That 55% Rule 32


Last night several senior Lib Dems tried to explain to me this strange proposal about 55% of the Commons being needed to bring down the government. I think the argument went that it only needed 50% plus 1 to bring down the government, but would need 55% to dissolve parliament. Or it may have been the oher way round.

I can see that dissolving parliament and bringing down a government are clean different things. Fixed term parliaments was a chartist demand – indeed they wanted annual ones. But the current abiity of a Prime Minister to call a general election when it best suits them plainly hands an unfair political advantage to the executive. So I have always supported fixed term parliaments of four or five years. But then even 100% of MPs, let alone 55%, should not be able to change the term and call an election when they feel like it. The term should be fixed and the MPs should have to get on with it – as in most democracies.

As for bringing down a government, plainly by definition a government which loses a confidence or supply vote, being opposed by 50% plus one members of the House of Commons, does not enjoy the confidence of the House and should fall. If you have a fixed term parliament you then need a different governrnent drawn from the same House.

Of course, we have a sovereign parliament. If a parliament votes for a 55% threshold, there is no means of enforcement. A future parliamentary vote, even if carried by precisely 50% plus one, to abolish the 55% threshold, would abolish the 55% threshold.


32 thoughts on “That 55% Rule

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  • Mark Golding - Children of Iraq

    TO THE LIB DEMS IN MILTON KEYNES WHO I ADDRESSED ON THE CARNAGE IN IRAQ

    Today the Prime Minister exposed the devious trait already uncovered from WebCameron.

    When asked in interview this morning if the VAT would rise to 20% he LACKED THE BALLS to give a straight reply. Instead resorting to repeating, “You will have to wait and see when the budget is announced.”

    The electorate has VOTED for a virtual stooge of the elite propelled by the corrupt main stream media, a senator for war and destruction.

  • martin

    You should read about Canada’s recent experiences with a Prime Minister who passed a fixed election law and then ignored it two years later when it suited him. His actions in proroguing our Parliament have (to some) demonstrated a callous disregard for democracy. In this context the 55% rule doesn’t sound bad.

    The only overview article I’ve found is this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2008_Canadian_parliamentary_dispute

  • Mattias

    In Sweden a sitting parlament cannot change the term, but it is possible to call a new election. The new parlament will only sit during the remainder of the term. Seems to work ok, though I don’t think we have ever had suck an new election during a term. However we have had our own version of a hung parlament – two blocks with the same number of seats. Nowadays we have an odd number of members of parlament.

  • Mili

    This is, of course, the thing that drives me absolutely crazy about the so-called UK constitution. Because it’s not a single written document, because no one can really even define which parts of UK law are part of the constitution as opposed to just “normal” laws, it’s incredibly easy to play fast and loose with it. At the same time, change can only ever be incremental and piecemeal, is always in danger of being reversed, and progress is frustratingly slow and inconsistent.

  • Iain Orr

    Several people in the media have referred to the example of the Scottish Parliament (SP)which requires an even higher % (66%) to require a dissolution. I’d be grateful for anyone who knows the negotiating history of that provision to explain the contingencies it was designed to cover.

    I remember the SP failing to pass a miniority SNP budget ( a crucial part of effective government). That resulted in slight amendments to the budget which brought one or to key votes on board (possibly Green ones) when the revised budget was put to the vote.

    For the UK, a fixed term parliament is a big constitutional innovation and I am not surprised that this raises collateral issues when the balance of opinion / voting power/ intention shifts within a parliament. One option is clearly for a different coalition to be formed and it seems prima facie reasonable to guard against one party in a coalition being able to cause a dissolution with only a one vote majority in favour. I found it saddening to hear Roy Hattersley on Any Questions (and quite a few commentators) treating the 55% proposal as a disgraceful underhand subterfuge revealing the anti-democratic nature of the LibCon coalition. There’s a lot more to democracy than bare majority voting on a single parliamentary motion.

  • Jen

    @ Iain – then there was Roy Hattersley’s description of it taking more than the “50%+1” votes to force an election as something that only happens in a “banana republic”.

    Shocking to find out what Roy really thinks of Scotland!

  • Mark Golding - Children of Iraq

    I assume that a confirmed vote of ‘no confidence’ in the Prime-Minister and government means the Deputy Prime-Minister takes up the role of Prime-Minister for 28 days until a new Prime Minister and government is appointed. If not then a new election must take place. I can only assume because as Jake Turner agrees, we need a written constitution at least for England.

