Thursday, 27 November 2008

Conserving The Evolving Constitution:

An Interview with the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Lords

Lord Strathclyde is currently Leader of the Opposition in the House of Lords. A couple of years ago, the author interviewed Baroness Amos (then Leader of the House of Lords) with a view to finding out more about constitutional developments in Parliament (see Bento. L & Yusuf. G, “A Glance at The House of Lords with Baroness Amos” [2005] Obiter Dicta Spring Issue pp25-29). This article is, if you like, more of a continuation to that interview, though taken from the other side of the political spectrum.

Lucas Bento: What is your opinion on Labour’s House of Lords reforms?

Lord Strathclyde: Very modified rapture. Labour, as Tony Blair himself admitted, never really believed in bringing election to the House of Lords. Their only objective in 1997-9 was to reduce the potential voting strength of Conservatives and independent cross-benchers in order to enable Mr Blair to create enough peers to make Labour the largest party in the house. This he did.

No credible plan for reform was then put forward. Now, after long and relatively constructive discussion, the Straw plan comes some way to meeting the ideas put forward by Conservatives a decade ago, namely that all political members of the House should be elected directly by the people when reform eventually comes.

However, there are many points of difficulty still to be clarified in the Labour plans - how peers should be elected, what would happen to the Blairite "backwoodsmen" who would be left behind after reform, the costs of paying elected peers and so on.

There is a good deal of work to do, but our objective remains that both Houses should be made stronger. The executive is too strong in this country - and Parliament too weak.

Author’s Note: Wouldn’t electing the Lords politicise the chamber and thus undermine its primary role as a somewhat “neutral” revising camera? It is argued that one of the great advantages of the Westminster parliamentary system is the political balance between the relatively inexperienced - yet elected - Commons, and the overwhelmingly experienced - yet undemocratic - Lords. On the other hand, a superficial economic analysis of an elected – and politicised - House of Lords would stimulate competition in Parliament, thus increasing effectiveness and improving efficiency in the political system. Any constitutional imbalance resulting from the politicisation of the Lords would thus be brought back to a constitutional equilibrium, as effectiveness in Parliament ultimately means – one hopes – greater service to citizens and their rights.

Lucas Bento: In your opinion, what is the House of Lord’s role in British politics?

Lord Strathclyde: Few seriously advocate a unicameral system. The haste and arrogance with which governments legislate means that a revising filter needs to be put on ill-thought legislation - and that the Commons sometimes be asked to think again. That is the classic role of the Lords, which it evolved brilliantly in the 20th century after being stripped of parity of powers with the Commons. This goes along with its complementary role to the Commons of holding Ministers to account, providing a forum for debate on matters of national concern and rendering advice to government and nation.

It is a sobering thought that had it not been for the Lords since 1997, among other things, ID cards would now be compulsory, detention without trial would have been introduced (not just for terrorists), sex would have been legalised in every public lavatory, it would have been a crime for a comedian to make a joke about religion, the right to vote in secret at a polling station would have been abolished, the State would have the right to eavesdrop on all private e-conversation and trial by jury would have been restricted.

That in itself makes the case for a strong revising chamber.

Note: Amidst the current financial malaise and the Executive’s inability to prevent or doctor it in any meaningful way, a prophylactic legislative solution to future banking crises may, ultimately, be devised not in the Commons, but in the Lords.

Lucas Bento: What are the constitutional implications of introducing ID cards in the UK?

Lord Strathclyde: This government has forgotten who is the employer and who is the employee in the relationship between government and citizen. Our historic freedoms were unconditional, restricted only by the duty not to break the law or to molest one's fellow citizens. The idea of an "entitlement" card without which a citizen's freedoms are potentially restricted and which gives the State power to log in one central registry and ever expanding record of people's private lives is, to me and millions of others, entirely repugnant.

Try getting your bank to do something without a telephone pin number and imagine the horror of dealing with a faceless State when you are ill, have lost your ID card and need health care.

The lunatic cost of this project should condemn it as ferociously as its constitutional faults. Instead of creating giant computer records of the vast majority of law-abiding people, resources should be concentrated on the areas of risk.

Lucas Bento: What other constitutional reforms would you propose?

Lord Strathclyde: Have we not had a surfeit of constitutional change from "New Labour" that have left confusion behind them right, left and centre? We even now have doubts about the honesty of our voting system thanks to Labour's firestorm of change. The humiliating rejection of John Prescott's "vision" of yet more politicians in regional government showed clearly what people think, given a chance of a say (as we have not had, thanks to the broken Labour and LibDem election promises, on further European integration), about many of these changes.

Britain was proverbial worldwide as a land of liberty with a stable, but evolving constitution. It did not deserve Mr Blair and Mr Brown's schoolboy chemistry set for change.

