Tony Greaves writes…Can’t poll, won’t poll?

I wrote about prospects for a minority government if no party gets an overall majority at the General Election, and some of the things that might need to change at Westminster if it’s to work. Moves away from its majoritarian and adversarial culture to one based much more on negotiation and mediation, compromises and trade-offs, and an acceptance of a more dominant role for Parliament as against the government. But will it last?

Traditionally the Prime Minister asked the Sovereign for a dissolution. In the modern era such requests were always granted. Sometimes the government had lost the confidence of the Commons (1924 and 1979), run out of steam (1951), or politics had been turned upside down and the new arrangements needed popular endorsement (1931).

But in most cases in the past 100 years the decision was in the hands of a PM who was looking to call the election at the best time for their party, as when Harold Wilson in 1966 and 1974 went to the country for a bigger majority. That is no longer the case. The date of the election on 7th May was set down in the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 (FTPA) and, so long as that Act remains in force, all future elections will take place on the first Thursday in May in the fifth year after the last election – subject only to two special circumstances that are in the hands of the House of Commons.

The first is that MPs vote for an “early parliamentary general election” by a special two-thirds majority of the whole membership – 434 members or more. The second is a vote of no confidence in the government. If that happens there is a breathing space of 14 days in which an alternative government can seek the confidence of the House – if that occurs, the early election is off.

The question is this: if the numbers in the Commons are anything like I used as a basis for my previous piece (Con 275, Lab 275, LD 35, SNP 40, UKIP 5, Green 2, Speaker 1, all Northern Irish 17) what is the likelihood of the Commons voting for an early election?

The first way to get an early election is to gain the votes of 434 MPs. If the numbers are as I set out or any other likely mix, if MPs vote on party lines it would need the Conservatives and Labour to join forces to vote for an early election. That might happen within weeks of the election if a government cannot be formed and a mood of general despair develops. But once a government is formed, whether a majority coalition or a minority government of one party or more, it seems very unlikely that 434 MPs could be found to bring it to an early end.

Among the smaller parties, only the DUP may be gung-ho for another election – after all it’s what they live for and most of their seats at safe. A large SNP block won’t want to ruin their new position of influence, the Liberal Democrats who have squeezed back won’t want to go again, nor other odds and ends. The (main) governing party will only want a new election if the polls say they will win it, in which case the other large party won’t agree. And vice versa. It’s possible that as the Parliament goes on, a sense of inertia and shambles (or major crisis) might lead enough people to think an election is needed though it would need to be clear that an election would help in resolving the problems.

A vote of no confidence with a simple majority may be a lot easier to achieve, but to what purpose? The same constraints will apply. A minority government might manipulate a no-confidence vote (at the risk of looking silly) but they then face the prospect that the other main party may be able to build a one-off majority of MPs and take over. People will simply have to work out and accept is a way of coping with government defeats without triggering “no confidence” hysteria.

The other way that the provisions of the FTPA can be overcome is by repealing it. There is some loose talk in the media – for instance Simon Heffer described it in the New Statesman as the “ill-conceived” and “ill-considered” Act “which senior politicians in all parties now wish to repeal”. Perhaps, or perhaps not. In practice it’s unlikely because the same restraints will still apply – why should opposition or smaller parties give this extraordinary power to whoever happens to be PM when it can be used against their interests?

It seems to me that the sooner the parties and the media start to think about how they can make the new No Overall Control Parliament work beyond the short term – and possibly for a full five years – the better we will all cope with the aftermath of this election.

* Lord Tony Greaves is the Liberal Democrats Lords Spokesperson for the North of England.

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35 Comments

  • Joseph Toovey 12th Mar '15 - 2:36pm

    Ah, that strange constitutional quirk of ours… you can pass legislation requiring a supermajority to do X, but when the legislation can be repealed by a simple majority, what’s the point?

