Posted by Matt Walker on March 11, 2012
I recently posted about the need for students to consider the impact the coalition has made on British politics. I suggested that its impact across a range of issues was beginning to be felt, in particular the empowerment of Parliament. The extent of this empowerment might soon be measured regarding the coalition’s NHS reform bill.
Although they decided not to debate the coalition’s NHS reforms, the Liberal Democrat Spring Conference has today expressed its rejection of those reforms. The vote is not binding on the Liberal Democrat leadership. which means that Nick Clegg will not be forced to go to his coalition partners and say the reforms must be stopped. However, rejection of the reforms has effectively become Liberal Democrat policy.
So what is this the significance of this? In the end, there may be none. However, the question now is how Lib Dem peers and MPs will react, and whether they will vote against the bill. The highly-regarded Lib Dem peer (and former Labour minister) Dame Shirley Williams, now supports the reforms, which may well sway Lib Dem Parliamentarians to finally back the NHS reforms. However, as the BBC points out, this vote might empower these peers and MPs into outright rejection of the bill.
Either way, the extensive amendments to this bill would probably not have occurred without the existence of the coalition, as a single party Conservative Government would probably have ignored much of the objections to the bill.
Posted in Parliament, Political Parties | Tagged: Coalition government | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Matt Walker on March 5, 2012
Not satisfied with allowing students to weave recent developments into exam answers say, about Parliament, Edexcel examiners have recently asked some nasty questions specifically about the impact of the coalition government. So let us begin to explore the impact of the coalition on Parliament.
Increasingly, political commentators are identifying fault-lines within the coalition. It should come as no surprise that the initial political goodwill of the strangest of political bed-fellows should come under strain once real political choices have to be made. Divisions over the EU were inevitable, given the two very different perspectives of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Parties. But divisions have also recently been seen over the government’s reform programme: welfare, NHS, and House of Lords. On defence, the decision to be made in 2016 on whether to renew the UK’s nuclear deterrent might also be explosive, if you’ll pardon the pun.
Tory and Lid Dem critics of the coalition will no doubt bemoan how their own party’s policies and values are undermined by the coalition. But it could be argued that Parliament itself has been strengthened. Liberal Democrat peers in particular have made significant amendments to the NHS reforms set out in the Health and Social Care Bill, whilst causing problems for the government’s Welfare Reform Bill. It may be the turn of the Conservatives next, as they will seek to challenge the Clegg-sponsored House of Lords reforms.
Jackie Ashley argues that all of this will undermine the government and pave the way for its eventual downfall. This remains to be seen. But the relationship between the Lib Dems and Tories in this coalition government is arguably providing Parliament with greater opportunities and leverage which it perhaps would not have under single party government.
Posted in Home, Parliament | Tagged: Coalition government | 1 Comment »
Posted by Matt Walker on February 27, 2012
The membership and exact role of the House of Lords has been a difficult issue for many years, even prior to the reforms of New Labour in 1999. Labour created a mostly appointed second chamber, doing away with all but 92 of the hereditary peers, and left the issue of whether the Lords should be elected for another day.
And that ‘other day’ seems to have finally arrived. The Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, is the minister in charge of constitutional reform. Today he attempted to see off his critics by defending his proposals for further House of Lords reform. The proposals are:
240 (80%) elected members, who will have 15 year terms
60 members (20%) to be appointed
12 bishops to remain in the reformed chamber
members will be paid a salary
the powers of the reformed second chamber will not change.
It is envisaged that the first elections to the Lords will be in 2015, using some form of proportional representation. It is worth spending some of your time looking at the arguments either side of this debate, as it may well come up in your exam. Critics of these proposals will argue that democratising the Lords will simply mean a replication of the type of professional politician found in the House of Commons. Those experts currently found in the Lords, such as Lord Sugar, will be lost, and the scrutiny of legislation will suffer. Nick Clegg would no doubt argue that it is indefensible that laws are made in this country partly by unelected legislators. But he might also face critics from democrats who would object to the fact that 20% of the Lords would still be appointed, and that the Church of England would still have representation in the second chamber.
And that has always been a problem with Lords reform. Even those who seek to reform it, can never agree what the nature of that reform will be.
Click on the video links below.
