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A Politics Teacher based in Surrey.

What does the Brown Commission recommend as regards constitutional reform in the UK?

Former PM Gordon Brown was asked to lead a report into potential future constitutional reform.

After becoming Labour leader in 2020 Keir Starmer asked Gordon Brown to lead a commission looking at the constitutional future of the UK. The subsequent report, A New Britain: Renewing our Democracy and Rebuilding our Economy was published on the 5th of December 2022. It has been referred to in short-hand as the Brown Commission. However, whilst the report was led by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, it was researched and written by 16 Labour Party members of affiliates that also included Anneliese Dodds MP (Labour Chair), Carwyn Jones (Former Welsh First Minister) and Ayesha Hazarika (journalist and former advisor to Ed Miliband). The final report was 155 pages long and was wide-ranging.

Some of the key recommendations of the report are:

1. To embed into law the duties of Government

The report notes that too much of the significant development of the British constitution since 1998 has relied on convention. The report says that these would be placed on a statutory footing, for example, a duty on central government to actively seek to rebalance the economy.

2. To devolve more power to local communities

The report highlights the need to devolve more power to local communities. For instance, towns should be given more power to drive growth and investment. In addition, however, they should also be given more tax-raising powers so they rely less on central government and block funding. In addition, there should also be powers to initiate legislation in Parliament by local leaders.

3. To create a new institution to represent the voice of the devolved nations within central government

The report highlights that government across the UK is currently too fragmented. It recommends new institutions following the abolition of the House of Lords to make sure there is representation for the UK and regions of England in Westminster.

4. To improve to the Scottish and Welsh and Northern Irish Governments

The report recommends a number of things to improve the current devolution settlements. They include:

  • Strengthening the Sewel Convention to stop it being amended by a new Second Chamber.
  • Allowing Scotland to enter into certain foreign relations.
  • New powers for the Welsh Government over youth justice and the probation service.
  • Giving MSPs the same protection under privilege as MPs.
  • Giving enhanced economic resources including new investment banks for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

5. Mechanisms for greater cooperation between devolved governments

The report suggests there is too little shared government in the UK which makes the fragmentation of the UK more likely. As such, they recommend a new Council of the Nations and Regions to help develop a ‘culture of cooperation’ across the UK. This would help on areas of joint interest such as climate change and security.

6. New procedures to make MPs more accountable

The report says more must be done to clean up politics and make MPs more accountable. It suggest new laws should be passed to limit second incomes for MPs and to eliminate foreign money for UK politics. It also indicates that there should be an anti-corruption Commissioner to focus on these challenges.

7. Replace the House of Lords with a smaller democratic second chamber

The report says that the continuance of the House of Lords is ‘indefensible’. It says that the House of Lords should be replaced with a new second chamber, An Assembly of Nations and Regions. It says the new chamber should have a special roe safeguarding the constitution but not in a way that impacts the primacy of the House of Commons. Finally, it says that unlike today the second chamber must be elected with a different system and cycle for elections to it.

The report said that they believed that their recommendations could all be achieved within one parliamentary term (five years). If so, this would make that period one of the most significant constitutional rebalancing periods in British history.

Whilst Keir Starmer and the Labour leadership welcomed the report, they have not committed to it as policy yet. They will go away and look at the recommendations and consider which can be part of the Labour Manifesto at the next General Election.

The full report can be read here: Commission-on-the-UKs-Future.pdf (labour.org.uk)

How to answer the 12 Mark Examine Question for Global Politics (Edexcel)

This is for Edexcel and there will be different requirements for a different board such as AQA.

The 12 Mark Examine Question is one of two 12 Mark Questions on Paper 3 – the other being the 12 Mark Analyse Question. These questions are different in that they only assesses AO1 and AO2 and do not assess AO3. This has an impact on how the question needs to be structured to ensure the best use of time in order to maximise the marks available.

What will be asked in the 12 Mark Examine Question?

On the exam paper you will get two choices of question – 1a or 1b. Both questions will always ask you to compare and contrast two institutions/organisations/practices or issues. Examples of this might be:

Examine the criticisms faced by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (12 Marks)

Examine the limits of NATO and the UN in keeping peace (12 Marks)

Examine the challenges posed by cultural and political globalisation (12 Marks)

What should the structure of the 12 Mark Examine Question look like?

The requirement of the question to compare and contrast two things is an important factor in how it should be structured. It is imperative that you do not simply write about one thing and then the other. If you do this, whilst you may score highly for AO1 it will be hard to comparatively analyse the things to a similar degree. Instead, therefore, you should look to select themes through which to address the question. You should aim to pick three themes through which the two things can be directly compare and contrasted.

In addition, as there is no AO3 attached to this question, writing an introduction or a conclusion is entirely redundant.

