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Priscilla
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PostSubject: Constitutions- mmmmm   Tue 30 Oct 2018, 17:28

Discussed oft here, i know, with nord's view often aired. The brits may not have a single charter but use an ever tightening yet flexible net of laws (statutes and a diversity of such titles) which seem to have served us reasonably well for a tad. I have lived in places where national constitutions have been abrogated and changed with ease - the entire safety clauses being felled at one chop. 
And organisations with whom I worked were, or so we thought when we wrote them water tight with safe guards for responsible future change in diverse situations. Twenty years on,however,  all  three have broken all the rules..... the top bods of one outfit now standing trial for misappropriation, I'm told. The other two having on to some shreds of integrity rather than disband.

The rigid structure of the USA constitution has problems with it's 'right to defend' clause and weapon ownership. There must be other instances worldwide. What is not mentioned often is a populations' boredom with endless pontification from the several sides of most issues; media pundits who know so much  are never hauled out when whatever they went on about takes a pratfall or is a success - unless they expedited it. The airing of views is healthy yet it is hard to know who to believe. Hence, I suppose, either disinterest or going along with a gut feeling; and those are often media driven. We are reasonably comfortable with the Law and processes in changing or making it work. Muddling through is what we often call it - and of course universally despised for that too...... which in turn mildly amuses us.  Time to get back in my box again, I suppose.
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PaulRyckier
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PostSubject: Re: Constitutions- mmmmm   Tue 30 Oct 2018, 23:12

Priscilla,

my first thoughts when reading your message...

yes constitutions aren't the alpha and omega of everything, but in my humble opinion they are an attempt to consider and separate the essential from the secondary. And this separation makes that there has to be at least a serious debate to change that specific essential "item". And as I mentioned to nordmann, not one vote above the half to win the poll and change that "item".
Not sure if you really need a constitution. Perhaps you can make a list of "essentials" that can be amended by a prescribed majority...but I don't see in what it then differs to a constitution...

But as you say about the rigid sacred American constitution about the weapon ownership, it can be not that easy altered. But that is just the goal, purpose of a constitution. And that "weapon" liturgy could be in another country already long changed, but in America there are specificities: a strong weapon lobby, which as the word lobby says, interferes in politics with huge ammounts of money and yes as I mentioned the word liturgy it is nearly a religion among the adepts, essentially ultraright Republicans "de souche" (white stock).
And they are inconvertable...I had a honest discussion on the BBC with an American, I still remember his name (nom de plume?):Alexander Crawford...and he used all kind of arguments even if I came with the naked statistics: comparison deaths Europe versus US in shooting incidents...and as ultimate argument he came with the Swiss pater famlias, who has also the right to carry weapons...
But this whole debate in the US about changing the constitution proves how serious a change of the constitution is considered...and if one day this weapon article would be changed it will certainly be after a long and elaborated debate among the general population and yes perhaps one needs in the specific situation of the US a considerable majority of the Democrats...but you never know that some Republicans...I was happily surprized by the Vietnam veteran, who died lately from brain cancer...

Kind regards from Paul.
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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: Constitutions- mmmmm   Wed 31 Oct 2018, 08:01




Didn't the Soviet Union have a written constitution that guaranteed freedom of speech? Or did that have an Orwellian amendment in the small print? And changes indeed do get made to constitutions. Peru went through five during the 20th century.

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PostSubject: Re: Constitutions- mmmmm   Wed 31 Oct 2018, 10:00

The argument that constitutions change in not really a justification for not having one. Of course constitutions change as do times change and the needs of any nation with it, so yes constitutions are indeed flexible.

The point is that changing a constitution is a serious undertaking, quite often by referendum and never taken lightly. It is an added protection of citizens rights, rather than just introducing laws willy nilly that very often only serve to contradict or confuse, rather than clarify.
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PostSubject: Re: Constitutions- mmmmm   Wed 31 Oct 2018, 10:21

Examples of contradiction and confusion would have helped, ID. Wlly nilly law making is not quite what happens here - the process often actually seems a damn sight too long but not being set in concrete  it does allow for tweaking later to get it right or to deal with a change in circumstances. However smart and wise they are who make constitutions and laws, double and unforeseen circumstances do occur. ..... such as the shooting of Presdents and so on, because ertain rights and laws are set in concrete. Paul says change may also be made to constitutions but only after considerable thought and  lengthy discussion ........ stalemate  too springs to mind on that one. Any government keeping afloat by ad hoclaw making soon flounders, we here do no quite do that as yet - even if we do appear to be flapping about in the bottom of the boat we've been doing it for quite a while and somehow seem to survive.; which makes us all the more annoying, I know.
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PostSubject: Re: Constitutions- mmmmm   Wed 31 Oct 2018, 12:11

I think you misunderstand my reason for pointing out Britain's lack of a written constitution, Priscilla. It doesn't "annoy" me in the slightest that members of a subject race speak like true subjects - that's their sovereign (literally) prerogative as citizens as much as any that may be conferred by a constitution, at least if they sincerely believe they benefit from its absence. What it also means however is that the dependency on often purely voluntary accountability within a nondescript and haphazardly appointed interaction between institutions of state and the laws (often ad hoc indeed) that these bring to be enacted on behalf of the sovereign's subjects is a fragile one indeed, the danger being that a false sense of security engendered by a (hardly justified) faith in always having "muddled through" in the past will mean walking straight into genuine trouble as a society should any one or more of those institutions prove unfit for purpose. And this is exactly what is happening now.

A good constitution is one that frames the bounds of legislation, not one that dictates through law, and which therefore serves its citizens as ultimate protection from their own stupidity. While things might "iron themselves out" in the end after having "muddled through" periods in which gross stupidity prevails, an intelligently worded constitution would at least have presented a fighting chance of nipping such stupidity in the bud, long before people had to suffer at all. To deny oneself and one's fellow citizens the ability to avoid unnecessary hardship seems a peculiarly hard-hearted and selfish decision in my book.
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PostSubject: Re: Constitutions- mmmmm   Wed 31 Oct 2018, 12:49

@Priscilla wrote:
Examples of contradiction and confusion would have helped, ID. Wlly nilly law making is not quite what happens here - the process often actually seems a damn sight too long but not being set in concrete  it does allow for tweaking later to get it right or to deal with a change in circumstances.

Well, the legal changes involved in Brexit seems to be full of contradiction and confusion.

By the French constitution such an issue as fundamental as changing the state's membership of the EU would require an amendment to the constitution (indeed the majority of amendments of the past few decades have all been about such international treaty issues).

The constitution itself states clearly how one should go about amending the constitution. It can only be initiated by the President, and the form of the question has to be agreed by both houses of parliament: the Senate and the National Assembly. The question must be in such a form as to be either yes or no (so no more than one question/option) and the full meaning of what is involved in that simple question must be thoroughly explained. "Should France leave the EU" would not be acceptable as a question until it was clearly explained and understood what leaving meant ... ie what necessarily would follow from "leaving"  (ie it would have to be clearly stated what the leave option meant in terms of all other related international agreements such as the Open skies agreements for air traffic, Euroatom, Interpol etc, etc, etc.). Therefore one cannot have a change to the French constitution (such as EU membership) which is somehow dependent on subsequent negotiation. This is exactly the UK's current difficuly (to put it very mildly!) of still trying to decide what "leaving the EU" actually means, what bit of EU agreements it would like - and be permitted - to retain, and generally how it intends to square the circle and deliver what the simplistic referendum question asked, when it has never been agreed from the very beginning what "leaving" actually meant. Accordingly under the UK's method of muddling through, it would appear that the details of the major "constitutional change" that is brexit are now being decided soley by a divided Government who do not command a majority in Parliament, never got a real mandate from the population, and are demonstrably not following "the will of the people", whatever that might actually be. Nevertheless under the UK system their actions are entirely legal and constitutional.

Under the French Constitution once the exact wording (and all implications) of the proposed amendment question are agreed by both the National Assembly and the Senate, then, to get the amendment enacted requires either a three-fifths majority in both houses, or a national referendum. The referendum need only be a simple majority but the full implications must be known and stated.

One could propose a question like "should France leave the EU" as an advisory referendum question as the full implications might not be completely undertood or require some degree of consultation with other sovereign states (as the UK is only now fully realising to its chagrin) but it would of necessity have to be very clearly stated up front as advisory only, and of necessity requiring a second or more referenda to effect actual constitutional change only if the government had explored the issue further and decided to proceed.

So having a codified constitution lays down clearly and unambiguously what is required to effect major changes. Accordingly it is not something that can be done willy-nilly or on a whim (like brexit) but requires considerable work to have been done to get it right and get the population's informed consent. But it need not be a slow process; as I say the Constitution of the Fith Republic has been amended twenty-four times since 1958, when the current constitution came into effect.