I think we need to proceed cautiously and not force further change recklessly. But what is clear is that we need action along certain specific lines - to strengthen Parliament and increase government accountability; to check the slide of decision-making away from our country into Europe; to reverse the centralising mania of the Brown-Blair years and give more room to local decision-making and to remember what Labour have forgotten - government is the servant and not the master of individual freedoms.

Note: Are we trying to change our constitution recklessly? It is argued that a constitution must reflect the characteristics of its constituent people. In searching for a new – or reformed – constitution, we ought maybe to firstly ascertain our British identity. We live in a time where British identity is being continuously questioned and reassessed. Perhaps we should set aside our political differences and consider the very fundamentals of what unites us: our Englishness. As a foreign national, I have no locus standi to claim what being English is really like, or what it should ultimately be. However, we all know that the English legal system is obsessed with organic growth in its case law. Indeed, it has a tendency of preserving and relying on the past in order to best shape its present (see stare decisis). Thus, in our unique legal system conservation and evolution go hand in hand. Perhaps our evolving constitution ought to be conserved a little longer, for the risk of changing it too quickly and getting it wrong may throw us into an unexpected and irreversible Orwellian future. The latter, one might argue, will recklessly change our constitution beyond repair.

Monday, 17 November 2008

A Short Essay on Feminism, War and International Relations


It is undisputed that the current international political system is largely patriarchal and far from gynenocracy. Even the products of political processes, such as the Law, inherits the composition of its institutional parent. For instance, the law criminalising rape is drafted, in England and Wales, from a male standpoint, arguably suggesting, inter alia, a predisposed male propensity to violence.

In an increasingly interdependent world, the understanding of conflict is not only a core function of IR scholarship but also a fundamental necessity for the prosperity of humankind. Since the beginning of the 20th century, the patriarchal - international - system has been heavily criticised by feminists. Furthermore, until relatively recently, the field of International Relations studied the causes of war and conflict with no particular reference to people (Burchill et al, 2001). However, gender analysis can reveal many answers to IR questions. For instance, gender analysis reveals that men and states, domestic and international violence, to be inextricably related (Burchill et al, 2001). In the same vein, Fukuyama (1998) argues that men are more prone to violence and more competitive than women. As violence, aggression and competition are manifestations of conflict – whether physical, political or economic -, evidence of the former implies the propensity of the latter. Indeed, a brief consideration of crime statistics reveals that the criminal population is heavily dominated by the male gene (see Global Report on Crime and Justice, UN Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention). Thus, it is arguable that ‘a truly matriarchal world would be less prone to conflict and more conciliatory and cooperative than the one we inhabit now.’ This essay will discuss whether the latter assertion is unfounded and consider the prospect of such a matriarchal world.


The study of international relations focuses principally on how states – not people - interact. However, states are constituted by people and it is only logical to analyse the world today in terms of the individuals that constitute it. Gender analysis can therefore shed light in the shadows of understanding the origin of conflict in our civilisation. Thus, ‘feminism is the research posture of many locations, illuminating important relations and practices darkened by the long shadows of official IR (Sylvester, 2002, at p.269).

Fukuyama argues that violence and the coalition building is primarily the work of males. He gives examples of Bosina and the Holocaust, arguing that these were, and quite rightly, largely perpetrated by men. ‘It would seem, then, that there is something to the contention of many feminists that phenomena like aggression, violence, war and of intense competition for dominance in a status hierarchy are more closely associated with men than women’ (Fukuyama, 1998). A world run by women would follow different rules, it would appear, and it is toward that sort of world that all postindustrial or Western societies are moving.

However, he continues, ‘the problem with the feminist view is that it sees these attitudes toward violence, power, and status as wholly the products of a patriarchal culture, whereas in fact it appears they are rooted in biology.’ By comparing the human race to Chimpanzees, Fukuyama makes contention that violence is innate to males - it is in effect, genetic. Thus ‘what is bred in the bone cannot be altered easily by changes in culture and ideology’ (Fukuyama, 1998).

The argument then takes a prospective look and considers whether a truly matriarchal world could ever exist and whether it could in effect doctor the conflict propensity in the world. ‘Despite the rise of women, men will continue to play a major, if not dominant part in the governance of postindustrial countries, not to mention less-developed ones (Fukuyama, 1998). Feminists, however, argue that more women need to be brought into the domain of international politics as leaders, officials, soldiers and voters. Indeed, only by participating fully in global politics can women both defend their own interests and shift the underlying male agenda. Furthermore, Fukuyama contends that women are less likely than men to see force as a legitimate tool for resolving conflicts.

In the past 15 years, the US has participated – or assisted - in over 10 armed conflicts in the world. As the world military hegemon, it is essential to consider the US in our analysis. Thus, Fukuyama predicts that increasing female participation will probably make the US and other democracies less inclined to use power around the world as freely as they have in the past. However, if gender roles are not simply socially constructed but rooted in genetics, there will be limits to how much international politics can change. This in effect means that a feminized international world order may still have to use masculine policies though not necessarily through masculine leaders, as it will still have to deal with those parts of the world run by young, ambitious, unconstrained men. Fukuyama does, however end on an optimist note, arguing that ‘by accepting the fact that people have natures that are often evil, political economic and social systems can be designed to mitigate the effects of man’s baser instincts.’

