Sunday, May 9, 2010

Poignant Letter

And speaking of British politics, I enjoyed this short but poignant letter that appeared in the Guardian newspaper:

"I should like to check a couple of things in the British Constitution. Where can I buy a copy?"

American constitutional law is hard enough, but at least the Constitution consists of a text that anyone can read. Britain's "constitution" consists of an ill-defined set of important statutes plus an even less well defined set of traditions.

Some work is in progress to provide Britain with a written Constitution -- and I am proud to tell you that this project was announced in a speech at George Washington University by Jack Straw, Britain's Justice Secretary, when he was here a couple of years ago -- but at the moment there is of course nowhere to "buy a copy" of the British Constitution.

It must make things tough when things like a hung Parliament arise. The previous Prime Minister, Gordon Brown (who apparently is still Prime Minster, at least for now), initially insisted that the rule for that situation was that he had the first opportunity to form a new government, but David Cameron (leader of the Conservatives, who got the most seats) thought that it was his prerogative. The matter was effectively decided by Nick Clegg, leader of the third-party Liberal Democrats, who agreed with Cameron.

Of course, we have plenty of doubtful points arising under our written Constitution too. But at least we know what the Constitution is, even if we don't always know what it means.

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