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Tag Archives: 55% rule

So there we have it. Three years after Brown’s infamous dithering about a snap election, two years after Labour’s by-election humiliations, after four weeks of campaigning and five days of horse trading we have a new government. The new government is unsurprisingly led by David Cameron’s Conservatives, but in coalition with the Liberal Democrats to make up the numbers. And we are told that this is the new politics in play, a new way of doing government, perhaps the change the Tories talked of.

In terms of policy from their manifestos, there has been some movement. The Lib Dems have conceded on immigration and Trident, issues that caused more harm than good to their campaign. Similarly the Tories have forsaken their pledges on the married tax allowance and the inheritance tax cut. The former was a long time pledge by Cameron to appease the right of his party and the detail, when it came; the policy had little substance, giving only £150 a year. The latter is a policy that had one objective, to stop Gordon Brown’s snap election in 2007, which it achieved, if anything it is a surprise that the policy has not been ditched earlier. Thus it is hard to envisage either party being too upset about losing said policies. The major movement appears to be giving jobs to Lib Dems. Nick Clegg has the non-job as the new Deputy Prime Minister, two of whom are subservient to George Osbourne, the new chancellor, and the other is in a role, which was earmarked for abolition in the Lib Dem manifesto.

The key issue of the election and of this parliamentary term is the budget deficit, the Lib Dems would appear to wield influence with the appointments of David Laws and Vince Cable to the treasury, yet despite these jobs, the substance is a Tory cuts agenda. Cable, like Labour, has attacked the Conservatives for risking a double dip recession with a plan to cut in this financial year. Whereas the Tories were clear that they would cut £6billion this year, as a “down payment” on the deficit. However, despite having two cabinet members in the treasury the agenda is that of the Tories, with the emergency budget to be held within 50 days to outline said cuts. The substance however, would appear to go further than even £6billion, with proposed cuts of 15-20% in most departments, with the exception of health and international aid. Coalition or not, it is clear that not only are the Tories going to cut as planned but they are going further sooner than they outlined during the election campaign.

Where the Lib Dems have influenced new government is over electoral reform and changes to the tax system. On the latter, the Lib Dem negotiators agreed to the raising of the threshold to £10,000, but did not agree to their plans on how pay for it. The initial policy was a traditional progressive tax measure, to increase the taxes on the wealthy, notably through the mansion tax, in order to cut tax at the bottom. In practice it is a classic Tory tax cut. A measure that will only reduce taxes on the poor by 6%; the greatest beneficiaries are middle income households, paid for by major reduction in public service funding. The ends were in the Lib Dem manifesto, but not the means. Thus the mandate for this measure is debateable, would Lib Dem voters have been happy with the alteration, or indeed, would the voters that they won over from Labour with a tax cut, which would not look out of place in the Tory manifesto? Similarly, there are a lot of noises about VAT, both parties campaigned saying that a rise in VAT was not in their plans. The Lib Dems went as far as, mimicking John Major’s tax bombshell poster from 1992. The Tories accused the Labour campaign of lying when it tried to pinpoint the likelihood of a VAT rise. VAT, like the tax cut was not outlined in their manifestos, both parties strongly made the case for not raising VAT, yet their coalition is implanting these measures without a mandate.

Worryingly most of all is the proposals for fixed term parliaments, a long term ambition of the Lib Dems and a clear victory from their negotiating team. However, there are two surprises in here, which are causes for concern. One is the fact that there will be five, not four year terms, surprising given how common four year terms are and that five year terms are normally reserved for when defeat is likely, as in 1992, 1997 and 2010. However, that detail aside, there is great concern about the fact that the new government, for all its talk, for all its appearance of change, is actually removing its own accountability. In this country we merge legislative and executive power, which is why a Prime Minister can only form a government with a command of a majority of MPs in the Commons. Yet, the new 55% rule means the government can lose the confidence of the house and yet carry on regardless. The key question is; would it be acceptable for legislation to pass with a vote of 45%? It means that a working majority is reduced from 326 to just 292.  Thus had the rule been in place for this election, David Cameron would have been in Downing Street on Friday, with a command of 47% of MPs. Is that democratic?

The Tories failed to get support in key parts of the country. In London, in the north, the midlands, in Wales and in Scotland, people were not flocking back to the Tories. They failed to gain more MPs in Scotland; they failed to take seats like Bolton West and Birmingham Edgbaston, which required swings of less than 5%, or 2% in the case of the latter. The new government cries that it needs the new rule to ensure government stability and to stop the markets overreacting and the four horseman of the apocalypse coming along. They want, what they call a new politics, but are they really suggesting that removing democratic accountability should be part of that new politics?

Furthermore, the 55% figure they have come up with is not in the interests of our system, or in the interests of accountability but in the interests of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties. They are proposing a major change to our constitution without mandate, consultation or reason. It is not done in the national interest but the interests of partisan parties clinging onto power. There are also critics who identify the Scottish model of a two thirds majority to dissolve the parliament. But that is a legislative body and does not have the executive powers of Westminster. Or, for example in Germany, where the head of state can dissolve parliament if it fails to function. In either case the two thirds rule is a super majority rule imposed for stability, but it is a rule that is imposed for different systems of government and different constitutions. The 50%+1 rule, which has been in place for centuries, it bought an end to James Callaghan’s government when Thatcher won power in 1979, and it is a clear, fair and democratic rule. The 50%+1 rule suits our system of government and constitution, other than partisan interest there is no need for this rule of democratic accountability to change.

We have a new government that says it is practicing a new politics, but in substance we have anti-democratic legislation, tax cuts for the rich, taxes increases for the poor and sweeping public services cuts. The Conservatives stood for change, but it sounds more like reversion to Thatcherite politics of division.