Tory-Lib Dem discussion
Labour peers opposition to reform
Posted in Home, Parliament | Tagged: House of Lords reform | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Matt Walker on February 26, 2012
Ed Miliband suggested last week that David Cameron’s NHS reforms could be his ‘poll tax’, a reference to the local authority tax introduced by Margaret Thatcher in 1988-9 which effectively destroyed her premiership. Whether this is accurate or overblown rhetoric remains to be seen, but the government’s NHS reforms throw up a number of issues. Here, let us explore the role of Parliament in the passage of the Bill.
The current passage of the NHS reforms through Parliament illustrates the important role the legislature can play during the passage of a Bill. The NHS reforms return to the House of Lords this week, having already suffered two defeats and a number of amendments. An major role Parliament plays is to scrutinise government and legislation, and to ensure that laws are both legitimate and well-made. Parliament doesn’t generally defeat government, and is there to support it, though with the current difficulties, the present government might not be feeling this right now.
The NHS reforms are very good example of how Parliament can be effective at getting government to think again about its proposals. The House of Lords is particularly wee-placed to achieve this as no party has overall control of the second chamber, and it is less disciplined (and perhaps rigid) than the Commons. As The Guardian points out, the government’s previous parliamentary difficulties with its NHS reform Bill has made ministers rethink how they are approaching future parliamentary battles.
Using such examples is a great way to ensure your exam answers are illustrated with up-to-date details, something your examiners will approve of!
Posted in Home, Parliament | Tagged: what are the functions of parliament? | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Matt Walker on March 31, 2010
It emerged today that Whitehall (i.e. the Civil Service) has drawn up a plan in the event of a hung parliament next month. It has been suggested that the newly elected House of Commons would not meet for 18 days after the election, as opposed to the usual 6 days. This would enable negotiations to take place between parties for the formation of a new government. The current government would remain in place whilst these negotiations take place.
The worry for Whitehall is that if the Commons meets early it would vote out the government, after which would be a protracted period of uncertainty which would affect financial markets. In other words, the 18 day stand-off would be an attempt to foster political stability so as to prevent economic instability.
If this is how things pan out, Gordon Brown could remain as prime minister for up to 18 days after the election, even if the Conservatives are the biggest party. This would give him breathing space to create a workable coalition. Of course, whilst he is trying to do this there would be nothing to prevent David Cameron putting out feelers to minority parties.
According to The Guardian, the Head of the Civil Service, Gus O’Donnell has drawn up the manual to set out who should do what in the advent of a hung parliament, and also to prevent the Queen from being drawn into the political mire. It has been suggested that the Queen could refuse a second immediate election if she deemed it damaging to the country. Imagine, for example, that Brown remained as prime minister despite losing the election, and during the newly agreed 18 day waiting period actually asked the Queen to dissolve parliament again!
What’s also interesting here is what it reveals about the nature of the UK constitution. We are faced with the prospect of a hung parliament, a situation experienced in most countries, and we need the Head of the Civil Service to draw up a manual explaining what to do under such circumstances. Arguably, the UK constitution should be doing that job.
Channel 4 News report
Posted in Constitution, Parliament | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Matt Walker on February 10, 2010
In 1976 Lord Hailsham described the British system of government as an ‘elective dictatorship’. What he meant was that the government, once elected, is able to behave like a dictator owing to the weakness of Parliament. In modern academic parlance, this is known as executive dominance. So what is the evidence for this and why does it occur?
It is very rare for a British government to be defeated by the House of Commons. The government did lose votes on the 90 day detention orders and also the Gambling Order, but such defeats are few and far between. Furthermore, there has not been a successful Commons vote of no confidence in a government since 1979.
It would be wrong to base our analysis by this measure alone. After all, the mere threat of backbench revolt on the government benches can force the executive to think again. However, governments usually get their own way. And consider that, despite massive public opposition, Tony Blair was able to get his way over war with Iraq.
The reason for executive dominance is that most British governments have a majority of MPs in the Commons, owing to first-past-the-post. In 1997, Labour won a massive 179 seat majority, and were never likely to lose a Commons vote. Such majorities, combined with a whipping system which disciplines government backbenchers to support their own side, as well as the loyalty of MPs to their own party, means that governments rarely lose. Add to this the so-called payroll vote – the MPs who are members of the government – it is relatively straightforward to see why the executive dominates.
What would perhaps alter the situation would be a government with a small majority, or no majority at all, or even coalition government. Perhaps the next election will deliver that, enabling Parliament to reassert itself after what has been a terrible 12 months.
