Opinion: Cameron’s proposals to reform democracy are nothing more than a mouse fart

Now we appear, as the polls currently stand, to be heading for a stratospheric Conservative majority at the next election it really is an excellent moment to look at the Conservative party’s policies. Wouldn’t that be good? Governments don’t actually run countries based on their ability to “expose” conversations about a web site that never existed beyond a URL registration, after all, do they?

Politics is in a mess, we are always told (and indeed it is to a large extent) and we need to reform Westminster.

So let’s see what the almighty David Cameron, statesman extraordinaire, proposes to reform Democracy in this country when he and his spotlessly clean, Einstein-like minded team finally dismount from their white chargers and, wearing sunglasses to deflect the gleam from their suits of armour, walk into the front door of Number Ten while that evil son of darkness Gordon Brown scuttles, humiliated, out of the back door.

Let us go to the Policy section of the Conservative party website, and then to the “Democracy” section. No doubt, given all their bluster on the mess in politics you’d expect a myriad of well thought-through plans there, wouldn’t you?

Well here are their proposals:

1. Introduce individual voter registration and address disparities that exist between constituency populations.
2. Give English MPs a decisive say on laws affecting only England.
3. Replace the Human Rights act with a “British Bill of Rights”
4. Expenses – no actual proposal but the page says that Conservative MPs have been “asked” to detail their expenditure on “right to know” forms.
5. Directly elected Police commissioners.
6. Allow local residents to veto excessive council tax rises
7. They are in favour of a substantially elected House of Lords, but make no commitment about this.
8. Bills backed by petitions of one million citizens to be automatically considered by Parliament.

So that’s it.

Here is this super-duper party who have convinced many people that they are shiny and new, that they will do so much better than the horrible old tired Labour party and that is the sum total of their proposals to clean up British politics and reform the constitution. It is absolutely pathetic.

(If you don’t believe me, compare that list to a real list of democratic reforms here; or look at Paul Tyler’s proposed Constitutional Renewal Bill.)

Moreover, most of the “proposals” are so woolly or wrong-headed that they can have a coach and horses driven right through them.

Take one of the proposals in 1., which has recently been given the full bells and whistles treatment by Mr Shiny Cameron. To “address disparities that exist between constituency boundaries”.

I take you to The Times for April 12th:

Cameron said this weekend: “All week I’ve been receiving letters from people saying the same thing: how can MPs claim they’re helping people through the recession when so many of them seem to be feathering their own nests? They are right to be angry. We need to sort this out immediately. But restoring trust in politics goes beyond expenses and allowances. At a time when families and businesses are being forced to cut back, politicians should be asking how they can help bring down the cost of politics across the board – it is taxpayers’ money after all.”

Yes, indeed, we need to sort this immediately, Camster. Indeed. So what does he propose? Doing away with 60-65 MPs to save £12 million.

He’s having a laugh isn’t he? No actual proposals about expenses management or the second homes allowance. Just reduce the number of MPs to save what, in Government spending terms, is a mouse fart.

This is like a householder complaining to a plumber that the pipe under their sink is leaking and the plumber turning around and saying, “That’s all right mate, I’ll put a smaller sink in”.

And when you listen to the rationale from Cameron for this proposal it is verging on the cretinous. He cites Orkney – it’s population is too small compared to the average for constituencies. And he cites the Isle of Wight – it’s too large.

That’s like “Janet and John do Constitutional Reforming”.

He’s citing too extremes which are virtually dictated by factors which were settled millions of years ago. Basic geology. Either you divide Isle of Wight into two, making two Orkneyish constituencies, or you make it 1.5 constituencies and take the half bit and add it to part of Hampshire. So for the half Wight/half Hampshire bit you end up with an MP shuttling back and forth between Westminster, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight – the MP for the Isle of Wight ferry, in other words – plus a few souls in Hampshire scratching their heads thinking what they have in common with some people on the Isle of Wight, and vice versa.

I’d like to know if Cameron has actually asked anyone on the Isle of Wight about this? I know that the answer he receives will at some stage contain the words “THINGS ARE DIFFERENT ON THE ISLAND”.

Similarly, spatch-cocking Orkney and the Shetlands in with a bit of mainland Scotland would have the same effect.

So Cameron’s main argument for this MP reduction is actually based on two extremes which he can’t actually do much about without creating a greater anomaly than there is at the moment.

I broadly agree with a reduction in the number of MPs, but presenting this as a solution for “MPs feathering their own nests” is, firstly, utterly laughable, and, secondly, insulting the intelligence of voters and thirdly bordering on the deceitful.

The last point comes in when you look at which constituencies would have to be abolished and merged with others in order to reduce 60 seats to around a total of 580, increasing the average seat population from the current approximate average of 69,000 to about 78,000.

34 of the seats are in Scotland. 18 are in Wales. Not many Tory seats there, then? And this proposal does nothing to solve the problem of the wasted vote in safe constituencies, and does nothing to improve the chances of MPs better reflecting the make-up of the British population.

So getting down to basics, here’s the rub. People are complaining to David Cameron that “MPs are feathering their own nests” so his answer is to smuggle in a measure to help the Conservatives hold onto power when they get in, so that they can feather their own nests. Brilliant. That’s really going to bring back the public’s confidence in the political system isn’t it?

* Paul Walter blogs here at Liberal Burblings.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • “He’s citing too extremes which are virtually dictated by factors which were settled millions of years ago. Basic geology”

    No, the Earth wasn’t around millions of years ago.

