Confusion reigns over 55% – the reality is rather different

Labour activists are up in arms – apparently the Lib Dems and Conservatives are going to change the law so the government can only be brought down if 55% of MPs vote against it.

They’ve got a point – if anyone really was proposing that, it would be an outrage.

But they aren’t. The proposal is quite different.

To quote from the coalition agreement:

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.

Let’s quickly look at the current situation.

A government falls if it loses a vote of no-confidence – i.e. if a majority vote against it. That does not currently trigger a General Election. The Queen may invite the leader of another party to attempt to form a government. If no stable government seems possible, the prime minister will ask the Queen to dissolve parliament and we have an election.

Today, MPs have no power to dissolve parliament. None at all. The Queen has the power, under advice from the Prime Minister. That’s why Prime Ministers are able to pick and choose when to hold an election, and why they try to pick a date when they’re more likely to win.

First thing to note – the new proposal has absolutely nothing to do with motions of no confidence. The current situation – that a government can fall without triggering a general election – remains exactly the same.

Second thing to note – it increases the power of parliament and reduces the power of the Prime Minister. Right now, the PM can choose to dissolve parliament for party advantage (and frequently does). With this change, MPs get the power for the first time.

There is an interesting question, though. Is 55% high enough?

If you have fixed term parliaments, dissolving parliament early should be a last resort, when all else has failed. If parliament can be dissolved on a simple majority vote, a PM can just engineer it and we’re back where we started with the ruling party picking the date of the election.

I would argue that we should only dissolve parliament early when MPs on all sides agree its the right thing for the country. A 55% barrier is rather low for that. Plenty of governments have over 55% of the MPs and so could engineer it.

A higher barrier, say two thirds of MPs, would make it almost impossible for that to happen.

So this proposal makes no difference to motions of no confidence and gives MPs power they’ve never had before to dissolve parliament, moving power from the Executive to the Legislature. Whilst the percentage might be a little low, the basic principle is both sound and democratic.

Update: see also my follow-up article.

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244 Comments

  • In fact, if you look at the text of the Conservative-Lib Dem accord, it doesn’t say 55% would be required to defeat the governent. It says 55% would be required for “dissolution,” that is for dissolving the House and calling an election. This is a crucial difference. Significantly, too, the provision comes at the tag end of the paragraph establishing a fixed five-year term of government. Because it’s the guarantee of it.

    What it means is that if the government were defeated in the House — by the usual 50% margin — Prime Minister Cameron could not simply go the Queen and ask for dissolution. He would have to get a vote of 55% of the House to permit him to do so. So he could not wriggle out of the coalition, or the commitment to a five-year term, by engineering his own defeat (still less do what Stephen Harper did, and call a snap election, without even the fig-leaf of defeat to justify the breach).

    If he were to propose legislation that was obnoxious to his Lib Dem partners, they could always combine with the opposition to defeat it. But Cameron could not use this as a pretext to force an election, because he couldn’t get the 55% needed for dissolution — not without the Lib Dems. An election would only follow defeat on a confidence matter if the Lib Dems agreed it should; but they might instead decide to enter into a coalition with Labour and the other parties. So Cameron’s power is significantly constrained by the 55% rule, and he can’t get rid of the rule because he’d need the Lib Dems’ votes to do that, too.

    For their part, the Lib Dems could not force an election on their own, either: they have enough votes, in combination with the other parties (53%) to defeat the government, but not enough to meet the 55% dissolution standard. Only if both parties agreed (or, more fancifully, if the Tories and Labour voted together) could Parliament be dissolved.

    So the two coalition partners could together break their promise of a fixed five-year term, and pay the political consequences. But there is no way one can double-cross the other, and force an election on its own. This isn’t like Canada, in other words. To unlock this election law, you need two keys.

    :http://www2.macleans.ca/2010/05/13/this-fixed-term-election-law-is-built-to-last/

  • The confusion is understandable, because the BBC (who should know better) have got it wrong on their summary of the coalition policies. I have contacted them to point out the error, maybe others should do the same before the damage spreads?

  • David Allen 13th May '10 - 1:28pm

    Good article. 55% is clearly crazy. It should be more like 80%. Let me explain why.

    A Lib – Lab – rainbow agreement to force a dissolution would command 53% of the seats. So we can just see why the Tories wanted a figure higher than 53%. It means that our idea for a fixed term parliament may be transmuted into a device to prevent the Lib Dems putting a premature end to the coalition, and forcing early fresh elections with a little bit of help from Labour et al (who would find it difficult not to go along with the idea). Actually, I wouldn’t blame the Tories for wanting a figure greater than 53%. It would not help the stability of our coalition if the LD side could readily walk out at any sign of trouble.

    Fascinatingly, a Lib – Con agreement to force an early dissolution would currently command 56% of the seats. Do we begin to see where this magic gerrymandered figure of 55% might have come from?

    So – It’s a fixed term, provided the coalition does not jointly decide to unfix it. The 55% figure will presumably have to be re-gerrymandered in 2015, or whenever, to suit whatever the balance of seats turns out to be at the next election….

    The Press will love this. They will be in endless speculation about whether we are about to unfix the fix. There will be times when Conservative Home is screaming to unfix the fix, and the LDs are dithering. There will be times when it is the other way around. There will be talk of one of the coalition partners offering special new deals to the other in order to unfix the fix. None of these shabby deals needs to happen. The mere fact that we have set up a system which would allow them to happen will be condemnation enough. Labour will have a field day shouting about how the Liberals are no longer Democrats.

    Now, how about deciding that when we are writing a bit of constitutional law, we don’t do it off the back of an envelope?

    A landslide majority government could easily have 60% or 70% of the seats. Do we want that landslide government to have a special privilege, the right to an early dissolution, that is denied to a government with fewer seats?

    I would suggest not. In that case, the threshold should be set very high, perhaps 80%. If on the other hand we are willing to offer a landslide government special privileges, Iain’s two-thirds proposal could be adopted. At least it would sound like an honest piece of legislation, which 55% certainly does not.

    I have one further comment. If we are genuinely to have fixed term parliaments – and not just some sort of bodge – then a five year term is very long. It means a long time when the government is effectively immune from challenge, and democracy falls into an uneasy sleep. It will be attacked by our opponents as a power grab. Four years would be much better.

  • I like the idea but I think Parliament should ONLY be dissolved if Cameron and Clegg agree that it should be. This 55% thingy is a very positive step towards that though.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 13th May '10 - 1:55pm

    Dan

    Fixed-term parliaments were in the Lib Dem manifesto, so it’s not likely to be something that was forced on the Lib Dems by the Tories! In fact it’s a watering-down of pure fixed-term parliaments, because the threshold for dissolution is so low.

    In practice it provides a kind of security for both parties in the Libservative coalition. The Tories know that in the event that they became very unpopular but the Lib Dems weren’t doing too badly, the Lib Dems couldn’t abandon them and force an early election. Conversely, the Lib Dems know that if the consequence of the coalition was unpopularity for them, the Tories couldn’t call a snap election in which they’d be wiped out.

    I think it’s right there should be some threshold below 100% for exceptional circumstances, because it’s conceivable a parliament could become deadlocked and unable to produce a stable government. Two thirds sounds about right, even if a 1997-type landslide would still effectively place the power of dissolution in the prime minister’s hands.

  • Andrew Suffield 13th May '10 - 2:21pm

    But Cameron could not use this as a pretext to force an election, because he couldn’t get the 55% needed for dissolution — not without the Lib Dems.

    Unless Labour were ready for a new campaign.

    If I were writing the legislation then I would work in an extra clause to finally put an end to all this “early election” nonsense, and it’s a really simple one: any incumbent Prime Minister, when parliament is dissolved early and their party votes in favour of dissolution, is barred for life from taking up that office again.

    Under this rule, early dissolution is clearly a statement of “this government does not work, get us a new one”, and cannot be used for electoral advantage. The percentage is then not very important.

  • Iain and others, there is no practical distinction in what passes for the British “constitution” between losing a vote of no confidence and a dissolution. One leads to the other. We can demonstrate this by asking the simple question: when was the last time a government lost a formal vote of no confidence but no general election was called as a result?

    The new proposals will abolish the current clear link between losing a no confidence vote on 50%+1 and the triggering of an election. From now on, the threshold for triggering an election will be 55%. Aside from all the arguments about the specific arithmetic of the current Parliament, the 55% rule will be a major constitutional change that was not mentioned in either of the parties’ manifestos. This is why people are angry about it.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 13th May '10 - 2:58pm

    John

    No one disputes that up till now no-confidence votes normally led to dissolution. But the fact that it’s been so up till now is obviously not an argument that it should remain so!

    Both Labour and the Lib Dems fought this election on the basis that they would introduce fixed-term parliaments. That self-evidently implies breaking the link between no-confidence votes and dissolution, doesn’t it?

  • A good point and interesting debate. My only addition would be to inquire as to whether the early dissolution of parliament would affect the 5-year term cycle? For instance, would a dissolution vote occuring in 2013 affect the scheduled election in 2015? From my perspective it would stand as an extra assurance of government stability that an incoming government would only have 2 years to prove itself if it where able to gain election victory.

  • Kevin Colwill 13th May '10 - 5:02pm

    So lets say… it’s a few months/years down the line and I’m a well hacked off Lib Dem backbencher who does not much care for the Tories and has not been bought off by a job in government.
    Tell me now that 55% rule leaves me in just the same power to bring down the government as a simple 50%+1 that was previously accepted as the rule. The 55% rule is insidious(or, indeed, desireable) because it limits the damageof any potential rebels could do and thus discourages rebellion.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 13th May '10 - 5:16pm

    Kevin

    The rule regarding no-confidence motions will still be 50%+1. So the answer is yes – backbench MPs will still have exactly the same power to bring down a government.

    Of course the consequences of exercising that power will be different in a fixed-term parliament. Whether that will encourage or discourage people thinking of bringing down the government will depend entirely on the circumstances.

    As a matter of fact I can very easily imagine circumstances in which Lib Dem MPs might feel more safer in voting Cameron out of office than they would have done if Cameron still had the power to force an election.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 13th May '10 - 5:17pm

    Or even just “safer” … :)

  • Please can someone enlighten me? Under the present system a Government facing over 50% on a vote of confidence would resign, followed in due course by an election (all after the Queen is asked to formally intervene etc). I’m of the impression the change will lead to the following: Government faces 50%+ opposition on a confidence vote in the House; but because of the new 55% rule required to dissolve the parliament then the Government does not dissolve but limps on with the possiblity of getting business done – a situation where those opposing it would have to maintain extraordinary discipline to not break ranks on all proposals put to them.

    It sounds, in other words, like a substantial shift to me. I’m pretty unconvinced from what I’ve read so far that the sanguine attitude to the change fits reality.

  • David Allen 13th May '10 - 6:00pm

    Scot,

    Any fixed-term parliament worthy of the name strengthens a party with a pivotal position, in that it ensures that this position is retained for the whole of the fixed term. It removes at a stroke the Harold Wilson option, viz, run a minority government (or a phoney coalition) for a few months, hand out public money like there’s no tomorrow, then call another election to gain an absolute majority.

    Whether it necessarily weakens the PM, however, is more debatable. As you point out, it gives us the option should we want it to hook up with Labour somewhere along the road, and finish the remainder of the five years as their junior partner instead of the Tories’. But, would we really want to do that? We’d probably end up being condemned by both sides as unprincipled rats, laughed into insignificance, and slaughtered at the next election.

    With a non-fixed-term parliament, an effective mid-term rebellion by the pivotal party is actually a whole lot easier. Suppose that DC is determined to do something which is wildly unpopular (perhaps it is necessary and unavoidable!) and which we oppose. We could play the populist card by declaring that this is the point of principle on which we must abandon our coalition, say goodbye to our ministerial perks, and give the people what they want, a fresh election when they can kill the unpopular bill and throw the b*stards out. We would probably do pretty damn well in the ensuing election.

    So by agreeing to a (sort of) fixed term parliament, DC has not necessarily harmed his own position. He has lost an option to screw us, but, he has also made it a good deal harder for us to screw him!

    A fixed term parliament basicaly makes coalition building much more likely to be stable. That’s surely a good thing.

    The only problem is this 55% threshold, which makes the fixed term provision horribly uncertain for after 2015 and beyond. Neither we nor the Tories have any motive to retain it. It is just an unhelpful mistake, which has the potential to hurt both us and the tories if we do not put it right.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 13th May '10 - 6:09pm

    dave k

    “I’m of the impression the change will lead to the following: Government faces 50%+ opposition on a confidence vote in the House; but because of the new 55% rule required to dissolve the parliament then the Government does not dissolve but limps on with the possiblity of getting business done “

    The agreement simply stipulates that the dissolution of parliament would require the support of 55% of MPs.

    It says nothing about no-confidence motions, so the situation would remain as it is now. The prime minister would have to resign if he lost a confidence/no-confidence motion, and someone else would be invited to form a government.

    It really isn’t that hard to grasp.

  • @ColinW

    So the two coalition partners could together break their promise of a fixed five-year term, and pay the political consequences. But there is no way one can double-cross the other, and force an election on its own.

    You are so very badly wrong on this point.

    It does exactly the opposite and puts the power of dissolution firmly in David Camerons’ hands. A power he could wield at any time for any reason. A few words in his MPs ears and it’s job done. There are so many ways he could engineer this, cause a rift with the Lib Dems deliberately, lose a confidence motion and then set his MPs to work for dissolution. On the other hand this is not an option available to the other parties.

    Far from empowering parliament it castrates it.It is undemocratic and completely unconstitutional. This parliament should be subjected to the constitutional arrangements it was elected upon.

    The main issue I have is that this mechanism should not be allowed to bind a parliament not elected on that basis. Further we are not in a position where we have a proportionally elected parliament. The reality is that it is an attempt to strengthen the Prime Ministers position in this parliament, since the arithmetic is simply in favour of the major party (the Tories). The other parties could not force dissolution, but the Tory party could at any time by secretly directing its backbenchers. This has not given the power over to Parliament, it still remains firmly in the Prime Ministers hand. As I understand it 50%+1 will still be enough for the Government to fall, but not dissolution. This has constitutional crisis written all over it.

  • Kevin Colwill 13th May '10 - 6:22pm

    I take the points made… and yet I doubt.
    In the main like rebels and boat rockers. As time goes on I hope we’ll see a few Lib Dem and even Tory rebels giving the boat a good old shake.
    Even if the 55% rule works as outlined here I can’t help but believe that on any one issue, on any one night it weakens beckbenchers power to impose that thermo-nuclear option of bringing the government down. If nothing else it gives the government time to calm nerves, apply pressure and stitch up deals.
    Perhaps I’m dim witted but I’m also old fashioned enough to like the simple things in life including simple majorities.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 13th May '10 - 6:39pm

    Kevin

    “Perhaps I’m dim witted but I’m also old fashioned enough to like the simple things in life including simple majorities.”

    Just to be clear, what you’re saying is that you think fixed-term parliaments are a bad idea, isn’t it? Because if parliament can be dissolved by a simple majority of MPs, then it’s not in any sense a fixed-term parliament.

    Of course you have a right to your opinion, but you can hardly complain about the Lib Dems agreeing to this, as fixed-term parliaments were in the Lib Dem manifesto (just as they were in the Labour manifesto).

    To be honest I don’t think we’d even be discussing this if the BBC hadn’t misreported the policy in the first place.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 13th May '10 - 6:43pm

    Steve D

    “The other parties could not force dissolution, but the Tory party could at any time by secretly directing its backbenchers”

    The amount of misrepresentation over this issue is astonishing.

    Of course the Tories alone, with 47% of the MPs, could _not_ force dissolution, which would require the support of 55% of the MPs. You don’t have to be Einstein to work that one out!