Last edited by Meles meles on Wed 31 Oct 2018, 14:07; edited 5 times in total (Reason for editing : date of current constitution)
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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: Constitutions- mmmmm   Wed 31 Oct 2018, 12:53

"Dictates through law" - what a disturbing phrase. This is probably not at all relevant, but the following immediately came into my head when I read that:

A Man for All Seasons (1960)

Roper: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law!

More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

Roper: I'd cut down every law in England to do that!

More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you — where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast — man's laws, not God's — and if you cut them down — and you're just the man to do it — d'you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake.


I hate that word "stupidity": it is surely an unwise and hard-hearted thing to call anyone stupid. Ignorance is what we have to fight here - and there is a difference.
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PostSubject: Re: Constitutions- mmmmm   Wed 31 Oct 2018, 12:54

Crossed posts - haven't read above and I am so baffled by all this I wish I hadn't bothered sending mine.



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PostSubject: Re: Constitutions- mmmmm   Wed 31 Oct 2018, 18:03

Some Americans were surprised to learn that their First Amendment covered freedom of speech as affected by the Government.  They were surprised that YouTube as a private company had every right to boot Alex Jones (the Infowars man - not the lady on the One Show).  Sometimes by using their noggins people have managed (in the UK - and maybe in other countries too) to get round limits on freedom.  Earlier this year when discussing the "Very English Scandal" featuring the late Jeremy Thorpe MM mentioned that Auberon Waugh by standing for the Dog Lovers' Party and writing in Private Eye managed to make his thoughts known.


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PostSubject: Re: Constitutions- mmmmm   Wed 31 Oct 2018, 18:40

@Temperance wrote:
Crossed posts - haven't read above and I am so baffled by all this I wish I hadn't bothered sending mine.

But surely your 'Man for All Seasons' quote actually cuts to the very heart of the matter.

Most states' constitutions are concerned with defining, as succinctly as possible, the fundamental basis for the rights and responsibilities of their citizens. For example the current French constitution, in the preamble, clearly states in just a few words that France is a secular, democratic country deriving its sovereignty from the people, and states that the fundamental basis of the constitution is the Déclaration des Droits et l'Homme et du Citoyen de 1789 - that is the original document drawn up at the time of the establishment of the First Republic, which has just 17 succinct articles, none of which is longer than two sentences. The first three are:

Article I – Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions can be founded only on the common good.
Article II – The goal of any political association is the conservation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of man. These rights are liberty, property, safety and resistance against oppression.
Article III – The principle of any sovereignty resides essentially in the Nation. No body, no individual can exert authority which does not emanate expressly from it.


Compare that to the English Bill of Rights of 1689 which is more concerned about protectlng the rights of Parliament by defining what the monarch cannot do, than about defining and protecting what rights the people have. The first three articles of the English 1689 Act are:

Article I -  The pretended power of suspending the laws and dispensing with laws by regal authority without consent of Parliament is illegal.
Article II - The commission for ecclesiastical causes
[a royal body established by James II by which he controlled the Church of England] is illegal.
Article III - Levying taxes without Grant of Parliament is illegal.


I'm pretty sure the 1689 English Bill of Rights still largely stands in English law and is, along with the 1714 Act of Settlement, one of the bases for the sovereignty of the UK resting with Parliament rather than with the people. In effect as long as the British Parliament agrees amongst itself it can legally do whatever it likes regardless of the wishes of the British people. This point was made clearly by Lord Reid in 1969 (during a legal case):

"It is often said that it would be unconstitutional for the United Kingdom Parliament to do certain things, meaning that the moral, political and other reasons against doing them are so strong that most people would regard it as highly improper if Parliament did these things. But that does not mean that it is beyond the power of Parliament to do such things. If Parliament chose to do any of them, the courts would not hold the Act of Parliament invalid."


Last edited by Meles meles on Thu 01 Nov 2018, 17:21; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : crucial noun missing)
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PostSubject: Re: Constitutions- mmmmm   Wed 31 Oct 2018, 22:16

@nordmann wrote:
I think you misunderstand my reason for pointing out Britain's lack of a written constitution, Priscilla. It doesn't "annoy" me in the slightest that members of a subject race speak like true subjects - that's their sovereign (literally) prerogative as citizens as much as any that may be conferred by a constitution, at least if they sincerely believe they benefit from its absence. What it also means however is that the dependency on often purely voluntary accountability within a nondescript and haphazardly appointed interaction between institutions of state and the laws (often ad hoc indeed) that these bring to be enacted on behalf of the sovereign's subjects is a fragile one indeed, the danger being that a false sense of security engendered by a (hardly justified) faith in always having "muddled through" in the past will mean walking straight into genuine trouble as a society should any one or more of those institutions prove unfit for purpose. And this is exactly what is happening now.

A good constitution is one that frames the bounds of legislation, not one that dictates through law, and which therefore serves its citizens as ultimate protection from their own stupidity. While things might "iron themselves out" in the end after having "muddled through" periods in which gross stupidity prevails, an intelligently worded constitution would at least have presented a fighting chance of nipping such stupidity in the bud, long before people had to suffer at all. To deny oneself and one's fellow citizens the ability to avoid unnecessary hardship seems a peculiarly hard-hearted and selfish decision in my book.

nordmann,

"A good constitution is one that frames the bounds of legislation"

I wanted to say the same: a constitution is the frame within which the laws can be voted by the parliament.  I find that the Dutch and German words say it more than the French/English "constitution": "grondwet", "Grundgesetz" (basic, fundamental law)

Kind regards, Paul.
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PostSubject: Re: Constitutions- mmmmm   Wed 31 Oct 2018, 23:07

@Meles meles wrote:
@Priscilla wrote:
Examples of contradiction and confusion would have helped, ID. Wlly nilly law making is not quite what happens here - the process often actually seems a damn sight too long but not being set in concrete  it does allow for tweaking later to get it right or to deal with a change in circumstances.

Well, the legal changes involved in Brexit seems to be full of contradiction and confusion.

By the French constitution such an issue as fundamental as changing the state's membership of the EU would require an amendment to the constitution (indeed the majority of amendments of the past few decades have all been about such international treaty issues).

The constitution itself states clearly how one should go about amending the constitution. It can only be initiated by the President, and the form of the question has to be agreed by both houses of parliament: the Senate and the National Assembly. The question must be in such a form as to be either yes or no (so no more than one question/option) and the full meaning of what is involved in that simple question must be thoroughly explained. "Should France leave the EU" would not be acceptable as a question until it was clearly explained and understood what leaving meant ... ie what necessarily would follow from "leaving"  (ie it would have to be clearly stated what the leave option meant in terms of all other related international agreements such as the Open skies agreements for air traffic, Euroatom, Interpol etc, etc, etc.). Therefore one cannot have a change to the French constitution (such as EU membership) which is somehow dependent on subsequent negotiation. This is exactly the UK's current difficuly (to put it very mildly!) of still trying to decide what "leaving the EU" actually means, what bit of EU agreements it would like - and be permitted - to retain, and generally how it intends to square the circle and deliver what the simplistic referendum question asked, when it has never been agreed from the very beginning what "leaving" actually meant. Accordingly under the UK's method of muddling through, it would appear that the details of the major "constitutional change" that is brexit are now being decided soley by a divided Government who do not command a majority in Parliament, never got a real mandate from the population, and are demonstrably not following "the will of the people", whatever that might actually be. Nevertheless under the UK system their actions are entirely legal and constitutional.

Under the French Constitution once the exact wording (and all implications) of the proposed amendment question are agreed by both the National Assembly and the Senate, then, to get the amendment enacted requires either a three-fifths majority in both houses, or a national referendum. The referendum need only be a simple majority but the full implications must be known and stated.

One could propose a question like "should France leave the EU" as an advisory referendum question as the full implications might not be completely undertood or require some degree of consultation with other sovereign states (as the UK is only now fully realising to its chagrin) but it would of necessity have to be very clearly stated up front as advisory only, and of necessity requiring a second or more referenda to effect actual constitutional change only if the government had explored the issue further and decided to proceed.

So having a codified constitution lays down clearly and unambiguously what is required to effect major changes. Accordingly it is not something that can be done willy-nilly or on a whim (like brexit) but requires considerable work to have been done to get it right and get the population's informed consent. But it need not be a slow process; as I say the Constitution of the Fith Republic has been amended twenty-four times since 1958, when the current constitution came into effect.


Meles meles,

I just read about the procedure for a revision of the Belgian contitution. And I see it is a bit the same way as in France.
https://www.dekamer.be/kvvcr/pdf_sections/pri/fiche/nl_04_00.pdf
I learned now that the proposition! to change an article of the constitution has to be done by the Chamber and the Senate by a normal majority, but they have also to have the consensus of the king, and of that I was not aware of. (perhaps the king is in this case the equivalent of the French president Wink ?)

