals.  The dominance of American companies over the internet is another example of soft power.  China has censored Google precisely because the government recognises the power of soft power:  access to Google could, eventually, lead to revolution.  The British exercise soft power through their education system – internationally-renowned universities, schools with foreign branches, the British Council.  The Chinese have, perhaps inspired by the British Council, started their own soft power unit, the Confucius Institutes, which are all over the world and which promote Chinese culture and language.  These are, as everything is in China, funded by the government, but they have no overt political aim.  Similarly, the investment in Africa by Chinese companies (whose leaders all belong to the Chinese Communist Party) is also soft power – this investment does not directly involve state politics or economics, but does benefit China as a whole, and not just individual Chinese businesses.
‘Smart’ power is a combination of the two, where the government, either through agencies or through directly encouraging private entities, establishes positive relations that go beyond the healing of antagonism (diplomacy, economic power), and forge something positive that will bind the countries – perhaps establishing complex interdependence.  Obama’s intention re. Iran was to have soft power spreading to, eventually, topple the Islamic regime – where hard power has failed for 38 years.  Trump has stopped this, and reverted to hard power, and the Iranians have reacted negatively.  
 Soft power is perhaps more effective in the long term.

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Distinguish between internal and external sovereignty (15)

Max Weber said that the state is a “human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of violence within a given territory.”  That is a – somewhat brutal – definition of internal sovereignty, the power of the government and constitutional system over people within an autonomous territory.  To be a state, however, it is necessary to have external sovereignty as well – that is to say, it must be recognised as a state by other states.

Internal sovereignty is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for statehood.  There must be a territory, and a fixed population, in order to have a government.  That government must be the sole governing body, and there must be no higher authority within the state.  The UK’s sovereignty is vested in Parliament:  this has the power to make and unmake laws, which the judicial system upholds. However, there are currently states which lack internal sovereignty.  Libya is a good example:  there are three governments, many militias, one external invading force (Da’esh) and great lawlessness.  (This political vacuum is setting Libya up for another military dictatorship.)

External sovereignty is the existence of a state according to international politics – the recognition of its existence, and therefore rights to territorial self-rule, by other countries.  The UN is the formal channel through which states are recognised, as it represents the (near-) entirety of the international community.  However, UN recognition is the recognition by individual states – Kosovo, for example, is recognised by 111 UN members, but not Serbia. Somaliland declared independence a quarter of a century ago, and certainly has internal sovereignty, but is still unrecognised, although it is gaining international status.  Abkhazia is unrecognised, but internally sovereign.  And Libya’s government is backed by the UN, but has no internal sovereignty.

Iraq’s  internal sovereignty was challenged by the USA and UK in 2003, when they invaded it in order to remove Saddam Hussein; this also necessarily challenged its external sovereignty.  It is alleged that Russia has been challenging the USA’s internal sovereignty by interfering in elections.  Russia cannot be seen to be challenging its external authority, however.  It is the recognition of the state’s autonomy that allows North Korea to stumble on uninvaded.  Internal sovereignty can also be challenged by TNCs.

Internal and external sovereignty are distinct, but interdependent:  either is a necessary condition for statehood; it takes both for a sufficient condition.

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Locke, Liberty and the Legal Tradition

In the Edexcel-approved textbook on political thought, McNaughton describes how liberalism was a product of Reformation protestantism and of the Enlightenment.  This is true to a certain extent, but, as Isaiah Berlin reminds us in his essays on liberalism, the Protestant Reformation also brought about Calvinism, which can hardly be said to be liberal.

What McNaughton completely ignores are other traditions that prepared the flowerbeds of liberalism.  For the A level course, the first liberal thinker is John Locke.  Locke was the son of a lawyer, and he himself was given a good classical education at Westminster and Oxford.  We can confidently say, therefore, that he grew up with both the influence of classical works (such as, for example, Plato’s Republic) and the English legal tradition – as well as being interested in contemporary philosophers such as Descartes.

Now, the English legal tradition is rather an important element of liberalism.  You cannot have a liberal society unless you have the rule of law.  (For the rule of law, see this blog post.)  Indeed, Locke bases his assumptions about liberal society on society, in its natural state, being bound by ‘natural law’.  The rule of law was reiterated, and perhaps established, by Magna Carta in 1215, and successive statutes and events backed this up.  The king was not above the law, and certainly not above his lords – look at the ‘abdications’ of Edward II and Richard II.  By the mid-16th-century, the king was theoretically part of, and not above, Parliament – a sort of Trinitarian concept:  Parliament was the Commons, the Lords and the Monarch, rather like God being the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.  So by the 17th century, when Charles I was attempting absolute rule, English political and legal thought had the monarch within the rule of law, and acting for his/ her subjects.

