Antony Hook: The Supreme Court ruling has opened the floodgates of major constitutional reform

Britain has always been a bastion or the rule of law, internationally respected as an exemplar of fairness, decency and parliamentary democracy.

Restoring a supposed supremacy of the British institutions was central to Boris Johnson’s campaign to wrench us out of Europe. The irony has been lost on few people that he has since tried to suppress Parliament and it has fallen to the courts to intervene.

I know something about Britain’s courts. Before being elected as an MEP, I had 16 years’ service as a barrister. In almost every case I have been involved in, the liberty of an individual has been an issue. The Brexit case in the Supreme Court pertains to the liberty of our entire country.

The role of the courts in scrutinising governments is long-established. In the 1600s, Chief Justice Coke said “England’s judges must be lions around the throne” ready to protect the Crown, but also to check any legal excess by the Crown.

It’s clear that the need for this case to be brought by citizens against their own Prime Minister forces us to confront the unwelcome fact that our constitution is open to exploitation by unprincipled and opportunistic governments: a situation that is troubling for everyone except those who hold power.

Our unwritten constitution has relied on a sense of fair play, including an expectation that a Prime Minister will not do things like bar the gates to Parliament because scrutiny is too embarrassing. This is because much of government operates by convention, rather than black letter law. In addition to prorogation, areas that are determined by convention include: the monarch will act on her ministers’ advice, that the Lords should not reject a budget passed in the Commons and the expectation that the Queen will give her assent to bills that have been passed by Parliament.

Politics and democracy would be fundamentally changed if politicians simply decided to ignore any of these conventions.

The flexibility of these unwritten conventions can occasionally help to work around archaic precedents, but flexibility can quickly turn into vulnerability if a government behaves as the Johnson administration has done.

It’s time for us to join the modern world by codifying our constitution and the conventions that we rely on for the smooth running of the state.

Adopting a written constitution provides clarity about government’s and Parliament’s powers, with less room for interpretation, guess work, litigation or abuse.

Perhaps it’s time to seriously ask whether the executive should have the power to prorogue at all? Whether the answer is “yes”, “no” or “to some extent”, writing that down is the best guarantee of it being stuck to.

The USA’s adoption of a written constitution soon after its birth was a break from the new republic’s British legal heritage. The US Constitution does not rely on expectations of good behaviour. As the fictional Senator Arnie Vinnick (played by Alan Alda) in the West Wing said, “The Founding Fathers didn’t set up a government based on trust. They could have designed a government based on trust in our ability to govern fairly but they knew that power corrupts so they invented checks and balances. That was genius. The Founding Fathers did not want me to trust you and they did not want you to trust me.”.

The US President’s cabinet appointments are voted on by the Senate. It’s easy to see how a similar democratic process might have curbed Boris Johnson’s ability to appoint a gang of ministers whose idea of a good time appears to involve trashing our economy and turning Kent into a lorry park.

It’s a favourite fantasy of hard Brexiters that the EU is undemocratic. It will surprise them to learn that last Tuesday I voted with over 600 other MEPS on Christine Lagarde’s candidacy for President of the European Central Bank. By contrast, Mark Carney, the Governor the Bank of England, was appointed by the Queen on the basis of a nod from David Cameron. In October, MEPs will vote to accept or reject the nominations to the Commission and, in December, on the EU Ombudsman.

Central government has repeatedly meddled with the powers and funding of local government often against the wishes of local government and communities. A written constitution could secure a fair balance of powers and create a democratic basis for change in the future.

An injection of democracy and decentralisation could disperse power and begin to repair the confidence in our institutions of state that have been so severely damaged by the prorogation crisis.

The conclusion of this Supreme Court hearing may not be the end of the government’s unorthodox approach to achieving their aims. The government’s barrister would not rule out further prorogation when asked to do so. It should, however, mark the beginning of a much more serious conversation about how we can safeguard and strengthen our democracy.

