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The ‘Afterlife’ of Deference (1997–2016)

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This chapter examines how demands for a codified constitution in the 1980s inspired the New Labour constitutional programme of the 1990s. Through a desire to make society and the political system more egalitarian, New Labour transformed the old constitution to such an extent that it no longer resembled what Bagehot and Dicey had tried to harness through their descriptions of English historical customs and mores. The constitution has been ‘deformed’ by the constitutional settlement bequeathed by New Labour, and Brexit is in part the result of a problem which has not been resolved, this being the difficulty of making an aristocratic structure match a democratic one in the second half of the twentieth century and the first decades of the twenty-first.

This title is in reference to the following chapter: ‘Concluding Note: The Afterlife of a Political Discourse’ taken from Alan S. Kahan, Liberalism in Nineteenth Century Europe. The Political Culture of Limited Suffrage, New York, Palgrave, Macmillan, 2003, pp. 193–200.

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  1. 1.

    Bogdanor (2009, p. 276).

  2. 2.

    Barnett (1997, p. 329).

  3. 3.

    This is the way Vernon Bogdanor describes the old constitution. Bogdanor (2015b).

  4. 4.

    The following Acts were passed: The Referendum (Scotland and Wales) Act (1997), The Scotland Act (1998), The Government of Wales Act (1998), The Northern Ireland Act (1998), The Greater London Authority (Referendum) Act (1998), The European Parliamentary Elections Act (1998), The Human Rights Act (1998), the House of Lords Act (1999), The Local Government Act (2000), the Freedom of Information Act (2000), The Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act (2000), The Constitutional Reform Act (2005).

  5. 5.

    Vernon Bogdanor, The New British Constitution, Chap. 9 ‘Towards a Written Constitution’, 2009, pp. 216–231.

  6. 6.

    See Iain McLean, What’s Wrong with the British Constitution? Chap. 14: ‘We the People’, 2010, pp. 313–335 and Gordon (2010).

  7. 7.

    King (2010, p. 351).

  8. 8.

    Ibid., p. 365.

  9. 9.

    It was initially called the Department for Constitutional Affairs, in 2003, which was rather significant for a country with an uncodified constitution.

  10. 10.

    St John-Stevas (1965–1986, vol. 5, p. 212).

  11. 11.

    King (2010, p. 351).

  12. 12.

    Ibid., p. 360.

  13. 13.

    Bogdanor (2009, pp. 53–88).

  14. 14.

    ‘The principle of Parliamentary sovereignty means neither more nor less than this, namely, that Parliament thus defined has, under the English Constitution, the right to make or unmake any law whatever; and, further, that no person or body is recognised by the law of England as having a right to override or set aside the legislation of Parliament.’ Dicey (1982, pp. 3–4).

  15. 15.

    On the link between Britishness and New Labour, see Aughey (2001, pp. 103–104).

  16. 16.

    Ibid., p. 49.

  17. 17.

    Stein Rokkan and Derek Urwin, ‘Introduction: Centres and Peripheries in Western Europe’, in: Stein Rokkan and Derek Urwin (ed.), The Politics of Territorial Identity: Studies in European Regionalism, London, Sage, 1982, p. 11.

  18. 18.

    Ian Ward, The English Constitution. Myths and Realities, p. 174.

  19. 19.

    Nairn (2001, p. 278).

  20. 20.

    Ian Ward, The English Constitution. Myths and Realities, p. vii.

  21. 21.

    These men had defended the idea of a commonwealth founded on an equal starting position and on a more democratic nature than the constitutional monarchy which was set up after the Glorious Revolution of 1688. This republican language, along with John Locke’s contractualist theory, crossed the Atlantic and successfully helped the Founding Fathers in their framing of the American Republic, which is law-based. Interestingly, egalitarian deference was alive there, as it allowed the notion that some would be in power and others would give them their assent. The structure also required enough egalitarian deference to work.

  22. 22.

    Marquand (2008, p. 374).

  23. 23.

    Sedley (1999, pp. 5–6).

  24. 24.

    Ian Ward, The English Constitution. Myths and Realities, pp. 192–193.

  25. 25.

    Allan (2003, p. 2). See the review of this book: Poole (2002). See also Ian Ward, The English Constitution. Myths and Realities, pp. 190–193.

  26. 26.

    Allan (2003, p. 6).

  27. 27.

    Bogdanor (2009, p. 310).

  28. 28.

    King (2010, p. 66).

  29. 29.

    Ibid., p. 67.

  30. 30.

    Joy Johnson, ‘Spinner takes all’, Red Pepper, May 1999. Cited in Foley (2000, p. 197).

  31. 31.


  32. 32.

    See, accessed 1 June 2017.

  33. 33.

    See, p. 11, accessed 1 June 2017.

  34. 34.

    Francis Beckett, ‘Young and Wasted’, New Statesman, 8 January 2010., accessed 23 May 2017. This is also the point of his book: Beckett (2010).

  35. 35.

    In the report by Sir Thomas Legg entitled ‘Review of past Additional Costs Allowance payment, 1 Feb 2010’, the introduction refers negatively to a ‘culture of deference’ allowing secrecy and abuses. See, p. 5, accessed 10 August 2015.

  36. 36.

    Walden (2006). See also George Walden and Nick Cohen, ‘The Anti-Elitist Elite versus the Underclass’, Standpoint, October 2011.

  37. 37.

    Ortega y Gasset (1993).

  38. 38.

    King (2010, p. 355).

  39. 39.

    Ibid., p. 345.

  40. 40.

    The Conservative Party Manifesto 2015, p. 73. See, accessed 28 March 2017.

  41. 41.

    Bogdanor (2009, p. 310).

  42. 42.

    Peter Hennessy, ‘Brexit: “An unprecedented geopolitical shift”’,, accessed 24 June 2017.

  43. 43.


  44. 44.


  45. 45.


  46. 46.

    Nairn (2001).

  47. 47.

    Heffer (1999).

  48. 48.

    Aughey (2001, p. 182).

  49. 49.

    Ibid., p. 61.

  50. 50.

    Aughey lists the following problems related to the European Union: identity, sovereignty, self-government and legitimacy. Ibid., p. 171.

  51. 51.

    Nairn (2001, pp. 15–16).

  52. 52.

    Lord Acton, ‘The History of Freedom in Christianity’ (1877), in: Acton (1985, vol. 1, p. 53).

  53. 53.

    Aughey (2001, p. 167).

  54. 54.

    Churchill (1936, p. 93).


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      Marshall, C. (2021). The ‘Afterlife’ of Deference (1997–2016). In: Political Deference in a Democratic Age. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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