  • David Allen 13th May '10 - 6:45pm

    “There are so many ways he (Cameron) could engineer this, cause a rift with the Lib Dems deliberately, lose a confidence motion and then set his MPs to work for dissolution.”

    But he won’t get a dissolution with 47% of the MPs. He needs 55% (with the system proposed), or more than that (with AASt’s suggestions or my suggestions). Where do you suppose DC can magic up the other 8% of the votes, if we don’t want it?

  • Kevin Colwill 13th May '10 - 7:53pm

    I broadly welcome fixed terms but I do object to the idea that the tenure of a parliament, like the speed of light, can be some universal constant.
    No one can impose a fixed term on an unwilling house of commons. If the Prime Minister wants to engineer an election, what opposition leader is going to say, “hang on mate, you govern for a bit longer”?
    I think it is reasonable to argue both for fixed terms and for dissolution on a simple majority. The idea of shifting allegiances bringing first one, then another collation into being strikes me as unworkable and unsellable.
    In any event with the 55% rule in place could we really be sure that the loss of a confidence vote by simple majority would herald a change of government? Might it not mean a few days of frantic arm twisting and patching up of the governing collation, perhaps under a different Prime Minister?
    It’s all very clever but there are just too many moving parts that could go wrong. KISS- Keep it simple – and I say that at the risk of appearing stupid.

  • I think the basic problem here is that Parliament, being a sovereign body, cannot bind itself nor its successors. If the government loses a vote of confidence, what, other than the House of Lords, is to prevent a simple majority of MP’s passing a new Act changing the 55% rule to 50% plus one, and having their way?
    While Cameron can perfectly well say that he won’t seek a dissolution unless 55% of the Commons vote for it, it seems to me impossible for that position to be irrevocably imposed on a successor.

  • @Anthony Aloysius St

    Of course the Tories alone, with 47% of the MPs, could _not_ force dissolution, which would require the support of 55% of the MPs. You don’t have to be Einstein to work that one out!

    ————————————

    You can see no scenarios in which the Tory Party could engineer dissolution?

    In the first instance why would we see a defeat on a supply or confidence motion? Well, something must have gone wrong with the coalition. On present numbers Lib Dem, Labour and others can muster about 53% of the MPs, so enough to win a majority of 50% + 1. So the next step would be For David Cameron to resign as PM. Or would it be the Government resigning? Do we know? Then what happens?

    Just exactly at what point do we get to a vote that will give 55%? My opinion would be only if the Tory Party wants it, as no other party has that in their control. Engineer a suitable crisis with the Lib Dems, whisper in a few backbenchers ears and before you know it, Parliament is dissolved.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 13th May '10 - 8:16pm

    Kevin

    “In any event with the 55% rule in place could we really be sure that the loss of a confidence vote by simple majority would herald a change of government?”

    You can be as sure about that as you can now, because there is nothing in the agreement that would change it. As I’ve already pointed out (several times) no-confidence motions aren’t even mentioned in the agreement.

    As to the rest of it, if you think you can have a fixed-term parliament and also have dissolution on the vote of a simple majority of MPs, then you need to give the matter a lot more thought!

  • Anthony Aloysius St 13th May '10 - 8:21pm

    Steve D

    If dissolution required a vote of 55% of MPs, and the Tories had only 47% of MPs, then the Tories alone could not force dissolution. Do you really not see that?

  • @ Anthony Aloysius St

    “It says nothing about no-confidence motions, so the situation would remain as it is now. The prime minister would have to resign if he lost a confidence/no-confidence motion, and someone else would be invited to form a government.

    It really isn’t that hard to grasp.”

    ____________________________

    Well, I think you and others who are presenting an anodyne argument should read this:

    http://www.headoflegal.com/2010/05/13/more-on-55/

    The distinction between a vote of confidence and vote for dissolution under the changed arrangements is not as great as you’re arguing.

    Having read articles like this and others I retain my suspicion of this proposal as an act of chicanery.

  • @Anthony Aloysius St

    Of course I see that. You miss the point, or I’m not making it very well. You need to look at things the other way around.

    All the other parties combined have 53% of the MPs, so there could never be a dissolution without some Tories voting for it as well. For what reason would they do so? Assuming the 55% mark has to be achieved in the same confidence motion as 50%+1 for the Government to resign, all the opposition parties including the Lib Dems at this point go and vote their no confidence in the Government. Possibly thinking to themselves it’s time for that rainbow coalition. Meanwhile the Tories engineer enough of its backbenchers to vote no confidence and we are tipped over the 55% mark and Parliament is dissolved. Unless the opposition parties can get some Tories who want a dissolution there could never be one.

    Ask yourself which is more likely to happen, Tories voting no confidence so there can be an election because the opposition parties want it, or doing so because the Tory Party wants it?

  • Anthony Aloysius St 13th May '10 - 9:34pm

    Steve D

    But you’re still muddling up no-confidence motions with motions to dissolve parliament.

    I don’t know how I can make it any clearer than I have done already, but the agreement doesn’t even mention no-confidence motions. It has nothing to do with no-confidence motions. Forget about no-confidence motions.

    What the agreement says is that the legislation for fixed-term parliaments would allow for dissolution if 55% or more of the House votes in favour. That means in favour of dissolution, of course. Nothing to do with a no-confidence motion.

  • William H has hit the nail on the head here. If we accept that Parliament is sovereign, and thus cannot bind its successors, if the opposition wishes to change the law on dissolution then it is perfectly able to do so on a simple vote and take away the 55% provision. The current situation of a loss of confidence vote leading to dissolution is not a statutory provision, but is rather a constitutional convention; let no-one be unsure, though, of the power of constitutional conventions which pretty much govern to a large extent the remit of Royal, executive and Parliamentary power. To be seen, furthermore, to enact a provision which seems designed to gerrymander Parliament as currently constituted may well be held to be ultra vires if it were ever the subject of legal action.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 13th May '10 - 10:40pm

    Phil

    Obviously the technicalities of constitutional law are a different subject entirely. Though something tells me it’s not constitutionally impossible to have fixed-term parliaments, considering how many countries do have them.

    But frankly it’s ridiculous to represent a move towards fixed-term parliaments as “gerrymandering”. In a sense it is the very opposite of gerrymandering, because it reduces the unfair advantage of the incumbent prime minister to choose the date of an election.

  • Kevin Colwill 13th May '10 - 10:40pm

    I remain less than fully convinced by answers above. It’s not that I think they’re technically incorrect but I’m inclined to believe that if the circumstances arose the politicians might find some wriggle room and attempt to make the rules suit themselves!
    Leaving that aside, for argument’s sake, I’ll accept the analysis as 100% gospel;- a governing collation would give up power following the loss of a confidence vote by 50%+1. Then what??
    Are we saying Labour, let alone the country, would wear Nick Clegg ditching the Tories and looking for a new partner?
    How about something on a smaller scale like a majority tipping group of rebel Lib Dems going looking to join that dear old rainbow coalition? Given those circumstances it’s hard to see how cobbling together an alternative coalition would be possible or indeed in anyone’s best interest.
    In fact does anyone really believe in fixed terms to the extent that they honestly foresee a change of government without an election just so we can hold faith with a five year parliamentary term?
    Maybe I’m a bit thick about parliamentary procedure but at some stage these guys and gals are going to face real voters and how do you think they’d feel about power changing hands without an election?
    So, I guess I’m saying if 50%+1 means a change of government then 50%+1 means dissolution and 55% is a total irrelevance. But for me it remains a big “if”.

  • Anthony

    Of course other countries have fixed-term parliaments, but then they don’t have our constitution with its system of precedent, conventions and legislation as sources of law.

    It is not, of course, an act of gerrymandering to try to introduce more certainty into when elections are held; it is, however, arguably so when a provision is enacted which fits current circumstances i.e. when opposition MPs could never form the 55% alone. The 55% provision would have been otiose in the 1997 and 2001 parliaments, and redundancy is another factor which could count against such a measure’s constitutionality. The argument that it stops Cameron from using dissolution to his advantage is also questionable. The Queen may refuse dissolution to a PM who has a stable majority as this is a matter of personal prerogative She would presumably follow the Lascelles Principles in making her decision. The example of Harold Wilson in 1966 doesn’t really wash as he had quite a slender majority.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 13th May '10 - 11:03pm

    Kevin

    To be honest, I think you need to sort out your own thinking on this. Above you said you were in favour of fixed-term parliaments. Now you seem to be saying completely the opposite – that a majority vote should be able to dissolve parliament.

    You can reasonably be either for or against fixed-term parliaments, but you can’t be both for them and against them at the same time!

    And the other thing I don’t like is the suggestion that this is somehow underhand, undemocratic and/or dishonest. It’s not. There are perfectly good democratic arguments in favour of fixed-term parliaments. Many countries have them. And both the Lib Dems and Labour had fixed-term parliaments as a manifesto commitment. If a Lib/Lab coalition had materialised it would be committed to something similar (though I would guess with a higher threshold for dissolution than 55%).

  • Anthony Aloysius St 13th May '10 - 11:06pm

    Phil

    You are really suggesting that this provision actually _increases_ the prime minister’s control of the timing of an election, on the basis that it removes the Queen’s power to refuse a dissolution? I can’t believe you’re serious.

  • “I guess I’m saying if 50%+1 means a change of government then 50%+1 means dissolution and 55% is a total irrelevance. But for me it remains a big “if”.”

    There ought to be some sort of prize for comments like that. Anthony, sorry, I’ve been away from my computer all evening, left you on your own, hope you haven’t yet torn all your hair out.

    The proposal in the Con-Lib agreement is to pass a law which decrees that no dissolution shall be permitted without 55% of the parliamentary vote. (I think it would be a silly law and that it should be more like 67% or 80%, but that’s another story).

    You seem to be saying that after Parliament has passed this law, its members will ignore that law should they see fit, and will happily dissolve Parliament on a 50%+1 vote.

    How do you suppose they are going to get away with flagrantly breaking their own law, given that we have a police force, a powerful civil service, and a strong British feeling that we are not a banana republic? (And, given that in the hypothetical conflict situation you describe, there would be a bloc consisting of 45-50% of the MPs who are determined to refuse the dissolution and uphold the law?)

  • My points are perfectly serious. Unless expressly stated in the Bill, it would not remove the Queen’s power to dissolve parliament, but my broader point is that legislation which serves to engineer outcomes on current circumstances is on shaky constitutional ground. As I said above, if the 55% percent had been in place in Labour’s first and second terms it would have made not a jot of difference in practice to the power of the executive and the PM. It is right that a higher threshold might be a different matter, but then you start getting perilously close to the ultra vires action of parliament trying to bind itself and its successors. The fact that the loss of a motion of confidence is not mentioned in these proposals is not an irrelevance; if a government loses the confidence of the House, to attempt to continue to govern would raise extremely serious constitutional questions and make it harder for the Queen to stay out of political matters.

    The solution is possibly to table a Bill stating that general elections shall happen on the [x] of month [x] every [x] years unless parliament is dissolved through the exercise of the Royal Prerogative. Any further provisions regarding parliamentary input into dissolution are extremely problematic but a simple Bill like this would make it unconscionable for the Queen to assent to a dissolution, say, eight months early when a PM was experiencing good poll ratings and had a stable majority.

  • David

    Parliament cannot bind itself or its successors. If a Bill repealing the 55%, 67% or 80% is passed by a simple majority, the Queen is bound by convention to give Royal Assent and it becomes the law.

  • Phil,

    “It is not, of course, an act of gerrymandering to try to introduce more certainty into when elections are held; it is, however, arguably so when a provision is enacted which fits current circumstances i.e. when opposition MPs could never form the 55% alone.”

    Well, opposition MPs rarely do have 55% of the seats, by definition. Opposition MPs might often have only (say) 35% of the seats. I presume nobody would suggest a threshold of (say) 30%, allowing an actual minority to enforce a dissolution…?!

    If however your implication is that there is a gerrymander going on because the governing coalition could muster 56% of the seats and just achieve the 55% criterion, then I think you do have a point. The rule should not favour the governing coalition against an alternative “rainbow alliance”, and the 55% rule seems to have been derived to do just that.

    The simple answer is to raise the percentage to 67% or 80%, so that there is no discrimination between Conlib and Lablib, neither have enough seats to prevent parliament sticking to its fixed term. That gets rid of the putative gerrymander.

    I really can’t understand who is supposed to gain from the gerrymander. I suspect somebody wrote down 55% in pursuit of some sort of faulty logic which suggested that it gained a partisan advantage. But for the life of me I can’t see what such an advantage might be. On the contrary, it is only going to bring speculation, instability and worry. It’s just an error. The figure has to be raised.

  • “Parliament cannot bind itself or its successors. If a Bill repealing the 55%, 67% or 80% is passed by a simple majority, the Queen is bound by convention to give Royal Assent and it becomes the law.”

    OK, so why didn’t Gordon push through a new law extending his term to ten years? Because we’re not a banana republic and the nation, let alone the Queen, would not have stood for it. Nor would they if Parliament passed a 55% law one year and proposed to abolish it the next.

  • “The solution is possibly to table a Bill stating that general elections shall happen on the [x] of month [x] every [x] years unless parliament is dissolved through the exercise of the Royal Prerogative.”

    What, and leave the Queen alone to decide which politician to favour when there is a complex dispute and no precedent to give guidance?

  • The solution is possibly to table a Bill stating that general elections shall happen on the [x] of month [x] every [x] years unless parliament is dissolved through the exercise of the Royal Prerogative.

    Umm that’s basically the position we have now with 5 year maximum terms and nothing to stop the Prime Minister using the Royal Prerogative to ask the Queen to dissolve parliament whenever they want.

    I do agree that there is a theoretical problem that 50%+1 of the house could vote to amend/remove this law and then vote to dissolve parliament.

  • An attempt to extend a parliament beyond its life would very likely not be given Royal Assent other than in times of extreme national emergency, and even then it would be for a very short amount of time.

    The 55% matter is however, a quite different matter, especially if such legislation is not seeking to curtail the Royal Prerogative. It is very difficult to characterise as unconstitutional a measure which has the support of a simple majority of the House, a measure which would seek to overturn a provision that privileges the largest party by avoiding an electorally damaging dissolution

  • Kevin Colwill 14th May '10 - 12:54am

    I regret that my poor mind has been stuck in the tired thinking of the old politics. I imagined a fixed term to be a date on the calendar, not much more.
    I imagined it would focus policy, especially economic policy, on the medium term. I foresaw a parliament of honourable men and women who saw it as their duty to strive to do their best for their constituents and their country until the due date arrived. I imagined a Prime Minister who would be held on his or her honour not to engineer a fake confidence vote to dissolve parliament prematurely.
    I imagined that we (the voters) would have the knowledge of how long the parliament would run and when the election would be. I imagined we (the voters) would think rather poorly of opportunist political parties who faked a crisis to cut and run before the due date. Above all, I imagined that we (the voters) would somehow be the final arbiters.
    Now my friends the scales have fallen from my eyes. It’s not about us (the voters) at all. It’s about the dear politicians. The poor little fellows are forced to work together by denying them the right to dissolve parliament. If they can’t work together in one grouping then they’re forced to try another and another until they get to end of their term.
    Honourable politicians wanting an election can’t have one. Minorities within parliament can simply insist that the merry-go-round whiz go on. Meanwhile we (the voters) get first one then potentially another government that we didn’t vote for.
    I thank you, my education is progressing apace!

  • Anthony Aloysius St 14th May '10 - 1:17am

    Kevin

    Sorry – still can’t tell from your last comment whether you’re pro or anti fixed-term parliaments. It’s a bit of waste of time discussing it further if you can’t make up your mind.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 14th May '10 - 1:27am

    Phil

    If you look at the discussions we’ve already had, you’ll see that people have already suggested the threshold should be higher – 67% or 75% – to take the decision out of the prime minister’s hands.