  • Grammar Police 21st Apr '09 - 6:05pm

    @Huw Dawson

    “To allow us to pull away from EU Human Rights laws, I guess, and to disguise less rights for new immigrants?”

    The Human Rights Act (a mechanism to directly implement the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, and the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg) is nothing to do with “EU human rights laws”.

    Eurosceptics and the broadsheets regularly (deliberately?) try to connect the EU to the Human Rights Act, presumably to whip up opposing sentiment.

  • David Heigham 21st Apr '09 - 7:57pm

    Careful, friends!

    The strange thing about Tory policy nowadays is how little of it there is. If you can stand being sedated by vacant wordage, read through ALL the sections on policy on the Conseravtive Party website.

    The current Labour policy portfolio consists of mainly of pokes seeking pigs heads to disguise them; but is presented with better smoke and mirrors.

    As the election gets closer, both Tory and Labour will be increasingly anxious for something convincing to say. So they will try and steal the LibDem’s clothes (especially true of Cameron who fancies himself in the role of Disraeli). When they connit themselves to their versions of our policies, it will be our function, and our pleasure, to tell both those parties what asses they have made of themselves by misunderstanding and making pigs ears of good LibDem ideas. I want to leave destructive criticism of other parties’ policies until that happy day when it will be too late for them to get anything right.

  • Richard Gadsden 21st Apr '09 - 8:32pm

    Might they try combining O&S with Na h-Eileanan an Iar and with the Skye bit of Charles Kennedy’s seat?

    A single “Scottish Islands” seat would be hugely unpopular but no-one up there votes Tory anyway so why would they care?

  • “2. Give English MPs a decisive say on laws affecting only England.”

    No, if we’re going to go down the federal route, then devolve power to areas smaller than England please. It’s just too big.

    “3. Replace the Human Rights act with a “British Bill of Rights””

    I’ve heard the Tories say this before, only then they’ve called it a “British Bill of Rights and Responsibilites”. What responsibilities do we have, except to follow the law? If there’s a “right to not be enslaved” in this bill, why does it need to be written that we have a “responsibility not to enslave”? Well duh, that’s implied by the very concept of a “right”.

    I also think the “British” part is terrible. So, Northern Ireland doesn’t figure into the Tories equation? And Scotland does, with its entirely different legal system?

    Why do we need a Bill of Rights? If we need more rights, then just add them to the HRA. The only other argument I can think of for messing around with the HRA, is to make an “entrenched” constituted (i.e. one that is really hard to change like the US one). But the Tories aren’t proposing that.

    “7. They are in favour of a substantially elected House of Lords, but make no commitment about this.”

    And they don’t want to go the whole hog why? Yay for arbitrary democracy!

    “8. Bills backed by petitions of one million citizens to be automatically considered by Parliament.”

    Even the Jeremy Clarkson ones?

  • “Give English MPs a decisive say on laws affecting only England”.

    The Conservative and Federalist Party then?

  • To cut the number of seats in Scotland would, I believe, require a revision of the 1707 Treaty of Union which guaranteed over-representation in the British Parliament – and, let’s be honest, do we really want to go there?

  • Mark Williams 22nd Apr '09 - 9:35am

    “Basic geology. Either you divide Isle of Wight into two, making two Orkneyish constituencies, or you make it 1.5 constituencies and take the half bit and add it to part of Hampshire.”

    Or you have 2 constituencies, each part-Orkney, part-Wight with MP’s who shuttle between them.

  • Cameron wants small constituencies in rural areas and large constituencies in urban areas. Unfortunately for Camerson, rural constituencies tend to grow, while urban constituencies tend to contract. That’s why we have periodic boundaries reviews.

    Cameron’s human rights policy is a complete mess. In what way would a “British Bill of Rights” differ from the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms? Oh, yes. A lot of otiose woffle about “responsibilities”.

    Let’s unpack this. Social authoritarians (particularly pompous headmasters and clergymen) tell us that we cannot have rights without responsibilities. Even Tony Blair (a lawyer who knows it is nonsesne) wheeled this out in finger-wagging mode. Drivel, drivel, drivel. The European Convention states that the right not to be tortured is absolute. What is my corresponding responsibility? Do I have to bow down to the Queen, address the Duke of Westminster as “Sir”, or join the Church of England? Precisely what do I have to do to avoid the thumbscrews?

    The truth is, the Tories don’t believe in human rights. They regard people as the property of the aristocracy, dependent on the innate benevolence and wisdom of their betters. Hence their outrage that lower-class oiks should tell them they can’t go round hunting foxes and deer with hounds.

    Recently, Cameron’s Svengali, the neo-con slimeball, Gove, has committed the Tories to extending school hours, and Grayling has promised to give the Police the power to mete out extra-judicial punishments to young people they take a dislike to. There is every indication that the erosion of our liberties would be accelerated under a Cameron government, not reversed or halted.

    The European Convention (drafted by English lawyers, incidentally) has done a great job. It has been instrumental in getting rid of evils like the flogging of school-children and the ban on gays in the military. And it has recently led to the Court of Appeal declaring martial law for young people unlawful (Julia Goldsworthy please note).

    Gosh! What a sickening spectacle! A Scotsman doing down Scotland! If Cameron has the nerve to venture north of the border he is in for a frosty reception.

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