No surprise as first post-election Labour campaign turns out to be based on a lie (or stupidity)

May 13, 2010

Labour (or someone who looks really, really like them) have quickly whipped up a campaign website at in opposition to the coalition government’s move to remove the power to dissolve parliament from the Prime Minister and change it to require a vote of 55% of parliament. Initially, the site claimed that the 55% rule referred to a vote of no confidence, but has since been amended to reflect reality slightly more accurately:

“This campaign originally stated that the government planned to introduce a 55% threshold on votes of no confidence. This was incorrect, but the effect of introducing this ‘dissolution vote’ is the same: that a successful vote of no confidence in the government would no longer lead to the dissolution of Parliament.”

Let’s go through the reasons why this is stupid. Before this move, only the Prime Minister had the power to call an election by going to the palace and asking the Queen to dissolve parliament. The PM could do this whenever they chose, but was required to do so after a maximum of five years following the previous election. A vote of no confidence is a vote in the House of Commons in which the ruling party (or parties, natch) is defeated on the Queen’s Speech, the Budget or a specific early day motion. Convention then usually requires the PM to go to the palace to ask for a dissolution.

That’s right, convention. Even if a government has lost the confidence of the house (and cannot therefore get through any legislation), it can still legally remain in office. However, under the LibCon proposals, it cannot do so any longer if 55% of parliament vote for a dissolution. This is obviously 5% more than the 50%+1 required for a vote of no confidence, but Labour’s claims that it represents a danger to democracy are rather rendered stupid when one remembers that the devolved governments they set up in Scotland and Wales both require 66% of their respective representatives to vote in favour of dissolution. This is because the systems used to elect those representatives are much more proportional than that used for Westminster, and hence much more likely to be unstable with a low threshold for confidence votes – c.f. the Weimar Republic. This is because it allows small parties to bring down a government without simultaneously ensuring they have enough support to form a government themselves.

We are now in an era of coalition government, and with the advent of a marginally improved electoral system in AV, are much more likely to see this continue for the forseeable future. People in favour of voting reform should look at examples of how PR works in Europe before assuming this is as anti-democratic as Labour would have you believe, while simultaneously reminding themselves that Labour don’t really believe it’s anti-democratic otherwise they wouldn’t have put it in place themselves.


2 Responses to “No surprise as first post-election Labour campaign turns out to be based on a lie (or stupidity)”

  1. Jamie Taylor said

    The Conventions of Parliament are far older than either of the ConDemned parties. It was bad enough that Clegg chose to break with convention to negotiate with the opposition first after the election when that was the Prime Minister’s prerogative.

    It is not the problem for Parliament to concern itself about whether or not any one party can manage a majority – the role of Parliament must be Sacrosanct or it is nothing. It is down to the electorate to decide who rules and the MPs to determine how – not to fiddle the system to suit themselves.

    Yes we don’t have a written constitution yet; therefore you don’t screw around with the one that we’ve grown through convention for hundreds of years just to suit yourselves as Clegg & Cameron are planning to do.

    I would be nice if we were all one big happy European family who used similar models (yes I do detect the clucking of your tongue) and/or we’d written one up as per Scotland but we’re not and we haven’t. Until there is a similar vote on reforming the constitutional arrangements in the UK Parliament as there is going to be regarding the voting system ie a referendum then I and many, many others will act in the interests of our democracy to protect it against charlatans and thieves who would seek to steal power.

    I did not vote Liberal Democrat to get this: if the stupidity is anything then it is mine for trusting Nick Clegg.

  2. declineofthelogos said

    Mr Taylor, the argument from antiquity (which you appear to be trying to use to justify parliamentary convention) doesn’t wash in this case; there are too many very old conventions that are active conspiracies against the public. For more on this, I commend to you the excellent ‘Unspoken Constitution’ document by the nice chaps at Democratic Audit:

    ‘Screwing around’ with this is not untoward; the removal of the power of dissolution from the sovereign and handing it to parliament can be seen as a furtherance of our democracy. A democracy about which you have some very funny notions; our electoral system does not allow the electorate to decide who rules, rather only to elect a representative for their particular constituency. MPs then decide between themselves who rules by virtue of the formal coalitions we have come to call ‘parties’.

    New legislation on dissolution is required if we are to have fixed-term parliaments. The 55% threshold may be too low, but fixed-term parliaments were in the Lib Dem manifesto. If you did not anticipate that this would be a consequence of this policy when you voted for the Lib Dems, then I detect the clucking of your brain.

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