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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Cautious, dry, but thoroughly informative
The 'Very Short Introduction' series contains some attractive titles and is ideal for subjects like this, where a curious reader wants to know more, but doesn't want to embark on a worthy hardback book or demanding textbook. The question is, were to pitch it? The 'Graphic Guides' by Icon seem to have pitched too dumb and the 'For Dummies' series goes for completion, so...
Published 15 months ago by Jonathan

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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A rather dry academic essay on the history and underpinnings of the British constitution
The `Very Short Introduction' series was started by Oxford University Press in 1995 and now contains some 300 titles on historic, economic and social subjects, mostly written by academic specialists in their particular field.

Martin Loughlin is Professor of Public Law at the LSE and author of a small number of books on various aspects of law published for a...
Published 17 months ago by The Guardian


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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Cautious, dry, but thoroughly informative, 13 Sep 2013
By 
Jonathan "deadmarlowe" (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The British Constitution: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) (Paperback)
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The 'Very Short Introduction' series contains some attractive titles and is ideal for subjects like this, where a curious reader wants to know more, but doesn't want to embark on a worthy hardback book or demanding textbook. The question is, were to pitch it? The 'Graphic Guides' by Icon seem to have pitched too dumb and the 'For Dummies' series goes for completion, so OUP are carving out a nice niche with this series which aims for academic rigour in pocketbook proportions.

Martin Loughlin has written widely on law and political theory and brings considerable expertise to bear on this topic which some people would argue is a non-existent subject. Loughlin tackles things head on, outlining the main positions on the British constitution (namely, that it's a priceless political treasure guaranteeing the freedoms of the common man, an archaic pantomime concealing the machinations of an efficient modern state or a mercurial expedient that enables governments to do 'whatever works'). Right from the outset he draws the contrast between Britain's unwritten, evolving or organic constitutions and the written constitutions that emerged from the Enlightenment and dominate political theory almost everywhere else in the world.

This is a tough subject and one which assumes the reader has a reasonable grasp of history, politics and political philosophy. You don't need a Degree to follow Loughlin's arguments, but it helps if you read a broadsheet newspaper. The author, I think wisely, accepts that a certain level of contextual knowledge must be a given with this topic and forges ahead, making few concessions to the reader's ignorance. After all, if you're not familiar with (say) the Whigs and the Tories, then Wikipedia is probably only a click away.

The danger with this sort of book, and this sort of writer, is that drafts of other books, lecture notes and unpublished articles are dusted down and pasted in with very little editing or reflection. To Loughlin's credit, his book reads better than that. After setting up our key thinkers (Blackstone, Dicey, Bagehot), the author moves swiftly into the present day, describing the modern constitutional settlement and its relation to different conceptions of the role and reach of the British state. It's a lucid read, but not a light one, and best taken in chunks despite the book's modest size. The final chapter ("Whither the constitution?") manages to be both summative and thought-provoking in the questions it leaves hanging.

Loughlin's own position is (to me) quite opaque, so his book might enrage readers coming from more critical perspectives, who see the British constitution as merely whitewashing privilege and arbitrary power. It won't provide much fuel either for the modernizers who argue that an unwritten constitution is no constitution at all. Nevertheless, Loughlin argues that the constitution is currently changing, and rapidly and invites some worrying thoughts about the role of lawyers as well as law-makers in this new settlement.

One of the better 'Very Short Introductions' then. The pages didn't turn themselves, nor was I gripped by a need to run out into the street and thrust this little book into the hands of strangers, but I felt myself being thoroughly informed, while aware that this was a much larger topic. Most importantly, I feel the author has guided me on the next set of questions I would want answered, were I to read deeper and further.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The United Kingdom has an uncodified constitution, 9 Sep 2013
By 
Amazon Customer "Sussman" (London CA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The British Constitution: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) (Paperback)
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This `A Very Short Introduction' brings a lot of information to the fore and is presented in readable fashion that is, and as far as I was concerned, accessible and not a `dry treatment', that said there seems to be little methodology in delivery, but rather at times a more author driven prose. The author does a decent job of explaining the fundamental aspects, of the British Constitution. Some reviewers have commented there is a lot of `jargon', while this point can be appreciated I think that anyone would find it hard to provide the information needed without the use of the appropriate terms, that said in my reading I found the internet/dictionary rather helpful in deciphering many of the terms used in the book.