Posted in Parliament | Tagged: Executive dominance | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Matt Walker on February 8, 2010
It is all too easy to see Parliament as simply a shouting match, especially when we survey the chamber of the House of Commons during Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQ).
However, in many ways PMQ is atypical of the work done by Parliament. It is important for you to know the the functions of Parliament (outlined below), and you should use your textbook to supplement your notes, as well as find interesting examples to illustrate these functions.
The main functions of Parliament are:
Scrutiny – the government must be watched and assessed in detail. The better the scrutiny, the better job government will do.
Accountability – once Parliament knows exactly what government is doing, it can hold the latter to account for its actions and decisions.
Representation – we should not forget that Parliament and government are there to do a job for us. Hence Parliament should represent the interests of constituents and different groups of people.
Debate – sometimes important discussions need to occur, such as over terrorism or euthanasia. Parliament should be at the centre of any such national debate.
Dealing with grievances – quite often MPs will question ministers after receiving mail from members of the public regarding how decisions have in some way harmed them.
What factors prevent Parliament’s ability to do these things? How could Parliament’s capacity for carrying out these functions be enhanced?
The BBC have provided some useful videos on this topic:
House of Commons
House of Lords
Posted in Parliament | Tagged: Functions of Parliament | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Matt Walker on November 24, 2009
The cross-party Commons Reform Committee has made some recommendations for improving the effectiveness of Parliament. It has recommended that backbench MPs should:
- have more power to call for debates
- choose who sits on committees rather than the party whips
- have more influence over the Commons weekly agenda.
The committee has also suggested that the public should have more influence over debates via devices such as e-petitions.
George Younger, the Conservative shadow leader of the House of Commons, has suggested that Prime Minister’s Questions should take place on Thursday evening, rather than Wednesday lunch time, to make it more accessible to the public.
What other reforms would you like to see so that Parliament becomes more effective?
Commons Reform Committee
Posted in Parliament | Tagged: Commons reform | 5 Comments »
Posted by Matt Walker on November 23, 2009
Yesterday’s MORI opinion poll published by the Observer, suggests that Labour’s electoral position relative to the Tories might be improving. So what does this tell us?
Firstly, as I pointed out yesterday, it shows that it will be difficult for the Conservatives to win a decent overall majority next year. They have to win a lot of seats, and first-past-the-post is currently working against them. They need around a 10% lead over Labour to have a majority of only one.
Secondly, this poll suggests that the Tories are not terrifically popular. Their average public support in recent months is around 41%, despite the difficulties the Labour government has found itself in. Disgruntled Labour voters seem to be shifting to smaller parties, rather than being won over by David Cameron.
Thirdly, Labour might now hope for a recovery in their levels of support owing to public perception regarding the economy. Around 46% of people believe that the economy will improve over the next year. If this enables Labour to close the gap on the Tories, it will deny the latter a working majority.
Finally, it seems that any recovery for Labour will have to be achieved in the face of continued public opposition to Gordon Brown. Nearly 60% of people are not satisfied with his performance as prime minister.
What’s your gut feeling out there? Who will be governing this country come next summer?
Posted in Elections, Parliament | Tagged: hung parliament | 4 Comments »
Posted by Matt Walker on November 22, 2009
An Ipsos MORI poll for the Observer newspaper today puts the Tories only 6% of Labour. In this survey, 37% of people said they would vote Tory at the next election; 31% Labour. Although the Tories are ahead, according to Electoral Calculus such a result would leave them with 296 seats, with Labour on 278.
Put another way, this poll predicts that the next election will result in a hung parliament. A hung parliament is when no party achieves an overall majority in the House of Commons. In 2005, Labour won a 66 seat majority. This meant that Labour had 66 more MPs than all of its opponents added together. This allowed it to form a government and pass any laws it wanted to, as they could always win a vote in the Commons (unless significant numbers of its own Labour MPs voted against them).
If this poll is accurate, the Conservatives would be 30 seats short of an overall majority. What would happen next is anyone’s guess. The Tories could run a minority government. This would be difficult, as at any moment the rest of the Commons could reject any Tory proposal, and ultimately, could bring the government down with a vote of no confidence. It could also lead to a Labour-Lib Dem coalition. What do you think would be the right outcome in this situation?
This is only one opinion poll and its relevance can only be measured by future polls. However, it is a reminder that it will be a significant challenge for the Conservative Party to win the next election with a decent majority.
Poll boost for PM
Posted in Elections, Parliament | Tagged: hung parliament | 7 Comments »