Opinion: Predictions for a new Parliament

 

As the dust settles from Thursday, one key question is what will David Cameron do with his unexpected Conservative majority? Here are a couple of predictions for the upcoming Parliament.

Where the £30bn of proposed cuts will fall is largely unknown until the autumn. Health spending is protected though – which means bigger cuts elsewhere, such as £12bn to welfare. The only bright spot could be the linking of the personal allowance to the national minimum wage – raising it to around £13,000 pa.

Constitutional reform will only happen on Europe, where a referendum vote will be rushed through as soon as possible to appease the backbenches. The House of Lords might be unable to vote against it thanks to the Salisbury Convention – so we can expect the referendum sometime in 2017. But there’ll be no reform of the House of Lords and, despite 7 million votes being represented by just 10 MPs (Lib Dems, Green and UKIP), electoral reform is unlikely either as the Tory manifesto pledged to keep FPTP. However, the 2013 boundary review will be revived, but with no reduction in the number of MPs.

Elsewhere, defence spending will likely stay at 2% of GDP, with the exact size and shape of the Armed Force only revealed with a new Strategic Defence and Security Review towards the end of 2015. One thing is certain though – with the decisive vote on whether to replace Trident due in 2016, the UK will remain a nuclear-armed state. Theresa May has already confirmed plans to reintroduce the ‘snoopers charter’ while the Human Rights Act is on the chopping block. However, with an effective Government majority of 15, it only needs a couple of Conservatives to vote against repeal (Dominic Grieve being one) for the HRA to survive.

Meanwhile the future of the Union looks increasingly hard to call. Sturgeon, Salmond and the 56 SNP MPs will no doubt utilise a Conservative government to make hay for their cause. Cameron has pledged to implement the Smith Commission in full but an offer of full fiscal autonomy to Holyrood would recognise that Thursday’s result totally changed the rules of the constitutional game. It still wouldn’t be a big surprise though to see a second referendum at the top of the SNP’s manifesto for the 2016 Scottish elections. Making it to 2020 with a still united Kingdom will require deft political manoeuvring.

One final thought: Cameron may find governing with a slim majority of 15 harder than expected, especially as it means relying those Tory backbenchers who, in the last Parliament, developed a taste for rebellion that won’t easily wash out –  especially if some of their pet policies are ignored. Alex Salmond has already predicted the Government’s majority won’t last a year and he might be right, which could see Cameron turning to the 10 Irish Unionist MPs for support later in the Parliament.

With all this in mind, Cameron will try and push through many Conservative policies as quickly as possible, when his majority is still intact and opposition parties are distracted by rebuilding. The next year could see a radical reshaping of the UK as we know it.

* Alex Paul is a Lib Dem member. Originally from London, he now lives and works in Washington, D.C.

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20 Comments

  • Simon Mackley 11th May '15 - 11:57am

    ‘The House of Lords might be unable to vote against it thanks to the Salisbury Convention’

    The Salisbury Convention was drawn up decades ago between a hereditary and overwhelmingly Tory House of Lords and a Labour government elected on almost a majority of the popular vote. Given the patently unrepresentative nature of the current House of Commons, I’d say that Lib Dem peers would be fully entitled to fight against these measures.

  • @Simon – very good point – but it could seriously backfire and the Tories, along with their media machine, would be going all guns blazing to delegitimise the Lords.

  • I agree Simon – especially as back in 2005 the Liberal Democrats were already indicating that the Convention was, in their view, outdated and it should no longer apply. The relevant quote from Lord McNally during a debate on the Queen’s Speech in May 2005 is as follows: “I do not believe that a convention drawn up 60 years ago on relations between a wholly hereditary Conservative-dominated House and a Labour Government who had 48 per cent of the vote should apply in the same way to the position in which we find ourselves today.” (http://www.parliament.uk/briefing-papers/SN04016.pdf)

  • “….despite 7 million votes being represented by just 10 MPs (Lib Dems, Green and UKIP), electoral reform is unlikely either as the Tory manifesto pledged to keep FPTP. However, the 2013 boundary review will be revived, but with no reduction in the number of MPs.”
    So the Conservatives will gift themselves (perfectly fairly) another 20 seats for the next election and will effectively be governing with nearly 350 if the Lib Dems vote along with the DUP for bills to cut the welfare budget and squeeze local government spending still further.
    I wonder how that will go down in a ‘democracy’ that is being denied reform of a electoral system in which it takes 35,000 votes to elect 1 Conservative and 3.8 million votes to elect 1 UKIP member of parliament.

  • Stephen Hesketh 11th May '15 - 12:17pm

    Just looking at the image … is that the bird of Liberalism (top left) that has just escaped from Cameron’s mean little clutch?

  • My prediction, economic stagnation as austerity is rebooted, followed by the double whammy of instability in the build up to the EU referendum and over the future of the Union. Cameron. is a curious one nation Tory in that he thinks that the British Parliament and a general election can be used to form an ad hock English assembly without causing a constitutional crisis. I also expect the housing bubble to implode even though Carney will trot out endless excuses as to why interests rates have to stay low.

  • Simon Mackley 11th May '15 - 12:27pm

    @Alan Gee – true, the party in the Lords would have to be careful in picking their battles: amendments and delaying tactics might work better than outright opposition in some cases. Done well however and it could win the party headlines which our parliamentary party in the Commons is now, unfortunately, going to struggle to achieve. Not to mention, we might well succeed in blocking the worst of the Tory plans.

