David Cameron and Nick Clegg will create more than 100 peers to ensure that controversial legislation gets through Parliament.
The coalition government has agreed to reshape the House of Lords, which is currently dominated by Labour, to be “reflective of the vote” at the general election. That saw the Tories and the Liberal Democrats together get 59 per cent.
None of Labour’s 211 existing peers can be removed, so the coalition must appoint dozens of its own to rebalance the upper chamber. Lib Dem estimates suggest that the number of Tory peers would need to rise from 186 to 263 and Lib Dem peers from 72 to 167.
The first wave is expected soon, to enable additional ministerial appointments to take place, with further announcements within the parliament.
But the Lords isn’t supposed to reflect the popular vote in each election, surely? And when it’s elected in future by PR it won’t reflect the same sentiments as the House of Commons, so why should it do so now? I can understand the wish not to bring about the political deadlock which so paralyses the American political process, but this isn’t the way to do it. If there’s to be constitutional reform, even transitory reform, it can’t be a partial thing. For the parties promising it to be abusing it as long as they can get away with smacks of rank hypocrisy at the very least. The Lib Dems are good on so many other aspects of this challenge, that it’s surprising they should be happy with such shameless political gerrymandering. There’s nothing ‘new’ about these politics.
It sure looks so. Clarke has never been supportive of repeal, and now the Tories have the Lib Dems as coalition partners it appears the new government is unlikely to make moves against the HRA any time soon:
The Tories had promised to replace the act, which many believe protects criminals more than innocent people, with a UK Bill of Rights.
But Mr Clarke, who was appointed to head the Ministry of Justice on Wednesday, suggested it was not high on the list of actions while the pledge was notable by its absence in the coalition agreement published this week.
In 2006, Mr Clarke attacked David Cameron over his “anti-foreigner” proposals to tear up the Human Rights Act, which was introduced by Labour, and said a Bill of Rights was “xenophobic and legal nonsense”.
And shortly after taking up his new Cabinet post, Mr Clarke said: “We are not committed to leaving the European Convention on Human Rights, we have committed ourselves to a British Human Rights Act.
“We are still signatories to the European Convention on Human Rights.
“I have also got to see when the coalition agreement is completed how high a priority this is going to be given.”
It looks like a signal that the Tories’ intent to repeal the Act has been kicked into the long grass. If so it would represent an enormous success of the ConDemNation coalition. The main benefit of the Human Rights Act has been to make the European Convention on Human Rights more accessible to those who need it the most, and whilst I’ve always understood the Tories have never intended to leave the Convention, I believe the British Act to be indispensable. Explicitly proscribing the universality of human rights, not limiting them on nationalistic or any other grounds, and making access to the provisions of the Convention easier by incorporating them into British law was one of the greatest achievements of the New Labour government. If the Tories think they can’t get a repeal past the Liberal Democrats (or indeed the Justice Secretary), that’s something we should all be grateful for.
Of course we didn’t, but of course we can’t vote for a coalition – you can only ever vote for the one party you’d most like to represent you in parliament. So why the vicious diatribes are continuing is a complete mystery to me – we got the result we voted for, regardless of actual intent. But commentators are disagreeing, suggesting that the ConDemNation coalition is illegitimate and not reflective of the will of the people. From Johann Hari:
Elections are supposed to be an opportunity for the people to express the direction in which they want the country to travel. By that standard, this result is an insult. Don’t fall for the people who say the Lib Dem vote was “ambiguous”: a YouGov poll just before the election found that Lib Dem voters identified as “left-wing” over “right-wing” by a ratio of 4:1. Only 9 per cent sided with the right. Lib Dem voters wanted to stop Cameron, not install him. So before you start squabbling about the extremely difficult parliamentary arithmetic, or blaming the stupidly tribal Labour negotiators for their talks with the Lib Dems breaking down, you have to concede: the British people have not got what they voted for.
Clegg has betrayed progressives across the length and breadth of Britain. He had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to repair the century-old rift on the centre left and forge a radical and progressive alliance in favour of electoral and constitutional reform. I suspect Labour will now sit on its hands in any future referendum and the Lib Dems might be on their own campaiging for a “Yes” vote. Their new partners in government have already stated their plans to oppose any change to our dysfunctional first-past-the-post system.
Clegg has also betrayed the longer-term strategic interests of his party for crude and short-term tactical gains.