Sir John Fortescue, a fifteenth-century lawyer, described the kingdom being ruled ‘politicum et regale’, as opposed to the poor old oppressed French, who have a monarch ‘regale’.  (The translations are literally ‘politic’ and ‘royal’ – i.e. popular, in the interests of the people, and royal, or absolute.)

“And they differ in that the first king [‘regale’] may rule his people by such laws as he maketh himself. And therfore he may set upon them tailles [taxes] and other impositions, such as he will himself, without their assent. The second king may not rule his people by other laws than such as they assent unto. And therefore he may set upon them no impositions without their own assent.”

It should be quite clear why Charles lost his head:  he tried to rule as a ‘regale’ king in a kingdom which was ‘politicum et regale’.  This is where Locke comes from – Hobbes too, for that matter.  Hobbes is quite clear that a monarch needs to be ‘politicum et regale’ as much as Locke is, but his conclusions are a bit different. 

To this English strand of political thought is added Italian scholastic republican thought, which was translated and printed in England in the early 17th century.  This, of course, originated from firmly Catholic writers – and so we have to amend McNaughton’s account, and make it more broad and complex:  liberalism came about because of Catholic political theorists, English jurists, and then the Reformation and Enlightenment.

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The Supreme Court and the Rule of Law

‘Have you read the Supreme Court judgment on employment tribunal fees?’ asked Tim over dinner.  ‘It’s great – it talks about the rule of law and why people must bring cases.’  Of course, being a leading QC, he may be biased, but it is jolly good reading.  I shall quote at length from it; .

A few years ago, in a storm of measures to cut the costs of justice, the Minister of Injustice imposed fees on employment tribunals.  That meant that if you wanted to sue your employer, you would have to cough up huge legal fees, whereas before you could get legal aid.  The number of employment cases plummeted, such that employment barristers feared for their jobs.  But in July the Supreme Court ruled that this went against the ECHR:  access to justice is a fundamental civil right; fees restricted access to justice.  So now the government has backed down and will charge fees no longer.

The SC said:  “The constitutional right of access to the courts is inherent in the rule of law. The importance of the rule of law is not always understood…

“At  the  heart  of  the  concept  of  the  rule  of  law  is  the  idea  that  society  is governed by law. Parliament exists primarily in order to make laws for society in this  country.  Democratic procedures  exist  primarily  in  order  to  ensure  that  the Parliament  which  makes  those  laws  includes Members  of  Parliament  who  are chosen by the people  of this country and are accountable  to them.  Courts exist in order to ensure that to ensure that the laws made by Parliament, and the common law created by the courts themselves, are applied and enforced. That role includes ensuring that the executive branch of government carries out its functions in accordance with the law. In order for the courts to perform that role, people must in principle have unimpeded access  to  them.  Without  such  access,  laws  are  liable  to  become  a  dead  letter,  the work done by Parliament may be rendered nugatory [worthless], and the democratic election of Members of Parliament may become a meaningless charade. That is why the courts do not merely provide a public service like any other.”

Wow!  Stick that in your exam.

The SC said that a) the results of employment tribunals would not necessarily just affect the people directly involved in the case, but could have an impact on wider society; b) people needed to know that they could seek remedy in courts, because that is fundamental to how our society functions.

Lord Reed continues:

“A Lord Chancellor of a previous generation put the point in a nutshell, in a letter to the Treasury:

‘(i) Justice  in  this  country  is  something  in  which  all  the Queen’s subjects have an interest, whether  it  be  criminal  or civil.
(ii) The  courts  are  for  the  benefit  of  all,  whether  the individual resorts to them or not.
(iii) In the case of the civil courts the citizen benefits from the  interpretation  of  the  law  by  the  Judges  and  from  the resolution  of disputes,  whether  between  the  state  and  the individual or between individuals.’
(a letter written by Lord Gardiner in 1965)

“In English law, the right of access to the courts has long been recognised. The central idea is expressed in chapter 40 of the Magna Carta of 1215 (“Nulli vendemus, nulli negabimus aut differemus rectum aut justiciam”), which remains on the statute book in the closing words of chapter 29 of the version issued by Edward I in 1297: ‘We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either Justice or Right.'”

