Robert Saunders Profile picture
Author of "Yes to Europe! The 1975 Referendum & Seventies Britain". "A jaw-dislocating page turner"(Andrew Marr). Co-director @MileEndInst, Reader @QMHistory
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Jul 26 4 tweets 1 min read
What a goal!!!

(So far, at least, tonight's contest is considerably higher quality than last night's...) #ENGSWE (Wonder where Leah Williamson and Kosovare Asllani stand on tax cuts and the control of inflation?)
Jul 23 4 tweets 2 min read
The @Telegraph should take a breath and think about the constitutional implications of what it's demanding.

Were this to succeed, it would shatter one of the core principles of parliamentary democracy.

And it would mark a fundamental shift in the location of political power. One of the mightiest powers in any constitution is the right to decide who holds high office.

Allowing activists to overrule MPs, & restore a Prime Minister who's lost their support, would transfer that power from people we elect to people we do not.

It would be const dynamite.
Jul 19 4 tweets 1 min read
If we think it's "more democratic" for party members to choose a PM than for MPs to do so, this is hard to gainsay

But it's a striking demand: that activists should be able to overrule MPs & reinstall a Prime Minister, enjoying all the powers of the executive, against their will If we want presidential leaders with personal mandates, able to govern in defiance of Parliament, they should be directly elected by the public.

If we want a parliamentary democracy, leaders must command the confidence of MPs - and depend upon them for their democratic authority
Jul 12 7 tweets 3 min read
This breaches two important constitutional principles: that a government must command the confidence of the House of Commons; and that the official Opposition has a right to test whether or not that is the case.

Whether ministers like the wording is neither here nor there. [1/7] 2. There has never been a fixed wording for confidence motions, nor do they have to envisage a general election as the outcome.

See, for example, this motion from 1981, which called on the government "to present to Parliament before the end of the year a range of fresh measures"
Jul 8 10 tweets 3 min read
There's a lot of confusion around this issue, so let's try to clear it up.

If the government loses a Vote of No Confidence in Parliament, this does NOT mean "there's a general election".

I'll try to explain why. [THREAD]. 1. In a parliamentary constitution, a govt must "command the confidence of Parliament".

A govt that loses that confidence has no democratic mandate to govern.

That creates a constitutional problem which must be resolved: either by changing the govt or by changing the Parliament
Jun 25 6 tweets 3 min read
New report by the @HansardSociety on the "breathtaking" powers bestowed on ministers by the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill.

"Of the Bill’s 26 clauses, 17 confer powers on UK Ministers".

The report identifies numerous important areas of concern. [1/5]… 2. The bill not only allows ministers to disapply parts of the Protocol: it gives them sweeping powers to write the "new law that takes their place".

In effect: "the real operation of the Bill...will be entirely at the discretion of Ministers once the Bill receives Royal Assent"
Jun 24 4 tweets 1 min read
I'm sceptical of claims that "senior ministers" could force Johnson out.

First, there are no senior ministers: no one with independent standing in the party & strong name recognition with the public. The current cabinet has no one of the stature of Howe, Lawson,Brown or Prescott Of those ministers who do have a public profile, half would lose their jobs if Johnson went.

The others fear that resigning would wreck their own leadership chances.

That leaves a few middle-ranking figures, like Oliver Dowden.

Not the most fearsome political hit-squad.
Jun 6 25 tweets 5 min read
The Conservative Party was once famed for its iron discipline. Yet six of its last eight leaders have been fatally undermined by their own followers.

Why has Conservatism become so fractious? And why can Johnson no longer hold his followers together? [THREAD] 1. UK parties are always fractious coalitions. Under First Past the Post, parties must hold together an unstable alliance of forces - whether Fabians, liberals, trade unionists & social democrats on the left, or Thatcherites, protectionists, Powellites & paternalists on the right
Apr 12 15 tweets 4 min read
The case for keeping Boris Johnson in power, despite misleading Parliament and breaching the rules he imposed on other people, boils down to two main lines of argument: the War in Ukraine; and the lack of an "oven-ready" successor.

Both arguments are badly flawed. [THREAD] 1. The first claim is that the war in Ukraine means "politics has got serious again". Yes, it does. But in serious times, it matters more than ever that the public can believe what a prime minister says. And if sacrifices are coming, we need to know those in power will share them
Mar 7 4 tweets 3 min read
"Truth-telling, the rule of law, safeguards against corruption, freedom of inquiry: these are the flood-defences of a free society. Putin reminds us what follows when they are breached".

New blog post, on why we should rebuild our constitutional defences.… Image "Putin reminds us what power can become, if we do not maintain the institutions and norms that constrain it. The case against Johnson is not that he is a Putin in the making, but that he is impatient of the safeguards that hold future Putins at bay".… Image
Mar 5 14 tweets 3 min read
🧵 As carnage rains down on Ukraine, the consequences for British politics are trivial by comparison. But they are worth considering nonetheless, not least because they are more subject to our control. There are optimistic and pessimistic scenarios. [THREAD] 1. In the optimistic scenario, the UK begins to roll back some of the more destructive tendencies of its politics. It finally tackles London's role as a laundromat for dirty money, overhauling legal & regulatory systems that protect stolen wealth & shield its owners from scrutiny
Jan 26 4 tweets 2 min read
"The UK & India are tied by bonds that span over decades".