What neither of them calculates however is what the likely effects of forcing the Tories into a short-lived minority administration would have been. Getting blamed as the party which refused to underpin ‘strong and stable government’ would have been an appalling (and probably disastrous) moniker to enter an October election with, which remember the Tories could easily have fought and the Lib Dems not. It’s all well and good to decry the loss of a mythical ‘progressive alliance’ with Labour but a) that coalition would have been an unstable, minority alliance and b) has collective amnesia suddenly struck about Labour’s 13 year record? ID cards, abuse of the National DNA Database, attempts to lock people up without charge for 45 and 90 days, interference in inquests and the right to jury trial, destitution of asylum seekers and the detention of their children, the Digital Economy Act, Section 44 of the Terrorism Act, denying the vote to prisoners, the Iraq War, RIPA and SOCPA legislation – were ANY of these pieces of legislation and invasions of privacy, breaches of civil liberties and human rights ‘progressive’? I think not. Why Hasan, Hari and others ignore these points is a complete mystery to me.
I don’t like the Tories in Number 10 - I really don’t. But we have a Great Repeal Bill on offer, which is likely to include some, if not all, of Deputy PM Clegg’s Freedom Bill, and indeed have seen initial successes such as the end of ID cards and the National Identity Register, not to mention the end of detention of refugees’ children. Is it entirely likely that early, and ‘savage’ budget cuts will cause serious social and economic disruption over the next 12 months? Yes, and the Lib Dems might well damage themselves beyond repair by being directly associated with them, but given that Labour rebuffed their advances to attempt a coalition with them, I don’t know why there’s so much sniping at a party which at long last finds itself to enact large swathes of its platform. It was the best out of a bad set of choices. How on earth is that a betrayal?
NO2ID celebrates the ConDemNation coalition’s abandonment of ID cards and the National Identity Register, but gives words of continual warning:
The Home Office, the Cabinet Office, and various other departments have cherished the idea of a population register for decades. The problem is not that it is not going quietly; it is that it is quietly not going. The tendrils of an official obsession with identity and information-sharing are everywhere: from the helter-skelter attempt by Connecting For Health to suck up 30m sets of medical records during the election period, to the secondary legislation that from this autumn requires pubs and clubs to ask for proof of identity in specified forms when checking drinking age.
No2ID started as a tactical response to a single initiative, but we rapidly found ourselves at war with a Whitehall culture of mass supervision that demands we be forbidden from trusting one another, but must trust official databases absolutely. Though I think their hearts are in the right place, I am waiting to see whether Messrs Cameron and Clegg have the stomach for that war. If they have, then there is much to be done.
Still, bravo to the new administration for taking the first step to protect our privacy and autonomy. Rolling back the database state remains a huge task, but it has started.
That assessment is pretty sharp, and it’s one I’ve wondered about over the last couple of years. New Labour’s ‘Safeguarding Identity’ document clearly came straight out of the civil service and just got fronted by successive, hapless Home Secretaries. It and other strategies smacked of officials presenting solutions for the sake of it, then needing their political masters to develop problems to fit into them. It’s very much a cultural problem in Whitehall, which I’m sure wants to sink its tendrils into the coalition, and it’ll be interesting, given the tensions which will affect the Tories and Lib Dems differently, to see how each party reacts to that over time. We’ve won the biggest battle in the war against the database state, but that war is far from over.
The truth about the 55% threshold needed to ‘bring the government down’, announced by the ConDemNation coalition, is as follows:
Let’s quickly look at the current situation.
A government falls if it loses a vote of no-confidence – i.e. if a majority vote against it. That does not currently trigger a General Election. The Queen may invite the leader of another party to attempt to form a government. If no stable government seems possible, the prime minister will ask the Queen to dissolve parliament and we have an election.
Today, MPs have no power to dissolve parliament. None at all. The Queen has the power, under advice from the Prime Minister. That’s why Prime Ministers are able to pick and choose when to hold an election, and why they try to pick a date when they’re more likely to win.
First thing to note – the new proposal has absolutely nothing to do with motions of no confidence. The current situation – that a government can fall without triggering a general election – remains exactly the same.
Second thing to note – it increases the power of parliament and reduces the power of the Prime Minister. Right now, the PM can choose to dissolve parliament for party advantage (and frequently does). With this change, MPs get the power for the first time.
There is an interesting question, though. Is 55% high enough?
If you have fixed term parliaments, dissolving parliament early should be a last resort, when all else has failed. If parliament can be dissolved on a simple majority vote, a PM can just engineer it and we’re back where we started with the ruling party picking the date of the election.
I would argue that we should only dissolve parliament early when MPs on all sides agree its the right thing for the country. A 55% barrier is rather low for that. Plenty of governments have over 55% of the MPs and so could engineer it.
A higher barrier, say two thirds of MPs, would make it almost impossible for that to happen.
So this proposal makes no difference to motions of no confidence and gives MPs power they’ve never had before to dissolve parliament, moving power from the Executive to the Legislature. Whilst the percentage might be a little low, the basic principle is both sound and democratic.
If you’re going to hate the coalition, at least hate them something detestable that they’ve done. No doubt that’ll come when the Tories’ cuts get made and start to bite, but moving power from the executive back to the legislature is one of the many things we demanded of New Labour which was never delivered. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg’s role seems largely to fix the procedural and constitutional abuses of the last 13 years, and credit needs to be given where it’s due.