* Antony Hook was a Liberal Democrat MEP for South East England (2019) and has practised as a barrister since 2003. He is currently Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group on Kent County Council.

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  • The ECJ demonstrates how the judiciary is increasingly becoming involved in politics and law making. Logically this is producing a democratic and accountability deficit in which the logical next step would be the election of judges by the people.

    It is leading to the destruction of our delicately balanced system that has served us well until recently. This is why I believe the Supreme court decision is flawed. The judges addressed a narrow point of law which was just one element within a larger, more complex and tangled political issue. Such judgements can have massive, unintentional political consequences that lie outside the competence of the judges.

  • Dilettante Eye 26th Sep '19 - 1:27pm

    “It’s a favourite fantasy of hard Brexiters that the EU is undemocratic. It will surprise them to learn that last Tuesday I voted with over 600 other MEPS on Christine Lagarde’s candidacy for President of the European Central Bank.”

    Given she was the only candidate to choose from, it would have been an embarrassment if she’d lost the democratic[sic] vote?

  • Richard Underhill 26th Sep '19 - 1:30pm

    The election of Antony Hook was a happy day, here in his euro-constituency, made possible by electoral reform negotiated by Paddy Ashdown and Tony Blair, despite a short-term electoral cost to Tony Blair’s party and despite the visible comparison of the election in Northern Ireland by the Single Transferable Vote of the Leader of the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland. Former MP Naomi Long is now an MEP.
    Antony starts his otherwise excellent piece by saying “Britain has always been a bastion of the rule of law, … ”
    So, what is meant by ‘always’?
    What is meant by ‘Britain’?
    In 1603 the English Queen Elizabeth died, King James the Sixth of Scotland became King James the First and advanced the concept of ‘Britain’ in which we should stop fighting each other.
    Elizabeth’s father, Henry VIII, executed his wife, who did not have a fair trial by modern standards, which is a matter of shame and should not be a matter of pride, even if advantageous to income from tourism.

  • Geoffrey Dron 26th Sep '19 - 1:35pm


    The full judgment at paras 35 – 51 shows that there was a line of precedent for controlling the exercise of the prerogative in exceptional circumstances.

    This was clearly such a circumstance.

    No violence has been done to orthodox constitutional principles.

  • Sue Sutherland 26th Sep '19 - 1:36pm

    Thank you Antony! Unfortunately our party’s constitutional proposals don’t seem to address this problem but I think we need to promise to set up some kind of commission/enquiry into the issues you raise at the same time as we promise to Revoke Article 50 i.e. in our next GE manifesto. I think it should also look at the relationship between parliamentary democracy and the power of referendums and how they should be conducted.
    I believe this would also help to calm down the emotions aroused by Brexit because it acknowledges that it is the system which has failed and raised unrealistic expectations and that this has to change.

  • David Becket 26th Sep '19 - 1:51pm

    Christine Lagarde was found guilty of negligence in respect of failing to challenge an award to Bernard Tapie. This was not considered a criminal offence and no penalty was imposed. There was no question of misuse of public funds. Apology please!

  • David Allen 26th Sep '19 - 1:59pm

    Hmm. What is the difference between Liberal Democrats claiming that the Supreme Court judgment demonstrates a need to change the constitution and entrench democracy, and Johnson claiming that the Supreme Court judgment demonstrates a need to change the constitution and entrench the power of the Prime Minister?

    I am tempted to prefer Geoffrey Dron’s view (if I have interpreted it correctly) that the Supreme Court judgment demonstrates nothing very much at all, other than that able judges are capable of understanding existing constitutional principles and applying them to good effect.

  • @Sue – I don’t think the system raised unrealistic expectations.

    A substantial number of MPs directly caused the feeling of betrayal, a word strongly condemned this morning by the Biased BBC. I refer to the MPs who voted for the referendum, promised that there would be only one vote and that the result would be honoured. Many of them also were elected in a subsequent election having stood on a manifesto pledging that we would leave the EU. The manifesto theme was that no deal was better than a bad deal.