But we need a double majority in both houses, 2/3 in each and in each a presence of 2/3. Then the parliament is dissolved and there are new polls and the new parliament is a "constitutional one".  But we have no binding referendum, only an advisory one.

Kind regards from Paul.
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PostSubject: Re: Constitutions- mmmmm   Thu 01 Nov 2018, 09:03

I lost a post - just me thinking aloud really (as can be my wont).  When I was in London I went to Speakers' Corner a few times - it could be fun!  Then somebody in Parliament used his Parliamentary privilege to name a certain businessman recently.  Sometimes (concerning a story which has been "sat on") it just takes one person to have courage.  Richard Ingrams of The Oldie ran the story about one J Savile Esq (though even that wasn't until after JS' death) and the next thing the story was all over the media.  That's not quite the same thing as having a written constitution I realise.
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PostSubject: Re: Constitutions- mmmmm   Thu 01 Nov 2018, 16:24

Not much on the subject of this thread but just to say I'm glad to see Priscilla taking part in the board again.
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PostSubject: Re: Constitutions- mmmmm   Thu 01 Nov 2018, 17:21

@Meles meles wrote:
@Temperance wrote:
Crossed posts - haven't read above and I am so baffled by all this I wish I hadn't bothered sending mine.

But surely your 'Man for All Seasons' quote actually cuts to the very heart of the matter...



...I'm pretty sure the 1689 English Bill of Rights still largely stands in English law and is, along with the 1714 Act of Settlement, one of the bases for the sovereignty of the UK resting with Parliament rather than with the people. In effect as long as the British Parliament agrees amongst itself it can legally do whatever it likes regardless of the wishes of the British people. This point was made clearly by Lord Reid in 1969 (during a legal case):

"It is often said that it would be unconstitutional for the United Kingdom Parliament to do certain things, meaning that the moral, political and other reasons against doing them are so strong that most people would regard it as highly improper if Parliament did these things. But that does not mean that it is beyond the power of Parliament to do such things. If Parliament chose to do any of them, the courts would not hold the Act of Parliament invalid."




But let us hope the British people would. We have had the odd protest now and again here - and political leaders who are deemed (like Blair) to have acted "improperly" get booted out.

More - far more than Thomas Cromwell - was a true Parliamentarian. His reference to "the Devil" in my Bolt quotation referred to the rise of a tyrant who could try to force Parliament to do his will. The rule of decent and fair law - as debated and encoded by members of a free Parliament - was what he believed in and what he died for - not religion.

The Reid quotation is nevertheless very interesting: most of those who propose codified UK constitutions appear to envisage constitutional supremacy as supplanting Parliament, with judges able to rule acts of Parliament incompatible with the constitution and strike them down.

But couldn't this also be dangerous: who judges the judges? More to the point, who controls the judges? Our Parliament - clunky, chaotic and antiquated as it may appear to outsiders - has surely proved itself a bulwark against the rise of a full-blown tyrant who could attempt to manipulate the judicial system. Our parliamentary system is not perfect - what system ever is? - but it has worked for us for a fair few years now. I do not believe that is because we are a submissive, stupid and servile nation.

The Reid quotation immediately made me think of that superb old film Judgement at Nuremberg, where American judge Daniel Haywood (played by Spencer Tracey) presided over the trial of German judges accused of "legalising" Nazi atrocities. It is a film worth watching. Isn't it true that all German judges had to swear an oath of allegiance to Hitler? The judge - Ernst Janning - found guilty in the film, is a fictional character: he comes across as a decent man who was just doing as he was told. The character of Janning was based on Nazi judge Oswald Rothaug, who was not such a decent (but simply "misguided") legal mind.



https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oswald_Rothaug



The Third Reich has been called a dual state, since the normal judicial system coexisted with the arbitrary power of Hitler and the police. Yet, like most areas of public life after the Nazi rise to power in 1933, the German system of justice underwent "coordination" (alignment with Nazi goals). All professional associations involved with the administration of justice were merged into the National Socialist League of German Jurists.




How complicated all this is. I do not pretend to understand the intricacies of articles such as the following; but I have read it with interest. However, I am not so sure that any form of "written" constitution can protect against the rise of a determined megalomaniac (that's why I posted the Animal Farm "constitution" above - the last item being "All animals are equal", the worthy aim that was famously amended to "All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others"): the nipping in the bud of such evil "devils" - the would-be tyrants - requires constant vigilance, a decent education system, and an unceasing fight against the political apathy and cynicism of ordinary people (as I think Paul has suggested elsewhere).


Centre for Political and Constitutional Studies
King’s College London
Codifying – or not codifying – the UK constitution:
A Literature Review
For the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee
February 2011
Dr. Andrew Blick
Senior Research Fellow

https://www.parliament.uk/pagefiles/56954/CPCS%20Literature%20Review%20%284%29.pdf[/i]
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PostSubject: Re: Constitutions- mmmmm   Thu 01 Nov 2018, 22:24

@Temperance wrote:

The Reid quotation is nevertheless very interesting: most of those who propose codified UK constitutions appear to envisage constitutional supremacy as supplanting Parliament, with judges able to rule acts of Parliament incompatible with the constitution and strike them down.

But couldn't this also be dangerous: who judges the judges? More to the point, who controls the judges? Our Parliament - clunky, chaotic and antiquated as it may appear to outsiders - has surely proved itself a bulwark against the rise of a full-blown tyrant who could attempt to manipulate the judicial system. Our parliamentary system is not perfect - what system ever is? - but it has worked for us for a fair few years now. I do not believe that is because we are a submissive, stupid and servile nation.

The Third Reich has been called a dual state, since the normal judicial system coexisted with the arbitrary power of Hitler and the police. Yet, like most areas of public life after the Nazi rise to power in 1933, the German system of justice underwent "coordination" (alignment with Nazi goals). All professional associations involved with the administration of justice were merged into the National Socialist League of German Jurists.



Temperance,

thank you for your observations and I think you pointed to the difficulties in the "trias". I first met the word, when doing research for a BBC debate I think about the US for the policies of checks and balances. I read then that the "trias politica" was about the separation of the powers, but in the wiki they seems to say that the trias is not exactly the separation. But in a quick research I didn't find a difference.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Separation_of_powers
I did lately a lot of research on the net, due to the fuss about the nomination of the judge of the supreme court in the US. And I wanted to say: where is now the separation of power? But to be honest had to constatate, when looking at Belgium it was the same...

"The Reid quotation is nevertheless very interesting: most of those who propose codified UK constitutions appear to envisage constitutional supremacy as supplanting Parliament, with judges able to rule acts of Parliament incompatible with the constitution and strike them down."

Not that easy as I read it for Belgium:

I give it in Dutch as if you make some questions I then can answer them directly from the text (and at least the Dutch born Dirk Marinus can read it)
https://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raad_van_State_(Belgi%C3%AB)
The council of state checks the proposed laws against the constitution and publish this in an arrest. Then there can be a new adapted proposal, which fits with the constitution, but that can't go on forever. I suppose the next step would be; if there is a majority in the parliament, as described in my former message, to make an amendement to an article of the constitution, so that the proposal can fit with the constitution. But as MM mentioned that is a long process, taking at least one legislature if not two (in our case 8 years)

"But couldn't this also be dangerous: who judges the judges? More to the point, who controls the judges? Our Parliament - clunky, chaotic and antiquated as it may appear to outsiders - has surely proved itself a bulwark against the rise of a full-blown tyrant who could attempt to manipulate the judicial system. Our parliamentary system is not perfect - what system ever is? - but it has worked for us for a fair few years now. I do not believe that is because we are a submissive, stupid and servile nation."

"who controls the judges"
There you are right to point to, Temperance,  but I am not sure if it is not the same question for every country even with separation of the three powers.

But in a democratic power you have also the free press to criticize the abuse of one of the powers. Some call it the fourth power and I think it is therefore that Trump is so angry to the press. But of course there have to be a free press and not one controled by the executive branch as I suppose is the case in Russia under Putin and perhaps also under the Erdogan Turkey (I don't speak about the worser ones, who have nothing to do with democracy anymore)

"The Third Reich has been called a dual state, since the normal judicial system coexisted with the arbitrary power of Hitler and the police. Yet, like most areas of public life after the Nazi rise to power in 1933, the German system of justice underwent "coordination" (alignment with Nazi goals). All professional associations involved with the administration of justice were merged into the National Socialist League of German Jurists."