  • Malcolm Todd 12th Mar '15 - 3:29pm

    “you can pass legislation requiring a supermajority to do X, but when the legislation can be repealed by a simple majority, what’s the point?”
    But Tony Greaves has explained that in his article: you would need a majority in parliament with an interest in repealing it; and if no one party has a majority already, it is unlikely you will be able to construct a majority in whose short-term interest it is to repeal. (Even a party with a majority, especially a narrowly won majority, may hesitate to carry out such a nakedly self-interested act, though I wouldn’t bank on that.)

  • If there is an overall majority (that is looking increasingly like a Conservative majority) then the government could well try to repeal the act. My question to Tony Greaves is how he would expect the Lords to respond, assuming that a repeal of the act is not in the manifesto?

    As to the main issue here, the experience of the last five years does not suggest an outbreak of responsible leadership from either of the two main parties. However, irrespective of whether or not he is elected, Alec Salmond could find himself much in demand as a political consultant!

  • David Allen 12th Mar '15 - 6:15pm

    Tony is right to point out that a vote for an early election while retaining FTPA, which requires 434 votes, is highly unlikely. However, a vote for an early election in tandem with the repeal of FTPA would require only 326 votes, so that is rather less unlikely. As Martin says, a majority one-party government could do that at will. A majority coalition could do likewise, provided the coalition partners both / all wanted an election. Or, the cat could be skinned some other way.

    Suppose for example that Tony’s figures turn out dead right, and that the Tories head a minority government in alliance with the Lib Dems and with some sort of loose confidence-and-supply arrangement with SNP and DUP. After two years, the Tories are desperately unpopular, as is of course common in mid-term. The SNP, who have already coaxed and captured loadsamoney for Scotland out of the Tories in return for their forbearance, now come under great pressure from Scottish voters to turn the Tories out. Labour, riding high in the polls, want an election rather than a no-confidence vote under FTPA. So that’s 275 Labour plus 35 SNP MPs ready to vote for the repeal of FTPA, followed by no-confidence under the pre-FTPA rules, followed by an election. Still only 310 votes, not enough.

    Desperate times, desperate measures. The earth is duly promised to any 16 MPs who will give Labour-SNP the chance to bring down the Tories. Since this is a one-off vote to scrap the appalling and resented FTPA, it can be presented as principled and right. Arise Sir Nigel Farage. All hail Lord McGuinness of Derry. Or, grateful thanks from the Lib Dems for a fistful of well-paid sinecures, a promise not to leave the EU, the Bird of Liberty on the Union Jack, STV in the Royal Succession, a state funeral for Lord Bonkers, whatever it takes…

    If it doesn’t happen something like this in 2017, it probably will in 2022 or 2027. FTPA, I suspect, is not terribly long for this world. When it goes, it won’t be missed. However, the accompanying shenanigans will be one more nail in the coffin of public respect for democracy. Pity we ever adopted FTPA.

  • jedibeeftrix 12th Mar '15 - 6:28pm

    “Ah, that strange constitutional quirk of ours… you can pass legislation requiring a supermajority to do X, but when the legislation can be repealed by a simple majority, what’s the point?”

    parliamentary sovereignty. The result of not having a codified constitution guarded by a supreme court.

    I have always been very happy with the system.

  • It’s open to debate how much the FTPA changes. If in the scenario Tony outlines a government loses a vote of no confidence after (say 15 month) but there is a credible group that could command a majority it’s an interesting point whether the monarch would allow them to test that possibility – or at least allow a few days to see if that was possible.

    Either way it would be a bit of a constitutional crisis as I’m not aware of a scenario under an alternative government took over mid-parliament without an election.

    Certainly I think the FTPA needs amending to allow a government of the day to call an early election without the artificial measure of a sham no-confidence vote – that could still be subject to the 14 days provision (so at least is in accordance with the spirt of the FTPA and should get a clear passage through the Lords) Repeal is a lot lot harder as it would need to get through the Lords where commanding a majority may not be so easy.

