Monday, August 6, 2012

No!alition Government

"Come back, Nick" "NO! I HATE you, you is not my friend no more.... Blahhhh!"
Following the news that the government was dropping proposals for House of Lords reform, Nick Clegg has retaliated by setting his party against proposals to equalise the size of electoral constituencies and reduce their number.

Clegg's toy evacuation from his pram seems justified as he explains that there was a deal; the Tories were to deliver House of Lords reform and the Liberal Democrats were to deliver boundary changes. But there are a few problems with Clegg's position:

  1. The boundary changes were not linked to Lords reform. The Coalition Agreement promises an AV referendum followed by boundary changes to equalise constituency sizes. The Tories delivered on the AV referendum despite knowing it was a waste of public money and political time:
  2. We will bring forward a Referendum Bill on electoral reform, which includes provision for the introduction of the Alternative Vote in the event of a positive result in the referendum,as well as for the creation of fewer and more equal sized constituencies. We will whip both Parliamentary parties in both Houses to support a simple majority referendum on the Alternative Vote, without prejudice to the positions parties will take during such a referendum.

  3. What's more, the agreement doesn't promise Tory support for Lords reform but that a committee will be set up to consider it and propose a motion:
  4. We will establish a committee to bring forward proposals for a wholly or mainly elected upper chamber on the basis of proportional representation. The committee will come forward with a draft motion by December 2010. It is likely that this will advocate single long terms of office. It is also likely that there will be a grandfathering system for current Peers. In the interim, Lords appointments will be made with the objective of creating a second chamber that is reflective of the share of the vote secured by the political parties in the last general election.

  5. By scuppering equalisation of constituency sizes, the Lib Dems are condemning themselves and the Conservatives to entering the next election with an even bigger systematic bias to Labour that will make the prospect of a hung parliament much less likely. If things turn round for the Tories there's a chance that another coalition with them will be possible. But I wonder how keen the Tories would be with that idea, especially after today's childish and self destructive behaviour. If UKIP do well, they may well prove to be a more attractive partner - a nightmare for the Europhile Lib Dems. More likely, Labour will win outright. With the current bias caused, in part, by the democratic deficit in the South and a surplus in Northern England and Scotland that the boundary changes would have corrected, all Labour need is a percentage share of the vote in the mid-thirties to win a decent majority - no need for the Lib Dems.
The Lib Dem's action today brings coalition government into disrepute. It show's that politicians of different parties can't opporate under an honest interpretation of an agreement and specifically that Clegg's party can't deliver grown up government - a shocking situation for a party that dreams of introducing an electoral system (PR) that would make coalition government the norm, not an exception.

With the Conservatives likely to lose the Corby by-election to Labour following Louise Mensch's resignation, Lib Dems must be praying for further Tory to Labour seat transfers before the next election. A shift in parliamentary arithmetic may allow them to jump ship into a Lib/Lab coalition before they are decimated at the polls. Then they could extract a promise from Ed Miliband to implement PR (presumably without a referendum this time, what with people's opinions being so troublesome an' all).

Today at least, this scenario is looking like the only one where they can continue as an influential political force, no matter how little they seem to deserve it. I hope they reconsider their opposition to fair constituency sizes and rediscover the maturity, bravery and commitment to doing what is best for the country rather than their party, that Clegg demonstrated back in 2010.


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