Question 4: Do Labour governments generally leave the constitution unchanged?

Result:

  • 18 answered 'yes'
  • 16 answered 'no'

Summary:

Again historians are split over this although most would agree with the observation Labour’s approach has been piecemeal over the years.

Those who felt Labour has changed the constitution point to its policy of devolving power to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (whilst resisting independence and insisting it is a four nations party). Harold Wilson introduced votes at 18. New Labour introduced the Human Rights Act, the Freedom of Information Act, the Supreme Court. This, however, made the Blair governments unusual.

Furthermore, the Labour Party has always resisted calls for a written constitution. None of the changes have undermined the 'Conservative dominance of England' (John Callaghan). Labour has lacked, according to Tony Taylor (Sheffield Hallam), front-line politicians who are first and foremost constitutional reformers. Pippa Catterall noted that no Labour government 'has ever really expressed or sought to enact a theory of the constitution' which may explain why its approach can seem to be conservative (with a small 'c').

The party has occasionally flirted with proportional representation but clings to First Past The Post. Richard Johnson argues that Labour from its early days recognised that the constitution would provide the party with enormous power. He quotes Ramsay MacDonald who said 'A parliamentary election will give us all the power that Lenin had to get by revolution'.

Tony Blair giving a talk

Image: Tony Blair, 2002.jpg. Original image from Flickr Commons, available on Wikimedia Commons with no known copyright restrictions.