    It is not a great piece of legislation, drafted for the specific arithmetic of 2010 without a lot of thought as to how it might work in the future.

  • Hywel 12th Mar ’15 – 7:05pm
    “….it’s an interesting point whether the monarch would allow them to test that possibility – or at least allow a few days to see if that was possible.”

    Quite right Hywel. The role of the monarch is actually a factor. Despite the myths about our monarch having no power and no views about politics enormous power was at work in May 2010.

    Careful reading of what really went on in May 2010 indicates that both the Head of The Civil Service and also the Queen’s representative took a very active, if almost completely unreported, role.

    All the TV cameras were pointed at the politicians. All the stage managed “drama” featured negotiating teams striding up Whitehall or making bland statements on the steps of government buildings.

    Meanwhile the key figures of The Estalishment were discretely “advising” and “guiding” and “seeking information” from the MPs whilst tapping their watches and pushing things along.

    David Laws and some others flatter themselves with their sometimes hastily written accounts of their role in the May 2010 negotiations to set up The Coaliton. Andrew Adonis has also spoken and written about the lack of preparedness of Labour under Brown for anything other than more of the same. But how much did either of these two actually comprehend what was happening around them. They were in uncharted territory. They were up against officials who had spent a lifetime doing what they do. Was it lambs to the slaughter? The recently published thoughts of Nick Harvey about the wisdom or otherwise of leaving many crucial elements of negotiation to Nick Clegg acting alone should be taken on board. Remember that at that point in 2010 Clegg had experiece of only one term in Parliament and only a couple of years as party leader.

    The pressure is on the politicians who have to step out and talk to the media; in these circumstances MPs, Party Leaders etc can be easiy manipulated by the discrete officials in the shadows. Grave warnings about the UK becoming “another Greece” — the implication being riots in the streets and a collapse of “The Markets” — can be muttered quietly to great effect. Nicely timed questions posed on behalf of “Her Majesty” can be employed to turn up the heat, move things in certain directions, ensure that nothing too radical emerges.

    We need to remove this feudal element.
    Someone needs to tell Her Majesty that her job is to cut ribbons and wave to the crowds and she must keep out the workings of democracy.
    She should get her “representatives” and “private secretaries” out of the way because they have no role to play.

    It may be only a short time before King Charles 3rd is the monarch.
    We need to get these things sorted out before then or we may be subjected to government by homeopathy.

  • Bill Le Breton 12th Mar '15 - 10:29pm

    Hywel, Balfour resigned in December 2005 expecting Liberals to split aNd be unable to form a Government, but Campbell-Bannerman did manage to form a minority Government and then choose to fight the election in January to February 1906.

  • Thanks Bill. The result of 1906 may be why no-one has gone down that route since 🙂

    Did he actually ask the Monarch to dissolve Parliament?

    John – I am sure in such constitutionally fraught times “the markets” will suddenly become something important.

  • In 1905 Campbell-Bannerman became PM, replacing Conservative PM Balfour, without any election intervening, Balfour having lost support in the House and eventually resigning.

  • Tony Greaves 13th Mar '15 - 4:47pm

    One or two points.

    (1) The Queen. She will not intervene in discussions after May 7th. She will only be involved when a person emerges who it is thought can form a Government. She certainly will not pick and choose. One radical suggestion is that the Commons could meet and pass some kind of indicative motion before anyone goes to see her, though that might be too radical for British politicians.

    (2) The FTPA is quite clear – the Queen cannot dissolve Parliament except under the terms of the Act. So no PM can sidle off to see her and twist her arm. It needs 434 MPs or a vote of no confidence. In the latter case there is then a period of 14 days to see if anyone else can get a vote of confidence. Only if that does not happen is there a dissolution, and it must happen. The Queen has no say in it.

