What a fix!!

So, we are getting fixed-term Parliaments which is something I support; it is not right that the executive has the power to determine when elections are and call them to their own advantage. However, looking at the finer print this is not the triumph of democracy that it first appears to be. Looking at the finer print of the Liberal Democrat-Conservative deal that Liberal Conspiracy exclusively published we see this:

A Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government will put a binding motion before the House of Commons in the first days following this agreement stating that the next general election will be held on the first Thursday of May 2015. Following this motion, legislation will be brought forward to make provision for fixed term parliaments of five years. This legislation will also provide for dissolution if 55% or more of the House votes in favour.

The devil is in the detail of the last line; now, for Parliament to be dissolved a simple majority will not be enough. In one fell swoop the redistribution of power from the executive to the House of Commons is reversed in a neat little ‘ConTrick’. As a side-note this means the Liberal Democrats have effectively tied their own hands because even were they to leave and de-camp back to the opposition benches the Conservatives would remain in power as they currently have 47% of the MP’s in the Commons. More worryingly an executive can now remain in power without being able to command a majority in the Commons and the only mechanism for a governments removal is for its effective removal is for its own MP’s to vote against it – if the government of the day was that unpopular then this would be akin to asking turkeys to vote for Christmas. An important safety-valve in our representative democracy has therefore been closed as the Commons has been neutered and lost the power to remove an unpopular government.

I am told this is necessary for fixed-term Parliaments to be meaningful; if that is the case then I would question my original support for them as the legislature does not make any realistic gain in authority versus the executive with the insertion of this clause. However, I do not believe it is necessary; if fixed-term Parliaments required the neutering of the ability of the legislature to dissolve itself then why not just remove this power altogether instead of merely raising the bar? The answer lies in what realistically this is; not a bold ‘reforming’ move but the desperate scramble of this sordid coalition to ensure its own survival. No doubt Mr Clegg and his crew are already highly attached to the honorifics their patron has given them.

Cynically twisting the rules to enshrine the cosy position of the executive doesn’t seem like ‘brave and bold’ or particularly ‘new’ politics to my mind. In fact, it seems rather hackneyed and clichéd to me; so much for this ‘bright new dawn’ promised by Clegg and Cameron.

For more see NorthernHeckler’s blog.

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About darrellgoodliffe


12 responses to “What a fix!!”

  1. northernheckler says :

    I’ve blogged on this as well at http://wp.me/pycui-rg – I’ll link back to you in moment.

    These proposals are a scandalous affront to democracy.


  2. darrellgoodliffe says :


    Thank you for the link. I have linked back here too. Like you say, these proposals are simply outrageous and it was embarrassing having Liberal Democrats on Twitter falling over themselves trying to defend this.


  3. tony says :

    I am so glad others have spoted this, personally my thinking is that it is taking a super majority out of context, this as a measure may be acceptable within a wider reform but as it stands with our parlimant in a transition at best it is a one sided agrement it means the CON party with over 45% of the seats cannot be removed, now this is in the context of one a first past post syterm and two no as yet other political reform.

    so we have the representatives of 36% of the vote in a position wherby the representatives of 74% of the vote cannot remove them this is very very wrong, this isa compounded by there being as yet no elected second chamber.

    It is a device that is out of place and should not be brought in.


  4. Phil Ruse says :

    Fixed term parliaments are meaningless unless you raise the power to dissolve to more than a simple majority. Otherwise nearly every government would have the power to choose when the next election was (and ignore the “fixed term” rule) by virtue of the fact that in this country the party in power normally has a majority. In Scotland Labour supported the fixed term parliaments with a 66% requirement for dissolving parliament.

    The other two points are the government can still be removed by a simple majority – allowing a new (potentially Labour led) coalition to form. The only difference is that an election isn’t called.

    Also, that fixed term parliaments were in the Labour manifesto!


  5. darrellgoodliffe says :


    I can understand what your saying and I can see your point about context; the context does make it alot worse but I don’t see the need for the move away from a simple majority either to bring about a General Election either to ensure fixed-term Parliaments or for any other reason.


    Your completly wrong as any Canadian will gladly inform you.


  6. Phil Ruse says :

    Darell, I’m no fan of fixed term parliaments, I’m simply pointing out that a “fixed term parliament” is meaningless unless the requirement for dissolving it is set at a high percentage. If it’s set at a simple 50% majority then by definition a majority government can call the election whenever it chooses – it makes the whole idea of a fixed term parliament meaningless.


  7. darrellgoodliffe says :


    In reply, all I am pointing out is that it is a myth that a simple majority for dissolution renders fixed-term Parliaments either pointless or unworkable. This is simply not the case and to pretend it is ignores examples of other countries where the two things sit side-by-side.


  8. Phil Ruse says :

    Darrell, I can accept that a parliament where one party rarely gets a majority (often the case with PR systems) could operate fixed term parliaments with a standard majority for dissolution.

    But (!) since majority rule is/has been more normal in this country (since we’re FPTP), having the dissolution at 50% would allow that party to call the election whenever it wanted?


  9. darrellgoodliffe says :


    Thanks but this really doesnt wash at all; Canada’s electoral system is FPTP; not PR. Even so I feel this gerrymander is too high a price to pay for fixed-term Parliaments; given that no form of PR is likely (AV is not in the slightest way proportional).

    Your missing the obvious point that if it did that (marshall its own MP’s to vote for dissolution) then the voters would see through that and be unlikely to reward that party.


  10. Phil Ruse says :

    So let’s say the the voters see through it – it still means that the “fixed term” is fixed term in name only 🙂

    The government still has to resign at 50% + 1MP – same as always – forcing formation of new coalition potentially with new partners – that’s not gerrymandering!

    For evidence I point you again at the Scottish parliament – the fixed term system there has a dissolution of 66% – that be the one the Labour party voted through.


  11. darrellgoodliffe says :


    If you accept that point then surely you accept the point its a viable detterant therefore while it may be ‘fixed term in name only’ you accept another check and balance exists which reinforces the fixed term other than this gerrymander.

    But the same Party that lost the confidence can reappear under a new guise in government and also this new government has no direct democratic mandate to govern from the electorate who have had a government they didnt vote for imposed on them by fiat from the politicians.

    I dissapprove of the arrangement in Scotland but ultimately that is a seperate matter to be decided by that country; if Scottish people object to that they have my support but it is their legislature, not mine. Westminster however belongs to us all.


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