The Left and Constitutional Reform, Gladstone to Miliband


  • Kenneth O. Morgan


Nineteenth-century constitutional reformers focussed on parliament. Their central idea was citizenship, modelled variously on the democracy of ancient Athens, small communities like Switzerland, and especially the United States, a particular inspiration for Gladstone who admired its constitution. The 1911 Parliament Act marked the final triumph of the Victorian Liberals legacy, with a very different impetus coming from Lloyd George during his coalition. Labour focussed on class, not the constitution, though the ILP favoured localism and devolution, before succumbing to a centralising unionism. Tawney championed the idea of social citizenship, emphasising activism and education. After 1945, Labour did not prioritize constitutional reform until the dramatic changes that came after 1997. Gordon Brown then revived the notion of citizenship, and possible codification, in pursuing the values of Britishness. Labour's legacy was a confusing one. But Ed Miliband's policy revision could reclaim the idea of citizenship, an egalitarian concept to counter the inequalities of class.