    (3) As for repealing the Act early no-one has yet challenged the rationale of my argument that it will be hard to achieve. One possibility would be a Grand Coalition in which the agreement included the repeal of the FTPA – possibility for an election at a given date in the future (say May 2017). But the repeal would have to take place quickly or there would be the risk that one of the larger parties would pull out of the agreement if the other one went firmly ahead in the polls. Politicians are Turkeys – they won’t vote for Christmas.

    (4) The Lords. The Lords will repeal the Act if both Conservative and Labour Parties want it to happen. Not otherwise.

    (5) Repeal of FTPA against the wishes of a Minority Government. This would have to be by a Private Member’s Bill, and would be possible but tortuous to put it mildly. But if you want an early election, why bother with a Repeal Bill which will take many months – you can just pass a vote of no confidence in the Government and refuse to form an alternative Government. You then get an election in a fortnight.

    Tony

  • Tony: The interesting aspect to the possibility of repealing the FTPA is how little we have heard from Labour or Conservatives of such an intention. Presumably if repeal of the act were in their manifestos they could push it through against opposition in the Lords. Otherwise to force an election a governing minority would have to pass a no confidence vote against itself. How would this play politically though?

  • Tony Rowan-Wicks 13th Mar '15 - 6:14pm

    I can hardly wait for John’s follow-up satirical post on government by homeopathy – though I support Her Madge’s intent to make it a post with no possibility of reality.

  • David Allen 13th Mar '15 - 6:49pm

    Tony’s point (5) seems good to me. If a minority government is unpopular, and enough of the opposition parties want to force an election, they can do that in a fortnight despite FTPA. They could also do that via repealing FTPA (as per my earlier post), but that, I now recognise, would be considerably more cumbersome.

    Unfortunately however, the fact that the five year fixed term is very far from being guaranteed tends to undermine Tony’s basic argument, that “the sooner the parties and the media start to think about how they can make the new No Overall Control Parliament work beyond the short term – and possibly for a full five years – the better”. The fact that Councils have learned to operate under NOC is a misleading analogy. Councils have their fixed term elections imposed upon them by a superior authority and must therefore knuckle down and live with the verdict of the voters. Parliament, clearly, would instead be a hotbed of speculation about all the alternative possibilities.

    Sadly, the people who rise to the top in such circumstances are not the practical compromisers, negotiators and constructive organisers whom Tony extols. They are the fixers, schemers, backroom manipulators and gamesters.

    FTPA has achieved this sad state of affairs. FTPA appealed to Clegg because it offered him security against public disapproval, to Cameron because it degraded democracy and shielded his government from potential rebellions. Now we find that we have gerrymandered our own electoral system by creating a kind of constitutional python, a form of governance which puts us all into a stranglehold we cannot easily escape from, even if we want to. The Right will be pleased. They are the gainers from constitutional muddle and paralysis, a loss of faith in democracy, and direct rule by a business-led elite.

  • Bill le Breton 13th Mar '15 - 6:54pm

    I can see why a repeal might be politically difficult , but less so the passing of the FTPA Suspension Act 2015. I wonder if someone deep inside the Establishment has drawn up a draft, John?

  • Further to my earlier comment — the Head of the Civil Service in 2010 (now Lord O’Donnell) has obviously developed a taste for involving himself in the aftermath of elections.  

    See today’s Huff Post – 
    http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2015/03/13/snp-surge-will-call-into-question-legitimacy-of-voting-system-says-ex-cabinet-secretary_n_6862164.html

    which includes the following —
    ” ….The former cabinet secretary also said a “rather messy” hung parliament result appeared to be on the cards. But speaking about possible coalition negotiations he dismissed Nick Clegg’s tenet that the party with the most MPs should have the first right to try and form a government.
    “Clegg’s law, whoever has got the most number of seats gets first go,” O’Donnell said. “There is no such thing as Clegg’s law, apart form Nick Clegg saying it’s Clegg’s law.”

    Whereas the Queen’s man is keeping in the shadows.  