    Plus, if it further highlights the deficiencies of the House of Lords as an institution (the quality of our own representatives notwithstanding) that’s not necessarily a bad thing in the long run either.

  • If we block a load of stuff in the Lords and it gets the Tory press attacking the Lords as an institution, then we can point at the Lords reform Bill they killed off and laugh.

    If we antagonise the Tories enough to make them want to reform the Lords, then that’s a good thing, not a bad one.

  • Te last time there was a Conservative government elected with a majority was 1992.

    If predictions had been made a couple of days after that election as to what that Conservative Government would do before 1997they would have been entirely wrong.

    The only thing you can ever rely on with a Conservative Government is that what it does and how it responds to events will be the near opposite of what most Loberal Democrats would want. A bit like the last five years, only worse.

    I guess only people in their late 40s remember the last majority Conservative Government. It was not good, especially if you were poor, from a minority community or did not fit the Conservative stereo-type of a model citizen. A bit like the last five years, only worse.

    Instead of making predictions we should be rebuilding the party and cooperating with others outside the party to throw the Conservatives out.

  • @Sean – I would be surprised to see Lib Dems vote with the Government to cut the welfare budget further as it was something the Parliamentary party resisted while in Government, I don’t see why they’d resort to it in opposition. The need for electoral reform is plainly obvious to everyone but FPTP has served the Tories well so far, I can’t see why they’d rush to change it.

    @Richard – what a dreadful outcome that would be. Although seeing as the House of Lords is now home to by far and away our largest group of representatives in Parliament, maybe killing it off in the next five years might not be so good for the party?! (Said in jest, I think the HofL as it stands serves a useful purpose but it has been abused in recent years by all the parties stuffing their own appointees into it.)

    @John – I disagree that predictions for what might be coming down the road in the next five years are a distraction to rebuilding the party. Advance notice of what it is at stake and what, to the best of our knowledge, can be expected of the Government allows us to muster resources to support the battles we want to fight on ground we choose. (There’s room for a Sun Tzu quote here but I’m sure you get the picture.)

    Also unless we anticipate and understand what the Conservatives are planning the party will be constantly reacting and unable to establish a clear liberal narrative for the future of Britain. We also have a duty to stand up for what we believe in and provide thoughtful and powerful opposition on measures like welfare cuts and scrapping the HRA. We can look inwards and renew ourselves while also looking outwards at the same time – I don’t believe building a stronger party and taking the argument to the Conservatives are mutually exclusive goals.

  • @John Tilley my recollection is that thatchers government was far worse than Major’s.

  • Alex Paul
    I agree with you 100% when you say that —
    “….We also have a duty to stand up for what we believe in and provide thoughtful and powerful opposition on measures like welfare cuts…”

    Appointment of Iain Duncan Smith and Priti ‘bring back hanging’ Patel to run the DWP sends a message to the disabled and the poor to be very afraid.

    If Liberal Democrats do not speak out for the poor and the disabled, who will?.

  • despite 7 million votes being represented by just 10 MPs (Lib Dems, Green and UKIP), electoral reform is unlikely either as the Tory manifesto pledged to keep FPTP. However, the 2013 boundary review will be revived, but with no reduction in the number of MPs.”
    So the Conservatives will gift themselves (perfectly fairly) another 20 seats for the next election and will effectively be governing with nearly 350 if the Lib Dems vote along with the DUP for bills to cut the welfare budget and squeeze local government spending still further.
    I wonder how that will go down in a ‘democracy’ that is being denied reform of a electoral system in which it takes 35,000 votes to elect 1 Conservative and 3.8 million votes to elect 1 UKIP member of parliament.”

    Does that mean we will always have Conservative party in power? Or are there still a chance for another party to get in power?

    Please don’t tell me we will all be stuck with the Conservative party? That would be hell 🙁

  • Someone said this:

    ”One of ironies of Tory opposition to Lords reform: there’s a huge Lib-Lab blocking majority (315 peers to Con 224). One to watch folks”

    What does that mean?

  • Someone said this on twitter:

    ”Tories will introduce boundary redistribution. 20 extra seats for them next time: permanent Tory trap if we’re not independent #GE2015”

  • Every time the Conservatives are in power I wish the Lib Dems was there to block some of the Tories stupid ideas. I can’t believe no one can block their awful ideas. 🙁

  • ”it takes 35,000 votes to elect 1 Conservative and 3.8 million votes to elect 1 UKIP member of parliament.”

    Could someone please tell me how many votes to elect 1 Labour, 1 LibDem, 1 Green, 1 SNP, 1 Plaid Cymru and 1 DUP?

  • paul barker 11th May '15 - 8:05pm

    It looks as though Cameron wants to rush through a bunch of ill-thought-out legislation in the “first 100 days”, by mid August. We have every right to derail that plan in The Lords. Both major parties are badly split & we can use that.

  • @dani
    “Could someone please tell me how many votes to elect 1 Labour, 1 LibDem, 1 Green, 1 SNP, 1 Plaid Cymru and 1 DUP?”

    Hope this link to the Electoral Reform Society’s website is of help http://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/blog/nail-coffin
    (They calculate the voter/ Conservative MP ratio is 1:34,000 – even worse.)

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