  • Alfred

    Why is it that Liberals nowadays hate democracy?

    If the government were to embark on a new war, against Iran say, but a bare majority of MP’s opposed it, why would it be wrong for them to force a new election, in accordance with constitutional tradition and as the public would surely desire?

  • Harry Barnes

    If we have fixed-term parliaments, what is the democratic argument for setting these for as much as five years? Ignoring this General Election, there have been 20 general elections since a universal franchise was first operated in 1929. The 1935 parliament had its life extended until 1945 when the war arrived. If we exclude this special period from our calculations, it means there have been 19 parliaments over a 71 year period, with an average life of 3 years 9 months. Only 7 of these parliaments have lasted for 5 years or near to that period. What was so important about them that they should now be the norm? The Chartists argued for annual parliament’s annually elected. Although that might lead to media overkill today, there is a strong democratic case for not curtailing general elections and the people’s votes for excessively long periods. Fixed parliaments of 3 or 4 years should be enough.

  • Larry from St. Louis

    Well then there’s Mark Golding spamming with his 911 conspiracy nonsense.

    Now this claim is quite rich – people die all the time, Mark. It’s coming like Christmas.

    Mark Golding once again demonstrates the stupidity of 911 truthers.

  • technicolour

    Good heavens, Alfred, I agree with you!

    Why, when there are so many other things to consider, would a government bother to push through legislation which sounds so fishy, even when half the people are arguing that it isn’t? What is the urgency? and why are ‘they’ not explaining it to ‘us’?

  • Polo

    Fixed term percentages. Or any other matter.

    Precisely. The Herod and the Blue Eyed Children principle. Parliament is supreme, regardless.

  • Alfred

    “Good heavens, Alfred, I agree with you!”

    That’s because you’re as naive as I am, and believe that in a democracy folks should get to vote on public policy.

    Actually, all they get is the opportunity to vote on the color of the public policy package, red, blue or yellow, the contents being the same in each case: the NeoCon program for globalization and wars for American empire.

    The party organizations deny constituency associations the right to select their own representative, the party whips deny the elected “representatives” the right to vote their conscience (should they, against all the odds have one) except at the cost of losing the nomination at the next election. Abandoning the 50% plus one rule for a majority means that even if MP’s do rebel against the party whips their vote will make not the slightest difference.

  • Iain Orr

    I remain surprised that so many comments here and in the media fail to understand the fundamental difference between voting on a normal policy issue (such as a budget, the death penalty, or , even, going to war) and on a constitutional issue such as dissolution. For countries with a written constitution, the rules for amending it are seldom by a simple majority of those voting.

    Remember, too, how Tam Dalyell was able to use a majority vote in the Commons to defeat an earlier move towards Scottish devolution, even when a majority of those voting in a referendum favoured devolution.

    If the PM is not to have the power to call an election at a time that suits her/his party, it is sensible to have a threshold before a Parliament can be dissolved. Rather than elect new representatives prematurely, those already elected can be put back to work to fashion a different government (chosen from the existing MPs) or a different policy. A different majority can usually be fashioned to vote through a changed budget. Little besides supply of funds is essential because most government activity is carried out within the existing legislative framework. We may think new laws (or repealing exisiting ones) desirable – but they are not essential.

    As has been said in another context: “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus – both are on Earth – get on with it!”

  • Alfred

    “I remain surprised that so many comments here and in the media fail to understand …”

    What we fail to understand is why the constitutional tradition of the country should be changed just because pompous people who cannot avoid defeat by a majority of 50% plus one insist that it be changed.

  • technicolour

    Iain, a rather poetic and doubtless true finish, but otherwise I’m afraid I don’t understand, either.

    Does anyone know why they’re putting this as a priority?

    Does anyone know where the 5 year period for a fixed term came from? Was it in a manifesto?

    (sorry if I’ve missed some info along the way)

  • Anonymous

    Alfred, technicolour and others,

    Deciding to introduce fixed term parliaments is a constitutional innovation, which some welcome and some do not. In itself it has nothing to do with motions being generally passed or rejected by simple majority vote. Deciding to have a quorum in a House of Commons Committee is also a constitutional rather than a substantive matter However, unless the rule of requiring a quorum to be present when a vote is taken is changed, it is unconstitutional for a vote to be passed by a simple majority if the required quorum is not present.