    Considering their behaviour, I think that betrayal of the voters s a highly accurate and appropriate description and it has nothing at all to do with the referendum system.

  • Antony,
    There is a major weakness in this judgement by the Supreme Court. However well qualified, all the members of the Supreme Court were appointed (as you put it) by Queen on the basis of a nod by the prime minister (who was given the name by a committee of very worthy people). This does nothing to temper the view held by supporters of the government that this judgement is a stitch-up by the establishment.

    I am also not sure the Court did itself any favours by failing to indicate any points of disagreement between themselves prior to reaching their judgement. For eleven judges all to form an opinion on the basis of broadly the same information from which other judges formed a completely contrary opinion smacks of a dictatorship, not a democracy.

  • Well the Brexi’s complaints seem to be two fold, judges are too poltical and the unwritten constitution used to work well but no longer does. Well the cure for that is easy, write a set of rules and let the judges enforce them rather than interpreting some fuzzy feeling based on good knows what. The phantasy the unwritten constitution works well, only works when it isn’t under any strain as soon ad it is it buckles and breaks. Our whole system is based on the principle of the emperors new clothes, everyone raves about it and points out how wonderful it is until someone points out the old fat geezer is naked with his tassle dangling down. So reform is required, we need a set of rules, we need the people to understand what the rules are and most importantly we need every vote to matter; at the moment if your in the majority of constituencies it matters not at all.

  • @Mark
    But that’s my point. It may be just a conspiracy theory. But it’s a conspiracy theory that a significant proportion of the population believe because it’s what their leader (Farage) told them to expect. This judgement, and the nature of the method of appointment of the people who made it, fits into that narrative. If we’re to get out of this mess, we need to appreciate that a significant proportion of people hold these views and take steps to counter them. It’s just not good enough to say it’s a conspiracy theory so your view doesn’t count.

    We’ve got to do better to understand the opposite point of view. That starts by accepting people have the right to hold that view. That Farage and Johnson may have misled them is irrelevant.

  • “Elizabeth’s father, Henry VIII, executed his wife, who did not have a fair trial by modern standards”

    That’s an understatement… she didn’t even have a fair trial by the standards of the day.

  • Fair trials under a dictatorship are as rare as unicorn horns. Yet another reason for a written constitution and fair votes, they don’t prevent a dictatorship but they make it harder than the ramshackle unwritten ( unenforceable) constitution and the not fit for purpose first past the post system we have.

  • Rodney Watts 26th Sep '19 - 9:02pm

    First Anthony I agree with all commenters who applaud your piece. The ‘Open Democracy’ organization has long advocated for a written constitution, and recently pointed out that the Labour Party didn’t take an opportunity some time ago:
    Brexit has been a tough and at times damaging experience, testing our ability to remain civil with one another. @Sue — I do agree therefore with what you say.
    We surely must learn how to conduct referenda, giving much more thought about questions asked, and a need to allow for further referenda as an accepted norm.

    Brexit has, at least, highlighted weaknesses in our democracy that could be obviated. Also issues of PR to replace FPTP in elections, as well as the constitution should be dealt with. The serious errors associated with saying that the referendum represented the unchanging “will of the people” are all too obvious. Some people have changed their minds over leave or stay; about half a million have died; about two million new young voters have joined the electoral roll. Now is indeed the time to consider all aspects of our democracy, and hopefully, in the not too distant future, we shall see something truly beneficial manifest itself.

  • “Heaven help us if we end up with an elected judiciary, for the American model doesn’t have much to commend it.”

    Conflating “an elected judiciary” and “the American model” is incorrect. All federal judges in the US are appointed by the US president with the approval of the US senate. No federal judges are elected. Some US state judges are elected. However, in most US states, e.g. California, state judges are appointed but subject to having to be reelected or possible recall. So there are at least two American models of judicial appointment – the federal model and the state model(s).