The British Constitution is shown through the almost evolutionary way it has evolved throughout the history of Britain, illustrating the way it has been amended and revised over time. The Constitution is uncodified and is not set out in any one single document. The process for this has been where, in the case of the United Kingdom, the political system developed over time was and is constantly being defined by acts of Government, Statutes, decisions of the Law Courts and Treaties. In the last case `Treaties', it is important to note that through Britain's membership in the European Union, European Law (EU Law) has had an impact on the British Constitution.
Other Constitutions have developed in other ways such as through sudden change, for example in the case of revolution, and the subsequent creation of the United States. This then sets the stage for the current precepts that make the British Constitution what it is today.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A rather dry academic essay on the history and underpinnings of the British constitution, 14 July 2013
By 
The Guardian (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The British Constitution: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) (Paperback)
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The `Very Short Introduction' series was started by Oxford University Press in 1995 and now contains some 300 titles on historic, economic and social subjects, mostly written by academic specialists in their particular field.

Martin Loughlin is Professor of Public Law at the LSE and author of a small number of books on various aspects of law published for a specialised academic readership, so well qualified to offer a condensed 118-page overview of the history, development and unique philosophical underpinnings of the British constitution.

The result is a quite detailed critique of this unique global phenomenon and how it came to be, generally written from a lawyer's perspective. For example Loughlin explains how Magna Carta and the 1689 Bill of Rights were seen from the Whig political tradition not as new developments in liberty and democracy, but merely codifying into law those rights which were universally understood to have existed since Anglo-Saxon times under the Common Law. The chapters covering the 1707 Act of Union between England and Scotland and exactly how this has worked in practice, and the process whereby political power was transferred from the `King-in-Parliament' to the political parties with the Monarch reduced to a ceremonial Head of State are quite enlightening, but not easy reading for the mind untrained in legal jargon.

Loughlin illustrates some of the potential dangers of having unwritten conventions underpinning the constitution, and uses the example of Tony Blair's government in the 1990s. Blair introduced a system of `sofa government' wherein Parliament was effectively circumvented and replaced by a kind of mediaeval court of favoured party apparatchiks who made policy behind closed doors, then used his party majority in the Commons as a rubber-stamp for new legislation. The ill-thought through `constitutional reforms' of the late 1990s are also discussed, an incomplete and asymmetric dog's breakfast which failed to reform Parliament and may lead to the breakup of the 300-year union between England and Scotland.

Overall this is an informative discourse, but unfortunately like too many academics Loughlin's writing style is dry and unengaging, which dilutes the power of the narrative and is likely to turn off the non-legalistic and non-academic reader. One can't help but feel that with a livelier and more engaging style from the author this book could have been less of an effort, and a more absorbing and memorable reading experience.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Another solid OUP 'Very short Intro', 10 Oct 2013
This review is from: The British Constitution: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) (Paperback)
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This is a very good overview of the amazingly complex and idiosyncratic beast that is the British Constitution. There's bound be something to fascinate every one at some point in this neat little book, and of course as with all in this series, in can be read in about 2-3 hours.

So whether you are just starting out trying to understand the subject, or want a refresher, this is an ideal book to pick up.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent introduction to topic - it does what it says on the 'label', 7 Oct 2013
By 
D. P. Mankin (Ceredigion, Wales) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The British Constitution: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) (Paperback)
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I would have liked books like this when I was revising for my finals at university nearly forty years ago. This one provides a useful commentary on the British constitution. However, the brevity of the book's coverage is both a strength and a weakness. You don't purchase a book in thie excellent OUP series expecting to read a comprehensive and revelatory discussion on the constitution. What these books do provide is an excellent summary. The clue is in the strap line: 'very short introductions'. So I would argue any volume in the series should be reviewed with this caveat in mind - hence my five stars. The book provides an insightful summary of the British constitution, and it is more than evident that Martin Loughlin knows his subject. So if you're not revising for an exam and want a starting point for finding out more about this subject then this slim volume provides an excellent starting point. It is well written, erudite and engaging.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Strong on history and law, weaker on practice, 3 Oct 2013
This review is from: The British Constitution: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) (Paperback)
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We live in a society in the UK where constitutional issues are addressed on the hoof - evidence the latest Conservative Party conference promise to repeal the Human Rights Act. Was it ever thus - Professor Loughlin reviews the incremental history of the British constitution, and its pragmatic sticking on of bits and taking them away. There are plenty of facts, and he canters through a series of historic changes that I failed to quite take in when studying history at school, pointing out the interesting bits and what people thought about them at the time. There is plenty of academic legal perspective - the shifting ground of constitution as practice versus a `rationalist' written down approach, and what judges have said in recent years.