    I’m not clear whether you think that would be a good or bad idea. But I’m not impressed by abstruse arguments that it would be constitutionally impossible, even if it were desirable. Who knows? Maybe we could even have – sit down if you’re of a nervous disposition – a written constitution!

  • Malcolm Todd 14th May '10 - 1:31am

    “I imagined a fixed term to be a date on the calendar, not much more.”

    Baffling. Dates are already fixed, you know. Parliament already has a maximum term. The only possible meaning of fixed term in the context of parliament is that it’s not possible (or at least not a simple matter, as it is now) to dissolve parliament before the maximum term. If you don’t support that, you don’t support fixed terms, and I can’t work out what you thought you were supporting.

    I think the simplest answer is the Swedish system: you can dissolve a parliament early any time you like (I think it’s even legally the PM who has the power there), but the new parliament still terminates on the date the old one would have done. This means there is absolutely no way of screwing the system for partisan advantage, because you’ll still have to face the electorate on the date you would have done anyway (an electorate, what’s more, that’s going to be rather pissed off with you for forcing an unnecessary election on them in the meantime). So the only circumstances in which an early election will be held will be if it’s genuinely impossible to form a government with the current parliament; which is the way it should be.

    An appealing alternative is what Andrew Suffield suggested above: that the PM in office at the time when a parliament is dissolved early cannot continue in office. You don’t even need the extreme lifetime ban suggested by Andrew: simply barring that PM from office during the life of the next parliament – the one that s/he has unnecessarily called into being prematurely – would do the job.

  • Phil Tipton 14th May '10 - 2:25am

    My constitutional arguments are not intended to be abstruse but are simply observations on the plan as currently formulated and its relationship with constitutional law. To my mind, the only way that this can be enacted legislatively is to remove the personal Royal Prerogative of dissolution completely, a task which will not be an easy one considering the way in which even prerogatives exercised solely through minsters of the executive have proved resistant to legislative amendment (cf. the discussion over the prerogative to deploy troops).

    The raising of the threshold to something like 80% would indeed work, but our unwritten constitution is very hostile to such measures due to their ability, if employed malignantly, to enact oppressive legislation (imagine a scenario where such virtually impossible hurdles were put in the way of the repeal of measures which constituted a deep abrogation of human rights).

    I don’t have anything against a codified constitution at all, but there are practical advantages to the current arrangements where parliamentary sovereignty has, at least in theory, primacy.

  • Rather than get ensnared in the problems of trying to entrench a law that a sovereign parliament can override, what would be wrong with Cameron saying that he would not seek a dissolution without the consent of the leader of the LibDems, and that Cameron’s successor in this parliament if something were to happen to him would also be bound?

  • Kevin Colwill 14th May '10 - 7:01am

    @ Malcolm the Swedish system as you explain it sounds far preferable to any 55% rule or other enhanced majority.
    I’m sorry if I’m seen as confused. It’s not unknown but thought I was being plain so I’ll try again.
    Today it’s accepted that the PM can call an early election whenever he or she likes to gain the maximum political advantage. Tomorrow it’s agreed that they cease to do that and for the good governance of the country run for a set five year period. The only way it’s possible to call an early election is the faking of a crisis and MPs of a governing party or group voting to bring it all to an end. 50%+1
    They are held on their honour and they risk electoral damage by being seen as opportunistic.
    To pass laws that actively prevent a simple majority of MP’s form forcing an election seems to me undemocratic and far worse an affront to the voters than a government’s power to call an election when it chooses. Where are the cases when it’s preferable to prevent 50%+1 from having their dissolution?
    Take a recent example, the election that never was at the time of the “Brown bounce”. A new Prime Minister wants to go to the country to get a personal mandate. Would it really be preferable to deny voters a chance to endorse or reject a new Prime Minister? In any event, even if he or she could command fewer than 55% of the commons what opposition would say, “No way, you just get on with it”?
    Take the example of a government losing a simple majority of MP’s midterm. We’re told a confidence vote forces a change of government. Then what?? If the new government want an election but don’t command 55% who gains from denying the majority a dissolution?
    The only conceivable use of a 55% rule in practice is to create a situation in which a minority government remains in power against the will of the House of Commons. Lovely!
    I’m for focusing minds on the medium term, for making it hard for governments to cut and run, for trying to wring out compromises but call me thick, call me old fashioned, minorities dictating to majorities has never been my idea of democracy… and elections sort of have!

  • Anthony Aloysius St 14th May '10 - 8:05am

    Kevin

    Let me help you. Judging from your last comment, you’re _not_ in favour of fixed-term parliaments.

    Fine. But the Lib Dems fought the election on a manifesto that included fixed-term parliaments (as did Labour), so you can hardly blame them for agreeing to a move that makes it harder to dissolve parliament prematurely. As I’ve been saying all along – ever since I realised the BBC was misreporting this, at any rate – I think the threshold should be higher than 55%.

    I would guess the reason it is 55% is that the Tories (who didn’t previously support fixed-term parliaments) wanted to retain the power of premature dissolution for the coalition. So it’s a rather unsatisfactory compromise.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 14th May '10 - 8:29am

    It is quite bizarre to see Lord Adonis and other Labour politicians saying that it is a “constitutional outrage” that a majority of MPs will not be able to trigger dissolution, when they have just fought an election pledging to make it impossible for any number of MPs to trigger dissolution.

    Surely this is taking cynicism to an unprecedented level.

  • Kevin Colwill 14th May '10 - 8:51am

    One more wild and crazy thought.
    I’m a MP (suspend disbelief and go with me on this!) and I’m part of a 50%+1 majority for a dissolution. Who’s going to stop me resigning?
    OK, 50%+1 are not going to resign. Let’s say we get a modest 20, 50 or 100 MP’s “doing a David Davis” on a point of principle.
    I’d love to see Ladbrookes odds on your fixed term parliament running its full course.

  • @Anthony Aloysius St

    But you’re still muddling up no-confidence motions with motions to dissolve parliament.

    No, I’m perfectly aware of the difference, thank you.

    I don’t know how I can make it any clearer than I have done already, but the agreement doesn’t even mention no-confidence motions. It has nothing to do with no-confidence motions. Forget about no-confidence motions.

    You cannot just dismiss the no confidence issue. Should there be a situation where a Queens Speech or Budget is defeated by a simple majority; meaning a loss of confidence in the Government, currently this should lead to dissolution unless the Queen refuses.

    On the basis of this proposal, Parliament would be in limbo, who is Prime Minister at this point? The House has no confidence in the current Government and PM, so how can they continue? Do they take on a caretaker role perhaps with arrangements similar to those Brown went through?

    With negotiations to put a new Government together, who is going to put down a motion to dissolve parliament? Should it follow automatically from a loss of confidence there is a further vote on dissolution? What if the no confidence vote got more than 55% support and then a dissolution motion didn’t? Which vote expresses the wishes of Parliament? There are the makings of a huge constitutional crisis here.

    I cannot seriously believe two different votes would be required to express the views of Parliament.

    Even if all these issues can be resolved, two main concerns for me remain.

    1. We elected a Hung Parliament which gives no one Party an overall majority. This proposal seeks to enable the Tory party to act as if it has an overall majority and enjoy the benefits that go with that position; by extending the threshold from simple majority to 55% for dissolution.

    2. The Tory Party is the only Party that can ensure dissolution on the basis of this proposal, so far from being democratic and transferring the power of dissolution to Parliament; it is keeping that power firmly entrenched in the Prime Ministers hands.

  • This is a quite an astonishing argument, and it does seem to me that there is a clear will in parts of the press, especially The Telegraph, to willfully misinterpret what the rules means. As others have pointed out, this threshold for dissolution is entirely normal in fixed-terms parliaments and indeed the only problem with it is that it is probably too low. That the Labour party are scurrying around crying “constitutional outrage” is absolutely laughable and hypocritical, but perhaps predictable, considering how bitter they have become this week,. That the right-wing media are up to it though, just indicates a desire to derail constitutional reform and ultimately kill the coalition. Already.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 14th May '10 - 10:38am

    Steve D

    We’re going round in circles now, but much of what you are saying is just plain wrong.

    It _doesn’t_ enable the Tory party to carry on governing, because if there were a vote of no confidence the Queen could – and presumably would in this parliament, if the coalition had broken down – ask someone from another party to form a government.

    Clearly the Tory party alone _cannot_ ensure dissolution, because it has only 47% of the MPs. Without the change of rules the prime minister could simply ask the Queen to dissolve parliament and normally she would agree. Obviously this is a reduction in prime ministerial power.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 14th May '10 - 10:40am

    “That the right-wing media are up to it though, just indicates a desire to derail constitutional reform and ultimately kill the coalition. Already.”

    Or do you think they are just trying to kill this particular provision, in the expectation that the Lib Dems would still go along with the rest of it, but in the much weaker position where Cameron could call an election at a time of his choosing?

  • @MBoy

    This is a quite an astonishing argument, and it does seem to me that there is a clear will in parts of the press, especially The Telegraph, to willfully misinterpret what the rules means. As others have pointed out, this threshold for dissolution is entirely normal in fixed-terms parliaments and indeed the only problem with it is that it is probably too low. That the Labour party are scurrying around crying “constitutional outrage” is absolutely laughable and hypocritical, but perhaps predictable, considering how bitter they have become this week,. That the right-wing media are up to it though, just indicates a desire to derail constitutional reform and ultimately kill the coalition. Already.

    No it is not anything of the sort.

    This parliament was not elected on the basis of serving a fixed term. It should serve only upon the basis it was elected. The issue of a fixed term parliament and the arrangements for its dissolution should only apply to future parliaments.

    This proposal is the complete opposite of democracy. It seeks to entrench the major party and the current coalition in power for five years, regardless of whether parliament has confidence in it.

    We need to look at the reality of this parliament and not some nice theory about how a fixed term parliament should work.

    The reality of this parliament is that no one party has an overall majority and that thanks to FPTP we have distorted levels of party representation. We have the situation where the major party has 36% support but wields 47% of the power and the third party has 24% support but wields only 9% of the power; in terms of votes. Labour has 29% support and 40% of the voting power. The only way that the 55% mark for dissolution can be reached is with some support from the major party.

    I am in favour of fixed term parliaments oddly enough. But we need to be very cautious about throwing away centuries of our constitutional arrangements for short term political expediency, dressed up as stability.

    If we have a fixed term parliament elected upon a proportional voting system then a threshold of 55% or higher would be democratic. The reality of our current parliament is very different. What might work for a theoretical parliament simply does not cut in under the present realities.

    Any fixed Term Parliament elected under FPTP or for that matter AV must retain simple majority rules for dissolution, given the distorted levels of representation and voting power they create.

  • @Anthony Aloysius St

    With respect, most of what you are saying is just plain wrong. We will have to agree to disagree.

  • The rationale behind fixed-term parliaments is sound i.e. curtailing the PM from calling an election when it is most advantageous to him/her, but attempting to entrench provisions which would privilege whoever happened to be the largest party in a situation of coalition breakdown – and enable them to stay in power where a dissolution would currently be triggered – is profoundly undemocratic.

    Legislation could certainly be enacted of the type which would have made it difficult for Brown to call an election when he was riding high in the polls in 2007. If Parliament makes it clear through legislation that its will is that governments with stable majorities should not seek early election to bolster its own standing then it would be difficult for the Queen to exercise the personal prerogative to dissolve parliament if a PM requested one at an advantageous time. Trying to mess with the convention that motions of confidence lead to dissolution is a dangerous move and, as Steve D says, you simply cannot separate the issues of confidence and dissolution thresholds in a discussion considering the length of parliaments.

  • Redassedbaboon 14th May '10 - 10:57am

    Of course, one might suggest that the 55% thing stems from Tory arrogance that it’s basically their right to govern, the LibDems being so giddy and naive in the ways of government that they didn’t care (and aren’t used to any policy concepts being *really* challenged because everyone’s always treated them as a joke), and the negotiating teams thinking that nobody would notice the introduction of a whole new suspiciously numbered concept into parliamentary procedure because they’d all be too busy glowing healthily in the sunshine of the Age of Change. It’s a PR cock-up as much as it is a gerrymander.

    If you are going to do this (and I’ve got my reservations over fixed-term parliaments in the first place, but let’s set that aside) 55% is practically too small to prevent the Tories doing the dirty on you (however skint Labour is, I reckon it’ll fancy its chances in another election any time after year 1 under a new leader, and if the Tories tire of you it would only take 51 Labour MPs – even assuming no support from the far corner – to blow it up anyway. This is the age of coalition politics, people screw each other over.

    Given this, 55% just looks bad. It just does. It’s a figure plucked out of the air because it’s arithmetically convenient, whether or not it’s actually legitimate or noble. That’s government, kids.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 14th May '10 - 11:03am

    Steve D

    No we won’t have to “agree to disagree”, because when you claim that the Tories could force a dissolution that is demonstrably wrong. It’s a simple matter of arithmetic. The Tories have only 47% of the MPs, and they would need 55%.

    And when you claim this would enable the Tories to act as though they had an overall majority, that is also demonstrably wrong, because if the coalition broke down the opposition parties could obviously vote the Tories out of office and, between them, they could obviously form a majority government.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 14th May '10 - 11:09am

    Phil

    “If Parliament makes it clear through legislation that its will is that governments with stable majorities should not seek early election to bolster its own standing then it would be difficult for the Queen to exercise the personal prerogative to dissolve parliament if a PM requested one at an advantageous time.”

    I’m sorry, but putting the onus on the monarch to decide whether or not a premature dissolution is justified would be a terrible idea.

  • Kevin Colwill 14th May '10 - 11:15am

    @AAS, I’m a poor confused soul floating about the blogosphere in search of meaning.
    I started thinking the 55% rule was the real price the Lib Dems had to pay for those seats around the cabinet table. Tied to the Tories for five years, unable to effect a change of government even if they did join the ranks of an “everyone but the Tories” coalition.
    I imagined (I see now I imagined far too much and researched far too little) that Lib Dems would hate this. I imagined they’d be up in arms that they’d been stitched up in this way.
    Not a bit of it. It appears that it’s all part and parcel of the concept of a fixed (almost left out the word “term”) parliament. Apparently these are not really about taking an undemocratic power to call a snap election away from Prime Ministers. They’re not really about focusing economic and other policy on the medium term. What they’re really about is denying the sovereignty of a majority of MP’s to demand an election.
    They’re about facilitating patches and fixes and the cobbling together of coalitions.
    What’s more democratic- too many elections or too few?
    Let’s look at the Swedish model as presented here. Everything much as it exists today but all politicians knowing they face an inescapable election on a given date come what may. On face value it focuses policy without endangering democratic values. I bet, however, someone will explain that it doesn’t.
    Faced with a stark choice of allowing Prime Ministers to decide when elections happen or preventing parliament from deciding when elections happen there is only one choice I can make.
    You’re right; I sleepwalked into the polling booth at the last election. I voted, as I have all my life, for a party I thought I knew and understood. I might as well have based my vote on the quality of the leader’s hairstyles because I very clearly didn’t think it through.
    I’m no longer sure I’m a natural Lib Dem, in fact I becoming ever more convinced that I’m not.

  • But as things currently stand, the power of dissolution is one of the few remaining reserve prerogative powers which, both in theory and in fact, are in the personal gift of the monarch. The current convention is that under normal circumstances the Queen will not refuse a dissolution request from a PM, but as I said above, if parliament makes it clear the circumstances under which it disapproves of a dissolution e.g. when a PM has a healthy majority and is perfectly able to continue until the end of a fixed-term, then convention, as it does in our flexible unwritten constitution, bends to the presumed intent of the elected legislature.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 14th May '10 - 11:38am

    Kevin

    It sounds to me as though you still haven’t thought this through.