    I note that the despite the advice which he gave another commenter about giving justifications for statements, Mr Valladares doesn’t actually give any justifications for his negative statement regarding “the American model”.

    As someone from an ethnic minority, one good thing about the US federal model is that US federal judges are broadly representative of the demographic range of the US population. By contrast, of the 50 judges on the UK Supreme Court and English Supreme Court there is only ONE from an ethnic minority.

  • To answer Guy’s very sensible question as to how 11 Supreme Court judges can be unanimous in disagreeing with 3 English Court of Appeal judges (and one Northern Ireland Court of Appeal judge):

    Whatever the case, a court of final appeal like the Supreme Court is more willing to push out judicial authority than a court that is not a court of final appeal. That’s particularly the case where the subject is controversial and where the judges of the lower court expect that their decision will be appealed. I’ve seen this numerous times not only in relation to the English courts but also in relation to the Irish courts with which I am also familiar. Friends and colleagues from Australia say that it is the same there. So the English Court of Appeal was always likely to be more reticent. A cynic might add that there is no possibility of further judicial advancement by a Supreme Court judge but a Court of Appeal judge always has in mind the possibility of advancement to the Supreme Court or another role.

    As regards the Supreme Court decision being unanimous rather than only by a majority, I note that in the 2016 Miller case – regarding whether the UK government could invoke Article 50 without a vote in Parliament and also relating to the prerogative powers – the judgment was 8-3. Some of us who know the courts well were expecting a similar majority decision on Tuesday. Our suspicion is that any judges who might have thought about dissenting preferred to fall into line with the majority for two reasons: (1) they had seen the attacks on the Supreme Court judges who were in the majority on the Miller decision and they did not want their dissenting judgments to be used as ammunition for attacks on their colleagues and (2) they have a general concern regarding the current government’s lawlessness and they prefer to make a shot across the government’s bow.

  • Ah Mark you really are not up on your conspiracy theories. A Leaver I’m related to ( I have many strange relatives, to be fair he voted leave because his girl friend told him too ) assures me the world is flat, the moon is round but you couldn’t possibly land on it because it is hollow and a space ship would sink through the crust. Now should I treat his views with respect or just laugh; more to the point how do you cure such stupidity ( and he is far from unique there are some even stranger believes out there).

  • @Mark It’s all well and good saying the final arbiter must be respected, but that only works if people have confidence in the system. If you talk to people that support Brexit, particularly those who actively don’t want any form of deal, you will get a sense that they are losing confidence in the system as a whole. However much you agree with the Supreme Court judgement (or disagree with it, but respect it), there is a constituency that sees it as part of the establishment fixing the system. Whether they are correct to take that view is immaterial. They do.

    If that view deepens, our society will have a problem. You’re right that ordinary people do badly in such circumstances. That’s why we have to try to understand the opposite point of view, rather than just assume everything will be alright because the law says so.

  • Richard Underhill 26th Sep '19 - 10:30pm

    The constitution should really be ‘codified’ in preference to ‘written’.

  • Richard Underhill 26th Sep '19 - 10:38pm

    I took two cases to the predecessors of the Supreme Court, before Tony Blair removed the Law Lords from the House of Lords (both wins).
    Counsel commented that their Lordships among the majority had given different reasons while reaching the same conclusion. He was therefore in doubt as to precisely what the law is/was.
    It is not surprising that the Justices talk to each other, indeed they must and they say so. That is not a conspiracy.

  • @Mark there’s evidence suggesting a lack of confidence in the Supreme Court’s decision. A survation poll yesterday found 32 percent agree with Jacob Rees-Mogg that the Supreme Court’s decision was a ‘constitutional coup’.

    I am not suggesting that the system must be changed because people don’t like the decision. But we do have to engage with those who think the system is being fixed to avoid the situation getting even worse.

  • It’s surely obvious by now, after almost three and a half YEARS that brexiters simply can’t agree amongst themselves!
    (Even despite the support of many Conservative party MPs who originally supported remain!)