Only "decades"? Echoes here of Liam Fox's claim that the Commonwealth was united by a history of free trade.

For all the talk of "imperial nostalgia", even Johnson is notably queasy about invoking the history of empire. This may be partly why there's such anger at those who foreground imperial history: they puncture the comfortable bubble of forgetfulness in which so much of empire has been encased.

As I wrote here, this has been central to the rhetoric of Global Britain…
Jan 26 4 tweets 1 min read
This has never been true (think Callaghan, Major, Brown, May, Johnson...) Its logic - that the mandate belongs to the PM, & that MPs alone have no right to remove it - would disable the core principle of a parliamentary constitution: that a PM must have the confidence of Parlt. What Rees-Mogg is arguing for isn't just a presidential premiership. It's an unconstrained premiership, shorn of one of the few safeguards against the abuse of prime ministerial power.

Hence also his desire to shut Parlt down in 2019 (when the PM had no electoral mandate at all)
Jan 22 4 tweets 2 min read
"When consumers buy a product in a shop..."

"Students will be able to select their course knowing that, like the food in their fridge or the car on their drive..."

This is what the Universities Minister thinks education is: a product, to be bought & sold… Not every human experience can be reduced to a consumer transaction.

As I argued here, universities should be relentless in the pursuit of "value". But our "values" cannot always be set by the market.
Jan 15 12 tweets 3 min read
In 2019 I wrote a piece for the @NewStatesman on "The Closing of the Conservative Mind". I argued that Conservatism had become intellectually rudderless & incapable of serious thinking about policy. Johnson's rise was a symptom of that crisis, & it will survive his fall. [THREAD] 2. Johnson's lack of direction is not a glitch in his politics. It's intrinsic to them.

Policy decisions are about choice. But Johnson is a "cakeist": he's never believed choice is necessary. You can cut taxes AND boost spending. You can have a hard Brexit AND frictionless trade
Jan 2 6 tweets 2 min read
I fear that 2022 may be the year when a section of the Tory party turns decisively against Net Zero. It's a rallying cry that can speak both to the tax-cutting, libertarian wing of the party and to culture warriors looking for a new front against "experts", "elites" and "wokery". Tory hostility to Net Zero has been constrained thus far by loyalty to Johnson, but that's fading. As the cost of living rises, the temptation will grow to blame "elitist" and "left-wing" environmental policies (not Brexit or NI rises) for driving up costs for "ordinary people".
Dec 29, 2021 6 tweets 3 min read
Can the UK survive the rise of "muscular Unionism"?

Excellent piece by @ciaranmartinoxf on the danger to the Union from a tone-deaf, "know-your-place" British nationalism, keen to reorder the Union "on the terms of an English majority in a unitary state".… "Muscular Unionism" is intolerant of anything that limits the power of the governing party in London. In that respect, it's part of the "executive power project": a way of thinking that rejects the democratic legitimacy of any counterweight to the majority party at Westminster.
Dec 13, 2021 9 tweets 3 min read
Big constitutional news: the cross-party Public Administration & Constitutional Affairs Committee has called for the controversial Elections Bill - which imposes Voter ID, allows ministers to direct the Electoral Commission & extends FPTP - to be suspended… On Compulsory Voter ID: "there is currently no evidence of widespread personation at UK elections". Voter ID "risks upsetting the balance of our electoral system & making it more difficult to vote". "The Govt should not proceed" until it has shown evidence to justify the change.
Dec 11, 2021 4 tweets 2 min read
There's a good essay to be written on "The Thatcher Myth": the creation of a mythic version of Mrs T, devoid of nuance or historical context, that bears almost no relationship to reality. Myths have power, & this one has bent the Conservative Party in some very strange directions Thatcher understood the power of mythmaking, & was skilled at the "theatre" of politics. (It's no coincidence that some of her most famous lines were written by a playwright, Ronnie Millar). But only towards the end did she inhale her own myth; and her fall followed swiftly after
Dec 7, 2021 4 tweets 2 min read
"Few voters in the west have ever seen their domestic politics go catastrophically, life-endangeringly wrong. The appetite for political risk is therefore only natural".

Good piece by Janan Ganesh, on what happens when we forget that democracy is fragile.… Angela Merkel issued a similar warning in October: "In history there is a recurring pattern where people begin to deal recklessly with [political] structures when the generations that created those structures are no longer alive".…
Nov 6, 2021 4 tweets 2 min read
"The Conservative Party has been accused of ... systematically offering seats in the House of Lords to a select group of multimillionaire donors".

"An ex-party chairman said: “once you pay your £3 million, you get your peerage”".… "22 of the Conservative party’s main financial backers have been given peerages since 2010. ... Together they have given £54 million to the party".

"Since Johnson became prime minister 96 peers have been created". That's nearly 1 in 8 of the entire House in just two years.