    Obviously if you give a simple majority of MPs the power to dissolve parliament you are also giving that right to a prime minister who controls a majority of the MPs. There’s just no way round that. If you want to have fixed-term parliaments – which is what both the Lib Dems and Labour committed themselves to in their manifestos – then obviously that involves taking away the power of a majority of MPs to force a dissolution.

    Maybe now you’ve thought about it you don’t think it’s a good idea. But please spare us these ridiculous accusations that it’s somehow dishonourable of the Lib Dems to agree to it, when it’s been party policy for years and was a manifesto commitment.

  • One aspect that hasn’t been covered (forgive me if it has – I admit I haven’t read all the above discussion in detail) is that the new proposal is for “55% of all MPs” while the previous “50%+1″ refers only to those MPs actually voting.

    In the current set up, abstentions by the ruling party come into the equation in that they would reduce the number of MPs required to pass a no confidence vote, so govt. rebels could help bring down a govt. without actually voting against their party. In the proposed system, and with the current maths, these rebels would actually need to vote against their party to have an impact.

    Steve

  • Richard Blogger 14th May '10 - 12:03pm

    Iain,

    I love the way that the Tories, and now LibDems, are trying to explain away this change by saying that those of us who oppose it are confused, and then you gloss over the real issues as if we are little children. How so very patronisingly Cameroon.

    The issue that I have, and I guess a lot of people have, is that we do not like the idea of government continuing relentlessly regardless of what the public want. This is what a fixed term will be. Those of you who say that fixed terms are important tell us that regardless of what we want (the people who elect politicians) that once we have you we have a five year sentence with no time off for good (or on your part, bad) behaviour. WE, us, the electorate are told by YOU that we have to put up with you for five years. Has the expenses scandal had no effect on you whatsoever? It is incredibly arrogant that the first act of Cameron is to be seen to be changing the rules for his own benefit. That is how this government will continue.

    And tell me, how you, as a supporter of Cameron, can put up with the hypocrisy of week after week him telling Brown at PMQs that Brown must call an election and then when Cameron gets into control he legislates so that no one can ever say that to him?

    Take away the power of the Prime Minister to dissolve parliament, fine. But give that power to Parliament as a simple majority. It is nonsense to say that if 50% of MPs do not want a government to exist that they should be told top go back and think again just because Cameron has engineered a 55% rule that (conveniently) benefits him.

    Finally, let’s get some facts straight. The 55% limit law will be made by a simple majority of MPs. The law can be repealed by a simple majority of MPs. So if 50% of MPs want to dissolve parliament then all they have to do is pass a bill to repeal the 55% law, revert to a 50% limit and then vote for dissolution. In effect it is a nonsense law, so why make it? Explain that one.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 14th May '10 - 12:05pm

    “Take away the power of the Prime Minister to dissolve parliament, fine. But give that power to Parliament as a simple majority.”

    Surely the silliest comment on this subject yet. And that’s saying something.

  • Phil,

    “Trying to mess with the convention that motions of confidence lead to dissolution is a dangerous move”

    I think that if we take that view, we make the concept of fixed term parliaments impossible. We cannot ban motions of confidence. We cannot insist that a government continues to the end of a fixed term despite having lost its authority and its ability to carry legislation through parliament. So your proposal amounts to saying we can’t fix the term of parliament.

    So I can understand why an opponent of fixed term parliaments might advnce this a viewpoint, preferably while wearing a wig and speaking with as much bogus gravitas as can be mustered. However, if we are more open and objective about it, we have to be prepared to change the system in a way that is logical, consistent and robust.

    As you pointed out, parliament has and should have the right to repeal tomorrow the mistaken piece of rushed legislation (Dangerous Dogs Act) that it passed today. As I pointed out, we should not treat electoral reform like that. It follows that when we propose a major electoral reform, we need to get it right first time. This the 55% rule patently fails to do, but we have time to raise the figure to something more suitable.

    In a fixed term parliament, we should stop worrying our heads so much about what extreme circumstances might be allowed to trigger an early election, and just accept that for all pracical purposes the term is fixed. It then remains to make proper provision for what happens when a government loses its majority on a confidence issue.

    The answer must be that the PM can resign, and, that this must not be taken as a trigger for dissolution. A new consensus must be sought, a new PM agreed upon, and a mechanism found for ensuring that this happens. Perhaps we should learn from the Catholic Church, and lock all our cardinals away until they can send up that white smoke signal…!

    I accept that resolving exactly how to do this is not trivial. It can be done. Like the change to the 55% rule, it must be done right. The five year term is another issue that should be queried (four is more just).

    Let’s have a proper debate on how to do it, via a Royal Commission, and/or a citizens’ convention or something. Let’s get the details right before we rush to legislate. But the principle of fixed term is sound, it was promised by Lib Dems (and Labour!), it has been agreed by Cameron, it is part of the deal, and it must happen!

  • Richard Blogger 14th May '10 - 12:33pm

    Iain,

    My guess is that four years is being avoided as the GE would then always fall on the same day as a particular set of local elections – having the GE and the London all-ups on the same day for ever more may not be a great idea.

    Except that 7 May 2015 is the date for the Scottish Parliamentary elections and the Scots are desperate to avoid the fiasco a few years ago when they had multiple voting on the same day. Of course, it is typical of a largely English government to arrogantly ignore Scottish concerns like this.

    The fact is, this arrangement was hurriedly thought out and the rules made up on the spot out of expediency. If LibDems were true to their principles they would not be defending these rules and instead they would invite consultation and discussion. FFS you have five years to get it right!

  • “The issue that I have, and I guess a lot of people have, is that we do not like the idea of government continuing relentlessly regardless of what the public want. This is what a fixed term will be. Those of you who say that fixed terms are important tell us that regardless of what we want (the people who elect politicians) that once we have you we have a five year sentence with no time off for good (or on your part, bad) behaviour. WE, us, the electorate are told by YOU that we have to put up with you for five years. Has the expenses scandal had no effect on you whatsoever? It is incredibly arrogant that the first act of Cameron is to be seen to be changing the rules for his own benefit.”

    Actually, as a supporter of fixed term parliaments, I have to accept that the above arguments do worry me. They are not silly. We must do this with good not bad motives, and we must show that we are doing it for good motives.

    Five years is too long. It means that when government has settled into the job after two years, the next election is three years away. This will feel like an eternity if government is making a pig’s ear of things but has control of parliament. If the next election was just a bit closer, that mood would be replaced by a much more positive one, a determination to organise in opposition for the coming conflict. Four years is a better period. It is roughly what the average term has been up to now.

    Additionally, there is the specific charge that for this first term, we are into gerrymandering to protect our own backsides. We must make it clear that this is not the case. A practical way to do that, I suggest, would be to propose that this initial tem will last three years only. In other words, elections would be in 2013, 2017, 2021, etcetera. And, prior to the 2013 election, a referendum woud be held to approve (or otherwise) the change to a fixed term parliament.

    Yes, lots of concessions. It’s called compromise, listening, fairness, robustness, permanence.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 14th May '10 - 12:35pm

    tony

    The agreement is perfectly clear:
    “… 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 problem is that some of the press – notably the BBC – misunderstood it and misreported it.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 14th May '10 - 12:57pm

    tony

    No doubt anything is open to misinterpretation if the people interpreting it are stupid enough.

    But I can’t see how any person of normal intelligence could understand those words to mean anything other than what they do mean.

  • Richard Blogger 14th May '10 - 1:03pm

    Anthony Aloysius St
    Surely the silliest comment on this subject yet. And that’s saying something.

    I repeat my statement above about patronising Cameroonisms.

    You are suggesting that a simple majority will simply be whipped and hence the Prime Minister will still have the privilege to dissolve Parliament, yes? Well that is lovely, you are suggesting that we have a House full of automatons with no independent thought. Nice. It looks like at the next election we should tell people not to vote at all.

    I want Parliament to be the servant of the people, you seem to suggest that we have to vote for five year fixed chunks of sinecures. I am opposed to that. I do not want discredited Parliament (not just government, but Parliament – the whole damned lot of them) to survive for a day longer than it should. Those of you who want five years of fixed parliaments have not learned a thing from the expenses scandal.

    One other thing to think about: have a look at what is happening in Thailand right now. Will the Red Shirts be the only way to get a new Parliament in the future in the UK? Think carefully.

  • Kevin Colwill 14th May '10 - 1:23pm

    @ASS et al. I’ve already fully accepted that I didn’t think through the implications of fixed term parliaments as presented eloquently by yourself and others here.
    I caught and bought the idea that it’s undemocratic for a Prime Minister to have the power to dissolve parliament at a time beneficial to his or her narrow party interests. I accepted the desirability of economic and other policy focused on the medium term.
    I missed the bit where it was clearly spelt out that this meant a no confidence vote of a simple majority of MPs would no longer cue an election but start up a game of musical deckchairs on the Titanic. I guess I was busy that day.
    Is there absolutely no squaring of the circle?
    No merit in the Swedish example,(I’m paraphrasing an earlier post and hoping it’s accurate), of an absolutely set date for elections but interim elections possible following a no confidence vote?
    How about a cross party committee of privy councillors who sat between the PM and Her Majesty? These guys would have a set of agreed tests designed to determine if the PM was seeking narrow party advantage of if there was a genuine need for an election. In most cases it would be pretty obvious.
    If it really was about stopping Prime Ministers taking the electoral wee wee then, surely, we could do that within something like the present rules on dissolution. But it isn’t really is about that is it? It’s really about a) shifting coalitions deciding who governs us or b) tying partners together in a collation so that they don’t/can’t shift.
    You can decide if it’s a) or b). I’ve heard strong arguments both ways.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 14th May '10 - 1:28pm

    Richard

    It’s perfectly reasonable for you to be against fixed-term parliaments. No doubt they have both advantages and disadvantages.

    What I think is completely unreasonable is the accusation of chicanery that has been levelled at the Lib Dems for agreeing to this. Fixed-term parliaments are a long-standing party policy and were in the manifesto – and they obviously require that a simple majority of MPs don’t have the power to dissolve parliament.

    And what’s really breathtaking is Labour politicians complaining that taking away that power is a “constitutional outrage”, when they themselves were campaigning for fixed-term parliaments only a week ago. Surely that degree of cynicism and hypocrisy is astonishing by any standards.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 14th May '10 - 1:33pm

    “I missed the bit where it was clearly spelt out that this meant a no confidence vote of a simple majority of MPs would no longer cue an election but start up a game of musical deckchairs on the Titanic. I guess I was busy that day.”

    Sorry to be blunt, but shouldn’t it have been blindingly obvious to you – if you thought about it at all – that if a simple majority of MPs could dissolve parliament, then so could a prime minister who commanded a majority in the House of Commons? Can you really expect people to spell out explicitly things that are quite so obvious?

  • The fact that the BBC are indulging Labour party hacks claiming that the consequences of fixed-term parliaments which was one of their own policies) is very annoying. The level of journalistic analysis on this issue has been utterly woeful.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 14th May '10 - 2:13pm

    It’s not just the BBC, though. The Times has an article by a supposed constitutional expert – a Scottish one, at that! – which quotes him as saying “The second and much more fundament problem is the raising of the bar of a no confidence vote in the government to 55% rather than simple majority of those MP’s present and voting.”
    http://timesonline.typepad.com/law/2010/05/plans-for-fixedterm-parliaments-not-credible-and-dangerous-says-law-expert.html

    And then he goes on to speak repeatedly as though the 55% rule would apply to no-confidence motions. To be charitable though, this article was written two days ago, so although it does quote the text of the agreeement, perhaps what he had been asked for was an opinion on the BBC’s misreporting of the proposal, not the proposal itself.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 14th May '10 - 2:18pm

    tony
    “thirdly the failure to do this has allready resulted in the likely hood of it being passed being deminished witness the Tory backpeddalling in some sections again are you saying these people are stupid if so why have the lib dems done a deal with them.”

    Of course the Tories would prefer not to pass this if they thought they could get away with it!

    It’s the only thing preventing Cameron calling a snap election during his honeymoon period and ending up with an overall majority. That’s what makes me wonder whether all the misinformation floating about is entirely accidental.

  • Redassedbaboon 14th May '10 - 2:32pm

    @AAS
    So this government lasts until 2015, along the way losing a referendum on AV after the big papers all come out against it and the LibDems can’t argue for it with any heart. At that election, the LibDems are deserted by people angry that you propped up the same old crap and did lots of nasty stuff after being given the nasty jobs, but Labour hasn’t got its act together yet. The Tories win 51 seats net, and have, ooh, just over 55%. Cameron, or whatever comes after him, can then dissolve at will. Does that end fixed term parliaments? Or does the percentage required vary along with whatever happens to be convenient? Will there be new legislation to ensure that he absolutely can’t?
    Enshrining the political expediency of the current government in parliamentary procedure via legislation requiring completely new procedural concepts is wrong.

    Besides, it’s pointless, he’ll screw you over the first chance he gets. Well, maybe the second. It’s what people do. New politics or no.

    @MBoy
    I’ll say it again, welcome to government. You’ll get used to this. But there are legitimate concerns about 55%, and going “cuh, the meeja” doesn’t make them go away.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 14th May '10 - 2:42pm

    Redassedbaboon

    Yes, of course. As I’ve been pointing out all along, 55% isn’t high enough to remove the prime minister’s power to force an early election in general. If you believe in fixed-term parliaments it should be higher. No argument about that.

  • Agreed, it should have been 66%, exactly as in the Scottish Parliament, but even that wouldnt have stopped Labour saying it was a “constitutional outrage”, even though they wrote the Scottish legislation…

  • @Anthony Aloysius St

    You really need to stop telling people that disagree with you that they are either stupid or haven’t thought things through. It is so arrogant and egotistical of you.

    We are not dealing with political theory but political reality. Those who commend this travesty by and large are thinking about things in the abstract imho.

    We understand the difference between dissolution and no confidence, there is no confusion on my part or from other contributors. I strongly disagree that the two things can be separated in the quite the way apologists for this legislation suggest. Even if this matter and others could be resolved, it remains in my humble view undemocratic and unconstitutional to try and bind the current Parliament in this way. It should serve upon the constitutional basis it was elected.

    With regards to the powers of the PM being reduced, I’ve not said that in one sense they are not reduced. In other words it would stop the PM from going to the Queen and asking for dissolution when he feels like it. I also understand since I did well in maths that 47% is not 55%, so with their own votes alone they could not dissolve parliament. So if you want to take credit for demonstrating those things to me, be my guest.

    There are ways in which the Tory party could engineer dissolution if they so wished, through secretly encouraging their back bench MPs to vote with the opposition parties. Indeed they could even try to legitimise it and say they can have a ‘free vote'; to make it look as if they are giving power to parliament when in reality they are trying to manipulate it. This option is not available to the opposition parties, so I still contend that in the realities of this parliament it stacks the deck firmly in favour of the Tories.

    It is absurd to think there is an alternative Government that can be formed with a majority in this Parliament, even if the numbers are there. If that were possible, then it would have happened now. The chances of the Lib Dems and Labour working together after a period of bitter fighting in the commons makes the prospect seem even less likely. So, the only other alternative Government in the event of no confidence can be a minority one, most likely still Tory.

    Never mind the nice theories, get into the real world politics of the current situation. This is the point at which the constitutional crisis begins. No legislation can be passed because there is a simple majority against it yet no alternative Government with a majority can be formed because there isn’t the political co-operation to do so; please don’t get hung up here with wishful thinking that they would have to find ways to work together, this is real politics, not theory. What does the Queen then do, ask Labour to form a minority Government on their own, if a minority Tory one can’t govern? It just gets too ridiculous for words.

    People in favour of this say we are the ones who haven’t thought things through!