    Tony, I read what you say in your points 1 and 2 and whilst it would be nice to think that Buckingham Palace play no role until it is appropriate for them to do so, anyone who watched the very deliberate involvement of The Queen in the Scotland Referendum only a few months ago might have a different interpretation of what actually goes on.  What was Cameron’s comment about her afterwards? Purred like a cat?

    I am not saying that Royal interference is obvious, or even acknowledged.   I am not saying it is “in the constitution” or anything as unsubtle as that.

    But then of course I have not sworn allegiance to her, her heirs and successors.   🙂

  • Bill le Breton 13th Mar ’15 – 6:54pm
    “….. I wonder if someone deep inside the Establishment has drawn up a draft, John?”

    Bill — it would be a dereliction of duty if the relevant Civil Servant had not only prepared for every possible eventuality but had checked it through with parliamentary draftsmen, legal and others so that it could be achieved apparently effortlessly, in no time at all, just as soon as it is asked for.

    That is what Civil Servants are trained to do.

  • “(2) The FTPA is quite clear – the Queen cannot dissolve Parliament except under the terms of the Act.”

    What is the situation if there is an election but Parliament has not yet reconvened – ie what is the point at which a new Parliament starts.

  • Tony – in terms of repealing/amending FTPA what are the figures of actual members of the HOL by party – and there effective strength in reality (ie how many do each party get to turn up regularly for “big” votes)

  • Tony Greaves 13th Mar '15 - 11:32pm

    “Sadly, the people who rise to the top in such circumstances are not the practical compromisers, negotiators and constructive organisers whom Tony extols. They are the fixers, schemers, backroom manipulators and gamesters.”

    Actually these may be the same people, at least in part. They are competent politicians as opposed to those that just follow, or don’t have much clue about what is going on. I don’t “extol” anything, just point out the pressures that will be on people to behave differently.

    Hywel – there is a fixed date when Parliament reconvenes to receive Her Majesty’s Commission for the holding of the new Parliament (after which the Commons will elect the new Speaker). The date of this will be fixed before the election and will probably be the following week. I think MPs turn up clutching a piece of paper given them by their Returning Officer while Peers get a Writ of Summons on behalf of Madge, and turn up to go through the ritual of everyone queuing up to give the Oath (or Affirm). No-one can dissolve a Parliament that has not yet met.

    Hywel again – membership of the HOL varies by the day, but the latest figures (excluding people who are not allowed to turn up and take part for various reasons) seem to be: Con 227, Lab 216, LD 104, XB 181, Non-affiliated 20, Other parties 15, Bishops 26. The LD total does not include Qurban Hussain who has voluntarily withdrawn from the whip for the time being, and Jennie Tonge who resigned the whip and sits as an Independent Liberal Democrat.

    The Non-affiliated are people who cannot or don’t want to take a party whip but who don’t want to join the Crossbench group. The Other Parties (who have appeared in fairly recent times) include 3 DUP, 3 UKIP, 2 UUP, 2 PC, 1 Green and various “Independent this that and the other” of which D Owen “Independent Social Democrat”.

    Even with their new sense of activism, the Crossbenches usually have the lowest turnouts. Tories and Labour are similar, and the LDs highest (occasionally around 80%).

  • Tony Greaves 13th Mar '15 - 11:35pm

    These numbers will change if there is a dissolution list or a PM resignation list or a new government list (or any combination of such). There will also be a small number of members taking the Steel resignation option at the end of this Parliament (five so far but there will be more including at least one LD).

  • Tony Greaves 13th Mar ’15 – 11:32pm
    “… I don’t “extol” anything, just point out the pressures that will be on people to behave differently.”