And he then quotes Sir Edward Coke (Institutes of the Laws of England, 1642) –

“‘Hereby it appeareth, that Justice must have  three  qualities,  it  must  be Libera, quia  nihil  iniquius venali  Justitia;  Plena,  quia  Justitia  non  debet  claudicare;  & Celeris,  quia  dilatio  est  quaedam  negatio [Free,  because nothing is  more iniquitous than saleable justice; full, because justice ought not to limp; and speedy, because delay is in effect a denial]; and then it is both Justice and Right.’

“More than a century later, Blackstone cited Coke in his Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765-1769), and stated:  “A… right of every [man] is that of applying to the courts of justice for redress of injuries. Since the law is in England the supreme  arbiter  of  every  man’s  life,  liberty,  and  property, courts of justice  must  at all times be open to the subject, and the law be duly administered therein.'”

Fees, if imposed, must be affordable to all:  these were not, and therefore they were unlawful.

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Explain the key reasons why state sovereignty may be considered an outdated concept.

This is a 15-marker from Edexcel’s 2013 paper.  You need to talk about globalisation and the emergence of non-state actors (TNCs, NGOs, UN/ EU, ICC etc).  That’s after you’ve defined sovereignty, of course.  But in this post, I’d like to challenge the ‘outdated’ bit – is state sovereignty actually real, or is it a Western European construct?

Edexcel defines state sovereignty thus:

State sovereignty refers to the capacity of the state to act independently and autonomously on the world stage. It implies that states are legally equal and that the territorial integrity and political independence of a state is inviolable.  Arguably the significance of state sovereignty has been eroded by a number of developments which mean that state sovereignty is now an outdated concept. 

 This sort of thinking goes back to the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, which saw the end of the Thirty Years War.  It’s worth knowing a bit about the Thirty Years War, because it’s not too dissimilar to the kind of events tearing the Middle East apart at the moment, as this article in the Economist makes clear.

Britain, France, Italy, Germany – they’re all nation states.  The USA is a state of states.  In the 19th century, these European states began to amass empires in Asia, Africa and the Antipodes.  Because nation states were what we in Europe were all used to, it was only natural for the imperial colonists to divide their colonies into… states.  This meant drawing all sorts of boundary lines on maps, and carving up territory into territories.  If you look at a map of Africa, you’ll see lots of dead straight lines.  That’s because someone took a rule and ruled a line. These lines took little care of tribal boundaries, and Africa has suffered ever since.  Minority – and even some majority – tribes, such as the Tutsis in Rwanda (and, indeed, the Hutus in Rwanda before them) or the Igbo in Nigeria, have suffered massacres and wars because they are trapped in an artificial country.  The Rwandan genocide happened in part because of intra-tribal support across state boundaries, with the Hutus of Rwanda receiving help and support from those in Burundi.  In Africa, traditional tribal territories and cultures are arguably more important than ‘new’ state boundaries.

Similarly, in the Middle East, state sovereignty is a limited concept.  Sure, traditional, organic states do exist in the Middle East.  Let’s take Iran.  This is the mother of empires, whose first empire was built by Cyrus the Great in the 6th century BC.  Like Greece, Italy and Britain, it has a sense of its old imperial importance, and that’s why it hangs together so coherently, even though much of the population dislikes theocracy.  Saudi is also a state – ruthlessly put together by an acquisitive family, the ibn Sauds.  But the unravelling of Iraq showed how skin-deep the state is, and the civil war in Syria also – and the rise of Da’esh.  In the Middle East, it’s not so much tribal lines that act as tectonic plates, but religious divides:  the internecine struggles between Jews, Christians and Muslims, and the sectarian battles between Sunni and Shi’a within Islam.  These transcend borders.

Jim Muir,  an excellent BBC correspondent, has written an article on the Sykes-Picot line, and gives excellent maps showing the reasons for the mess of the Middle East.  It’s a must-read.

Jeremy Bowen’s exploration of the Middle East is here, and an excellent listen for further information on the states, or non-states, of the Middle East.