    The electorate gave no party an overall majority and in the key issue of whether or not Parliament has confidence in the Government, moving the goalposts to 55% for dissolution (which, before you tell me again, I know is different to confidence) is simply a ploy to enable the Tory party to avoid being subjected to the will of the electorate; should parliament wish to express that will in different terms to the current arrangement. They are trying to give themselves the same protection that our current system gives to a majority Government only.

  • So, do you think the Scottish system, and every other country that has a super-majority for dissolution, is an outrage also?

  • Kevin Colwill 14th May '10 - 2:57pm

    AAS – Yes it did need spelling out. Yes, I am really that thick, must have been.
    I’ve heard the issue discussed, glossed over perhaps, but always in terms of limiting Prime Minister’s powers to get a narrow party advantage. Never once have I heard it explicitly spelt out, “hey guys, we’re going to create a system where 50%+1 MP’s can’t ever force an election”.
    If I understand your view on this matter correctly I should also have understood, “hey guys, you know we said that stuff about stable policies? Well, that only applies until we change coalition partners and you get a totally a different policy. Election? Don’t be silly.”
    Others claim it should be, “hey guys, even if we do change coalition partners we’ve fixed it so there’s sod all anyone can do to force the Tories out !”
    I could get distressed about this but I won’t. I happen to think the reality of the situation is that a loss of a confidence vote by 50%+1 will trigger the dissolution of parliament and an election. It really can’t be in any party’s interests not to muddle on in those circumstances.
    The politics might be new but they ain’t that new.

  • It may amuse or amaze you to know that I actually favour fixed term parliaments, but the arrangements for dissolution imho need to reflect how that parliament is elected. Were it to be elected as in Scotland on a proportional basis then we would not have the disparity between electoral support and voting power we have under FPTP or AV. Therefore a percentage that is higher than 50% has legitimacy since there are likely to be alternative coalitions that can be formed and no one political parties’ power is distorted.

    The concern I am trying, perhaps badly, to get over is that if this legislation goes through it is extending a power given to a distorted majority Government (in terms of vote % Vs seat %) to a minority one. That is, imho, making the existing constitutional arrangement even worse, not better.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 14th May '10 - 3:07pm

    Steve D

    “There are ways in which the Tory party could engineer dissolution if they so wished, through secretly encouraging their back bench MPs to vote with the opposition parties.”

    Apparently you are_still_ mixing up no-confidence motions and dissolution motions, after everything that’s been said.

    Please just think about it. Parliament could be dissolved only if a motion explicitly requesting dissolution – not a no-confidence motion – were passed by 55% of MPs. There is no way that any amount of Tory skulduggery could achieve that unless the opposition MPs were explicitly voting to request dissolution.

    And self-evidently if the coalition broke up and the Tories were ousted by a no-confidence vote, the other parties _could_ construct an alternative government with an overall majority. It’s no good saying they couldn’t, because once again it’s a matter of arithmetic, not a matter of opinion. (Of course, it wasn’t the arithmetic that prevented that from happening this week, but political considerations, and those would be entirely different in a fixed-term parliament following the collapse of a Lib/Con coalition.)

  • Stephen Wells 14th May '10 - 3:22pm

    People who are objecting to a “55% no confidence” measure should expect to be told they are confused. There is no such measure. There’s a 55% dissolution measure. These are different things.

    I’ve complained to the BBC about their truly appalling miscoverage of this, by the way.

    I can’t imagine how the one line in the coalition agreement, which specifies a 55% vote for dissolution, can possible me misread by anyone who isn’t fundamentally confused about the constitution. Unfortunately, it looks like someone at the BBC is that confused.

    Allow me to quote the guy who’s actually worked on this sort of thing:
    But former Lib Dem MP David Howarth, a legal academic who drew up the original Lib Dem plans for a fixed-term parliament, told the BBC the vote of confidence and dissolution of Parliament were “entirely different things” and said Mr Straw was “totally confused”.
    In other countries with fixed term parliaments, if a government lost a vote of confidence the parties would have to try to work out a new government within the fixed term, he said.
    He said critics had got “entirely the wrong end of the stick” adding: “This dissolution vote, the 55% for a dissolution, is not the same as, for a vote of confidence.”

    The Scottish parliament, as has been noted, has a four-year fixed term which can be cut short only by (i) a 66% vote of MSPs or (ii) 28 days of interregnum in which no government can be formed. Labour wrote that legislation.

    This is not rocket science.

  • Steve D, you more recent argument has a little more sense embedded into it, regarding the dis-proportionality of votes to seats. However don’t you realise that the much greater fly in that ointment is the fact that any party should have a majority of seats, and thus be able to pass legislation, on a minority of votes. That is a hugely more objectionable consequence of the dis-proportionality of the system, and to say that the biggest problem in this case is the dissolution issues is absurd. If you are seriously concerned about the disproprti9nality you should be outraged at the decades of minority party rule we have had, and pleased that for the first time since 1950 there is a government that has the backing of over 50% of the electorate.

  • @Anthony Aloysius St

    Apparently you are_still_ mixing up no-confidence motions and dissolution motions, after everything that’s been said.

    For the last time stop insulting my intelligence by keeping on telling me that. It doesn’t make you right the more you say it. I know the difference, have stated before I know the difference and do not take kindly to you continuing to assert you know my mind better than I do, after everything that has been said.

    Please just think about it.

    Stop patronising me and give the situation some more thought yourself.

    It is self evident that it would require the opposition parties to vote for dissolution as well, if you cannot see how it is possible for the Tory party to try (may not succeed) to manipulate the situation, then so be it.

    The fact is that you are assuming there would be political will for the Lib Dems and Labour to work together should the coalition with the Tories not work. I cannot see how that will happen given that the next few months will likely see relentless attacks from Labour on the Lib Dems. If there is no trust between the two parties now, then there won’t be later in the parliament. I know the arithmetic is there for an alternative majority, but the political considerations will make an alternative majority later in this parliament far far less likely. This is where I believe our view point on this diverges; it is the political reality, not the arithmetic that matters. This is not some hypothetical future parliament, it is the currently elected one.

    As a result, this legislation would protect the Tory Party from dissolution of parliament at the hands of the opposition parties. The point at which they lose a motion of confidence is the point at which there is a problem. Had they served as a minority administration or even as currently in coalition, Parliament would then be dissolved. By trying to separate confidence from dissolution and moving the goalposts to 55% for that, they are trying to insulate themselves and enjoy the same protection form dissolution a majority Government has.

    All sorts of scenarios could arise once confidence was lost, yes there could be a Lib-Lab Deal, there could be a minority Tory Government, there could just as easily be legislative inertia and a constitutional crisis. No Government can command a simple majority, yet there is not 55% in favour of dissolution. Just a complete mess.

  • @MBoy

    If you are seriously concerned about the disproprti9nality you should be outraged at the decades of minority party rule we have had, and pleased that for the first time since 1950 there is a government that has the backing of over 50% of the electorate.

    ————————————

    I am. Which is why I favour proportional representation.

  • There is clearly a deliberate attempt to misinform the public by the media about this. Latest headline from Telegraph:
    David Cameron admits ‘no confidence’ coalition vote plan could be watered down
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/politics/david-cameron/7724765/David-Cameron-admits-no-confidence-coalition-vote-plan-could-be-watered-down.html

    Attempts on all sides with vested interests to weaken the coalition by any means necessary. Predictable, but I didnt realise that a) it would be so furious from day 1; and b) that such blatant attempts at misinformation would be used by people who know better.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 14th May '10 - 3:48pm

    Steve D

    The reason I say that you are still mixing up no-confidence motions and dissolution motions is that you’ve already spelled out your scenario explicitly above, and self-evidently it _is_ based on that confusion.

    I’ll quote it again with added emphasis to make it clear:
    “All the other parties combined have 53% of the MPs, so there could never be a dissolution without some Tories voting for it as well. For what reason would they do so? Assuming the 55% mark has to be achieved in the same confidence motion as 50%+1 for the Government to resign, all the opposition parties including the Lib Dems at this point go and vote their no confidence in the Government. Possibly thinking to themselves it’s time for that rainbow coalition. Meanwhile the Tories engineer enough of its backbenchers to vote no confidence and we are tipped over the 55% mark and Parliament is dissolved.”

    As I have said, this is nonsense, because dissolution would not be triggered by a no-confidence motion, but by a motion for dissolution, and because of the 55% threshold that could not pass unless other parties as well as the Tories explicitly voted in favour of dissolution.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 14th May '10 - 3:52pm

    “stephen it is no good you or anyone else saying peeps are stupid if they don’t know the difference when on question time
    it was said the 55% was there to protect the Tory’s by not allowingb the other parties to vote them out”

    Tony, the text of the agreement has been quoted to you over and over again, and it clearly says no such thing, whatever may have been said “on question time”.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 14th May '10 - 3:56pm

    “There is clearly a deliberate attempt to misinform the public by the media about this.”

    Agreed. Journalists aren’t that stupid.

    Personally I think we’re seeing a campaign by the Right to remove this safeguard in the hope that a second election in the Autumn (or whenever) would return the Tories with an overall majority.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 14th May '10 - 4:04pm

    tony:
    “Now I may not be a constitional expert, but it is my constitution as much as anybody elses, I did not right the agrement but will be affected by it, I really suggest that the people who are stupid are tjhose that right an important document that is clearly open to this mis interpretation.”

    I suppose it has to be said that there’s a funny side to this.

  • Arthur Rusdell-Wilson 14th May '10 - 4:09pm

    Someone had to make the points made in this article. One wonders whether the effect of the proposed 55% majority is being deliberately misrepresented by Labour folk, and some Tory back-benchers. The proposal for fixed term parliaments makes no sense without such a provision. Should a coalition break up, but the House of Commons fail to achieve the 55% majority required for a dissolution, one party would probably have to continue to rule not as a (nasty pejorative term) “zombie” government, but as a minority government. During this time we would have something like the US separation of powers, with the executive having to negotiate with the legislature on its program issue by issue. This could, no doubt, be achieved through the “usual channels’, perhaps a little beefed up whilst this situation continued.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 14th May '10 - 4:37pm

    tony

    “that my understanding of what was meant not written in the document was this:-
    Parliment cannot be dissolved, other than as a result of loosing a confidance vote, unless there is a 55% majority”

    How many times does it have to be repeated? The agreement says nothing at all about confidence votes. It simply says that the dissolution of parliament would require a 55% majority. What is it that’s so difficult to understand about that?

  • Kevin Colwill 14th May '10 - 4:40pm

    Steve D- A government with the backing of 50% of the electorate? The most charitable thing I can say is you can’t possibly know that. There is no way of knowing how many Lib Dem or Tory voters would take their ballot paper back and tear it up if they could. Maybe not many, maybe thousands.
    All you can really say is the government has the backing of 56% of MP’s. Funny, that figure seems oddly significant.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 14th May '10 - 4:45pm

    tony
    “arthur so it could lumber us with the Torys as a minorty gov maybe with ulster unionist support for as long as they the Torys wanted?”

    No, because a minority government could be voted out of office by a simple majority of MPs. I’ve lost count of the number of times this has already been pointed out to you.

  • David Allen 14th May '10 - 4:53pm

    MBoy, you’ll note that the Telegraph headline misrepresents what Cameron said. Cameron did not use the phrase “watered down”. He merely said that it would be debated. Perhaps he has recognised that it would be better strengthened to a two-thirds rule in line with Labour’s legislation for Holyrood.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 14th May '10 - 4:58pm

    tony

    OK. I give up. Someone else can try to explain it to you, if they think it’s worth the effort..

  • Anthony Aloysius St 14th May '10 - 5:08pm

    The BBC now has a Q and A page on this, which is some improvement on its earlier misrepresentation of the policy. Though it still contains some odd stuff, such as the suggestion that if it lost a no-confidence motion “the government could try to form a new majority government” – whatever that’s supposed to mean!
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/8682959.stm

    I think the root cause of the trouble is that the BBC isn’t content with reporting the news any more. It’s become addicted to presenting its own opinion on the news as well, and in this case that has caused it to present its own faulty speculation as though it were fact.

  • David Allen 14th May '10 - 5:17pm

    What is being missed, amongst all the ranting and the numbers, is the rational case for a fixed term parliament.

    Outside wartime, the current system makes a coalition government inherently unstable. The power placed in the hands of the PM, to dissolve Parliament at will, can be used to blackmail a smaller partner. The power currently placed in the hands of the smaller coalition partner, to force not just a realignment but also a dissolution and fresh election, is an equally powerful instrument of blackmail. The odds are stacked in favour of the wreckers and against those who want to make partnership work. Cameron can see that, which is why is willing to make a substantial and voluntary sacrifice of power.

    Now, if you don’t believe that we should ever have a coalition government outside wartime, and you are happy to see us flounder toward a further election and ongoing instability, then you might want to dismiss the idea of fixed term parliaments. If you want a stable coalition to work and to be able to tackle economic crisis, you need to give thought to accepting this uncomfortable new idea.

    You might, reasonably, be worried about the idea that it stops the public from kicking the b*stards out. Well, consider this. At the moment, the public is only entitled to kick the b*stards out once every five years. Under the new proposals, the public will be allowed to kick the b*stards out once every five years. What will change is that one particular b*stard, the PM, will no longer be able to kick himself out at will. Does this change seem too terrible? If you’re still not convinced, how about supporting my proposals to reduce the term?
    http://www.libdemvoice.org/confusion-reigns-over-55-the-reality-is-rather-different-19488.html#comment-122201

    What’s more, we will introduce the power of recall, such that you can kick out your own individual b*stard MP if he/she has committed serious misconduct, such as fiddling expenses. We really are not in the business of making life cushy for ourselves. What we do need to do – here’s the critical bit – is to listen more, think harder, get the technical details right, and avoid some errors. Bring on that debate!

  • Anthony Aloysius St 14th May '10 - 5:25pm

    “all three main parties had fixed term parliaments in their manifestos.”

    Are you sure? I can’t see it in the Tory manifesto. Certainly the Lib Dems and Labour did, though.

  • Kevin Colwill 14th May '10 - 5:59pm

    It a couple or three years down the line, the government loses its majority and the budget gets voted down by 50%+1 MP.
    The government resigns. The opposition can’t or won’t attempt to form a rival coalition. They demand an election but can only command a simple majority, not 55% and certainly not the higher figures mentioned as desirable.
    I’ve already said I believe the original coalition parties would see sense and agree an immediate dissolution. What if I’m wrong, I’ve got a bad track record, and the original coalition, minus a few, block an election? Instead they attempt to govern as a minority.
    You’re asking the 50%+1 MPs to play nice. Not to spend all their time blocking legislation, not to spend every day demanding an election. Not, as I proposed earlier, to trigger a wave of by-elections (I take it we can still have by-elections under the current proposals) fought on the single issue of a general election now.
    Say they don’t play nice. Say some people really don’t play very nicely at all. Do you want to be in Trafalgar square holding the line for the sanctity of fixed term parliaments with the bricks and bottles flying?

  • David Allen 14th May '10 - 6:26pm

    Kevin,

    You are suggesting that the “original coalition”, having lost a vote of confidence and failed to pass a budget, might want to continue governing as a minority. They can’t. By definition, they have lost the confidence of the House.

    You are suggesting that the “opposition”, who now command 50%+1 but not 55% of the votes, refuse to form a government, even though they could, and they demand a premature election. They cannot have one, in a fixed term parliament.

    They could, as you say, trigger a series of byelections by resigning one by one. This would clearly prolong the uncertainty. That would clearly be their fault. Would they gain popularity by refusing to provide government and by playing silly beggars with byelections, do you think? Or would they completely destroy their own credibility and lose any chance of ever winning an election? Why do you think that an “opposition” grouping, who have now gained enough voting strength to take over in government, might sensibly or reasonably refuse to do so?