    Tony – You are absolutely right here. People behave differently under pressure. Not just politicians – competent or otherwise.
    Post election coalition negotiations are a very pressured environment. Time is of the essence. Precedents of the leisurely world of Westminster politics before 1997 are not really that relevant or helpful. Time for those early 20th century politicians moved much more slowly — look at the Abdication Crisis in the 1930s it was more like a five day Test Match where all the cricketers wore white and took their time. Things are a bit different in cricket in 2015 where you have to contemplate teams from Ireland and Afghanistan dressed in their sponsored pyjamas. There are a lot of teams that were not even invented in the 1930s. So it will be in politics on 8th May 2015.

    I have just glimpsed back through the Rob Wilson (obscure Tory MP and whip) account of the 2010 negotiations.

    Rob Wilson book ‘5 Days to Power’ sees things from the angle of a Tory Whip and  includes –

    “…  George Osborne persuaded David Cameron two weeks before the election on 6 May 2010 to do the unthinkable and make discreet preparations for a hung parliament. The extract ends with Cameron’s offer of a “big, open and comprehensive offer” to the Liberal Democrats on the afternoon of Friday 7 May.

    Planning for a hung parliament therefore began halfway through the election campaign and was approved by the party leader…

    Cameron now knew he was involved in a struggle where time was of the essence…

    For those on the road it was all rather surreal. “It sticks in my memory,” Hague recalls, “[that] we were deciding the potential future government while I was at some curious places like a Little Chef and a McDonald’s car park.”

    Meanwhile Coulson had reappraised his early-morning view on Brown. The press, he observed, were “now treating Brown like a squatter”.

    Time was of the essence !

    http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2010/nov/12/rob-wilson-book-coalition-talks

  • Philip Thomas 14th Mar '15 - 5:52pm

    Doesn’t the Feb ’74 precedent suggest the incumbent party has the right to first attempt to form a government?
    In fact, technically, doesn’t the incumbent administration stay in office until it resigns or loses a confidence vote in the new parliament?

  • Peter Andrews 15th Mar '15 - 9:31pm

    “In fact, technically, doesn’t the incumbent administration stay in office until it resigns or loses a confidence vote in the new parliament?”

    Yep and that is why Gordon Brown was still Prime Minister and in 10 Downing Street after the election in 2010 and was very unfairly criticised for ‘squatting’

    In 2015 it will be Cameron who has the right to first try to form a Government (assuming Labour do not have an outright majority)

  • SIMON BANKS 16th Mar '15 - 1:43pm

    I don’t think a majority for an early dissolution is quite that unlikely. Say a Labour-led government has taken office thanks to an arrangement with the SNP and the Liberal Democrats. Both parties exploit the situation to press for things Labour doesn’t want to give. The polls suggest Labour would do better in a new election. Meanwhile the Tories have been mouthily attacking the government and all its works, claiming it’s a stitched-up deal the electorate would never have approved and pointing out that they got more votes than Labour.

    Miliband calls for an early election, hoping to win a majority. The small parties except UKIP vote against while making clear they see no room for a deal at present with the Tories, who’ve migrated right. But the Tories are in a cleft stick. Labour politicians remind them of all they’ve said since the election and tell them, “Here’s your chance to do something about your protests. What’s the problem? Scared?” If the Tories did not support the early dissolution, the Tory leader would be in trouble with his/her rank and file and whenever they attacked Labour, they’d get the reply, “You had a chance to change all this and you chickened out.”

  • Tony Greaves 16th Mar '15 - 2:05pm

    Simon – what do you mean by “Miliband calls for an early election?” Presumably a vote by the Commons which has to achieve 434 MPs. If Labour looks like getting an overall majority after taking over, the Tories will not vote for an early election? They may well also be in the middle of a leadership crisis, or just have a new leader trying to settle in (unless, God help us all, it’s Boris Johnson.).

    If the SNP and LDs have agreed to support the existence of a minority Labour government, part of that deal (if they are remotely competent which the SNP are likely to be even if we are not) will involve an agreement not to go early.