    And it is really damaging our country. This farce has to stop.
    I’m voting Lib Dem to draw a line under it, and I hope others will too.

  • “Unlawful, void and of no effect”
    The Supreme Court’s description of prorogation could equally apply to the 2016 referendum, irredeemably corrupt and tainted by deceit and dark money.
    “But the Lib Dems want to treat the referendum as if it never happened”, complain our critics. Too damn right we do, because that is all it deserves.

  • Jack McKenna 27th Sep '19 - 12:53am

    We need a written constitution that’s blindingly obvious.

    Our current unwritten constitution only works under the assumption everyone plays the game wit a spirit of fair play and the common good.

    Brexit has torn this principle to pieces and we have to be realistic that we never ever get that spirit back. However, we also have to be realistic that major swathes of this country have fallen to pieces as the government has fixated on nothing but Brexit, for the last three years.

    The Lib Dem offer should be to fix this and then sort out a new constitutional settlement.

  • @Guy

    The answer to your question (about) appointed judges having the final say) is that Parliament can, If it wishes, pass a law overruling the decision and give the Government power to perogue Parliamwnr for as long as it likes and for what ever reason it likes. While Parliament retains this power the judges will always, ultimately, be subsidiary to the elected representatives.

    Merely to state the possibility of a government having the power to removes Parliament like this shows the Supreme Court decision was correct.

  • Brexit was caused by a loss of faith in our society and system and ironically it has led to an even greater loss of faith in our society and system. I’m afraid only by radical change can faith be restored, so experts may say setting out a written constitution is too hard to do but to regain faith they will need to achieve that task. To underline my point many people have invested their all in Brexit, when it fails either by failing to happen or even worse happening ( no unicorns appear, the sunlit uplands turn into marshy bogs and their lives get worse) the demand for change will rip away the cosy bubble those complacent experts live in.

  • Dilettante Eye 27th Sep '19 - 8:31am

    Mark Valladares

    “..but to suggest that things must be changed because a minority are unable to accept any outcome that doesn’t meet with their approval risks setting adrift the checks and balances…”

    And yet Lib Dems who are a minority, expect such changes all the time because outcomes don’t suit them.

    For example, the British public are fine with FPTP, as a recent referendum shows, but a minority [Lib Dems], continue to bang on about PR because it [FPTP] doesn’t suit them.

    So isn’t it time to abide by your own liberal wise words and accept the majority view in elections and referenda and stop (dangerously) abusing the democratic contract because it doesn’t suit the Lib Dem minority?

  • Are the majority in favour of the present system, my old reactionary one. Given the wave of anger against the present parliament from your ilk and the Brexit parties plea for PR, I suspect as with many things you are wrong. The referendum on PR was a chance for the public to kick Clegg and they did (they fact he wasn’t bright enough to realise that, well that is another story). I know you want to return to an older time where people knew their place, normally looking up to a Tory and pulling their forelock, but if Brexit brings us anything at all it will bring us change. The fact you will be horrified with that, well unlucky, you opened the box, accept it or not you’ll reap the changes and the consequences.

    Just a point about Brexiteers regretting their actions from the Guardian

    Tim Breitmeyer, president of the Country Land and Business Association, said farms and the rural businesses that rely on them were not in a position to absorb the shock of Brexit, and estimates suggested a large number would be in danger.

    “Agriculture is not making very much money. In many cases, they’re losing [money] without the single farm payment [subsidy]. If you have a tariff to add to your problems, if you have increased costs to add to your problems, it’s only going to make matters worse and tip some businesses over the top,” he told the Guardian. “Now I don’t know whether that’s 15% or 25% but I’m absolutely sure there will be quite a few farming businesses for which it actually just tips them into receivership.”

    Rural areas voted overwhelmingly for Brexit in the 2016 referendum, which Breitmeyer called a “protest vote for the fact that rural Britain got abandoned”. But the reality of new tariffs on exports, rising import costs, the crash in value of the pound and difficulties in employing migrant labour were taking a toll, he said.

