The danger of relying on tradition as an institutional control

(via Prestopundit)

The British constitutional controvery continues over Tony Blair's capricious decision to eliminate the centuries-old position of the Lord Chancellor (a rather peculiar position, if I'm not mistaken, where a sitting Minister of Parliament (legislator) is a member of the cabinet (executive) that happens to be the executive head of the Judiciary, appointing lower court judges and whatnot- how's that for tha antithesis of Separation of Powers?).

Unfortunately, the links that PrestoPundit provide are subscription only, so relying on the quote delivered here, I give a subset of the quoted material from Presto giving William Rees-Mogg's opinion on the matter:

David Blunkett would not have that; he thumped the table. Derry Irvine would not have his office abolished; he thumped the table. Tony Blair had more to fear from losing David Blunkett, so he backed the Home Office. The resulting package left the Home Office with all its powers but abolished the Lord Chancellor. This was not the careful constitutional consideration which might have resolved so fundamental an issue. It was a short-term defensive deal, done under pressure at the last minute; from conception to birth seems only to have been a matter of a few days.

So once again, the problems inherent in an unwritten constitution seem to come to bear- one prime minister, on essentially a short-term tactical whim, just up and eliminates a central pillar of UK parliamentary government. Just like that.

In the US, it's obvious that if Bush tried to usurp power or radically change the way things were done in government, either the Supreme Court or Congress (or both) would respond to reverse him (indeed, the constitution would compel the Congress to impeach him). What remains to be seen is whether relying on the force of tradition instead of a written, legal document, will be able to stop Blair's caprice. Parliament or the Law Lords certainly aren't compelled to stop Blair, and I'm not sure the Lords can do anything, anyway. But I hope tradition wins despite it all, for Britain's sake. UPDATE 1 - Not 5 minutes after I post this did I run across a recent Samizdata posting on the very same subject. The angle that David Carr takes on the subject is that Blair's actions are to smooth the way for the eventual political conquest of Britain by the EU, covered by a fig leaf of "harmonization and modernization." It would seem as though the leaf isn't big enough to hide the ugly truth...

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In the US, it's obvious that

In the US, it's obvious that if Bush tried to usurp power or radically change the way things were done in government, either the Supreme Court or Congress (or both) would respond to reverse him (indeed, the constitution would compel the Congress to impeach him).

The Constitution doesn't compel, only people compel. Congress has given up powers to the President before. It is not the Constitution that restricts the president's powers, only the resistance of the people.