The Times We Live In

The Chinese, being an ancient, intelligent and noble race, never actually came up with the “Chinese Curse”. It’s one of those things that Edwardian gentlemen of the British Empire invented. It was popularised by Robert F. Kennedy in his famous speech about apartheid to Cape Town students in 1966.

I digress. You really should stop me doing that. I’m easily distracted by historical details and shiny things. That curse is a very simple, very innocuous-sounding, phrase. May you live in interesting times. And that we most certainly do. We have the first new Conservative (ok mainly Conservative) administration in almost 20 years. The new cabinet is almost entirely public school educated, white and male. 23 out of 30 of them are millionaires. And of course, it’s made up of two parties. So that’s all different for a start.

A few days ago, as the Lib Dems held talks with the Labour party, you will have seen various Conservative high flyers screeching about a Lab-Lib coalition creating an unelected Prime Minister. This really, really annoyed me. Those same Tories know fine well that there’s no such thing as an elected PM, let alone an unelected one. We live in a Parliamentary Democracy. We elect our local representative to that Parliament. It’s up to that Parliament to decide who will be the Prime Minister. To go on television misleading people in that way is just wrong. That their hosts let them get away with this is just another signal of low standards in some journalists.

Anyway, I digress again. You really must be firmer with me. These people who a week ago were shouting about unelected PMs. Who were painting themselves as the guardians of Parliamentary democracy. These same people today let it be known that one of their first acts in Government will be a change in law to make sure that 55% of MPs will be needed to pass a vote for a dissolution of Parliament. That means, essentially, that they are removing the right to remove a Government. Up to now, if a Government lost a vote of no confidence, the Prime Minister would have to ask the Queen to dissolve Parliament. Now, David Cameron will be able to stay in Power and form a new coalition or run a minority Government despite having lost the confidence of Parliament. That’s thoroughly undemocratic. And the most amazing thing about it is that the Liberal Democrats are supporting this move. This is just the start of the Tory gerrymandering of Parliament to secure their own position. This is all about party interest and not national interest no matter what is said. The first full day of Tory government and we have Parliamentary democracy reduced, childrens’ services broken up, NHS and Olympics cuts ruled probable, and motorists defended to the hilt. Interesting times, indeed.



  1. I think this is confusing parliament with government.

    The government resigns on a vote of no confidence – 50% + 1MP – just as it always has. There’s no suggestion this is being changed for the simple reason that it’d be illogical otherwise.

    This is because a government is in practice/reality whoever commands a majority (via one or more parties) in the House of Commons – the ‘resignation’ is how a change in this command is implemented – I suppose it sounds nicer than “you’re fired”!

    It’s worth noting that there’s nothing in our current/previous system that says government must dissolve after a “no confidence” vote. It just does so because to do otherwise would be pointless and destroy them electorally. I think when this comes before the house and gets debated it’ll become much more clear. It is after all very similar to what they have in Scotland.

  2. Under the new rules, votes of no confidence will mean a government cannot pass legislation. But due to the fact 55% would have to then pass a further dissolution motion, the government would not have to resign. It could remain in power whilst being unworkable until the end of it’s term. The 55% figure is designed solely to stop the current total 53% of all other parties from getting rid of a Conservative minority government. This is removing a power from the Commons, and subsequently stopping the People being allowed to vote.

  3. When a vote of no confidence is passed the government resigns and a new coalition has to be formed. So the new rules don’t protect the government at all – it still has to resign at 50%+1. And the new government could be headed by Labour!

    Fixed term parliaments don’t work with 50%+1 for the simple reason that if one party did have a majority (which is usual in our system) it could still call the election at any time it wanted because it has the majority to do so. The only way a fixed term parliament can work is to require a higher percentage to allow dissolving of parliament in ‘exceptional’ circumstances.

    In essence the argument isn’t about whether 55% keeps a government in power (because it doesn’t) but whether we believe in fixed term parliaments.

  4. Nope, to force the government to resign you only need 50%+1MP, same as always. This then allows a new coalition to be formed that could be headed by a different party.

    The only reason for the 55% rule is to enable fixed term parliaments – you have to have something like 55% (in Scotland it’s 66%) to prevent a party with a majority (or a minority party in a coalition) from ignoring fixed term parliaments.

    I’m not convinced about fixed terms myself but since the government can still change with a simple majority ‘no confidence’ vote I don’t see how they’re “undemocratic”? I’d also point out that fixed terms were in the Liberal and Labour manifestos but not in the Conservative manifesto – in other words this isn’t something the Tories really wanted.

    • Phil, I understand the difference between a no confidence and dissolution motion. You’ll only need 50%+1 to pass a no-confidence motion, but these rules will then allow the Government to remain in power for 5 years. I also understand the reason to have a dissolution motion when you have fixed Parliaments. But there’s no reason for it not to be 50%+1. The only reason it isn’t that is to benefit the Tory party. Cameron talked about “moving power from government to Parliament, from State to citizens” then did the exact opposite.

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