Despite Fukuyama’s argument’s attractiveness it has nonetheless been criticised. Firstly, Ehrenreich (1999) argues that ‘men hate war.’ Indeed, the male appetite for battle has always been far less voracious than either biologically inclined theorists of war (like Fukuyama) or army commanders might like (Ehrenreich, 1999). Indeed, modern armies are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit men leading to the touting of its vocation fringe benefits. Secondly, there is evidence to suggest that there is no difference between the propensity of being violent by males or females: ‘In laboratory studies of human aggression, where the use of physical aggression is controlled and the possibility of escalation of violence is eliminated, there is little difference in the frequency of aggression in males and females (Ferguson, 1999).

Third, and more relevant to the issue at hand, it should not be assumed that the male monopoly on warfare has been as eternal and universal as Fukuyama imagines. For instance, archaeology suggests that ‘Russian’ women warriors were a common finding in the second millennium B.C (Ehrenreich, 1999). More recently, women in the past two centuries have more than sufficiently demonstrated their ability for collective violence such as eighteenth and nineteenth bread riots and revolutionary uprisings. This however, is not the same as to suggest that women perpetrated international conflict. However, women have served as terrorists and in an era where the latter is increasingly an international problem, it could be argued that women do participate in, and perpetrate, the international War on Terror. Furthermore, examples such as Margaret Thatcher and Indira Gandhi demonstrate women’s capability to be involved at the top of the hierarchy of manufacturing warfare. Fukuyama, however, argues that these were exceptions. Indeed these women may have been forced into male posturing because there are so few female leaders. If there were a critical mass of women leaders or if nation-state sovereignty gave way to international law, the argument goes, international relations would include less interstate competition and more global cooperation (Jacquette, 1999).

However, it could be argued that even if women are innately less violent, they are plenty violent enough to call into question Fukuyama's claim that more female political power would mean more peace (Pollitt et al, 1999). Indeed, women abuse and kill children, mutilate the genitals of little girls, commit infanticide and cruelly tyrannize daughters, servants, and slaves.

When speaking of gender one is also speaking of biology. Thus the claim that a truly matriarchal world would be less prone to conflict calls for a biological contradistinction. However, as Kroeber (1999) argues, it is a large step from what may be biologically innate leanings toward individual aggression to ritualized, socially sanctioned, institutionalized group warfare. Arguably, wars start not in biology (instinctual male aggression), as Jacquette (1999) argues, but in realpolitik i.e. a state’s need to defend itself from outside threat (or to further their interests in foreign land). The argument therefore follows that women’s pacifism is relatively a modern phenomenon and cannot thus be biological, or genetic (Pollitt, 1999).

Wars are manufactured at the political level, and thus control of political power naturally monopolises control of warfare. In a democracy, political power should ideally lie in the hands of the electorate. Thus, Fukuyama argues that war and foreign policy are determined by voters, who will be disproportionately female and therefore antiwar. However, it is more than clear that wars are not decided at the ballot box (Pollitt, 1999). Indeed, American women have had the vote for nearly 80 years and this arguably has not precluded American foreign policy to be as militarily active as it has been.

A possible fatal blow to Fukuyama’s assertion that a matriarchal world would be less prone to conflict is there is no empirical evidence of large-scale, long-term social structures that have been created and maintained exclusively or even largely by females. Indeed, until very recently, and still in many states, women were prohibited from combat roles, which in turn made it impossible for them to rise to commanding levels in their state’s armed forces. The overworked myth of matriarchy notwithstanding, we do not have good examples of groups of women engaged over generations in creating and sustaining public organizations such as armies, religions, police forces, or even international businesses (Tiger, 1999).

Women are already, however, involved in cooperative mechanisms in the resolution of conflict or promotion of peace. For instance in the Phillipines women initiated peace zones to protect their children from recruitment by the militias and the army. Thus, the involvement of women in peace negotiations leads to ensuring a peace agreement that builds lasting peace at all levels (United Nations Development Fund for Women, “Women At The Peace Table, 2000).


Gender analysis provides a novel platform to understand international relations. It may be the case that women are less prone to violence because society has, over time, conditioned them to be so. A totally polarised dispersion of power in the world, such as truly patriarchal or truly matriarchal, is more likely, if anything, to generate more conflict as the struggle for power would be exacerbated. It is therefore safe to conclude that it is necessary to promote women to higher political, economic and military positions so as to provide a balance in the execution of international policies that will, eventually, affect international relations, and, hopefully, the prevention of conflict and promotion of interstate cooperation.