Everything promised by a democratic constitutional convention is at odds with what a constitution actually does.by Tom Cutterham / August 14, 2012 / Leave a comment
On New Year’s day a new constitution came into force in Hungary. A new Icelandic constitution, which incorporates online suggestions from the public, could be ratified next year by referendum. In Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya—and soon, perhaps, in Syria— new constitutions are being established. Constitution-writing hasn’t been this fashionable since the collapse of the Soviet bloc. With Lords reform now off the government’s agenda in the UK, a written constitution here seems far-off, and an EU-wide constitutional convention is just as unlikely. But it’s worth asking, before we get carried away, what problems constitutions are meant to solve —and what problems they cause.
Trying to codify the British constitution or write one for the EU, even if the intention were not to change anything, would have to involve a candid look at the institutions and processes of our government. That might be reason enough for the establishment to worry. A genuine constitutional convention—one that opened up those institutions and processes to democratic debate and negotiation—would be even scarier. The US constitution was written behind closed doors for a reason. For progressives and radicals, an open convention would be an opportunity to expose the reality of the current system and to confront the power of unelected constituencies.