    So you see , you voted for massive upheaval and didn’t even realise it. Bless the UK will be a much changed country or perhaps countries after your decision to open the box and I’m sure many of the changes really won’t please your reactionary soul.

  • Sue Sutherland 27th Sep '19 - 11:34am

    Peter, you’re right I should have said that the system allowed people to raise unrealistic expectations. Nigel as a Lib Dem I agree the public should be involved in the decision making process.
    The problem we have at the moment is that the emotions attached to Brexit easily overwhelm attempts to step back and consider the process that led to this debacle. Our politicians need to defuse this situation not rack it up and, although I do empathise with the terrible situation they are in, arguments about who shouted the loudest and who said the worst words are doing nothing to save our nation. Boris Johnson & co are trying to wind the opposition parties up, so maybe the reaction to their blaming tactics should be utter silence?

  • Richard Underhill 27th Sep '19 - 12:35pm

    The judgement from the Supreme Court in the Miller case refers to the “responsibilities and experience of the Prime Minister”.
    We should also be aware that 1689 is before the Union of Parliaments and therefore a decision of the former Scottish Parliament can be relevant, as in the Cherry case.
    In that the appeal was allowed it might be possible to ask how much money was spent.

  • Richard Underhill 27th Sep '19 - 12:41pm

    26th Sep ’19 – 10:38pm
    It follows that the decision of the Supreme Court panel is stronger because of the fact that Supreme Court Justices in the 11-0 majority did not give any contradictory reasons.

  • Dilettante Eye 27th Sep '19 - 1:02pm


    “Are the majority in favour of the present system, my old reactionary one.”

    Let’s unleash the ballot boxes for a GE and find out?

  • David Evans 27th Sep '19 - 1:36pm

    Rob Cannon – “Rural England is heavily subsidised already. There’s a huge amount of selfishness among the majority of people in rural England.”

    Well there speaks a townie, with little sense of empathy. Rural communities pay more Council Tax for worse services, and have massive housing problems brought about by a combination of low wages and high housing costs caused by rich townies retiring there and driving prices up.

    Whoops, as a Liberal I should judge people as individuals not as a group, so perhaps i should say

    Well there speaks what could be unfairly characterised as a townie, with little sense of empathy. Rural communities pay more Council Tax for worse services, often no busses, no libraries and no local GP. Add to that massive housing problems brought about by a combination of low wages and high housing costs caused by what could be unfairly characterised as rich townies retiring there and driving prices up, and there you have a generalisation that is much closer to reality.

  • nvelope2003 27th Sep '19 - 2:35pm

    Rob Cannon: Rural England is full of elderly immigrants from the big towns and cities especially the small towns and villages. It is also full of drugs. There are plenty of Remain supporters but they keep quiet about it unless they know you but I have not heard much of the sort of extremist Leaver ranting that the media report.
    There is not much opposition to the building of houses in the small towns but those who live in the villages may have different views. Why should a lovely village have its character destroyed ? How many people with young children would want to live there ?

    There is very little public transport and going to school often involves long bus journeys which can take up 2 hours each day as I know. Going to a library is not really practical so they need reliable broadband. With global warming threatening to make life unbearable we need to reforest wherever possible and covering the countryside with houses will make things worse.

  • I may be being ever hopeful but I suspect a number of DUP MP’s are in danger of losing their seats. there seems to be a growing anger about how the their policies and their choice of friends is affecting their electorate.

    But one former Wrightbus employee, ‘Jim’, says there is deep anger.

    A former Wrightbus employee says ex-colleagues are planning to picket the church associated with the business in protest at how they feel they have been treated.

    Wrightbus in Ballymena is facing questions over £15m given to the church after it went into administration this week.

    The Green Pastures charity, led by Wrightbus’s majority shareholder Pastor Jeff Wright, was given the money over six years, helping it develop a huge church and village complex in Ballymena.