A useful mnemonic that can be used in each paragraph is S.E.E.M:

Signpost the point you are making that links the two things

Explain the first thing in relation to the question

Examples can be used to extend your explanation

Make comparison to the other thing

Exemplar Question – Examine the limitations of the ICJ and ICC in enforcing Human Rights (12 Marks)

Poorer Exemplar

The ICJ is the International Court of Justice. It is located in the Hague, Netherlands, and is the judicial arm of the United Nations. As it is an arm of the UN, it has a legitimacy that other institutions simply do not possess. However, despite this, it has a number of limitations as regards to protecting human rights. Firstly, states are able to choose whether they are bound by its rulings. As of 2021 just 74 of 193 members had agreed to this. This harms the principle of equality under the law which is essential to justice. Secondly, the ICJ struggles to get its judgements enforced. The mechanism for enforcing ICJ judgements is via the UNSC. However, members of the UNSC have their own geo-political agendas and the five permanent seats hold the power of veto. This means, for example, that when the ICJ ruled against Britain’s continued occupation of the Chagos Islands there was little realistic chance that the ruling would be enforced. Thirdly, the ICJ cannot initiate cases and has to rely on cases being referred to it. This is a limiting factor as there is no independent scrutineer making a judgement on what cases should be investigated.

ICC is the International Criminal Court. Like the ICJ it is located in the Hague and was founded by the Rome Statute in 1998. Whilst the ICJ deals with a variety of international issues, the ICC particularly focuses on international crimes, therefore meaning it has a more specific focus on human rights. However, it does have a number of limitations in protecting rights. Firstly, a number of states have not accepted the jurisdiction of the ICC and only 123 states have accepted it. Further, many of these states are amongst the most significant in global politics and include the US, Russia and China. Without these states as members the legitimacy of the ICC is fundamentally undermined. Secondly, since its establishment the ICC has only prosecuted Africans. This has led to a distinct claim of western bias against the ICC which undermines its credibility as a global body. Thirdly, the court has no coercive power of its own and no way to ensure its rulings are implemented. Instead, they rely on member states to apprehend and punish suspects (for example Liberian leader Charles Taylor is imprisoned in British prison). This means that suspects may never face justice, with Vladimir Putin being a future potential example of this.

Summary: This response would score highly on AO1. Good knowledge is shown of both the ICJ and ICC. This knowledge is both wide-ranging and with depth. However, as a result of how it is structured it scores much less well on AO2 and this holds the answer back.

Better Exemplar

One limitation of both the ICJ and ICC a regards human rights is that they have little coercive power to enforce their judgements. The ICJ struggles to get its judgements enforced. The mechanism for enforcing ICJ judgements is via the UNSC. However, members of the UNSC have their own geo-political agendas and the five permanent seats hold the power of veto. This means, for example, that when the ICJ ruled against Britain’s continued occupation of the Chagos Islands there was little realistic chance that the ruling would be enforced. Similarly, the ICC also struggles to get its judgements implemented as the court has no coercive power of its own and not independent power to punish offenders. Instead, they rely on member states to apprehend and punish suspects (for example Liberian leader Charles Taylor is imprisoned in British prison). This means that suspects may never face justice, with Vladimir Putin being a future potential example of this.

A further limitation of both the ICJ and ICC regards human rights is that both lack global jurisdiction. In the ICJ states are able to choose whether they are bound by its rulings. As of 2021 just 74 of 193 members had agreed to this. For example, the Government of Myanmar ignored a ruling regarding alleged genocide of Rohinga Muslims in 2020. This harms the principle of equality under the law which is essential to justice. In a similar way, a number of states have not accepted the jurisdiction of the ICC and only 123 states have accepted its power. Further, many of these states are amongst the most significant in global politics and include the US, Russia and China. Without these states as members the legitimacy of the ICC is fundamentally undermined.

A final limitation of both the ICJ and ICC regards human rights is that both are perceived to have a western and great power bias. Whilst the the great powers have not specific power within the ICJ, they have significant power over the enforcement of its rulings. Realistically, the ICJ is therefore never going to be used a tool to hold the great power to account. For example, the US has consistently ignored ICJ rulings on its sanctions of Iran. Equivalently, since its establishment the ICC has only prosecuted Africans. This has led to a distinct claim of western bias against the ICC which undermines its credibility as a global body. Furthermore, the African Union has urged member states not to cooperate with the ICC, further limiting its effectiveness.

Summary: Despite using very similar material, this answer does much better in both AO1 and AO2 and therefore achieve a higher mark (Level 4/4).

If you have any questions, please feel free to ask them in the comments below.

Why did the Supreme Court rule the Scottish Parliament cannot hold a referendum on independence?

The UK Supreme Court acts as a constitutional arbitrator for devolution.

On 23rd November 2022 the UK Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling on the issue of devolution and the right of the Scottish Parliament to legislate to hold an independence referendum. So, what did the Supreme Court judge on this issue and why is this significant?

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