    Yes – the present PM stays until a successor is appointed by Madge. But in a close result, whether or not the Tories are the largest party, the idea of one side having the right to “attempt to form a government” is outdated. There will surely be multi-faceted discussions going on that involve most parties. Sooner or later someone will indicate to Madge that they have a viable proposal. If two people think they can do so, goodness knows what happens! But a lot of people will be pinning people down and adding up the numbers and someone will presumably be had for huffing.

  • I can see it is interesting, very tempting and to some extent necessary to speculate ‘what if?’, but FPTP has a multiplier effect that makes a balanced result mathematically unstable, so there is a high possibility that one side will have enough for a government. In fact if disgruntled but apt to self harm Labour supporters do not vote tactically in only a dozen of our seats thereby letting in the Tory candidate, then the Tories more or less win overall.

  • The SNP leader uses the phrase ‘Vote by vote’ support, when she talks about keeping Cameron out of Downing St.

    As with much else over the last ten years the SNP seems to be a lot more intellectually and politically nimble and a lot less plodding and predictable than some other parties.

    Even the DUP — a party about which I would not use the term “intellectually nimble” — seems to be playing a smarter game than some by letting it be known that it would work with Labour or The Conservatives.

    I wonder if Clegg. would describe the DUP as ‘anchored in the centre’ representing the moderate majority?
    Nothing would surprise me in the light of Clegg’s obviously Unionist view of the UK.

  • Simon Banks: I think your premis is unlikely. I strongly suspect that whatever minority government may form would rapidly lose popularity. SNP and Lib Dems would be more likely to block proposals rather than try to force through specific policies. This is likely to be done in a fairly populist way: the less popular the legislation the more likely Lib Dems and SNP would stand in its way, moreover if in such circumstances Nick Clegg stepped aside (as would be likely) there would be an interim in which Labour would not really have any one figure with whom to negotiate.

    I am not sure how a campaign for a new leader would go though: I doubt there would be so many votes for a candidate proclaiming to acquiesce to the Labour minority government.

    More to the point even as a majority I foresee Miliband (particularly) or Cameron having huge difficulties, becoming rapidly unpopular and certainly with no ‘honeymoon’ period at all.

  • Ian Sandersom,

    As so often, Ian, you are correct.
    The DUP are quite left-wing on some issues. Compared for example to The Orange Booksters in our party the DUP are “dangerous lefties”
    Is it not interesting how colours in politics can have different meanings in different places?

    Interesting to reflect on the rise and rise of the DUP today not long after the death of Lord Molyneaux, who came from a very different era and class of Irish politics.
    When I grew up, the Uster Unionists were just an exotic wing of the Conservative Party stacking up enormous majorities in their contituencies and ensuring the Tories had comfortable majorities at Westminster.

    http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/mar/09/james-molyneaux-former-uup-leader-dies-aged-94

  • Tony Greaves 30th Mar '15 - 1:41pm

    Hywel – belatedly. You raise a very interesting point about the status of Parliament after the election of the Speaker (of the Commons) and before the “Opening of Parliament” by the Queen (the Queen’s Speech). I don’t know the answer as to whether the Commons can meet in that time. But I assume that if the Speaker says they can, they can.

    All the MPs (and indeed most Peers) will have taken the Oath (or affirmed) by then so they can act as MPs/Peers in the new Parliament.

    There are various possibilities. The existing Government continues in office until a new one is appointed by Madge. So can the “no confidence” provision of the FTPA been used for a debate and vote in the Commons in this interim period? I can see no reason why not. Another possibility is for the Speaker to convene the House for a debate on whatever proposals anyone wants to make, and a vote or votes on an indicative basis. Madge then summons the new PM on the basis of a successful indicative vote.

    What is clear is that Madge is not going to send for anyone unless she has clear advice from her advisers that the person she calls on is likely to be able to win a confidence vote in the Commons.

    Another interesting point is whether the Royal Prerogative in relation to appointing the new PM still exists following various repeals in the FTPA. But that question is way above my pay grade!

    Tony

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