    There are many other examples in international treaties. I have been at many meetings of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species where certain constitutional rules can only be changed by a 2/3rds majority in favour. In earlier posts I have given examples concerning the Scottish Parliament and concerning a referendum on Scottish devolution where the elected members (in one case of the Scottish Parliament, in the other of the House of Commons), have decided that for certain votes more than a simple majority of those present and voting be required for a motion to be adopted. The drafters of the American Constitution are usually taken to be at least as democratic as the Westminster Parliament and they found good reason to agree to arrangments other than simple majority voting for amending the US Constitution. All I am suggesting is that there is ample precedent, for good reasons, to underpin some constitutional provisions with support from more than a simple majority. Accusations of this being anti-democratic and a practice only supported by real or quasi-dictators are bombast, which – sadly – I now expect from Roy Hattersley. I do not expect it from those who take any interest in the UK’s need for constitutional innovations to support stable (not strong) government in a political system where there seems to be a desire for participation by more than two significant parties.

    I agree that the idea of a fixed five-year parliament was in no party’s manifesto. For myself, I prefer politicians who can think on their feet when faced with a new situation. It is also true, as Craig implies, that until or unless we have a written constitution it will always be possible under our parliamentary system for such voting innovations to be agreed by or later to be reversed by a series of simple majority votes. However, anyone who has observed the procedures of voting successively on different amendments to parliamentary resolutions will know that it is often not easy to secure the majority to overturn an earlier resolution.

    Hands up all those who think UK politics would be better if constitutional innovations were frowned on as being an unnatural practice. My hand is not raised – why are you raising yours?

  • Alfred

    Anon (Ian?),

    Thanks for attempting to explain. But I remain convinced that a fifty percent plus one rule is essential if Parliament is to remain sovereign, which is the distinctive feature of Britain’s form of government.

    As for the British Constitution, there is no such thing, although Lord Salisbury maintained that the essence of the British Constitution was that the government should do nothing that upsets a large part of the population.

    Unfortunately, I fear that those seeking, under the guise of reform, to bring in all kinds of new rules about the conduct of parliamentary government will get away with it before anyone realizes what is going on, thereby condemning the country to the same undemocratic and feeble-minded form of government that elects Nick Griffin and his ex-Nazi mate to the European Parliament, and ensures perpetual coalition, compromise and corruption. Britain will then have the duration of the remaining life of the universe to become a full-blown totalitarian state run by self-appointed meritocrats: i.e., fascists confident in their special gifts of leadership.

  • Iain Orr

    Alfred

    Yes, that was my posting and I’ve no idea why it was not attributed to me.

    I think you are worrying needlessly and I will try further to explain why.

    First, the fifty percent plus one (or, in some circumstances, the Speaker’s casting vote – conventionally cast for the status quo, though that may at times be hard to define unambiguously) “rule” needs interpreting. First, it needs to be put in the context of procedures for voting. The UK Parliament has a number of other rules in varying circumstances which create obstacles to decisions being made by a simple majority vote. As many MPs introducing private members’ bills have found, it is possible for a bill to be talked out so that a vote is not allowed. Anti-democratic or what? There is also the requirement for a quorum.

    However, let me base much of my argument on two issues that are both substantive and constitutional – Scottish devolution/ independence and Europe.

    I do not regard it as being inconsistent with parliamentary sovereignty that it was possible to pass by a simple majority a clause in the first referendum on Scottish devolution which meant that it would only occur if supported by a majority of the Scottish electorate, not just a majority of those voting. In the event, the actual majority was considerably more than 50 percent of those voting, but failed to reach the theashold of more than half the electorate. Was it wrong for the UK Parliament to pass – by majority vote – a clause with that consequence? Was it wrong for Mrs Thatcher to be able to invite Parliament by a simple majority vote to approve the Maastricht Treaty? If so, it seems to me that you wish to deny Parliament its sovereign powers. Were MPs right to believe themselves entitled to vote by a simple majority for a body other than themselves to determine their salaries? Is Parliament right to allow a referendum on the voting system? Are the LibDems being anti-democratic by saying that a decision to join the euro should be made in the light of the result of a referendum?

