This chapter highlights themes and events that have influenced the structure of the UK Constitution. Our unwritten constitution has evolved under changing political pressures. This makes the historical context important as an aid to understanding. It is helpful to trace the gradual adjustment of institutions to different demands. History also helps to explain the survival of obsolete institutions which do not raise immediate problems or which benefit their members. However, it should be borne in mind that political and legal terms such as ‘freedom’ and ‘sovereignty’ may carry different meanings in different times. There are rival explanations of the history of the constitution, with the truth perhaps being a mixture of them. One extreme view is that history is driven forward by general forces, forces which individuals can influence but not fundamentally change. Another view is that the constitution is the outcome of an endless contest between rival self-serving factions competing for control over the institution of government and driven by personalities and chance events. An example of the first view is ‘the Whig View of History’, promoted from the nineteenth century and linked to the idea that ‘England’ has a special identity.
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