    Well, I grant you that although this behaviour would be so stupid and unproductive as to be almost unbelievable, it cannot be ruled out. We would need a provision to deal with it. To decide that, and other detailed technical issues, we need some form of consitutional convention. My suggestion would be to hand over to a Civil Service committee who would govern on a politically neutral care-and-maintenance basis. Sooner rather than later, a political group which had the parliamentary strength to take back Government would see an advantage in doing so.

    Don’t be so scared of a new idea just because it’s new! It works perfectly well in other countries. it could work here, you know!

  • Anthony Aloysius St 14th May '10 - 6:26pm

    Kevin

    Of course it’s possible to construct hypothetical doomsday scenarios, but personally I don’t find that one at all plausible. No politician is going to want to look irresponsible, and I think we’ve seen this week how powerful that instinct is.

    But of course fixed-term parliaments have their disadvantages as well as their advantages, and there’s no right or wrong position.

    As I’ve said, the thing that really concerns me is that this proposal has been misrepresented as somehow underhand and undemocratic, which just isn’t the case.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 14th May '10 - 6:34pm

    The BBC’s effort to cover this story really are laughable. Their latest effort includes a graphic labelled:
    “All the other parties couldn’t dissolve a Conservative minority government“!

  • 1999 – Labour decides that given coalition governments are foreseeable the No-Confidence threshold to trigger fresh elections should be 66%. It sees this as a sensible precaution in coalition government.
    2010 – Labour decrees that a coalition government having been formed in Westminster the No-Confidence threshold to trigger fresh elections being raised to 55% is unacceptable; a travesyt of democracy.

    New Labour: Spinning Like a Perpetual Motion Machine.

  • Kevin Colwill 14th May '10 - 7:03pm

    @David, In the brave new world could it never be legitimate to take a principled stand;- I will not back the government and nor will I water down my policies by entering a collation.
    Is conviction always to be sacrificed on the altar of the fixed term? Can the people never be trusted to have their say more than once in every five years?
    I jokingly stated that some people appeared to think of the fixed term as universal constant like the speed of light. It’s far worse than that. It’s quite obviously an article of faith. I started as a sympathetic agnostic but I’m fast becoming an atheist.

  • David Allen 14th May '10 - 7:15pm

    “Can the people never be trusted to have their say more than once in every five years?”

    That’s the term that is specified by the CURRENT system. The new proposal is – not to change it!

    What term would you prefer? My answer is 4 years. What’s yours Kevin?

  • Anthony Aloysius St 14th May '10 - 7:15pm

    “Labour decrees that a coalition government having been formed in Westminster the No-Confidence threshold to trigger fresh elections being raised to 55% is unacceptable”

    Oh dear, not again! It’s _not_ a no-confidence threshold …

  • Fred Carver 14th May '10 - 7:59pm

    I’m a little unclear and I think the journos are too – unless I’m very much mistaken nobody here is an independent expert on constitutional law, and I think as a party we could do with taking advice from such a person. My uninformed reading is that whilst it’s still 50% +1 for confidence (no change) and the 55% percent relates to the new power for dissolution this may have concerning knock on effects for our unwritten constitution.

    Normal custom and practice was that whilst a serving PM didn’t have to resign when they lost a motion of no confidence they always do – we’re 11 for 11 on that front. I see someone mentioned the 1924 Kings speech earlier, but in fact that led to Baldwin resigning the next day . My fear is that the new law on dissolution will shift that expectation. Supposing the PM now loses a vote of confidence, they don’t have to resign (as before) but there is now a mechanism to remove them – but it hasn’t been triggered. This may cause the PM to feel that they do not need to resign. Cameron could argue that there is a new political reality, and a new mechanism for dealing with these issues, and as such the old unwritten rules no longer apply.

    It’s like the referral system in Cricket. If you know you’re out and there is no referral system the expectation is you walk – there’s nothing to make you but you do. But bring in the referral system and the expectation changes. A batsman thinks, “I know I got an edge there, but if they want me to walk then it’s up to them to refer me.” So he stays at the crease even though prior to the referral system he would have walked. And if the bowling side can’t or don’t refer then he keeps his wicket when prior to the referral system he would have lost it.

    Of course with the Tories having 47% of MPs we, the other parties, in effect have no referrals.

    The only example I can think of where a leader has lost a confidence vote but won (or not faced) a dissolution vote is Alun Michael in Wales in 2000. But he was having a tough time of it anyway and appeared delighted to go. Cameron might prove more limpet like. In fact I seem to remember Blair was taken by surprise by Michael’s resignation – an indication that it was perhaps not Blair’s understanding that loss of confidence would instantly lead to resignation in the new Welsh political reality.

    I’d like to hear a constitutional expert’s view on whether this shifts expectations on what the PM would do if they lost a confidence vote.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 14th May '10 - 8:16pm

    Channel 4 doesn’t seem to have the same problem as the BBC understanding this. Here’s a clear discussion of the issues which may help anyone who is genuinely confused:
    http://www.channel4.com/news/articles/politics/domestic_politics/fixedterm+parliaments+and+the+55+rule/3648492

    It’s interesting that the author of the piece thinks it remains to be seen whether a simple no-confidence motion would still trigger dissolution. This doesn’t seem likely to me – and that would leave it open to the prime minister to engineer a spurious defeat on a confidence motion, which I understand has been known to happen in other countries – but it would be funny if all the criticism had been based on yet another misconception.

  • @Anthony Aloysius St

    “All the other parties combined have 53% of the MPs, so there could never be a dissolution without some Tories voting for it as well. For what reason would they do so? Assuming the 55% mark has to be achieved in the same confidence motion as 50%+1 for the Government to resign, all the opposition parties including the Lib Dems at this point go and vote their no confidence in the Government. Possibly thinking to themselves it’s time for that rainbow coalition. Meanwhile the Tories engineer enough of its backbenchers to vote no confidence and we are tipped over the 55% mark and Parliament is dissolved.”

    Ok, but I also said in a later post at 10.06am

    “You cannot just dismiss the no confidence issue. Should there be a situation where a Queens Speech or Budget is defeated by a simple majority; meaning a loss of confidence in the Government, currently this should lead to dissolution unless the Queen refuses.

    On the basis of this proposal, Parliament would be in limbo, who is Prime Minister at this point? The House has no confidence in the current Government and PM, so how can they continue? Do they take on a caretaker role perhaps with arrangements similar to those Brown went through?

    With negotiations to put a new Government together, who is going to put down a motion to dissolve parliament? Should it follow automatically from a loss of confidence there is a further vote on dissolution? What if the no confidence vote got more than 55% support and then a dissolution motion didn’t? Which vote expresses the wishes of Parliament? There are the makings of a huge constitutional crisis here.

    I cannot seriously believe two different votes would be required to express the views of Parliament.

    I know the difference and I am not confusing the two things. If the best defence for this legislation is that those who oppose it are simply confused; well I’m sure that argument will carry the intellectual weight in Parliament. The other argument I’m hearing is that it is only sour grapes on the part of the labour party and it is our opponents trying to undermine the coalition for party political gain. Well there are already opponents within the coalition then, judging by the comments of several Tory MPs. I find it amazing that it is Tories and not Liberals speaking out on this matter.

    I have no problem with fixed term parliaments and removing the power of the PM to call for dissolution, it would seem reasonable as part of a future constitutional settlement, taken with a broad range of other measures. I even would not have an issue with a majority of 55% or higher for a proportionally elected chamber, such as the Scottish Parliament that keeps getting brought up. But this is all in the abstract and is not the real world politics we are faced with. It is in light of the real world politics that this move should be judged.

    By trying to separate confidence from dissolution and moving the goalposts to 55% for that, they are trying to insulate themselves and enjoy the same protection form dissolution a majority Government has.

    All sorts of scenarios could arise once confidence was lost, yes there could be a Lib-Lab Deal, there could be a minority Tory Government, there could just as easily be legislative inertia and a constitutional crisis. No Government can command a simple majority, yet there is not 55% in favour of dissolution. Just a complete mess.

    I am never going to agree with you, but I do accept some of your points, I just see them differently to you and draw different conclusions. Since you seem intend on trying to misrepresent and misunderstand what I am saying, I refer back to my original suggestion that we agree to disagree.

    You’ve read all my posts and are simply cherry picking comments from them. I know full well what is at stake with this legislation and would be horrified were it to have been a part of any Lib-Lab coalition agreement as well.

  • Fred Carver 14th May '10 - 8:38pm

    Another thought, currently the prerogative to dissolve parliament is the Queen’s alone and is only exercised when she is asked to exercise it by the Prime Minister. So as I understand it we are attempting to pass a law to force a man to ask a question, and force the person asked to reply in the affirmative. How would that work? Are we going to introduce jail terms for PMs who don’t ask for a dissolution? Or for monarchs who say no? Not sure how that would stand up in court, but again, not an expert.

    Or is the idea to strip the Queen of the power? Great move but never had Cameron down as that much of a republican.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 14th May '10 - 8:53pm

    Steve D

    Whatever you say, obviously your scenario was based on the assumption that a dissolution motion would also be a no-confidence motion. How you can pretend otherwise is beyond me, considering that you wrote “Assuming the 55% mark has to be achieved in the same confidence motion as 50%+1 for the Government to resign”!

    Well, that’s simply not what’s proposed. What’s proposed is dissolution provided a 55% majority of MPs vote for it. Nothing to do with a confidence motion. That means that there’s no way the Tories could force dissolution without the support of others, because they have only 47% of the MPs.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 14th May '10 - 9:16pm

    tony

    You’ve quoted that phrase out of context in an incredibly misleading way.

    As I wrote above, the author of that article thinks that it remains to be seen whether a simple no-confidence motion would still trigger dissolution. As I also wrote, I think this is unlikely.

    The article discusses the two possible interpretations. First:
    “If the PM needs to get the higher threshold of 55 per cent of MPs to vote for a dissolution, in theory the government could lose a confidence vote, but then not be able to muster enough MPs to vote for the end of the parliament.”

    Then it goes on to say:
    “If this is not the case, and a PM who lost a confidence vote would still be expected to request a dissolution of parliament without putting it to a vote, the government would be able – in theory – to circumvent the 55 per cent rule by making something it expected to lose into an issue of confidence.”

    Your comment gives the impression that the article states what you quote as a fact. On the contrary, it’s pointing out that _if_ that were the case, then the prime minister could circumvent the 55% rule by engineering a spurious defeat on a vote of confidence. That’s why I think this interpretation is unlikely to be correct – because it would make a nonsense of the 55% requirement for a dissolution vote.

  • @Anthony Aloysius St

    “Assuming the 55% mark has to be achieved in the same confidence motion as 50%+1 for the Government to resign”!

    Again you are still cherry picking from what I have said. Firstly, I agreed in later posts that they would be two separate votes. I have also given reasons at length why in my humble opinion this is an undemocratic proposal in the reality of our current Parliament and the concerns I have regarding the potential constitutional problems; not too different to the issues raised in the Channel 4 article.

    The difference between confidence and dissolution is being used to justify this proposal, as if you can simply divorce one from the other. Well in the nice safe world of political theory maybe you can, in terms of a constitutional settlement for a future parliament, maybe you can. In political practice in other parliaments, maybe you can.

    The significant point is we are talking about a Parliament that has not been elected on this basis. No one party was given an overall majority, all the parties should serve in the current parliament under the basis it was elected; and deal with the realities of the electorates’ decision within that context. They should not be trying to ‘fix’ the constitutional arrangements of this parliament to get short term political gain disguised as either providing for stability and/or enhancing democracy.

    I have conceded that it would be difficult, but not impossible for the Tory Party to engineer dissolution. However I strongly believe that on the flip side it is a proposal designed to shore up the Tory Party; it is a blatant attempt to give them the same immunity from dissolution a Party with an overall majority in Government enjoys. They couldn’t get it from the electorate so they are trying to manufacture it in Parliament.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 14th May '10 - 9:32pm

    “I have conceded that it would be difficult, but not impossible for the Tory Party to engineer dissolution”

    This really is ridiculous. Clearly it _would_ be impossible for the Tories to engineer dissolution by means of a motion requiring the support of 55% of the MPs, without the support of other parties, because the Tories have only 47% of the MPs!

  • @Anthony Aloysius St

    You keep picking up on this point to the exclusion of all others. I have answered this several times, but for the sake of clarity I will say it again – I know 47% is not 55%. I also know, and have stated, that it would require the support of MPs from other parties for them to reach 55%. You are flogging a dead horse and it is getting annoying.

    The fact that you cannot see a scenario in which they could find an extra 8% support in Parliament; does not make that scenario impossible. This is not the only concern, or indeed the major concern, with the proposed legislation. I have set these concerns out at length and have no desire to do so again.

    Are you really so egotistical that you need me to just say, ‘OK Anthony, you’re right and I’m wrong?’

  • Anthony Aloysius St 14th May '10 - 10:03pm

    “Are you really so egotistical that you need me to just say, ‘OK Anthony, you’re right and I’m wrong?’”

    No – if you really can’t bring yourself to admit you were wrong, I’m quite happy for you just to drop it.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 14th May '10 - 10:09pm

    “anthony the reduction to the absurd is there to say the power to dissolute parliment as a result of a no confidance vote actually is unaffected I do no qoute out of context, now the auther of the article may be but I am not.”

    Of course you quoted the phrase out of context – and in an extremely misleading way.

    If someone says “If A is true, then B follows”, it is utterly misleading to quote “A is true” and leave the rest out! That’s precisely what you did.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 14th May '10 - 10:17pm

    tony

    As I’ve told you about twenty times, the agreement doesn’t even mention confidence motions.

    If you want to assume on that basis that a no-confidence vote would still trigger a dissolution, feel free to do so. But I think that would be a very foolish assumption, because it would make a nonsense of the 55% requirement, for the reasons already discussed.

    And, after all, the agreement doesn’t mention the current right of the prime minister to request a dissolution either, so you might just as well assume that will be unaffected too.

  • It matters little …55% or 50%+1
    If the libs and Tories fall out, The Tory’s can not achieve majorities for anything anyway. so Parliament would be in a stalemate as far as new legislation goes.

    both the 5 year term and 55% become meaningless.

    The only way anyone would achieve a vote of no confidence and dissolution would be if the Tory’s abstained or some of them voted for the motion.

  • @Anthony Aloysius St

    It would be wrong of me to say the Tory Party could dissolve Parliament on their own under these proposals. If I said that, or gave the impression I thought it, then I’m happy to admit I am wrong.

    All I have tried to say in respect of this is that it would be possible for them to work with other parties to achieve dissolution, either in the open or behind closed doors. Whether they would do this or not, and could succeed, is another matter. What is clear under this proposal is that all the opposition parties cannot achieve dissolution without some Tories voting for it. This stacks the cards heavily in the Tory Party’s favour imho.

    I feel so strongly about this that I might be letting my anger at this proposal get in the way of pleasant communication.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 14th May '10 - 10:32pm

    Steve

    “I feel so strongly about this that I might be letting my anger at this proposal get in the way of pleasant communication.”

    But why should you be “angry”? No doubt fixed-term parliaments have their pros and cons, and “people of good will” can come down on either side of the fence.

    There’s no disputing that fixed-term parliaments were in the Lib Dem manifesto. They were also in the Labour manifesto. Although they weren’t in the Tory manifesto as far as I can see, Cameron had said there was a strong case in favour of them.

    You may not agree; you may think that the disadvantages outweigh the advantages. But I don’t understand what there is to be “angry” about.

  • @Anthony Aloysius St

    My anger over this proposal stems from my belief that in reality this is an attempt to protect one party, the Tory Party, from the expressed views of the electorate, however distorted FPTP reflects it in Parliament. I think what I said in my post at 9.27 best sums up why this makes me angry.

    “The difference between confidence and dissolution is being used to justify this proposal, as if you can simply divorce one from the other. Well in the nice safe world of political theory maybe you can, in terms of a constitutional settlement for a future parliament, maybe you can. In political practice in other parliaments, maybe you can.