    I go back to my wider example. Parliamentary sovereignty is bisexual. It’s as open to Parliament to say that one matter needs only a simple majority and that another needs some degree of entrenchment. I think that flexibility is part of a mature democracy. You are free to marry or not (or enter a civil partnership) and I see no reason why I should wish to constrain you right to limit your own autonomy (other than to prevent incest being legally blessed).

    Let me end by stating where I stand on two specific issues, Scottish Independence and fixed term parliaments.

    At present (an important qualification) I am not in favour of Scottish Independence (one reason being that I do not wish EngWalesNi to have a more or less solid Conservative majority). However, even if I were in favour of Scottish Independance, I would regard it as unwise for that to be possible on the basis of a 50.5 percent majority of legal votes cast in a referendum. Better would be to require somewhere between a 60% and a 66% majority of those voting. That gives a blocking minority of between one third and 40%, which to me seems right for such a momentous change. (If my side won or lost, I would be content to accept the result.) Imagine that a buoyant, confident Alex Salmond had secured a 53% majority and that the next week the RBS had collapsed. Would the Westminster Parliament be justified in voting to start the separation negotiations? or in voting against doing so (by a simple majority)?

    I am in favour of fixed term parliaments. I am open as to 4 or 5 years as the term. I also think that provision needs to be made for an earlier dissolution if the elected Parliament is genuinely unable to fashion a stable government from among its membership. However, I would not wish to make it easy for any one party to seek party political advantage by engineering an early dissolution. Thus, I would favour a requirement that there be a vote of more than 50% in favour of new elections. My own preference would be for 60%. However, I see that legal provision being agreed (or, later, reversed) by a simple majority vote. Remember that the reactions of the public might give a party leader pause before she agreed with others to break up the marriage that had been freely and publicly entered into.

    Finally, do you think that my motivation in arguing as I do is to “get away” with “all kinds of new rules” “before anyone realizes what is going on”? If not, why attribute that motivation “under the guise of reform” to others? I’m not your enemy, but if you think I am, please get to know me better. That’s also the advice from Sunzi about winning battles by political methods rather than force of arms.

  • Alfred

    Ian,

    Taking your last paragraph first, please don’t take the last paragraph of my last comment too seriously. It was a rhetorical flourish (quite good I thought) that saved me the effort late in the day of engaging your arguments.

    As for the rest of your remarks, the key statement, it seems to me is:

    “It’s as open to Parliament to say that one matter needs only a simple majority and that another needs some degree of entrenchment.”

    Yes, it is open to Parliament to say that, but to say it would be contrary to Britain’s Parliamentary tradition, and as such I would hope that the public would make such action unconstitutional — in Lord Salisbury’s understanding of the term — by being greatly upset. However, I fear that too many voters read the Sun, or the Times for that matter, to have any intelligent idea of what is going on, or therefore, any capacity to exercises their responsibility as guardians of Britain’s constitutional tradition.

    If democracy means anything, the more important the issue the more important it is to allow the majority to prevail. Therefore, I would not support “entrenchment” of either side on any issue. Here, in Canada, we had a very exciting referendum on Quebec independence conducted on a 50% plus one majority basis. As a result, there was acute awareness that the country might be at the point of disintegration and it concentrated minds wonderfully. In the event, the “no” vote won by a tiny majority of votes cast. But had it gone the other way, how could one have said that the will of the people was not served?

    In fact the 55% rule is clearly a device to keep the Liberals from suffering the electoral consequences should they rebel and vote against the government. This is a very bad idea, in my view. In fact the whole idea of a coalition is a bad idea and “anyone who believes that the welfare of the Iranian/British people is the primary concern of Iran’s/Britain’s coalition governing elite is quite wrong.” Let the Libs renege on their coalition agreement and let them pay the electoral consequences in a new election. Depending on the issue about which they choose to rebel, it could win them votes or wipe them out. Then we’d see whose judgment the public deemed best: Clegg’s or Cameron’s.

  • Laura

    Germany’s experience with political coalitions forming a government.

    Political coalitions tend to find some political middle ground which is altogether not too bad.

    For example:

    Before 2009:

    Socialdemocrats (self-acclaimed leftwingers but more Blairites) formed a coalition with the Christiandemocrats (conservative, like tories) who put up the Chancellor(ess) (Merkel).