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The SC, politicians and the media

16th February 2017
The Financial Times reported how Lord Neuberger’s wife’s Tweets were scrutinised to pick up any pro-EU bias, and how Iain Duncan Smith (Brexiteer) called for ‘parliamentary hearings to examine the views of Supreme Court justice nominees — as is the practice in the US, where potential justices, who have extensive powers to overturn legislation, face Senate hearings.’
Neuberger’s reply to that was that it would be “very unfortunate if we had political scrutiny of the appointment of judges in this country…  First of all, I wonder what would be asked of the judge and what would the benefit would be...  If you are a decent judge your political views will be put on one side when you go into court.” He said he was “not really clear” what the political views of many of his colleagues on the Supreme Court were, calling this “one of the nice things about my job”.
Neuberger also said that the media’s coverage of the SC hearing was, in general, all right, but that Brexiteers had ‘made heroes’ of the three dissenting judges, and that the social media threats and attacks on Gina Miller were “very worrying”.
Neuberger and a colleague are about to retire; there will be three vacancies to the SC (another retired in the summer).  Brenda Hale is likely to be next president; she said that she feels, as the only woman, that she sticks out “like a bad tooth”.  Neuberger is actively trying to get a more socially/ ethnically diverse range of applicants.  They will be appointed by an independent commission (separate from the JAC, but, of course, the JAC has already appointed those applicants to the judiciary in the first place.
The judiciary are aware of their possible background bias; they are also intensely aware and protective of judicial independence – the main reason why politicians gnash their teeth, as they know they’ll have no sway.  Judges uphold the rule of law, and that’s that.

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Brexit. An only partially biased guide.

The Referendum
To make things scrupulously fair (lorks, what an idea), the Electoral Commission recommended the question: 

‘Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union 
or leave the European Union?’

A few referendum facts:
•    23rd June 2016; campaign period was launched in February 2016
•    72% turnout
•    51.9% Leave (17,410,742); 48.1% Remain (16,141,241) – a difference of 1,269,501 people (there are currently over 9,000,000 pensioners in Britain)
•    Scotland, Northern Ireland and Gibraltar voted to remain (62%, 55.8%; 95.9%:  about 75,7174 people – as far as I can work out)
•    73% young people voted Remain; 60% OAPs voted Leave; 64% turnout, under 35s; 90% turnout over 65s
•    Campaign funds were limited to £7,000,000 each (yes, really), but it’s thought that a) the sum of both sides’ campaigns came to about £28,000,000 (ouch) and Leave got £4,000,000 more than Remain (largely from Tory donors)  (double ouch)
•    The referendum – its post, copies, officials etc. – cost about £142.4,000,000 (mega ouch).

There is an excellent BBC web page here with lots of lovely pictures (I love you, Auntie, for your maps and infographics; I will always pay my TV licence, even though I don’t have a TV).

The legend that the Brexit Referendum was born from a desire to keep the Tory right sweet has a lot of truth in it (and notice how vocal Bill Cash has become again.  He has got a second wind the force of a gale).  David ‘Flim-Flam’ Cameron tried to get a bill passed to ensure a referendum, but it was thrown out; the referendum had, however, crept into the Tory manifesto.  Flim-Flam tried to renegotiate the UK’s EU deal, but got nowhere, and the referendum was announced.  Parliament passed the European Union Referendum Act in 2015, giving authority for an advisory referendum.

1)    the referendum was always only advisory.  At no point does Parliament legally have to accept it, despite ‘the British people’ having ‘spoken’.
2)    The wording of the referendum was amazingly neutral – compare the Scottish independence referendum:  ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’  That had a massive turnout – 84.6%:  2,001,926 (55.3%) No and 1,617,989 (44.7%) Yes.  Despite the question.  The importance of wording questions is brilliantly summed up here.

Two interesting maps to compare.

First, the general election results of 2015
Blue = Conservative;  Red = Labour;  Orange = LibDem;  Green = Green in England or Plaid Cymru in Wales;  Northern Ireland – dunno.

Secondly, the EU Referendum
Blue = Leave;  Yellow = Remain;  Grey = Tie

The areas which were the highest Brexit voters were in the North, Midlands and East.  The surprise to most political commentators was the Labour heartlands in the North, which all voted Leave.  But, given the socio-economic situation of the North, it’s not surprising that they voted as they did.  The south-east of Lincolnshire was also heavily Brexit:  towns and villages there have changed immeasurably with the influx of Eastern Europeans to do badly paid, back-breaking agricultural and fishing work that the British won’t touch any more because it’s easier getting benefits.