It was one of the many authoritarian disasters visited upon us under the New Labour surveillance state, but the ConDem coalition has just announced it’s over. And when I say over I mean over – even the Register has gone:
Both Parties that now form the new Government stated in their manifestos that they will cancel Identity Cards and the National Identity Register. We will announce in due course how this will be achieved. Applications can continue to be made for ID cards but we would advise anyone thinking of applying to wait for further announcements.
Until Parliament agrees otherwise, identity cards remain valid and as such can still be used as an identity document and for travel within Europe. We will update you with further information as soon as we have it.
The question will remain I suppose whether the coalition will tear up New Labour’s ‘Safeguarding Identity‘ document – their insidious attempt to redefine the relationship between the individual and state for the 21st century. If not then there’s scope for the scheme to return, but this augurs well, at least for this area of civil liberties.
So Brown has finally done the honourable thing and offered his resignation as a price for coalition with the Liberal Democrats. He’s offered an immediate switch to AV via legislation, and a later referendum on STV. So shouldn’t the Lib Dems join him in a minority coalition? Erm no.
How can the Lib Dems possible ally themselves with the party which unrepentently ushered in our surveillance state? Right through to last week they were crowing about just how authoritarian they needed to be, ironically for a country they insisted wasn’t ‘broken’. Could Clegg work with Alan Johnson, who is still defying the European Court of Human Rights on his department’s abuse of the National DNA Database? And what about the Home Office’s defiance of the Court on prisoners’ voting rights? Could Clegg work with Prime Minister David Miliband, who is still defending the government’s right to torture, and trying to prevent us knowing about it? Could New Labour ever walk away from ID cards, given that its ID strategy for the 21st century depends entirely on them and the real problem – the identity register?
Would a New Labour/Liberal Democrat coalition repeal New Labour’s Digital Economy Act? Would they shut down the Independent Safeguarding Authority? How on earth could New Labour ever agree to any aspect of the Freedom Bill whatsoever? Given that there are no moves visible (yet?) showing the demise of New Labour, how could this coalition be better than one with the Tories? Don’t say have it be led by Nick Clegg because that’s just not going to happen, despite his popularity. Unless New Labour dies or the Tories offer AV+ for the Commons at the very least, I can’t see a coalition of any kind working, at least not without destroying the Lib Dems. Brown’s manoeuvre was super, no doubt timed by Alistair Campbell and Peter Mandelson, but he really must not be the only stumbling block to working with the Labour Party.
I can’t figure out for the life of me how any conceivable coalition at the end of next week could work. After next Thursday, the Lib Dems should win about 110 seats, should become the major power broker in British politics, and then should become the junior coalition partner in a government with either the Tories or Labour Party. But how?
Option 1: Clegg sees a Cameron minority victory determining his constitionally mandated choice. The Tories move to accept a more proportional voting system (at least in rhetoric), and a blue/yellow coalition is formed. But would the Liberal Democrat party members allow it to remain?
Option 2: Clegg finds a Tory victory unpalatable, doesn’t believe they’ll accept a proportional voting system anyway, and refuses to work with Cameron. The Tories resolve to try a minority administration (and won’t last long).
Option 3: Labour does far better than expected and Clegg decides a red/yellow alliance would make most sense for a progressive government (most of the electorate would have voted for one after all). But if Labour does well how could they countenance his Freedom Bill and withdraw the authoritarian state they’ve spent so long building? Would Clegg have to drop it or would they have to accept Prime Minister Nick Clegg? Surely that’s out of the question, but wouldn’t the former option kill off the Lib Dems in only one parliament? Their consistent showing in the opinion polls is proving their policies are popular, so why go back on this level of popular support? And if Labour doesn’t actually win, how could Clegg work with them anyway?
Option 4: Clegg decides to try a coalition with a rump Labour Party after a Tory drubbing. But who could he work with? If David Miliband, how could he work with someone who to this day is trying to keep Britain’s involvement in extraordinary rendition and torture secret?
It’s incredibly hard to see Labour winning this election. It’s also very hard to see how, in practical terms, Labour could change leaders, hang on as a minority, and do a deal with the Lib Dems to change the voting system. But that’s the last hope left for progressive political change. It rests on calm calculation, tactical voting and cool heads.
How on earth that is going to happen? My guess of the outcome remains unchanged: a Conservative minority administration, but with the Lib Dems the party of rebellion. They’ll be able to point out the shortcomings in a Tory Party desperate to withdraw the Human Rights Act, to ally themselves with homophobes and anti-Semites and resume foxhunting. They’ll be able to point to Labour’s authoritarian state, with the party’s rejection of the working class’ interests and its abysmal human rights record. They wouldn’t get proportional representation in the short-term, but they’d be able to make the case for one in the time until the next general election, which would be long in coming.