In the last sixteen years I did a lot of research on different fora for the question: "How came Htiler to power?" (I mean legally)
And yes I always wanted to do research about that "dual system" that you mentioned.
But it is always a matter of time to do it, even not going to the local library anymore for research, always on the internet, and it is not too reliable as nordmann said, only in the most important parts of a discussion I would go to the library for a work that I found on internet. (not buying books anymore). But nevertheless Temperance, I find my time spent overhere not useless, especially since you have joined the ranks again (jij hebt vervoegd de rangen terug)...

Kind regards from Paul.
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PostSubject: Re: Constitutions- mmmmm   Fri 02 Nov 2018, 05:58

@Temperance wrote:


But let us hope the British people would. We have had the odd protest now and again here - and political leaders who are deemed (like Blair) to have acted "improperly" get booted out.

More - far more than Thomas Cromwell - was a true Parliamentarian. His reference to "the Devil" in my Bolt quotation referred to the rise of a tyrant who could try to force Parliament to do his will. The rule of decent and fair law - as debated and encoded by members of a free Parliament - was what he believed in and what he died for - not religion.

The Reid quotation is nevertheless very interesting: most of those who propose codified UK constitutions appear to envisage constitutional supremacy as supplanting Parliament, with judges able to rule acts of Parliament incompatible with the constitution and strike them down.

But couldn't this also be dangerous: who judges the judges? More to the point, who controls the judges? Our Parliament - clunky, chaotic and antiquated as it may appear to outsiders - has surely proved itself a bulwark against the rise of a full-blown tyrant who could attempt to manipulate the judicial system. Our parliamentary system is not perfect - what system ever is? - but it has worked for us for a fair few years now. I do not believe that is because we are a submissive, stupid and servile nation.

 How complicated all this is. I do not pretend to understand the intricacies of articles such as the following; but I have read it with interest. However, I am not so sure that any form of "written" constitution can protect against the rise of a determined megalomaniac (that's why I posted the Animal Farm "constitution" above - the last item being "All animals are equal", the worthy aim that was famously amended to "All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others"): the nipping in the bud of such evil "devils" - the would-be tyrants - requires constant vigilance, a decent education system, and an unceasing fight against the political apathy and cynicism of ordinary people (as I think Paul has suggested elsewhere).




Blair was elected for 3 terms, it took a while to 'boot him out' even after it became obvious what he had done. And even then, I seem to remember, he wasn't booted out. He handed the reins over to Brown, no?

I don't see how there can be such thing as constitutional supremacy that supplants parliament, when it is the lawmakers of parliament that will write any constitution. As has already been pointed out, a constitution is merely the framework under which a nation is governed, in which laws are made or indeed, unmade.

Entering really dangerous territory if someone is controlling judges. Judges are not supposed to be controlled, they are supposed to be independent, or May would have completely bypassed of parliament with those pesky Henry VIII powers. Now there is a very dangerous thing to have hanging around on the law books and no constitution to protect the sovereignty of parliament from the tyrants.

But isn't this what Britain is undergoing now? Are not we witnessing the minority determined megalomaniacs rule the majority and forcing their will on a population? Where is the nipping in the bud from constant vigilance? An education system that has allowed the likes of the Bullingdon Club, Eton and the system of old boys, an education system that has allowed a full half of the population to be ignorant of their own history and governance, little on that of the EU, has generated plenty of political apathy and cynicism in the ordinary people.

The current system may have been adequate in the past and allowed for muddling through but the past is long gone, and it is proving entirely inadequate to navigate the present, little on the future. But your real argument is not against a written constitution Temp, rather it is against change but change is about to slap the UK in the face big time, will the Union as it stands now be up for the challenge? I think not.
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PostSubject: Re: Constitutions- mmmmm   Fri 02 Nov 2018, 10:29

Not quite relevant but I am curious about your knowledge of our teaching of History here. The latest tome my grandson was using was an excellent production prompting thoughtful discussion as well as engendering opinion from many standpoints One of our problems is having rather a lot of interesting History to cover so it of tends to becomes patchwork; lucky USA children have a bit less. I have no idea about what Australia selects. Then there is too the  increasing breadth of other knowledge that we want our young to have so some subjects are pushed aside or selective.

Not that any of that ought be used to excuse  the widespread ignorance that Temps mentioned earlier  - some sections of our society appear to memory box only a bilge of facts that serve them well in pub quizzes. The wretched Bullingdon Club for all their parallel excesses albeit in different swig houses do seem to have taken up subjects which imply a jot of interest in history and even politics such as Classics, History and Economics. This of course ID calls over privileged education but such courses are possible from most comprehensives - in another post she also called one such bete noir to her as being over bred....... I find that an offensive term partly because its opposite is an even more appalling concept ..... could anyone ever be deemed under bred? 
But that is all by the by. Gong into the EU fully was a huge change for us for which we were unprepared - that was the time when explanation was lacking. Leaving it possibly people thought that we would zing back to what it was like before. Some of us knew it would not and voted to remain. ... as did Mrs May and good old Bullingdon boy Cameron ..... who resigned because he had not presented his case well enough.

Brexit guff belongs in another thread. But I have not quite done with thoughts on Constitutions however, with no old boy system running our house I had better make an effort here for a bit.
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PostSubject: Re: Constitutions- mmmmm   Fri 02 Nov 2018, 13:26

The notion that a constitution is deemed a failure if it fails to prevent a president from being assassinated betrays a rather strange idea of what a constitution actually is designed to achieve. As does the fear that a written constitution assigns by design supreme and unchecked power to a supreme court. Both ideas, voiced by people who in all other respects I would regard as intelligent, simply serve to further confirm what I already suspect regarding "normal" Britons' grasp of the concept of constitutionality and its actual role in social organisation.

Robin Butler was head of Britain's Civil Service as well as Secretary to the Cabinet during the terms of several governments, and was therefore arguably the most powerful (and unelected) individual in "democratic" Britain for many years. He was asked by a law student once what exactly "the constitution" in Britain actually was, to which he replied "it's what we make up as we go along", By "we" of course he wasn't referring to the British electorate.

But while this glib, if honest, admission of the extent to which the UK's actual power brokers regard the notion of constitutional restraint may have been a subject of general wry merriment in the past, at least as long as those who "made it up as they went along" more often than not delivered an acceptably flawed version of democracy as practiced by less unrestrained regimes, the underlying arrogance behind the remark of this one-time Harrow "head boy" and present Baron Butler of Brockwell is exactly the same as assumed by Cameron when he, in his turn, misguidedly assumed that in a land where a "pretend" constitution applies to which the "majority" accedes then a "pretend" referendum would also simply deliver what this class expects is its due - with the "bonus" of having appeared to have been delivered by the "people" themselves, and therefore even rubber-stamp his own self-delusional opinion of himself as a popular, populist, democratic politician, and even one of the "people" himself (a delusion his once stated support for West Aston Ham Villa United also rather pathetically demonstrated).

One country's constitution can't be foisted on another of course but - purely for argument's sake - it is worth imagining how the whole Brexit thing might have played out had the UK been restrained by a constitution such as exists in Ireland. For a start Britain could not even have joined the then EEC in the manner it did, and might in fact never have - Heath signing the Accession Treaty would not have had any legal status at all until, as in Ireland and Denmark at the same time, it was then ratified by the people. In Ireland's case this also meant a constitutional amendment was required (ie. a referendum), as without this no future Irish government could even have representatives sit in any European Community debating chamber or civil servants employed in any functional capacity except as non-participating observers, their executive authority to represent the citizens of their country having first to be conferred by those same citizens. Had Heath and Wilson been presented with the same requirement one wonders if, in 1972, Britons actually would have endorsed ratification at all.

But accession would have been the simple bit anyway, even if it had passed ratification. Secession, as in Brexit, would also have to have been negotiated within constitutional restraints. In Ireland this would have meant not one referendum, but two - or maybe even more. Firstly the original 1972 amendment would require to be amended again within the constitution by popular vote - without this then any attempt to prepare legislation governing an exit would be unconstitutional and never legal. The new amendment, while continuing to confer executive authority to officials and politicians would also have to include provision for a plebiscite to arbitrarily end such conferral through a popular vote later. Once this had been done then the ball would be back in the court of the exit agitators to formulate and present their strategy for how to exit. This would then have to be referred to the supreme court - not because they run everything, but because they must decide if the exit strategy presented did not in itself compromise or break other articles of the constitution. Had such an exit strategy ignored the question of what impact it might have on the British border in Ireland, for example, it would have found itself in breach of at least two articles of the present constitution guaranteeing this border's present status until such time as it might be changed (again by referendum) at a later point in time.

Had the strategy however been deemed constitutional then the onus would still be on its proponents to present it to the voters in a manner that required only a "yes" or "no" answer (the bit that Cameron & Co really tried to mimic and made such a pig's ear of). The most logical way to do this is to publish a detailed plan, just as with any treaty requiring ratification for example, and to ask for its endorsement by the electorate. If the electorate liked the plan and wanted to leave the EU then they would return a majority "yes" vote, after which the campaigners would be constitutionally required to stick to it. Should something unforeseen crop up that ruined or changed the plan, then it's back to the drawing board, including supreme court review, and so the process goes through the motions again.

