Political Promise

55% Rule Threatens Future Parliament

In Uncategorized on May 28, 2010 at 1:05 pm

By Aaron Newell

David Cameron is in the strange position of using partly faulty arguments to justify the planned 55% dissolution of Parliament rule, which although fair now could lead to gross unfairness in future. David is having an interesting first couple of weeks, at least.

Cameron has argued that it is necessary to protect governments to allow for the widely-supported Fixed Term Parliaments, where the election date is set by law. His other argument is that it is necessary for one of the reasons Scotland has a 66% requirement, to protect coalition governments from junior partners’ un-proportional power. Both arguments are based on one fact: the Liberal Democrats could leave, garner (only just) 50% with the rest of the opposition, instigate a vote of no confidence and the Tories would be obliged by tradition to call new elections.

In one regard, the current state of play is quite unfair. For the Liberal Democrats, the coalition’s minority partner, to hold the Conservatives to ransom by threats of new elections is to use un-proportional power: the Liberals have fewer seats but can cause more damage to the Conservatives in the coalition. So the 55% is fair because it prevents this. Yet this is only true in this coalition-specific instance. The far more usual overall-majority governments don’t need to be protected from partners they don’t have.

So, although this 55% rule can be justified in a coalition, in future majority governments it will not be used in this way. Those governments will already be protected by their majority, and so the 55% rule will then protect them from the opposition to an even greater degree. What was once fair then morphs into the unfair. The Devil’s in the circumstances as well as the details.

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  1. It wouldn’t be the Liberals wielding unfair power. It would be everyone except the Conservatives wielding perfectly fair power. Saying that, in a vote of no-confidence, the Liberals would have unfair power is just the same as saying Caroline Lucas would have unfair power. They’d just be acting as part of a no-confidence majority.

  2. What will be interesting to see is the words that the Government chooses to include in the Act pertaining to this particular measure.

    I have a great worry that this will be a particular complex piece of legislation.

    With regard to the particular words Government chooses to use, it will be of great note to see if the Government uses words which attempt to entrench the rule across future Parliaments. Of course, Constitutional convention dictates that Parliament cannot bind its successors as Parliament itself is supreme.

    I’m keen to read your response on this particular issue Aaron.

  3. Steward, I agree in the Parliament overall they wouldnt be wielding unfair power. But in the coalition I would argue they would. It would be like you and I lending money to someone, with me gaining 5% and you 95% of the profit, but both of us having the power to end it. I could end it I would suffer less than you in the long term. Of course it’s still more complicated in the Parliament, as even with this the Liberal could leave and issue a vote of no confidence with 50% and it would mean a new government (but not new elections per se if this rule goes through).

    Ben, I agree it all depends if this rule is applied to future parliaments. It needs what the EU calls a “sunset” clause. I am not aware of the convention you spoke of I don’t think, or how it may apply to this. Care to explain it? Thanks.

  4. Aaron

    The convention I speak of is where Parliament cannot “entrench” laws which affect future Parliaments. In laymens terms, this Parliament cannot control what the next Parliament does by limiting its power. That Parliament is supreme does provides for an interesting paradox however; that is, if this current Parliament is supreme it can pass any law it likes, and that by prohibiting it (by convention) to pass laws to limit the next Parliament, it is limiting its own supremacy. Its a strange convention to comprehend.

    Regarding the sunset clause; I think its quite likely that this will occur to circumvent the constitutional issue I’ve mentioned above. It shouldn’t be too hard to implement either, as a fixed-term Parliament will have a definite cessation date. We’ll see!

  5. Thanks Ben, I wasn’t aware of that convention per se. The paradox is indeed a good one!

    I’m not totally sure if the convention would apply (I’ve not research into it, however), as this law wouldn’t be limiting the powers of the next parliament per se.

    It could be argued it’s strengthing the next Parliament by creating stronger government (from the opposition). It would only be limiting the opposition.

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