Really, Loughlin would like us to care more. He thinks the British constitution is in crisis with the eating away of traditional checks and balances and the eating away of convention and the protection and liberty of the individual. He thinks it entirely right that the judiciary has set itself the agenda of re-establishing some checks and balances and the rule of higher laws - like the Human Rights Act - to prevent the Executive doing whatever it pleases. Probably, though he does not quite say, he thinks it should be written down even more, because the constitution as it stands is now `weak'.

So he offers a useful overview and a counterbalance to the current political agenda. At times he comes across as too theoretical - he does not for instance explore the political backlash against the use of judicial review and the Human Rights Act to protect outsiders such as asylum seekers and prisoners. `Coalition' does not get a word check. And his discussion of the liberty of the individual as part of constitutional history does not even casually reference the history of slavery in Britain.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great helpful book, 3 Oct 2013
By 
Lynne Walker (Lydbrook, Gloucestershire United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The British Constitution: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) (Paperback)
It does what it says on the cover and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in our constitutional history and operations
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4.0 out of 5 stars Incisive discussion of the British constitution, but just a little dull, 24 Sep 2013
By 
Martin Turner "Martin Turner" (Marlcliff, Warwickshire, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The British Constitution: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) (Paperback)
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Many myths are frequently retold about the British Constitution: that it reflects the Anglo-Saxon pattern of government, that it was established by the Magna Carta, that it is superior to written constitutions by virtue of being unwritten. In this short but densely written tomelette, Martin Loughlin exposes these romantic notions for what they are, while guiding the reader through the history of our constitution, the key critical discussions of it, and what he thinks ought to happen next.

This is highly worthy, and the writing is detailed enough to delight a Constitutional History Club (yes, they really do exist). It is also very up to date, taking into account the attempts under the last government to begin to establish written constitutionality, and the impacts of the current coalition.

I would give this five stars, except for the fact that it just isn't as entertaining as some of the other Very Short Introductions, and requires a considerable commitment by the reader to get through. By comparison with, say, Rhetoric: A Very Short Introduction, it doesn't make you want to read it.

A good start for a politics undergraduate, though, or anyone considering standing for parliament in 2015.
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5.0 out of 5 stars It raises some very interesting questions, 19 Sep 2013
By 
C. C. Chivers "ccchivers" (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The British Constitution: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) (Paperback)
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I find it interesting that we do actually have a constitution, but more than that, any constitution is supposed to be a fluid thing, reflecting the current values of a country, not what it should be. This to me, raises some very interesting questions about the American constitution and how it is always quoted as a firm document - which it is, but shouldn't be.

Furthermore, a constitution should regulate the government - hah! This is because the constitution reflects the people. In other words, we should rule government, not the other way around. And all of this is merely dealt with in the first few pages of the book.

It goes on to deal with the parliament, the magna carta and many other relevant topics.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Short and compact, 12 Sep 2013
By 
artemisrhi "artemisrhi" (Forest of Dean) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The British Constitution: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) (Paperback)
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I got this for my son (Yr 8) as I thought it would be a good introduction and encourage him to read more non fiction. However, having read it myself (I did British Constitution as an O level) I found it quiet challenging. It is not a book that you can dip into (like the histories for dummies) and it is not book you can skim read; you need to read every word. It is a well crafted book, but I am not sure if it isn't a bit hard as an introduction to the British Constitution as it is so compressed.
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