    The Conservatives tried to cut down very very hard on social insurance (social benefits, unemployment insurance etc) but the Socialdemocrats prevented the cuts from going too deep.

    Nevertheless german social benefits are considered to be less than the “existence minimum” which it is supposed to cover.

    (“Existence minimum”: minimum amount of money which an unemployed person with no savings needs to survive. Social benefits are: 345€ + rent (maximum about350€) + health insurance / for 1 person for 1 month)

    Means: despite the influence of the Socialdemocrats our social benefits are much lower than they are supposed to be. And even worse: the unemployment agency can cut down even on the existence minimum when the unemployed “refuses” to accept any kind of work. This system is prone to abuse because the refusal to work for 1€ / hour (=exploitation) is seen as a sufficient legal reason to cut down on social benefits.

    Nevertheless imagine the Socialdemocrats had not opposed deeper cuts into the benefits system.

    Nowadays we have a coalition of Conservatives and Free Democrats (German Liberals who ar**kiss any rich man or banker…). Despite growing debts this coalition wants to cut taxes. Despite growing debts they did already cut consumer tax on hotels! Interestingly some of the richest hotel owners had donated quite a lot of money (hundreds of thousands) to the Free Democrats before the elections …

    The German equivalent of the Labour Party, the Socialdemocrats are widely believed to have deceived their blue-collar voters and the lower middle classes. They are losing and losing and losing in every election :-))))) (Germany is a federation and has 17 country parliaments). The Socialdemocrats were considered to be the traitors although they had a coalition with the Conservatives (before 2009). Interestingly the Conservatives escaped from the coalition stronger than before whereas the Socialdemocrats lost lots of support and reputation.

    The so-called Linkspartei (Left Party) are considered to be the successors of the Socialdemocrats.

    To put it in a nutshell:

    Maybe the Liberaldemocrats and Clegg will soften the Tories law-and-order and cut-taxes and small-state approach.

    But maybe the Liberaldemocrats will not gain more political support from the voters.

    For some reason the voters do not make objective decisions at the polls.

    (A German friend did an internship and she didn’t get paid. The German Socialdemocrats suggested that interns should be legally entitled to get paid as they do work. The German Conservatives objected.

    Now guess whom my friend did vote for?

    She voted Conservative. ?????)

  • Alfred

    “(A German friend did an internship and she didn’t get paid. The German Socialdemocrats suggested that interns should be legally entitled to get paid as they do work. The German Conservatives objected.

    Now guess whom my friend did vote for?

    She voted Conservative. ?????)”

    Your friend is entirely rational. Internships enable young people to gain work experience that may qualify them for subsequent paid employment.

    For employers, interns involve administrative costs but may yield little tangible return. Therefore, mandatory payment of interns would eliminate some internship opportunities, thereby denying young people what, in a very tough job market, may be vital workplace experience.

  • Iain Orr

    Alfred

    I partly agree with the point you make above about it not being in the British tradition for Parliament to vote by a simple majority to require more than a simple majority for specified circumstances. You rely, as is fair, on the the tradition being upheld by the electorate. To that extent, you are predicting that there will be an electoral backlash against the 55% proposal. You may well be right. I will be campaigning for my different interpretation of “the British tradition”. However, I regard arguments that rely on partisan interpretations of what past and future electorates agree is “British” as being themselves rather un-British. I doubt if you felt patriotically inspired by Gordon Brown’s attempted listing of “British values” and his disingenuous slogan of “British jobs for British workers”.

    As is typical in such debates, discussion throws up the assumptions that we do not (at least wholly) share; and also assumptions about what others are arguing and why. So, let me make it clear that I approve of a government motion being defeated by a single vote – and, if possible, quite often. That often means avoiding poor legislation and can be just punishment for curtyailing parliamentary debate.

    I also approve of an opposition vote of no confidence in a government being won by a single vote. What I do not agree is that the defeat of a government should lead automatically to the dissolution of a whole parliament. In our version of democracy, electors vote for MPs. MPs come together to form amd support governments. On a FPTP system, especially if there are only two big parties (themselves usually coalitions with fracture lines that circumstances can expose), most governments are majority ones. But minority governments and coalition governments are also possible.