More importantly, if the majority didn't like the plan, but were still broadly supportive of the idea of ultimate secession, they could vote "no" and send it back to the campaigners for another stab at things - the one crucial element missing from the choices presented to the unfortunate British electorate.

Britons, who in the past tended to laugh derisively at such convoluted and tortuous processes just to get one bit of legislation enacted, have just had a rather extreme and potentially catastrophic taste of what the alternative actually is. While written constitutions - depending on their design - may insinuate themselves rather fundamentally into the democratic process on occasion, the better ones tend to do so for very good reason. Really robust ones, like the Irish one, even survive misguided attempts to mutilate them and weaken their political functionality. The ridiculous inclusion of an anti-abortion clause back in the 1980s was the most serious threat to the document's validity since its inception. And though one may laugh at the Irish for having to vote in referendums "every second week" (as I heard on the BBC news), one of those trips to the polling booth in recent years deftly and emphatically removed that clause categorically from the constitution, while others removed unrealistic territorial claims on the Six Counties, a cruel and equally unrealistic ban on people dissolving their marriages, an extension of the marriage concept to include everyone who so wants to formalise their relationship, and - lest it also be forgotten - two important revisions of proposed EU treaties which were not to the taste of Irish people who, like their British counterparts, are wary of over-reaching EU ambition to govern Europe as a single state. However unlike the British the Irish at least, thanks to their written constitutional rights and the procedures for decision-making enshrined in it, could employ that constitution to register their distrust and change the EU's direction in a manner acceptable to both sides. Compared to the joke of a "referendum" as designed by people who "make the constitution up as they go along" I know in which system I would feel most secure, and which is in fact the more intelligent.

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PostSubject: Re: Constitutions- mmmmm   Fri 02 Nov 2018, 19:05

I never claimed intelligence for our system - or my own understanding of it,come to that. I might plough through that lot which seems to be an expansion of things said earlier.To expand my own thoughts a bit, just  observations really,it seems that  countries with constitutions that seem to work - not all do - had them drawn up following some cataclysmic change in their circumstances such as war (invasion and civil) becoming independent from a colonial rule and/or partition as well. Britain has not been through much of this. Magna Carta attempted to sort out KIngships, ..... and one later on got a head chop for going toi far - and rule was slowly fudged ogether to suit circumstances.

Invaders over ride constitutions, oppressive party hegemony does also and then there is martial law. The later may well have been contained by a constitution but they happen.And it is not easy to stand up against them when the guns are out. Ever lived in one of those? I have and more than once.
So they are set up to ensure that procedures are easy transparent and whatever perfection is required.All I have been saying is that our rules and regs may be in assorted documents but they often are updated, and seem to work for us.

The 25 amendments that MM mentioned re the French - apart from Treaties and colonial stuff appers to trying to get the referendum process sorted. We don't have many Mr Blair promised several but did not deliver.Hindsight is ever clear - and distance from it appears to make the view even clearer about what we should and shouldn't do and how we do it and if we get it right or wrong or if - shock horror -  get the wrong result in some eyes. So we end up with a mess very likely..... ground opinion likens it to the evacuation of Dunkirk. God forbid that w have to help other less than gruntled countries from leaving too. 
There - see? I did not claim an intelligent approach to this matter just a faint understanding of the people I live among along with the fear I have had at times living abroad where constitutions fell in moments  and  also of being born of the area that supplied many little ships when needed - being old enough to understand at that time of the mess we were in then. May be we will never again have the strength  I saw garnered at that time (not from films chaps, I was raised in it)
Perhaps a constitution will grow from it - in the breaking eggs to make an omelet manner others got theirs.  Which brings me to be even less intelligent about what we'll eat tonight.
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PostSubject: Re: Constitutions- mmmmm   Sat 03 Nov 2018, 09:23

Oi, who you calling "normal", mate?

Lord Butler was apparently the inspiration for Sir Humphrey Appleby, a character whom, along with most of my fellow stupid and servile Brits, I loved. Lord Butler did indeed go to Harrow and Oxford - got a Double First in Mods and Greats, the slimy rat; but his roots were not aristocratic: his mum's family ran a paint factory somewhere dismal up North.

Let us remind ourselves of the great mind we have lost: here Sir Humphrey explains (twice) the UK's relationship with our European friends and former enemies - not quite sure who's who now, to be honest:

Sir Hmphrey Explains All

Sir Humphrey Explains All Again






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PostSubject: Re: Constitutions- mmmmm   Sat 03 Nov 2018, 10:07

Actually Sir Humphrey reminds me of nordmann - that brilliant flow of bewildering ideas, interspersed with studied insult - all leaves you thinking, "Gosh, could he be right - am I stupid?"

But that way madness lies, so I'm going to Morrison's (not Waitrose, even though I did vote "Remain"): I may be gone some time.

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/oct/22/waitrose-is-on-the-march-against-brexit-but-what-of-lidl-britain


Taking part in Saturday’s huge demonstration (People’s Vote: Call to harness energy of march to lobby MPs, 22 October) was exciting and uplifting, if a bit monocultural, as if the entire clientele of Waitrose had gathered on Park Lane. But its emphatic pro-EU stance made the campaign look like a vast consolation hug for disappointed remainers, which opponents can too easily write off as just another attempt to subvert the referendum result.


Last edited by Temperance on Sat 03 Nov 2018, 10:45; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : I didn't close my inverted commas - feel really stupid now.)
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PostSubject: Re: Constitutions- mmmmm   Sat 03 Nov 2018, 10:20

@Temperance wrote:
Taking part in Saturday’s huge demonstration ... was exciting and uplifting, if a bit monocultural, as if the entire clientele of Waitrose had gathered on Park Lane.

Yes indeed, it does seem to have mostly comprised middle class Guardian readers:

The Guardian: I'm in a pub, having a pint - aren't marches great?

As popular demonstrations go it wasn't quite in the same league as the storming of the Bastille or the march on the Winter Palace, and the 'steps' referred to certainly weren't akin to the Odessa ones:

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PostSubject: Re: Constitutions- mmmmm   Sat 03 Nov 2018, 10:37

No, we are not terribly good at demonstrations and drama here, are we? We do tend to opt for a cup of tea and a biscuit instead.

Mind you, Peterloo was pretty grim. Mike Leigh has done a new film about Peterloo which I'm looking forward to seeing. I like Mike Leigh - excellent writer and director.
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PostSubject: Re: Constitutions- mmmmm   Sat 03 Nov 2018, 11:17

@Meles meles wrote:
@Temperance wrote:
Taking part in Saturday’s huge demonstration ... was exciting and uplifting, if a bit monocultural, as if the entire clientele of Waitrose had gathered on Park Lane.

Yes indeed, it does seem to have mostly comprised middle class Guardian readers:

The Guardian: I'm in a pub, having a pint - aren't marches great?




I enjoyed that article - thank you for posting it. Chelsea had scored, by the way.

...but I am a strong Remoaner, in the sense that if Brexit is somehow averted, I will miss complaining about it. I fear the march will be attended by too many people like me; people who can sometimes come across as smug because we’re always right about everything.   Very Happy  



Right, really must go to Morrison's now. I shan't buy any of that nasty French cheese - Somerset produces a perfectly adequate British Brie, and I think you can also get a fairly decent English Camembert now. Not sure about English French bread though - or our attempts at wine-making.

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PostSubject: Re: Constitutions- mmmmm   Sat 03 Nov 2018, 13:38

@Temperance wrote:
that brilliant flow of bewildering ideas, interspersed with studied insult

I don’t see how pointing out the facts of the UK’s constitutional set-up can be construed as being a ‘studied insult’. The truth may be uncomfortable to hear but that’s not the fault of the messenger surely.

It’s not just a state, of course, which can have a constitution. The British Labour Party has a constitution which marks its 100th anniversary this year. That document has gone through so many changes over the intervening years as to be almost unrecognisable. What was called the party’s ‘New Constitution’ in 1918 is today called its ‘Rule Book’ with the ‘constitution’ now relegated to forming only one part of those rules. That in itself tells a story.