    The significant point is we are talking about a Parliament that has not been elected on this basis. No one party was given an overall majority, all the parties should serve in the current parliament under the basis it was elected; and deal with the realities of the electorates’ decision within that context. They should not be trying to ‘fix’ the constitutional arrangements of this parliament to get short term political gain disguised as either providing for stability and/or enhancing democracy.”

  • If the purpose of this is to take the power of dissolution away from the PM it seems to me to be flawed. I can’t see an opposition voting against a motion to dissolve parliament. It would in effect require the government to claim itself unable to govern effectively due to a lack of a majority and the opposition to force it to continue by effectively giving it a vote of confidence. It is slightly artificial to extricate the vote of confidence from the vote for dissolution as the only time the latter would come into effect is once the former were successful.

    The only circumstance where this vote applies in terms of holding the executive to account is when there are dissidents from the coalition parties. If the lib dem back benches take objection to the policies of the government then there may be a successful vote of no confidence. This would however have no necessary effect on the government. The possibility of a vote of no confidence succeeding only to be followed by a failed vote of dissolution would diminish the likelihood of such a confidence vote in the first place. The opposition parties would be forced into either forming a doomed coalition or a supply and confidence arrangement with the conservatives.

    If the purpose is to take the advantage of election timing away from the executive then why not simply remove the power from the government altogether. Tie it entirely to the vote of no confidence. This would remove the possiblity of the other parties forming a coalition in the event of such a vote but then it is highly unlikely that such a rehashed coalition would be acceptable anyway, look at the nonsense spouted about Gordon Brown being an unelected prime minister, imagine what it would be like with a failed Nick Clegg and whoever the Labour party pick.

    The need for such a mechanism is a response to the inherent instability of PR systems combined with fixed term limits. PR tends to provide a greater variety of possible coalition partners for government at the same time as alternatives to act in consort to bring those coalitions down. It is however an undemocratic mechanism, as are all measures designed to promote stability in government.

    In our electoral system there is not a variety of possible coalitions to form viable and relatively stable government. In this circumstance there is no quid pro quo of enhanced democracy. This is inappropriate for a parliament that was elected in a first past the post race. In other words it has put the horse before the cart. The fact that we have chanced upon a coalition is no reason to implement an anti-democratic brake designed to counter the destabilising effect of a genuinely proportional system.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 14th May '10 - 11:18pm

    tony

    Yes, you’ve already quoted that once. It’s referred to in the article that I provided the link to. But it says nothing about a no-confidence motion triggering dissolution. Remember that it was written in response to the mistaken claims that the proposal was to raise the threshold for a no-confidence motion to 55%. It may imply no more than that the threshold for a no-confidence vote would remain a simple majority.

    But believe what you want to believe. We shall see the full details soon enough.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 14th May '10 - 11:22pm

    ” In other words it has put the horse before the cart.”

    Scarcely an unusual arrangement.

  • I don’t see what the problem is here – we should wait for the details of the proposed legislation for clarity and sanity. There are though clearly two different matters:

    1. No confidence in a government.

    2. Dissolving parliament

    If we had a minority / coalition government and it lost a major policy motion then that could deal with the first point. Under our present constitution that may or may not result in an election. Its actually unclear. the PM would advise the Queen who could if she thought it appropriate invite another politician to seek to form a government. That government would have to take on board the defeated policy and be able to command a majority in the House. There could be all sorts of reasons why an election was undesirable – a war / some major crisis etc…

    If we have a law which says there is a fixed term parliament then there has to be a law which says what happens next in the event of a loss of confidence vote to avoid the PM circumventing the fixed term rule. The proposal says that this would necessitate a second vote to call an election and that vote needs a 55% majority of those voting.

    You can argue about the % – maybe it should be more or maybe less but there has to be a law or else the fixed term becomes a nonsense. Hence the 66% in Scotland.

    The rest as they say seems to have fallen into the trap of those who just want to stir up trouble… Without a written constitution there has to be some new rules to go with the fixed term idea.

    The BBC have a useful briefing note at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/8682959.stm

  • “I have made this change” – David Cameron, today, on fixed term parliament.

    Could we all just stop, breathe in, and pinch ourselves please?

    One major electoral reform – the scrapping of first-past-the-post – has been widely debated and explored for many years. Nevertheless, everyone accepts that nothing should be done without a debate, a referendum, and then a Bill. That change needs to be explored, explained, understood, and approved by the public if it is to go ahead.

    A second major electoral reform – the scrapping of the PM’s right to dissolve Parliament at will – has been widely debated for just a few days. It raises far more complex questions than a simple change such as AV. Nevertheless, Cameron has declared that it will now happen. Nobody has talked about a referendum or a Bill. As a result, a storm of protest has blown up. An unholy alliance has been formed between Tory and Labour neanderthals who would like the LibDem deal to fail, those people who don’t like maths and logic, those who don’t like new ideas that have not been carefully explained, those in the Press and the BBC who can’t be bothered to get their facts correct, and those who (rightly?) feel insulted by arrogant politicians. With all those allies, Houston we have a problem!

    There is a very strong case for the reform in principle, but most people don’t understand it because it has not been properly debated. The case for what has specifically been proposed to date is weaker. This thread has identified a number of technical errors and debatable issues: most notably that the dubious 55% threshold should be replaced with a higher figure such as two-thirds, but also the fixed term period, the mechanism if any to permit an emergency early dissolution in exceptional circumstances, the specific confirmation that the no-confidence motion procedure is unaltered, and of course, the process whereby the change is to be approved by the nation.

    SLOW DOWN, DAVE AND NICK!

    You are quite entitled to propose this change and to make clear that it is your firm intention to implement it. But you should not presume upon the consent of the population. You should get the technical muddles resolved, and you should require approval at a referendum.

    Yes, I see that this proposal gives our enemies potential scope to wreck our deal, but we just have to cope with that. Let us write into our deal that should the referendum fail, we nevertheless agree that the Conservative PM will not dissolve Parliament prior to May 2015 except with the consent of the Liberal Democrats. Deal duly preserved. And yes, I realise this isn’t quite the same as passing the fixed term provision into law, but as a means of building the required confidence between the two coalition partners, it will do fine if we have to fall back upon it.

  • @tony, the only thing I can see that you could possibly think that quote says differently to what Anthony has been saying is that that it can be read as implying that the PM also retains the right to dissolve parliament as well as parliament having the right to dissolve itself (following a 55%+ super majority vote in favour). However this is clearly a mistaken interpretation of the quote as Cameron himself was on the 10pm news today clearly stating that he was voluntarily giving away this power.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 15th May '10 - 8:03am

    Peter1919
    “the only thing I can see that you could possibly think that quote says differently to what Anthony has been saying is that that it can be read as implying that the PM also retains the right to dissolve parliament as well as parliament having the right to dissolve itself (following a 55%+ super majority vote in favour). However this is clearly a mistaken interpretation of the quote as Cameron himself was on the 10pm news today clearly stating that he was voluntarily giving away this power.”

    Yes, on further reflection that’s obviously right, and it would rule out a vote of no-confidence triggering dissolution. Cameron has clearly said he would be giving up the right to ask the Queen to dissolve parliament. What currently happens after a vote of no confidence is that the prime minister asks the Queen to dissolve parliament, so this applies to a dissolution after a no-confidence vote just as much as a voluntary decision by the prime minister.

    As we had expected, the Channel 4 article was indeed wrong to leave that possibility open, and I can only apologise for having inadvertently dragged yet another red herring across the trail and provided more ammunition to those with a “mission to disinform”.

  • Kevin Colwill 15th May '10 - 8:24am

    Those of us who oppose 55% or any enhanced majority have been accused of not thinking through the implications of fixed term parliaments. There are clearly many who did not think it through – on both sides of the debate – including journalists and major political figures.
    As I make no claims to political knowledge, wisdom or insight it costs me nothing to admit to sleepwalking into the polling booth on this issue. I’m sure many more than 55% of ordinary voters did. After all it was and in still is presented (I won’t say “spun”) as a totally beguine move to limit a prime minister’s power. I never heard it suggested that it would limit, effectively remove, back bencher’s power to force an election.
    What seems like weeks ago I joined this debate confused and concerned about how this would affect the rebel back bencher who put principle before party.
    I’m obviously less confused as I’ve constructed one scenario that even ardent fixed term supporters concede could make a fixed term a little bit of a pyrrhic victory. How about another far less dramatic but more insidious example?
    Once again it’s two or three years down the line. The government got the bit between its teeth charging off doing many things that were not in either manifesto or in the coalition agreement. Backbenchers are not happy, points of principle are being eroded and their political convictions stamped on with heavy size 9’s.
    These backbenchers, my friends, are Tories. Under the “old rules” they’d have felt strongly enough to vote with the opposition on a confidence motion and force an election. What are men and women of principle to do in that situation under 55%?
    They could defeat the government but could not find common ground for a rival collation. How will their voices be heard if you remove from them the thermo nuclear option of calling for voters to decide?
    This, surely, is not a doomsday scenario for enhanced majorities. It is the very scenario that they are purposely constructed for- preventing a principled minority disrupting the smooth working of coalition politics.
    Now consider where you have your lines in the sand. What issues you would feel so strongly about that you’d vote against your party (or your coalition) on a no confidence motion. Assuming you have (fixed terms aside!!!) any such issues what would you do? Bring down a government knowing it can’t be replaced by a rival collation would achieve…what? Chaos, minority government, anything but the going to the people
    Tell me again, this good for democracy because…

  • @Tony

    You mentioned a facebook page earlier. Do you have a link to it? Thanks

  • Chris Bosley 15th May '10 - 9:21am

    Hi, Could the dissolution motion be made on a 51% vote only after a genuine motion of no-confidence has been passed?
    This would ensure that the PM’s party cannot dissolve parliament at will. The genuiness could be judged by the speaker (i.e. on the substance of the speeches). It would also give the government opportunity to regain parliament’s confidence by changing PM or the parties in coalition.
    The dissolution motion could be in the format “The house instructs the Speaker to request Her majesty to dissolve parliament.” This gives parliament rather than the PM sovereignty over the matter.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 15th May '10 - 9:26am

    tony

    “The Lib Dem party has put forward a bastardised device to stop the executive calling an election and is quite happy to disenranchise millions of people( by lifting the bar their reps would havce to meet in order to remove the executive).”

    That is simply untrue. It has been pointed out to you – literally – about twenty times that MPs would still be able remove the executive through a no-confidence vote supported by a simple majority.

    The 55% threshold would apply only to a vote for dissolution.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 15th May '10 - 9:33am

    Chris Bosley

    “Hi, Could the dissolution motion be made on a 51% vote only after a genuine motion of no-confidence has been passed?”

    The trouble is that someone would have to come up with a watertight legal definition of what a _genuine_ motion of no-confidence was, and someone would have to be given power to interpret that law. It sounds like a sensible suggestion, but I think it would be very difficult to make it proof against circumvention by the government.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 15th May '10 - 10:18am

    tony

    “the only thing that is not possiple is for all the other parties to get together and get rid of the tory gov”They

    How many times does it have to be repeated? The 55% threshold does not apply to no-confidence motions. A government could be voted out of office by a simple majority in a no-confidence motion.

  • I have never seen so many gullible people in one place at the same time. uckily the majority here see this proposal for the BAD IDEA that it is. It IS being constructed purely to make it harder for teh PEOPLE OF THIS NATION to get rid of the CONDEM party when they so choose. They will now need a much larger majority vote for another party in order to oust the current one(s).

    Its clear as day and Iain Roberts is looking at this pruely from the internal angle. But the FACT remains that it would, in time of a general election, now make it harder for the general public to get rid fo the selfish CONservative party. Dont dress FACTS up as something else. THIS is bad news for democracy and i for one cannot wait to see the demonstrations that will hit the streets soon because of it. If Cameron and ConClegg think it is such a FAIR idea then put it to a referendum and see how far the BRITISH PUBLIC let them take it. PEOPLE should be empowered..NOT politicians. Britain needs an American model of government.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 15th May '10 - 11:02am

    Aaron

    Thanks for lowering the tone of the discussion (something I wouldn’t have believed possible).

    You can rant on about it as much as you like, but the facts remain:

    (1) As long as the coalition survives, this change will make no difference whatsoever. The government cannot be defeated in a no-confidence motion, and it can bring about a dissolution of parliament, just like any government with a majority under the present rules.

    (2) If the coalition breaks up, then the government can be voted out of office by a simple majority of MPs, and the Queen will ask someone else to form a government. Parliament can’t be dissolved, but that is the whole point of fixed-term parliaments, which were a manifesto commitment of both the Lib Dems and Labour. The arrangements will be similar to those in the Scottish parliament as established by the last Labour government, which no one suggested were a “constitutional outrage”, as far as I’m aware.

  • @Chris Bosley, that wouldn’t work as the Queen’s Speech is always taken as a confidence vote so a government that wanted an early election could simply vote against its own Queen’s Speech and then vote for dissolution of parliament in a subsequent vote.

    This might sound ridiculous but it is pretty much exactly what Schroeder did in Germany to force an early election (which admittedly he did then go on to lose).

  • Anthony Aloysius St 15th May '10 - 3:12pm

    Dave

    It’s already been pointed out that 55% is too low to achieve a meaningful fixed term (I’ve already said as such several times). I think 67%, as in Scotland, sounds about right.

    And it may be desirable to add another provision, as in Scotland, for dissolution in the exceptional circumstance that it is impossible to form a viable government and impossible to muster a “supermajority” for dissolution – though obviously the idea behind the supermajority is that if parliament really is deadlocked then the main parties will agree on dissolution.

    What I really don’t agree with is the idea – already suggested above – that the Queen should be landed with the task of deciding whether a request for dissolution is reasonable or not.

    And I’m not particularly attracted by the idea of having an election on the fixed date even if parliament has been dissolved halfway through the term. There are obviously very good reasons for not having elections every 2 or 3 years.

  • I think comparing whatever this government does to Robert Mugabe is the new Godwin’s Law

  • Anthony Aloysius St 15th May '10 - 3:36pm

    Does that mean that comparing it to Magubee is the new Gidwonn’s Law?

  • Quite possibly!

    I think the facts of the matter are thus:

    1) if you support fixed term parliaments, the PM must not have the power to dissolve parliament
    2) if the PM cannot have the power to dissolve parliament, then it must take more than a simple majority of MPs to dissolve parliament
    3) yes this particular measure of 55% wasn’t implemented before the election, but fixed term parliaments require such measures and fixed term parliaments were promised in both Labour and Lib Dem manifestos

    Now that the facts are established, we can draw some conclusions about the nature of this debate:

    A) If you don’t like the coalition, whether it’s the very idea of it or either of the two parties in it, then this will seem bad. But whether it seems bad or actually is bad are two different things.

    B) I like fixed term parliaments. I like stable fixed term parliaments. I don’t like overpowerful executive government having the power to control the legislature. I like what the coalition have decided. That this is happening at all is amazing, because had Labour got back in you know they’d have never implemented it.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 15th May '10 - 5:17pm

    tony

    I’ve finally got it! You’re John Prescott, aren’t you?

  • @blanco

    I like fixed term parliaments. I like stable fixed term parliaments. I don’t like overpowerful executive government having the power to control the legislature. I like what the coalition have decided. That this is happening at all is amazing, because had Labour got back in you know they’d have never implemented it.
    —————————————————-

    Had they tried to implement such a device; you can surely imagine the outrage that would have been unleashed regarding how undemocratic it was? There is some from the Tories, but the right wing media remains remarkably silent on the matter. A few articles, but nothing like the front page headlines we would have seen had Brown tried to do this. The Guardian and The Independent continue their love fest with the Lib Dems and say little against it as well.