The outcomes of the Referendum.
The economic consequences are hard to predict, but most organisations predicted doom and gloom before the Referendum, and a lot are predicting further doom and gloom now.  Sterling has fallen and companies are looking at least to have European bases, if not to move to the Continent entirely.  Employers in certain sectors fear a skills and labour shortage, although this may only be short/ medium-term.  The economic outcome will depend on what sort of Brexit we get.

Politics and the Law
The Labour Party is riven:  despite a three-line whip on the Brexit vote in the Commons, four Labour front-benchers voted against, and, consequently, quitted the front bench.  The Tory right is driving for ‘hard’ Brexit, to be outside the Common Market.

The government declared that it would trigger Article 50 (the get-out clause) using a prerogative power.  Gina Miller et al. brought a court case against the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU (why not ‘leaving?  What is the matter with our language, these days?  Does nobody think English can be beautiful any more?  Must it be in the hands of the barely literate and, even worse, the Americans?), arguing that this did not fall within a prerogative power, but had to be accomplished by Act of Parliament.  The High Court, and subsequently the Supreme Court, agreed.

The case is a really interesting one, and rather contentious.  It hinges on two things:  1) whether the government can use prerogative powers to diminish people’s rights and freedoms, and 2) whether leaving the EU is affected by, and affects, statute law, specifically the European Communities Act 1972.  (I love law.)

The judgment was thus:
1)    The ECA ceded law-making powers to the EU, such that EU law = UK law; only Parliament has the power to cede law-making powers, or to take back those powers.
2)    Rights will be diminished, therefore the government needs permission
3)    Although ministers are allowed under the ECA to exercise treaty powers (making and breaking treaties), withdrawal from the EU will change a source of UK law, and therefore the ultimate source of UK law (Parliament) needs to give permission.
4)    The ECA does not give explicit consent for ministers to withdraw from the EU
5)    Subsequent laws seem to have worked on the assumption that Parliament’s consent is needed to withdraw

The three dissenting judges argued that the ECA is a separate thing from Article 50, and therefore does not affect the government’s prerogative powers.
I both agree and disagree with the SC justices.  One law academic has written that whilst the judges upheld Miller et al.’s claim that triggering Article 50 would lead to a loss of rights and therefore the royal prerogative could not be used, there are cases where it has.  One fairly recent one was the disgraceful treatment of the Chagos islanders by the UK government in order to suck up to the Americans.  This was arguably foreign affairs, and so different from the domestic affairs that the ECA governs – and Sir Edward Coke in 1610 wrote that the monarch ‘cannot change any part of the common law or statute law, or the customs of the realm’.  Coke, like Dicey (also quoted in the case), is a constitutional legal text.  In addition, the 1689 Bill of Rights says that the monarch cannot suspend Acts of Parliament.  But The ECA is not necessarily suspended by a prerogative triggering Article 50.  If Parliament had the intention that the ECA couldn’t be undone by prerogative, then it cannot be – and that’s one of their lordships’ points:  there’s no explicit permission.  But equally, there’s no explicit forbiddance.  I think we’re on thin ice here. 

But I agree with the SC justices because had they found in favour of the government, this could have set an unwelcome precedent – of strengthening royal prerogative.  One of the judgments quoted was Lord Browne-Wilkinson’s, in R. v. …Fire Brigades Union (1995)

‘The constitutional history of this country is the history of the prerogative powers of the Crown being made subject to the overriding powers of the democratically elected legislature as the sovereign body.’

This case followed that principle.  I do not think that their lordships were right about the legal nitty-gritty of the case itself, but I do think that they were right to defend the underlying principles behind it.  I’m afraid that if this doesn’t make sense, you’ll have to read some sound, but long, law blogs, the summary of the SC judgment, and the ECA.
•    David Feldman:  Brexit, the royal prerogative and parliamentary sovereignty
•    Mark Elliot:  Brexit:  why Article 50 does not need Parliament
•    The ECA

Gina Miller’s excellent New Statesman article sums up her principles.  She puts forth the further point that populism is a potential problem – implying that the referendum is a product of populism.  Clem Atlee indeed said, ‘I could not consent to the introduction into our national life of a device so alien to all our traditions as the referendum, which has only too often been the instrument of Nazism and fascism.’  This is why the government’s repeated bleating that ‘the British people have spoken’ is – I think – a) disingenuous, and b) dangerous.

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