Tracing the history of the Labour Party reveals a fascinating struggle between 4 main elements - the membership, the conference, the national executive committee and the parliamentary Labour Party. A good read on this issue is Brian Brivati’s The Labour Party: A Centenary History (2000) written to mark the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Labour Representation Committee. Needless to say even that book has dated somewhat with the subsequent interventions of Ed Millband and Jeremy Corbyn significantly changing the relationship between the party’s elements. And just as the UK has failed to prosecute Anthony Blair for violations of international law and indictable war crimes (he wasn’t impeached when he was prime minister and nor has he been summoned to the bar of the House of Commons subsequently), more tellingly however, neither has the Labour Party (despite its ‘Rule Book’) taking a lead in this itself.
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PostSubject: Re: Constitutions- mmmmm   Sat 03 Nov 2018, 14:03

@Vizzer wrote:
@Temperance wrote:that brilliant flow of bewildering ideas, interspersed with studied insult

I don’t see how pointing out the facts of the UK’s constitutional set-up can be construed as being a ‘studied insult’. The truth may be uncomfortable to hear but that’s not the fault of the messenger surely.

Absolutely not, but perhaps suggesting that people who try to take part in an interesting exchange of ideas here are offering utterly stupid comments - even if it is conceded that the lack of brains/understanding/thought displayed on this thread is an aberration from a usual level of intelligence shown (yes, I did pass my 11-plus, nordmann) - is not encouraging.

I think a distinct huff is coming on. No one likes to feel as though she's coming across as Res His's answer to Philomena Cunk.

The Labour Party: A Centenary History (2000) - sounds as much fun as my book on Saint Paul. pale
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PostSubject: Re: Constitutions- mmmmm   Sat 03 Nov 2018, 15:15

@Temperance wrote:
suggesting that people who try to take part in an interesting exchange of ideas here are offering utterly stupid comments

I don’t recognise that characterisation nor share that interpretation. The use of the word 'stupidity' was not aimed at posters here. What nordmann wrote was ‘A good constitution is one that frames the bounds of legislation, not one that dictates through law, and which therefore serves its citizens as ultimate protection from their own stupidity.’ That strikes me as an eminently sensible comment. We are all capable of acting stupidly either as individuals or in groups.

@Temperance wrote:
The Labour Party: A Centenary History (2000) - sounds as much fun as my book on Saint Paul. pale

Brian Brivati does indeed deal with unpromising material but isn’t that the test of a good historian and writer. His books are always very readable. For example he gives a detailed account of the resignation of Foreign Secretary George Brown in 1968. Brown ‘drunk, tired and emotional’ in the middle of the night proceeded to engage Prime Minister Harold Wilson in a stand-up shouting match in front of other cabinet members. Brivati manages to describe this scene in a way which is both hilarious and touching in equal measure. Needless to say that Wilson won this encounter and Brown left never to return to cabinet. An historical flounce and huff if ever there was one. Very Happy
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PostSubject: Re: Constitutions- mmmmm   Sat 03 Nov 2018, 15:31

A bit tangential but I've sometimes said "George Brown" when I have meant "Gordon Brown" (that ages me).  I'll have to put that book on my library list.

Actually not too long ago I misconstrued something nordmann said when using the impersonal "you" and I thought it was aimed at me, though not nastily.  nordmann is not above having a go at "leg pulling" (figuratively) on occasion.
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PostSubject: Re: Constitutions- mmmmm   Sat 03 Nov 2018, 16:04

@Vizzer wrote:
We are all capable of acting stupidly either as individuals or in groups.

We all certainly are.

Stupidity - lack of intelligence - was a reference made not just to us Islanders in general, but to comments made by Priscilla and by myself re American presidents and powers of supreme courts.

The point I was trying so ineffectually to make somewhere upthread is that constitutions - however worthy and well-intentioned - and ancient procedures - however proven in the past to be effective -  or whatever - count for nothing in a country when a true megalomaniac leader plays on what Jung calls the "collective shadow" - those negative group projections that history has shown can have devastating consequences for millions. That's why I mentioned vigilance. I stand by what I said.

But vigilance in general can indeed be "uncomfortable", especially when it comes to our own prejudices - individual or national. Denial, on the other hand, is all about feeling comfortable. I am aware of that. The late psychiatrist, R.D. Laing, poetically describes the human propensity for the denial reflex thus:

The range of what we think and do
is limited by what we fail to notice.
And because we fail to notice
there is little we can do
to change
until we notice
how failing to notice
shapes our thoughts and deeds.


But I rabbit/ramble on as ever, no doubt displaying my woeful inability to understand anything nordmann or anyone else is saying, coupled with a complete disregard for the topic title. I shall shut up and prepare to enjoy this week's circus offering to our desperate nation. "Strictly" - to be watched whilst enjoying French bread, French cheese (decided against Somerset Brie) and Chateauneuf-du-Pape - is on later. A welcome distraction for us all here in our blessed plot.

French bread and English circuses - a good combination.

PS Nothing like a bit of hurt pride for bringing on a massive huff.

PPS Pleas read the posts again: I don't think I imagined the comments, or their inference...


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PostSubject: Re: Constitutions- mmmmm   Sun 04 Nov 2018, 04:02

I do think you have imagined it Temp. The comments are in the collective and there is nothing personal in them at all.
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PostSubject: Re: Constitutions- mmmmm   Sun 04 Nov 2018, 10:25

@Islanddawn wrote:
I do think you have imagined it Temp. The comments are in the collective and there is nothing personal in them at all.



Perhaps, ID, perhaps.

But even if comments about "intelligence" were both collective and personal, I also understand that responses here - my own as much as anyone else's - can be made in exasperation, not malice. We all have our triggers and buttons.



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PostSubject: Re: Constitutions- mmmmm   Mon 05 Nov 2018, 10:07

I am increasingly sorry for intelligent people in modern society - the tendency to be governed by people less intelligent has always been a constantly worrisome feature of one's existence if one has even an ounce of common sense, but now what has been added to the equation is huge social pressure to feel marginalised if one is intelligent, to renounce or disguise one's intelligence, and to accept some inalienable "right" imposed by the less intelligent that it is not only now totally acceptable to be dumb, but since dumbness is a quality shared by the majority it is now the only mentality that has the right to be expressed, privately in interpersonal communication, publicly in general discourse, and (most sinisterly of all) in matters of governance.

The issue of a constitution and what it actually means is one that highlights where, in Britain's instance in particular, people with intelligence enough and social conscience enough to actually query the system by which they are governed and request that it at least be defined consensually, have toiled under such a restriction to their fundamental right to express their concerns for longer even than the above stated social trends developed to the crucial political status they currently control to a worrying degree. Along with any other area of social activity the rules of which are governed by "trope" rather than intelligent purpose, Britons who in the past may have innocently asked "what is this constitution of which you speak?" have invariably received from those who are themselves largely a self-perpetuating class of "social superiors" and therefore self-appointed "definers" of this constitution, answers along the lines of Robin Butler's in the past - "it is what we say it is, and at any time that suits us".

My own perception of the "British Constitution" - built up over time in response to what I discern as more well-meaning and genuine attempts to explain it by people within the system and society it purports to govern and define - is that it is indistinguishable from that other great trope "the status quo", which besides being a rock ensemble famous for having produced a plethora of hit singles all variations of the one song, also represents the possibly even more ludicrous proposition that a society should value the quality of stasis to so important a degree that even things urgently deserving of change (and recognised as such in many cases) should stay the same because they also represent "who we are". It is telling that the more vociferous proponents of Brexit are careful not to pretend they are proposing a radical new direction for society but instead are steering Britain back to the "status quo" from which it should never have departed, and which constitutes (constitutionally even) the most "true" representation of stasis most applicable to British society and most accurately descriptive of the majority's aspirations.

It is at this point where, one would hope, intelligent analysis demands that such semantic liberties taken with words and their meanings should themselves become the very first focus of attention in trying to ascertain what series of social flaws has led to the farcical position by which the most fundamental of political building blocks of a secure, fair, and intelligent society - the unambiguous constitutional declaration of its people's aspirations, their rights, and the basic rules by which they accede to being governed - has become simply a trope that can mean anything to anybody, but of which only the semantic variations decided by those in power at any given time are made to apply in the realpolitik of daily life.

However even intelligent analysis requires - by definition - intelligence, and in a society which increasingly admonishes (and in many ways even punishes) intelligence, it is difficult to see where it might start, at least from within.

Were I a Briton today I would in fact be grateful for the contributions to such analysis proffered by those fortunate enough, purely for reasons of geopolitical upbringing, to have a not inconsiderable or irrelevant opinion on this matter of fundamental importance and the freedom to express it. Whether one agrees with such input or not it has to be refreshing nevertheless to hear such expression within parameters of discussion, at least those that really matter in this case, which are by definition uncomplicated and uncorrupted by centuries of arbitrary social diktat designed to keep a particular establishment and its devolved agencies in control. Under this diktat, so called because it has never actually ever been properly tested let alone proved with regard to how far it has represented a consensus (in fact it has had to devolve to agencies and change its superficial appearance normally only in response to direct challenges emanating from "the people" to its pretended quality of consensus), an electorate has been produced that is told it has a constitution that it doesn't really have except through semantic gymnastics performed by current political "dons" more reminiscent of Stanley Unwin than Stanley Baldwin et al, is told it can direct policy by right but which it can't as no subject has such a "right", only extended "privilege", is encouraged to believe it has been bestowed by its " social and political superiors" with the faculties required to intelligently deliberate political policy but which it patently hasn't, and now - in a new and ominous twist - is even encouraged to shun any respect for such intelligence anyway and embrace those baser qualities of nationalism, 'dumbness as a virtue' - oh, and of course, "muddling through".  This is how tropes persist as substitutes for actual consensual ideology representing the people affected, and how come Britain has ended up with a trope instead of a constitution.