    To my mind it is remarkable that we witnessing Tory MPs oppose this outrage, whilst Liberal Democrat MPs remain mute. Shameful.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 15th May '10 - 7:43pm

    Steve D

    “To my mind it is remarkable that we witnessing Tory MPs oppose this outrage, whilst Liberal Democrat MPs remain mute. Shameful.”

    At the risk of repeating myself (!) it’s really not remarkable at all, because fixed-term parliaments were in the Lib Dem manifesto, and they inevitably involve removing the right of a majority of MPs to trigger a dissolution.

    You have a right to your opinion about fixed-term parliaments, if you think the disadvantages outweigh the advantages. But just because I disagree with your opinion I don’t say it’s an “outrage”, or that it’s “shameful”. Can’t you extend the same courtesy to people who think the advantages of fixed-term parliaments outweigh the disadvantages?

  • Kevin Colwill 15th May '10 - 7:56pm

    One question – does the loss of a confidence vote by 50%+1MP automatically (no ifs, no buts, no certainly 55%’s) trigger a dissolution and therefore general election; — yes or no??
    If yes, I will withdraw from the debate unhappy but relieved that in some circumstances a simple majority can still force an election.
    If no, I re-present my scenario.
    In two or three years down the line, the coalition has the bit between its teeth and is going great guns. Unfortunately (perhaps we think fortunately) it’s stomping all over the principles and convictions of a significant minority of Tory MPs.
    Tories who would, if joined with all others, represent 50%+1MPs are prepared to vote with the opposition on a confidence motion. They could not, however, have the common ground to form an alternative collation government.
    My principled Tories (they do exist!) cannot effect a change of government because no alternative government exists, they cannot bring about an election because there is not the required 55%. What would you have them do…put up and shut up?! Hardly democratic, eh?
    In these not too fanciful circumstances the fixed term via the enhanced majority removes an absolute core power from the legislature and strengthens the executive.

  • @Anthony Aloysius St

    Can’t you extend the same courtesy to people who think the advantages of fixed-term parliaments outweigh the disadvantages?
    ————————————–

    Considering the way that you chose to patronise and deliberately misrepresent what others have said, I don’t think I’ll take any advice from you on this matter.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 15th May '10 - 8:13pm

    Steve D

    Sorry, but I’m just not having that.

    I’ve taken great pains to be as accurate – and fair-minded – as I possibly could, and considering the constant stream of misinformation coming from people on your side of the argument, I reckon I and others have been incredibly patient. But I am not a saint, and when faced with the same lie – not to put too fine a point on it – about the 55% threshold applying to no-confidence motions being repeated over and over again, there’s a limit to the amount of politeness I can muster.

    Anyhow, if you’re _not_ willing to extend some basic courtesy to people whose views differ from yours, and if you’re going to carry on describing those views as an “outrage” and “shameful”, then don’t expect any couresy to be extended to you.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 15th May '10 - 8:24pm

    Kevin

    “One question – does the loss of a confidence vote by 50%+1MP automatically (no ifs, no buts, no certainly 55%’s) trigger a dissolution and therefore general election; — yes or no??”

    No, because following a no-confidence vote the current procedure would be for the prime minister to request the Queen to dissolve parliament, and that power is being given up.

    As discussed earlier, maybe there does need to be an additional provision for dissolution, similar to the one in Scotland, in case it is really impossible to form an alternative government after a no-confidence vote. In fact, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see such a provision included when a more detailed document is published by the government. We’ll see.

  • @Anthony Aloysius St

    I stand by my view that this proposed legislation is an outrage for the reasons I have already expressed.

    I stand by my comment that it is shameful for Liberal Democrat MPs to remain silent on this matter. The Liberal Democrat manifesto did not contain a promise to fix the term of this parliament, as far as I know.

    Again you have misrepresented my views because I have stated previously that I am in favour of fixed term parliaments; just not the proposal to fix this one.

    At several points during this discussion you have been extremely patronising to me and others; it is there in black and white for all to see.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 15th May '10 - 8:45pm

    Steve D

    “Again you have misrepresented my views because I have stated previously that I am in favour of fixed term parliaments; just not the proposal to fix this one.”

    Believe me, I have tried my best to make sense of your comments. It hasn’t been easy.

    But let’s try to get it straight now. You think it would be a good thing to remove the power of MPs to trigger a dissolution by a simple majority vote. You just don’t think it should apply to this parliament. Is that correct?

  • @Anthony Aloysius St

    Believe me, I have tried my best to make sense of your comments. It hasn’t been easy.

    You still can’t resist trying to patronise me can you?

    I think this parliament should serve upon the constitutional basis it was elected, which I have stated before.

    In the interests of calming this situation down, I won’t be posting any further comments on this thread as there is nothing new or additional I wish to add.

    I do respect alternative views and if this legislation comes to pass; then I hope the process through parliament will make sure the end result is as democratic as possible.

  • @Mark Pack

    Did the commitment include fixing the term of the current parliament? That was the point I was trying to make.

  • Kevin Colwill 15th May '10 - 8:59pm

    @AAS et al- I’m the sort of person who most easily works things out in his own mind through debate. The chance to debate here has allowed me to kick this one to death!! I thank you for that.

    @Steve D et al – I believe the way the argument for fixed terms has been presented to progressive voters was totally misleading. The measure does take power from the executive but it also takes it from the legislature and does so in a way that could ultimately leave the executive stronger.
    There may, as has been mentioned once or twice but was never seriously picked up, be a system other than enhanced majorities that could square the circle. As of now, however, I am minded against the concept of fixed terms.
    I certainly hope true democrats of all parties reject any move that denies the power (albeit in exceptional circumstances) of a simple majority of MPs to force an immediate dissolution/election.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 15th May '10 - 9:05pm

    Steve D

    “I think this parliament should serve upon the constitutional basis it was elected, which I have stated before.”

    But my question related to future parliaments – for future parliaments, do you you think it would be a good thing to remove the power of MPs to trigger a dissolution by a simple majority vote?

    You’ve accused me of “misrepresenting” you, because you say you really do support fixed-term parliaments. As you’ve said that, I really think you owe me an answer.

  • From my post here 14th May 10.47am:

    I am in favour of fixed term parliaments oddly enough. But we need to be very cautious about throwing away centuries of our constitutional arrangements for short term political expediency, dressed up as stability.

    If we have a fixed term parliament elected upon a proportional voting system then a threshold of 55% or higher would be democratic. The reality of our current parliament is very different. What might work for a theoretical parliament simply does not cut it under the present realities.

    Any fixed Term Parliament elected under FPTP or for that matter AV must retain simple majority rules for dissolution, given the distorted levels of representation and voting power they create.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 15th May '10 - 9:26pm

    Dave

    “The problem is that this proposal doesn’t remove that right [the right of a majority of MPs to trigger a dissolution], it actually entrenches it when 55% so vote. At the moment such a vote wouldn’t necessarily trigger anything, and nor should it in my opinion.”

    At any rate, we seem to be agreed that the prime minister shouldn’t have the power to request a dissolution, and that a no-confidence vote shouldn’t trigger dissolution either.

    I still think it’s desirable to shield the monarch from having to make a controversial decision whenever possible, and I think a “supermajority” provision has that effect, because it is an opportunity for the parties themselves to agree that a dissolution is desirable without involving the monarch. But I think the threshold should be higher, and in the light of this discussion I do think a “last resort” provision is desirable in case the parties can’t agree.

    I think something broadly along the lines of the Scottish rules would be reasonable. I wouldn’t be surprised if something like that emerged in the more detailed documents that are in preparation.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 15th May '10 - 9:41pm

    Steve D

    OK. Obviously for some reason you don’t want to say “Yes” or “No” to a very basic question about fixed parliaments. That’s up to you.

    But if you won’t make your position clear yourself, you’d better not accuse other people of “misrepresenting” it. And you’d better not accuse people of being “patronising” when they tell you it’s hard to make sense of what you are saying.

  • Paul Edwards 15th May '10 - 9:51pm

    It seems that this is a signifcant change, but each explanation of the merits and reasons for the change given by tories and lib dems provide a different rational. But it seems to me to be for the convenience of the tories.

    The tories want a referendum on constitutiional changes coming from Europe, but this constitutiional change done for their benefit they seem to be quiet on given the people a say.

  • @Anthony Aloysius St

    Because it is not a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. I can’t put it any clearer, but I’ll try:

    A fixed term parliament elected under FPTP or AV; the threshold for dissolution should be a simple majority.

    A fixed term parliament elected under a proportional voting system; the threshold for dissolution should be higher than a simple majority.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 15th May '10 - 10:15pm

    Thanks for finally answering. (I only mentioned “Yes” or “No” on my _third_ attempt to get an answer, by the way!)

    Anyhow, when you said just above “Again you have misrepresented my views because I have stated previously that I am in favour of fixed term parliaments; just not the proposal to fix this one”, that wasn’t true, was it? It’s not just _this_ parliament you don’t want to have a fixed term, but any parliament elected by FPTP – or even by AV. In fact, you oppose fixed-term parliaments under any electoral system we are likely to have in the foreseeable future.

    Believe me, I have no wish to misrepresent you, but it is difficult to know what to believe when faced with contradictions like this. And really I do not think it is unfair to say that you believe the disadvantages of fixed-term parliaments outweigh the advantages, when you _do_ believe that is true, not only under the current electoral system, but also under the only alternative currently on offer.

  • @Anthony Aloysius St

    Not quite what I said. I was just pointing out that I believe different rules for dissolution should apply based upon the method of election. So I would be perfectly happy with all future parliaments to be elected for a fixed term; but that a simple majority would trigger dissolution in parliaments elected by FPTP or AV.

    I don’t believe what I was saying to be contradictory, just reflective of a different set of circumstances. However I can understand how it may appear so. Also I concede that comments I read as ‘patronising’ could be you trying to make sense of what I said, so I apologise and withdraw the accusation.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 15th May '10 - 11:31pm

    Steve D

    “So I would be perfectly happy with all future parliaments to be elected for a fixed term; but that a simple majority would trigger dissolution in parliaments elected by FPTP or AV.”

    Considering that – barring a miracle – future parliaments _are_ going to be elected by FPTP or AV for the foreseeable future, I just can’t make sense of this. A parliament that can be dissolved by a simple majority vote is not a fixed-term parliament, as far as I’m concerned.

  • @Anthony Aloysius St

    Considering that – barring a miracle – future parliaments _are_ going to be elected by FPTP or AV for the foreseeable future, I just can’t make sense of this. A parliament that can be dissolved by a simple majority vote is not a fixed-term parliament, as far as I’m concerned.

    Because the reality of FPTP, and most likely AV, is that it will produce a one party majority Government. The current parliament is an exception rather than the rule. Therefore, if one party has an overall majority; the only way even a simple majority can call for it’s dissolution is with members of the ruling party backing it. If the PM no longer has the power to request dissolution, then parliament must serve its fixed term; unless we get into the debatable area again of the ruling party trying to manipulate a vote for dissolution.

    In the event of a hung parliament, the reason I believe simple majority should remain is due to the distortion in share of the vote and voting power that these systems produce. This would not be an issue under a proportional system and therefore the threshold could be raised.

    If the bar for dissolution is set higher than the bar for removing the government under an electoral system that produces distorted voting power; I personally think that makes a bad situation worse.

    The difficulty, for me with this, is trying to allow for all possible scenarios; so that the rules work democratically.

    Anyway, it really is time for bed. Again I hope you will accept my apologies for having a go at you. It was my miss-reading of your comments that caused it.

    If I’ve said anything to confuse further I will try and clear it up tomorrow.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 16th May '10 - 12:59am

    Steve D

    All I’m saying is that a parliament that can be dissolved by a simple majority vote isn’t a fixed-term parliament – regardless of the pros and cons.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 16th May '10 - 1:09am

    Apologies accepted, by the way. I apologise myself for being short, but the degree of misinformation from the press and others on this issue has been pretty frustrating. And it always annoys me when people suggest I am misrepresenting things, because factual accuracy is actually a bit of a bee in my bonnet. Though of course we all make mistakes.

  • @Anthony Aloysius St

    All I’m saying is that a parliament that can be dissolved by a simple majority vote isn’t a fixed-term parliament – regardless of the pros and cons.

    I wonder if there are ways it could still work in the case of parliaments elected under FPTP or AV; given that the current arrangements do not mean with certainty that dissolution follows from a simple majority loss of confidence?

    It would be possible to legislate that were there to be a simple majority against the Government on say the budget or Queens speech (or any other motion of confidence), that before dissolution there had to be a period in which attempts to form a new government are made. True, the most likely time this would bear fruit is only if parliament is hung; but if we want to remove the power to dissolve from the PM/Monarch to the legislature, we can hardly complain about how MPs then chose to exercise their rights.

    In this version of a fixed parliament I am suggesting there need not be an artificial divide between confidence and dissolution. The reason I think it is important is that the voting numbers in this parliament are not truly reflective of the electorates wishes; given that in a majority government the major party always has 50%+, raising the bar for dissolution seems absurd. In the event of a hung parliament as we have now, raising the bar means giving a minority or coalition government protection from dissolution that the electorate did not give it.

    I am in favour of transferring powers from the PM/Monarch to the legislature and making parliament more powerful.

  • Reader from Finland 16th May '10 - 10:26am

    Anthony Aloysius St wrote: “All I’m saying is that a parliament that can be dissolved by a simple majority vote isn’t a fixed-term parliament – regardless of the pros and cons.”

    Though many times the parliaments here in the Continental Europe are considered to be fixed-term, strictly speaking only Norway has a fixed-term parliament. There the parliament can’t be dissolved, come what may, before it has sat four years. For instance here in Finland, president can dissolve the parliament by the initiative of the prime minister, after hearing the speaker of the parliament and each of the parliamentary groups. I think the most European countries have a more or less similar system, a super-majority isn’t required in order to dissolve the parliament.

    The main difference is actually cultural. If the prime minister would here suggest that the parliament should be dissolved only because his or her party would have lately been polling well, he or she would most probably lose the election, since the voters wouldn’t approve a premature election without a compelling reason, like a government crisis that couldn’t be solved despite trying without an election.

    In theory you wouldn’t need any change of legislation; If the parliament would always sit the maximum period of five years, unless there was a really compelling reason to have a general election before that, you would have a fixed-term parliament. But since it is acceptable for the Prime Minister in the UK to call the election whenever he or she sees fit, I can understand that in order to change the culture you need new legislation. Earlier, our president was entitled to call the election whenever he or she saw it necessary. This right was used but not abused before the period of president Kekkonen (a period of our history which we still haven’t properly discussed and cleared properly), but as he did abuse this right several times, it became necessary to restrict the president’s right to call an election. Thus the initiative now has to come from the prime minister.

  • Kevin Colwill 16th May '10 - 11:00am

    One final parting shot on this.
    The basis of discussion here is the exact meaning of the proposed 55% rule and how it has been represented or misrepresented.
    Isn’t there some merit in looking more deeply at how the parties presented the concept of fixed terms to the voters? If there is misunderstanding of a long standing Lid-Dem policy (ok I know it was Labour policy too but this is a Lib Dem site) then just maybe there were some shortcomings in explaining that policy to the electorate. We’re a pretty thick bunch and need things spelt out.
    On major matters of significant constitutional reform I think there is a clear onus on those wanting change to spell out the pros and cons in full and frank debate.
    It’s a tad like a planning proposal going through more or less on the nod. Eighteen months or so down the line the bulldozers turn up and the local residents scream, “stop!” The Councillors reply that all the procedures were followed, outline plans had been in place for years and everything was out in the open – if only we’d bothered to look.
    Is that approach really good enough when we’re talking about changes in the constitution?

  • Anthony Aloysius St 16th May '10 - 2:10pm

    Dave

    “But surely neither is a parliament that can be dissolved by a 55% vote!”

    I agree it isn’t, and I’ve said a number of times I think the threshold should be higher.

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