    Still you can’t say wee Ian isn’t loyal to his friends

    But DUP MP Ian Paisley said that how directors spend their dividends is a private issue.

    Now we are seeing more and more the fruits of Brexit coming through and when they do people get angry. So while our Brexiteers say bring on a GE election, the question they should ask themselves what happens afterwards when there is no cake, very little bread and they haven’t managed to wind the clock back to the magical mystical age they promised the electorate. Perhaps the church won’t be the only thing that gets picketed. Promising the world and failing to deliver has consequences, you tried it in the Brexit debate and the consequences are here to see; I see no sunlit uplands but I do see a society tearing itself apart.

  • Rodney Watts 27th Sep '19 - 2:46pm

    @ Dilettante Eye @Frankie @ Sue @ Peter

    First, wrt the Brexit referendum & whether ‘unreasonable expectations’ were the fault of the system or people involved –I’d say both. Undoubtedly promises were made by MP’s and in manifestos, that in hindsight never should have been made. Hence my comments above.

    Second, the previous referendum referred to was NOT a choice of PR vs FPTP. It was AV vs FPTP. The number of times the conservatives have batted away requests for a referendum on PR, claiming already done, is beyond my memory. PR is NOT AV!.

    Third, If ever a situation exemplified the need for putting it back to the People in a referendum, rather than a GE, this is it. The issue, of course, is cross party and single. In my previous comment I give further reasons.

  • Dilettante Eye 27th Sep '19 - 3:15pm

    Rodney Watts

    A pointless stitched up 2nd referendum with only two versions of Remain on the ballot, will only draw the attention of tumbleweed.

    You’re wasting your time, it’s just not going to happen.

    People are angry that MPs who have let them down with regard to their 2016 referendum result, and are now refusing them a say in a GE. We need to assuage that public anger via a GE ballot, and allow the palpable rage of voters to be converted democratically, into a clean sweep of the green benches.

  • Nonconformistradical 27th Sep '19 - 3:22pm

    “I may be being ever hopeful but I suspect a number of DUP MP’s are in danger of losing their seats. there seems to be a growing anger about how the their policies and their choice of friends is affecting their electorate.”

  • “Well there speaks a townie, with little sense of empathy. Rural communities pay more Council Tax for worse services, and have massive housing problems brought about by a combination of low wages and high housing costs caused by rich townies retiring there and driving prices up.”

    Rural communities pay more council tax for worse services because the cost of providing those services to dispersed rural communities is much higher. The London borough in which I live in has 325,000 people and 11 public libraries. Cumbria has 500,000 people and over 30 public libraries plus link libraries and book drops. People in Cumbria may say they have a poor library service but that’s a function of a dispersed population.

    The claim that rural areas have a combination of low wages and high housing costs is simply untrue. This ONS website page has a map which shows the property price/earnings ratio across England and Wales
    As evidenced by the map, there’s no urban/rural divide regarding housing affordability. There’s a north/south divide but that’s different.

    One of the problems with the UK is that there are numerous spurious claims that are made but never challenged. Those regarding Brexit are only a part of them.

  • Richard Underhill 27th Sep '19 - 4:28pm

    27th Sep ’19 – 3:22pm
    BUT, she says Sinn Fein will not be taking their seats, so they aspire to remove DUP MPs. What did they do about Ian Paisley (Junior) being subject to recall election/s?
    Are SF more likely to win these seats than other Unionists or our friends in the APNI?
    Electing Northern Ireland MPs to Westminster would be preferable.
    The voters and the counters are familiar with system.
    It is also used in the Republic.

  • @Richard Underhill @frankie

    (1) The recall of Ian Paisley Jr didn’t succeed because just short of the required 10% of the electorate signed the recall petition. However, extremely controversially there were only three locations in what is quite a large rural constituency at which the petition could be signed. If there had been the same number of signing locations as in Peterborough and Brecon & Radnorshire (where recall petitions reached the required 10%) then the recall petition of Ian Paisley Jr would have succeeded.