And why Britons, at this moment in time and as ostensible citizens in one of those countries which profess to practice constitutional political systems, are now among those nations in most dire need of being rescued from their own stupidity.

There are worse places in the world to live in, of course, quite a few indeed. Though mind you, not actually that many with such gloomy prospects as currently have been imposed on Britons by their misguided faith in a trope that pretended to be their "Bill of Rights", and who had marginalised intelligence to the degree that they practically silenced opposition to this tragic misconception when it most needed to be intelligently expressed and listened to. That, at least, has indeed been a peculiarly British conundrum - the old "muddling through" thing I suppose, but with a rather nasty quality to it this time round.
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PostSubject: Re: Constitutions- mmmmm   Mon 05 Nov 2018, 11:26

Part of the problem with us British is clearly the poor education of some. Above are examples of sentences that I recall failing to manage in clause analyse sessions - an impressive twelve liner in one paragraph. No longer a part of most studies these days that clause stuff, I wonder if precis writing is as important these days.
Anyway, it being early Monday morning and gleaning what I can from nord's weekend homework above, we are, it seems a lot of sad sacks doomed for an terrible end because we have not got the rules of the game set out quite the same way as everyone else. The nature of intelligence could make  for an interesting topic but not historical enough, I suppose. And thereto we might reflect on how the intelligent allow themselves to get get knocked about by the less so. I suppose a nice constitution would put an end to that?
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PostSubject: Re: Constitutions- mmmmm   Mon 05 Nov 2018, 11:41

I liked Stanley Unwin and no more jumbledy-up words (though I never had an Alan Sugar computer - can't even remember what they were called; they ran on loco script I remember).

Re: Brexit, as I've said before, I feel that spin-doctors are trying to cause a division along the lines of age, all those evil "old" people who voted "Leave".  Well at 60-something I have to settle for being "old" and I voted "Remain".  Young is relative I suppose.  I know at least one person who was "young" in the sense of younger than me (though he has a son at university no he's not a nipper) who voted to "Leave".

nordmann, I'm not saying you don't have a point in that some people in the UK Parliament are possibly not exactly jewels of the intellectual crown (they're not all dingbats though).  Could part of the problem be that enough people of capability, intelligence and integrity (and practical acumen) just don't want to go into politics?  Of course, a certain amount of money is needed to run for Parliament too and I can't see a bright person living in Back Canal Street (just made that up but you get my drift) being able to get the necessary funds together.

I was having a chat (fairly) recently with a friend and she expressed a view that when Brexit kicks in (I think it probably will happen) we (i.e. the populace of the UK) would have a tough time of it.  Of course, having a tough time is relative - in my secretarial days [and this is going back to when things were stringent in the mid to late 1970s] another secretary said that her boss had had to tighten his belt and was now buying his suits in M&S instead of having them made in Jermyn Street.

A bill of rights would only be as good as the people who cobbled it together.  The right to freedom of speech/expression is a precious thing but it gets abused on platforms such as YouTube and Twitter (though there are some parody channels popping up now).

Intelligent people can do silly things sometimes.  Okay, maybe I'm not giving Einstein (were he still alive) a run for his money but I like to think I am a reasonably intelligent lay person.  I may have told this story before but when I worked in the museum I heard someone talking about what sounded like a 'pollykeet' and thought it was some type of a parrot (like parakeet).  Of course the word is 'polychaete' and it is a kind of a worm, so I don't suppose it said "Who's a pretty boy then?".  But I made a silly mistake there.
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PostSubject: Re: Constitutions- mmmmm   Mon 05 Nov 2018, 12:00

I honestly do not know how to reply to nordmann's devastating post, except to say how saddened I am by all this. Many people are not "intelligent" in the academic sense, but are decent human beings who have enormous amounts of emotional intelligence - a quality sadly lacking in some. In my experience, making people feel small is never a good idea; and in the present climate - in the UK or elsewhere - it is both foolish and dangerous.

When push comes to shove kindness is worth far more than cleverness - although to have both qualities is the ideal. But what's kindness got to do with anything?

I'm going to plant my bulbs - I'm sick of all this.
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PostSubject: Re: Constitutions- mmmmm   Mon 05 Nov 2018, 13:44

@LadyinRetirement wrote:
 Could part of the problem be that enough people of capability, intelligence and integrity (and practical acumen) just don't want to go into politics?  Of course, a certain amount of money is needed to run for Parliament too and I can't see a bright person living in Back Canal Street (just made that up but you get my drift) being able to get the necessary funds together.

...

A bill of rights would only be as good as the people who cobbled it together.  The right to freedom of speech/expression is a precious thing but it gets abused on platforms such as YouTube and Twitter (though there are some parody channels popping up now).


Constitutions of the better variety anticipate this very dilemma - to say that Ireland hasn't had its fair share of dingbats in government would be to do the country's constitution a huge disservice. On occasion it was sometimes practically the only thing that saved us from some extremely dubious "policies", even populist ones in their day (which in the context of the events I'm thinking of is ascribing them a title they hardly deserved). As I stated before, the one occasion which was truly frightening, and which has since served as a "wake-up call" for many who had begun to take their constitution for granted, was the inclusion by referendum of an anti-abortion clause in the 1980s. This was wrong on so many levels, few of which had anything to do with the morality of the subject the clause addressed, that it suddenly brought into focus all those other clauses which purported to represent popular aspiration and how it should be reflected in civil law. It didn't feel like it at the time - quite the opposite in fact - but it could be argued that 1983 was the moment when Irish society realised as a whole just what this document was there for, imperfections and all, and that it was a communal duty not to dismiss its importance any longer but to go about correcting those imperfections inherited from when it had been drawn up by a clever politician and an equally clever leader of the local Catholic Church. Their original design was in fact commendable precisely because it must have been tempting for both of these men to ensure a constitution enshrining the values only of their particular constituencies of most interest, but they in fact managed between them to produce a document that has survived, albeit with imperfections though ones they also ensured were amenable to correction, as a reasonable framework within which a society could frame its laws and its members say with some degree of self-assuredness that it served as a reasonable statement of their own aspirations.

Ireland, incidentally, has never seen the need to proclaim a Bill of Rights, preferring instead in the preamble to the constitution the strategy of simply alluding to the fact that seven centuries of foreign self-interested dominion made all such rights so self-evident that they hardly needed proclamation at all. And in fact in taking this stance the Irish constitution dodged a huge bullet indeed - unlike in the USA where its constitution is derived from quite specific (and some rather metaphysical) aspirations proclaimed as "rights" and which therefore faces an extra challenge when any clause is subsequently challenged in that its removal or amendment must be seen to conform in principle to this other rather unconstitutional document. The Irish - and in fact many others too - have opted for a constitution where the proof of a clause's validity lies primarily in its dual ability to be a proven wish of the majority and a basis for sensible law. When it fails on either score (the anti-abortion clause failed on the latter score but only after some unforgivable miscarriages of natural justice due to the insensible laws it had engendered) it can in fact be removed by the supreme court, though more likely through another referendum.

At the risk of making anyone around here feel even "smaller" (which in fact civil empowerment through constitutionally guaranteed rights would go a long way towards emending) I would humbly suggest any reasonable citizen of the UK to simply stop paying further lip-service to the historical significance of a document designed to secure barons' privileges as a "bill of rights" that in some way guarantees their own, to stop acquiescing to various arbitrary definitions of a "constitution" only pretended to exist by people with vested interests in that illusion, the definition of which therefore as decided by people whose current motive of negotiating portions of sovereign power from a monarch which they might themselves then yield being no different from the barons in Runnymede in 1215 (with one famously engineered promotion of such self-interest groups even being hailed as a "Glorious Revolution", thereby showing just how semantically corrupt British constitutional language can be), to desist from poo-pooing the notion of a written constitution only because other countries' versions seem unsuitable for their own ideas of what constitutes a fair representation of being British, and to engage in a national debate concerning therefore which such document of their own making might best represent their own governance and interests, who should be trusted to design it, what laws might derive from it, what present power structures would retain a constitutional role and increase or decrease in relevance and power because of it, and (last but not least) in what way might British society - or even just English society if that's the more agreeable approach - benefit?

