Barnett has produced a sucint and well organised analysis of the constitutional structures that shape our lives in the UK. It is refreshing to encounter a work uninfluenced by the political considerations that marr so much of this type of text, an objectivity probably assisted by the author's legal background. As she herself acknowledges, the British Government's organisation is a complex minefield of ideas and concepts developed over the centuries in a very haphazard fashion, based primarily on the doctrine of immediate expediency to the national leadership. Whilst critical of some aspects of this arrangement (most notably the anomaly which allows the Lord Chancellor and Law Lords to be both legislators and Judges), she also recognises its maintainance of the most stable nation in world history. Intended as a work of reference, this book made me really consider issues I had not previously even known about. Barnett's impartiality is total, but I finished her book with strong and informed views of my own for the need for real constitutional reform, if we want to enjoy the next thousand years in as much stability as the last thousand.
Bought this book for my 17 year old son who has just discovered politics and has no idea how the system of government works in the Uk or anywhere else for that matter! Then I realised that I was very weak on the subject as well. The last chapter is a review of how the British system developed from Roman times to the present day and is actually most useful and leads on to want to delve into the more achademic amd wordy parts of the book which is really aimed at University study level students I think. My only critisism is that I would have liked to see more graphic representations if only to break up the words!
This book must be read by any person on their path to pursue Law, History, Politics, Phylosophy degree. It provides invaluable information, and is written in an easy accessible style to British or non-British readers.
I have reached page 134 of 588 and have found two innacuracies in this book already. Now don't misunderstand me, I'm sure that Hilaire Barnet knows what she's writing about. After all she is a senior lecturer in law at a prestigious university. But the mistakes she's made are a matter of history. Firstly she writes about Margaret Thatcher's attempt to retain the leadership of the Conservative party in 1990 'Having failed to secure the requisite proportion of votes on the first round, and despite the warnings of numerous senior party figures, she obstinately refused to resign, only to suffer ignominous defeat' (page 67 of my copy), This statement is simply untrue. The Conservative party system for election of a leader at the time relied on the Parliamentary party to elect a leader. There were potentially three rounds of voting. When a challenge to the incumbent was made (to be successful it required the support of 10% of the parliamentary party) then any MP could cast his or her hat into the ring, as it were. To be successful at the first hurdle a candidate required 50% plus one of the votes of the parliamentary party (that is a simple majority). So the first round was a simple test of support for the incumbent. Thatcher (known as the milk snatcher since she abolished the practice of free milk in schools as Education secretary in Ted Heath's government- obviously the state saw no benefit from having a healthy future workforce) failed to win the support of the parliamentary party in the first round. This resulted in a second round in which new candidates could enter the race and previous candidates could withdraw (as I believe Anthony Mayer, Thatcher's original challenger did). A third round selected the top two candidates from the second round in a 'run off' election. After failing to win the support of the majority of Conservative MPs in the first round Margaret Thatcher did indeed vow to fight on, and probably would have won had she chosen to continue. But the day after vowing to fight on she changed her mind and withdrew from the race, backing John Major for the leadership. I think she was persuaded that she would have been dangerously weakened as a leader had she continued (probably true) and so chose to 'quit while ahead'. So the upshot is that she was never ignominously defeated (indeed she did get more votes than any other candidate in the first round, but not the majority support required for outright victory), but resigned as leader. The second mistake is the statement that 'When Margaret Thatcher entered Number 10 she did so with an unprecedented majority of 144' (page 103). When Margaret Thatcher entered No 10 she had a majority of 43, in 1979. I checked this fact on an official electoral website. She had a majority of 144 on re-election in 1983, after the Falklands war, on a wave of patriotism. I may not be an expert on the constitution or the law but I do remember these events, having been interested in politics since I was 14. If Hilaire Barnett can't get simple historical facts right, then I do wonder how accurate the rest of her book is. Of course I'm no expert in the law or the constitution so I must rely on her accuracy and knowledge, but these are drawn into question for my part. Otherwise the book is highly readable and covers some dry material with enthusiasm. The workings of some of the mundane aspects of the House and Government are covered with panache. Even when I'm tired and my attention is prone to wander, I still find I'm gripped by the articulate and enthusiastic Ms Barnett. Don't be put off by my earlier observations, but inaccuracies do often make me wonder about the accuracy of that which I don't have prior knowledge of.