    Whatever the electoral system, if a majority of MPs in a parliament lose confidence in a government, they have the option of forming a different one composed of a different mixture of the same MPs. This may be because there is agreement that the current PM is not up to the job; or that a different coalition would make for a better government. But if that cannot be agreed, it is very likely that MPs would then admit that the only solution is a new Parliament because the present one has not been able to carry out the task of electing a government that can last. My preference not to have frequewnt elections (and certainly not to have a new election to suit the party and/or personal advantsge of the PM in office) is, I think, probably shared by a majority of the electorate. I thus hope that going for the constitutional innovation of a fixed term will not become an issue that will bulk large at the next election. It might, however, be put to the electorate at the same time as any other electoral referenda on the voting system for the Commons and/or for the House of Lords. (Though a bit of me still finds referenda somewhat inconsistent with voting for an MP to represent one in Parliament. Like many, I suspect that I favour referenda that I expect to win – I would not want to see a referendum on reintroducing the death penalty or on deciding whether or not to go to war.)

    So I’m not against voting down governments; but I am against MPs being given their P45 unless they have manifestly shown themselves unable to do the job for which they were collectively elected,

    Let’s turn then to your assumptions. You now make one explicit with which I have problems. You say: “If democracy means anything, the more important the issue the more important it is to allow the majority to prevail.”

    I have a different view of democracy, one better expressed by the sentiment: “If democracy means anything, the more important the issue the more important it is to allow the rights and interests of minorities to be protected.”

    However, I think both formulations have inherent ambiguities, at least as regards the issue we are disputing. The right to life and property is so important to those who might forfeit them, that even a sizeable democratic majority would not be enough for me to accept a vote that paedophiles should be neutered or that selling or smoking cigarettes be made illegal. (Indeed, I think it profoundly undemocratic that convicted criminals in prison and certifies lunatics should be denied the vote.)

    However, matters of constitutional importance are about the ground-rules for conducting politics. For some, but not all such matters, qualified voting, quorate requirements, entrenched majorities, blocking minorities and voting rules other than a simple majority of those present and casting valid votes may all be ways to ensure that what can be momentous changes (such as the break-up of the United Kingdom, the dismissal of every member of a Parliament, limiting UK sovereignty by ratifying a binding international treaty) are only taken when there is a settled rather than a transitory wish for change – either by Parliament or by the electorate in a referendum.

    I’d be grateful if you or others concerned at the 55% proposal can point towards considered tes=xts on the jurisprudence of majority voting. There amy be someting in J S Mill’s “On Liberty”, but there must also be texts that lie behind the UK’s acceptance of weighted voting in the EU; as well as the voting arrangment for dissolution in the Scottish Parliament.

    It seems that you rather than I are worried about considered change, but thst you are anxious to protect the right to change even on a casting vote in circumstances where other means are available to avoid an impasse. I think our democratic institutions could do with changes, but careful ones – and sometimes that means that simple majority voting is not the best rule.

    Related to this discussion are two other subjects – whips and manifestoes. Might their role in tempering democracy and binding independent spirits be areas where we agree? Or just more scope for bringing out our hidden assumptions?

  • Alfred

    Ian,

    “What I do not agree is that the defeat of a government should lead automatically to the dissolution of a whole parliament.”

    If I am not mistaken, a government defeat is not automatically followed by dissolution, only when the vote is on a supply bill, a motion of no confidence or if the Government indicates that it considers a particular vote a confidence motion. Therefore, I still don’t understand the need for the 55% rule.

    You say, “If democracy means anything, the more important the issue the more important it is to allow the rights and interests of minorities to be protected.”

    I think this is a misleading argument. If a government wishes to protect the right of those minorities that say smoke, wish to appear topless in public, or whatever, why should they need more than a 50% plus one majority in order to provide such protection? In other words, depending on how the debate is framed, the 55% rule will work against the interests of minorities as often as it will work for them.

    But the best reason for not fiddling with the constitution is that the present constitution ain’t broke so don’t fix it. Leave it to the continentals, none of whom seem capable of a stable political system, to muck about with new-fangled schemes for coalition, compromise and corruption.

    Changing the British Constitution is like bolting an air-conditioner on the front bumper of a 1921 3-litre Bentley plus a spoiler on the boot lid, just because a modern sports-car would be so equipped. It destroys the beauty and coherence of a superb conception.

