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The Progressive Policy Think Tank

Book launch: The Coalition and the Constitution, by Professor Vernon Bogdanor

In his new book, Professor Vernon Bogdanor asks whether the British constitution is cut out to deal with the political consequences of coalition government. He argues that coalitions challenge important political traditions in Britain which will have to be addressed by a new wave of constitutional reform. Of particular concern is the danger coalitions pose for shutting the public out of the political process and reducing their ability to influence political decisions.
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'England', Benjamin Disraeli famously said, 'does not love coalitions'. But 2010 saw the first peace-time coalition in Britain since the 1930s. Even if it falls apart, the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition has already had a profound impact on British politics. For now it has halted the project of a realignment on the centre left that had previously dominated political debate in Britain. The 2010 coalition, moreover, may well not be an aberration. There are signs that, with the rise in strength of third parties, hung parliaments are more likely to recur than in the past. It is quite possible that the era of single-party majority government, to which we have become accustomed since 1945, is coming to an end.

Professor Bogdanor believes that the Coalition government's plans for constitutional reform - the most important of which are a referendum on the alternative vote and fixed-term parliaments - will do little to open up the political system and could actually make Westminster even more remote from the people, achieving the opposite of what the Coalition's reforms intend.

Professor Bogdanor concludes that radical reforms are required to strengthen popular control to act as a counter-balance to the power coalitions hands the political class. He champions reforms such as primaries and other forms of direct democracy such as referendums and citizens' assemblies.

Vernon Bogdanor was, until 2010, Professor of Government at Oxford University. He is now a Research Professor at King's College, London, Gresham Professor of Law, a Fellow of the British Academy and an Honorary Fellow of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies.

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