    (2) There are only three DUP seats that are really under threat of being lost by them at the next general election: Belfast North, Belfast South and Belfast East. Belfast North is a clear run between DUP and Sinn Fein. The demographics are trending in Sinn Fein’s direction. Belfast East is a clear run between Alliance and DUP, but with former Alliance MP for the constituency now an MEP it’s not clear that she will contest for Alliance. Belfast South is among DUP, Alliance, SDLP and Sinn Fein – in the 2017 NI Assembly election all four parties came between 17.7% and 20.8% of the vote. It used to be an SDLP seat but Alliance are now considered the best placed to beat the DUP.

    (3) @Richard Underhill Were you suggesting that STV rather than FTFP be used for general elections in Northern Ireland? The difficulty with that is that STV would require multi-seat constituencies so the existing 18 constituencies would need to be merged into 4-5 constituencies (assuming 3-5 seats by constituency as in Republic of Ireland). That’s more controversial than STV itself.

  • Rob,

    I’m sure under normal circumstances you would be right but in the world we live in two questions spring to mind.

    1. How much will the pain, uncertainty and despair of Brexit affect DUP voters, will they be put off enough to move away from them.
    2. How many Sinn Fein voters will remain happy to be unrepresented.

    I know not the answer to either question, but with those questions up in the air I’m inclined to think more seats are in play than we may well think.

  • David Evans 27th Sep '19 - 7:24pm

    Rob – Indeed a townie. As Lib Dem Councillors know, the grant local councils receive from the government is supposed to be calculated so that that the same level of service can be provided by all local councils for the same cost. Sadly over the years, the lobbying power of the urban areas, and their greater political influence mean that ever more of the pot was skewed to them. As I’m sure you know, one of our fundamental values is equality. Quite simply this is not at all equal.

    You are right when you say Cumbria has a lot of Libraries, and most of them are part time. However, as you may not know, Cumbria covers an area of 2,600 sq miles. The whole of Greater London is only 607 sq miles. I would suggest that almost all your council’s residents live within three miles of a library, and have regular public transport to get there. There are lots of villages Cumbria way over three miles away from a library and have no bus service at all.

    Finally, you quote a report on housing affordability. These stats are produced by comparing median house prices with median full time earnings. Unfortunately, in many rural areas, part time working is much more common than in London, so their earnings are less, making the real affordability figures much worse for the poorer members of society.

    I can understand why you like to believe that your area is so much more badly treated than than those country folk. It’s a common belief for everyone, but that doesn’t make it true. As you say “One of the problems with the UK is that there are numerous *spurious* claims that are made but never challenged”. I think that is slightly over slanted towards implying they are deliberately skewed. I would say “One of the problems with the UK is that there are numerous *erroneous* claims that are made but never corrected.” Well yours have been.

  • Denis Mollison 28th Sep '19 - 9:05am

    @Rob Cannon
    It wouldn’t be difficult to `re-district’ Northern Ireland into 4 constituencies of 4 or 5 seats each. They could be fitted to local authority boundaries – thus making a lot more sense than existing constituency boundaries – and elected by STV, as used for all other elections in NI. You can find details of one way of doing it on
    Why do you think this would be particularly controversial?

  • Peter Hirst 29th Sep '19 - 2:56pm

    Of course, you’re right Antony; however it’s one thing stating the obvious and another getting it done. One question is whether BJ is an anomaly or something that will continue when he’s gone. I think our democracy has changed for good and therefore we must have a modern constitution that details the issues you portray.

  • Richard Underhill. 6th Oct '19 - 11:14am

    Rob Cannon 27th Sep ’19 – 4:56pm Yes. Hopefully Alliance would win two or more seats.
    Blessed are the peacemakers.

  • Richard Underhill. 6th Oct '19 - 11:16am

    Antony Hook MEP has sent a STOP BREXIT button to the BBC which featured on the regional political programme after the Andrew Marr Show.

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