  • Iain Orr

    Alfred

    I can see why you thought my argument misleading. I was not so much defending the 55% innovation as questioning your interpretation of what’s the essence of democracy. I simply don’t think that the primacy of simple majority voting meets the bill: the extent of the franchise and the absence of corruption and intimidation matter far more.

    Your own assumptions seem far more questionable, viz: “…the best reason for not fiddling with the constitution is that the present constitution ain’t broke..” Many (though evidently not you) have felt a considerable need to change the engine design (through devolution)and the fuel system (through changing the composition of the House of Lords) as well as agreeing that MPs can no longer be trusted to set their own salaries and allowances.

    You prefer to “leave it to the continentals” (who doubtless lack the rugged constitution of our island race – minus the migrant Celts, Jutes, Normans [Le Roy/La Reyne le veult] – “none of whom seem capable of a stable political system” (tell that to the Swiss).

    Aren’t you being a little complacent when your stable system needing no change seems to have produced (in the unusual circumstance of the biggest party having not much more than a third of the votes of those voting; and an even smaller proportion of the full electorate) a solid coalition – one party proud of its conservatism – which is determined to proceed with constitutional change?

    Why not accept the wisdom of a fine conservative island aristocrat? –

    “If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.” Guiseppe di Lampedusa (1896-1957) in The Leopard, 1957

  • Alfred

    Re: The Essence of Democracy

    “… the extent of the franchise and the absence of corruption and intimidation matter far more.”

    Absolutely. Unfortunately, most innovation, beginning around 1832, has been detrimental. With the extension of the franchise to paupers, women, children, lunatics and criminals democracy has become a joke: a joke on the people since it now provides the elite almost unlimited scope for manipulation.

    So first, we should raise the voting age to, say, 31. That would provide at least the possibility of some knowledge of current events, history, economics, etc.

    Second, there should be disenfranchisement of all those on the public payroll or in receipt of welfare, publicly funded incarceration, hospitalization, etc., etc., since there is otherwise a blatant conflict of interest.

    Third, a minimal knowledge of public affairs should be required as established by a test comparable in difficulty to the driving test.

    “Many (though evidently not you) have felt a considerable need to change the engine design (through devolution)and the fuel system (through changing the composition of the House of Lords) as well as agreeing that MPs can no longer be trusted to set their own salaries and allowances.”

    On the contrary, devolution sounds good to me, which is one reason I like the BNP platform (though not the BNP, which is obviously a tool of the security services or some other dark force).

    But institutions to which power is devolved should work on the standard parliamentary model, like the Provinces in Canada.

    I’d scrap the Scottish and Welsh assemblies and create 12 new equal provincial assemblies, for London and six English regions, two Scottish regions and two Welsh regions and Ulster, with all powers except those relating to criminal law, foreign affairs, defense, and international and inter-provincial trade being devolved to the provinces.

    The House of Lords is a joke since it ceased to be populated by rich landed gentry with time to think and some sense of responsibility, to be replaced by superannuated politicians and bribe-givers all of whom should get the boot without delay.

    As I spelled out somewhere here, there should be an upper house comprising 500 citizens selected at random (subject only to a test of basic intelligence and knowledge).

    As for MPs being no longer trustworthy, when were they ever trustworthy? The thing about expenses is that there should not be any.

    In a meritocratic society, it’s really not that difficult for a person of intelligence and energy (i.e., someone fit to serve in Parliament) to amass sufficient funds to support themselves for a five or ten year sabbatical during which they serve, at their own expense, the nation that has allowed them to prosper.

    As for the Swiss, they are obviously not continentals in any but an unfortunate geographical sense: they are very sound people, and we should adopt much of their political system. In particular, we should follow the Swiss in creating a citizen militia — if every able bodied male had a rifle, it would largely eliminate housebreaking as a viable occupation.

    You say, “Aren’t you being a little complacent when your stable system needing no change seems to have produced (in the unusual circumstance of the biggest party having not much more than a third of the votes of those voting; and an even smaller proportion of the full electorate) a solid coalition – one party proud of its conservatism – which is determined to proceed with constitutional change?

    I’m not sure I follow that, but if you are suggesting that any of the parties deserved more than a third of the vote, then I have to disagree. I’m surprised anyone bothered to vote at all.

    As for “If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change,” (a) things will never stay as they are, and (b) to assume that constitutional changes invoked by the likes of Clogg and Cam will do anything but make a bad system worse seems the height of irresponsible optimism.

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