Without even starting such a debate then as citizens, I am afraid, you might be even smaller than you think! And while adoption of a constitution might not in itself fix the problem of those too poorly educated to play a meaningful role in civic organisation and who serve to disrupt and destroy rather than contribute (and I include even a few of your more prominent politicians in that number), it might save the rest of you from further tyranny by that quarter!
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PostSubject: Re: Constitutions- mmmmm   Mon 05 Nov 2018, 15:53

LiR wrote:
I may have told this story before but when I worked in the museum I heard someone talking about what sounded like a 'pollykeet' and thought it was some type of a parrot (like parakeet). Of course the word is 'polychaete' and it is a kind of a worm, so I don't suppose it said "Who's a pretty boy then?". But I made a silly mistake there.

How odd, LiR - that reminds me of something that nordmann once told us about his grandmama: she would apparently sometimes confuse the word parakeet too, warning her grandsons of the dangers of raising one's head above said bird! What a coincidence that you too got a bit muddled with your worm mistake!!!

Anyway, I've put my head above the parakeet once too often here, so Bosworth and I are going to take a break. No more fuel to the fire, so to speak.
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PostSubject: Re: Constitutions- mmmmm   Tue 06 Nov 2018, 07:50

A friend of mine dropped by yesterday evening and, at my request, read through this thread. I was fuming to be honest, and was hoping for validation for my point of view. I got none. This friend is far, far cleverer than I, and actually does know a bit about law and such like. He was very impressed by nordmann's eloquent prose and arguments (really), but he did start laughing (at me) when he realised that my virtual acquaintance is Irish, pointing out that expecting an Irishman to have anything good to say about the evolution of the British "Constitution" was a bit like expecting an intelligent turkey to praise British Christmas Day prandial traditions.

But we soldier on - and I do still have a sneaking sympathy for ordinary people - of whatever nationality - who, like me, haven't a clue about what's going on about Brexit or much else for that matter, certainly where politics is concerned.

Some good points have been made, I suppose, but I'm not going to admit it.
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PostSubject: Re: Constitutions- mmmmm   Tue 06 Nov 2018, 14:06

@Temperance wrote:
expecting an intelligent turkey to praise British Christmas Day prandial traditions.

It depends how traditional one’s Christmas dinner is. Wasn’t turkey popularised in Britain by Charles Dickens in the 1840s following the publication of A Christmas Carol. The size of a turkey made it ideal for feeding large Victorian families resulting from the population explosion which had started the preceding century. The 20th century, however, saw family sizes begin to fall as family planning became more widely practiced. The tradition of eating turkey nevertheless continued. It had never been universal, although going by television adverts and the comments of BBC presenters etc one could be forgiven for thinking that it has become almost obligatory. In our family my mother always cooked a goose which was sourced from the farm of a family friend over 50 miles away. A pre-Christmas tradition (if it could be called such) was to accompany either her or my father on the hours-long round trip while trying to ignore the smell of the dead bird in the boot of the car during the return leg. These days Mrs V and I tend to favour belly of pork for our Christmas roast which is another English tradition.    

Less than a couple a years after the publication of A Christmas Carol a blight struck the potato crop in Ireland. The disease is believed to have come from Mexico and reached Ireland in the summer of 1845. By November that year things had become so serious that the municipal councils of both Dublin and Belfast made urgent representations to the Lord Lieutenant and to Westminster requesting action. The peasantry (particularly in the west of Ireland) weren’t in need of pork or goose or even turkey that coming Christmas – they just needed potatoes or bread.  

The UK authorities, however, adopted a wait-and-see approach which was compounded by the terms of the 1801 Acts of Union. The local authorities in Ireland were simply unable to act effectively because the reigns of power were now held in Westminster. The previous Irish parliament had indeed been able to stave of the worst effects of famine on more than one occasion during the 18th century by adopting such expedients as banning the export of food from the country during times of hunger thus forcing a drop in the price of foodstuffs. Such an approach, of course, was anathema to the laisser-faire ethos of the UK parliament of the 1840s. This was compounded by the remoteness of Ireland from Westminster and the proportionally small number of Irish MPs in the House of Commons (about 16%) and representative peers in the House of Lords. In other words Ireland was low down on the list of priorities of the England-focussed UK parliament. Sounds familiar?

Thus tragically and predictably (there had been several warnings given in the previous decades that Ireland’s burgeoning population and the UK state structure were badly dislocated) famine did indeed follow in the ensuing years. When it was over irreparable damage had been done to the image of Britain in the eyes of many Irish people. A saying was coined which stated that ‘God sent the blight but the English created the famine’. By ‘the English’ of course, they really meant the British state or, more specifically, the not-fit-for-purpose UK constitution.
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PostSubject: Re: Constitutions- mmmmm   Tue 06 Nov 2018, 14:46

Wolfe Tone and The United Irishmen, in their (peaceful, it must be stressed) declaration of needed reform, included in their list of things that would remedy the grossest of the injustices they had formed to counter "... to form similar societies in every quarter of the kingdom for the promotion of constitutional knowledge". This was seized upon by the British government of the day and denounced by Pitt the Younger as clearest "proof" of the sedition rampant in Ireland and which must be expunged through force.

What Wolfe Tone had suggested however was worth examining in rather more detail than even modern nationalist republicans might be inclined to do. Had his suggestion been successful it would have led to a much larger number of people than his own organisation on the British "mainland" voluntarily assembling in order to learn about what passed for "constitution" in their country and seek to reform it in alignment with what was then still regarded as a product of enlightened political views. It had after all been an earlier British prime minister who had triumphantly declared at the time of the American War that enlightenment Britain had in fact produced the "first fair constitution" without "the need for rebellion or revolt" but simply because they were by tradition a fair and enlightened people. One still hears that echoed today as if it in any way could be true.

Had the United Irishmen restricted their constitutional rhetoric to Ireland it may not have struck such terror in Westminster, but by then the great lie of the so-called "British Constitution" was in full swing and foisted as a "given" on the population by those who actually wielded power. Imagine the alarm they must have felt at the prospect of "ordinary people" meeting in Sunday Schools and the like across the country to discuss the "rights of man" in relation to the social deal under which they laboured. Once Wolfe Tones' "article three" went out as a pamphlet that was him (and Ireland) screwed for another period yet, its publication was swiftly followed by a swift and extremely violent suppression of this Anglican idealist's organisation which had dared assemble Presbyterian and Catholic followers into a united and reasoned plea for social justice. The acceleration of bribes and coercion in order to get an Act of Union passed started around the same time, and that's no coincidence either.

When it's properly analysed, without nationalistic prism, it is clear that what has always alarmed the British establishment most is not that its "peripheral" dominions should seek autonomy and self-expression, but that this might be adopted by its own subjects as worth pursuing too. They've done a long and thorough job keeping it like this too - witness the huge amount of people who still think that not having a constitution protecting their rights and defining their national ethos and ethics is not only a good thing but in fact "better" than everyone else whose personal liberties are thus legally enshrined. That level of obsequiousness is not cheaply obtained, and normally carries a deferred cost that can only grow the longer it is pursued as a self-protecting policy by the establishment.

Instead of assuming that being "Irish" means an attitude towards the British "constitution" akin to "turkeys towards Christmas traditions" I would humbly suggest that a more characteristic analysis of Irish republicanism when intelligently expressed has always been a sense of affinity with Britain's more abjectly treated subjects, and a lament that for these same people for whom no constitution (least of all one that invests the source of power and authority in the same community) has ever been allowed to be drafted.

But then it's easier to adopt the "tsk, tsk, that old Irish drivel again" attitude than it might be to contemplate that as much as Irish people may have been traditionally cheated out of their rights by the dominant English government over centuries, at least for them that particular struggle to establish personal liberty has ended. For many within Britain, it seems, it hasn't even dawned on them that it might be high time it began.

Priscilla thinks it amusing that I should suggest ordinary Britons should be grateful for the outside perspective that an Irishman might apply to this dilemma. However whether grateful or not, the notion that no such dilemma exists (the traditional rallying cry of the "true blue" British subject) is rapidly becoming a hollow claim indeed, and maybe it is indeed time to learn from others whose societies - often against the odds - survived similar mistreatment and bad government. Don't confuse a passion dictated by concern and a sense of affinity with "anger". That's just playing into the hands of those who have always ruled through division. The time that this could be tolerated because sufficient benefit accrued from the residue of this policy which ultimately preserves the establishment, not the people, is coming to an end within Britain.

Maybe it's not too late to start up Wolfe Tone's "Sunday Constitution Schools" ... they're needed now as much as in his time, and at the moment probably even more it seems.
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PostSubject: Re: Constitutions- mmmmm   Tue 06 Nov 2018, 20:08

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