Tag Archives: Clegg

Constitutional reform only happens if …

… it suits the interests of those implementing it.

Not just an historical truth, indeed an axiom, but the punch-line of a beta++ effort by Steve Richards for Independent Voices.

Let’s take on face value Richards’ headline:

Why fixed terms parliaments are a nightmare for leaders and a gift for rebel MPs

Our Chief Political Commentator says that Conservative MPs can plot and stir because the next election is still years away

Hold on! Surely that’s what a true Independent would wish? And … err … yes, it somehow reminds Malcolm of …. Ah, yes!

Certainly, gentlemen, it ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents. Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinion, high respect; their business, unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasures, his satisfactions, to theirs; and above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own. But his unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion…

If government were a matter of will upon any side, yours, without question, ought to be superior. But government and legislation are matters of reason and judgment, and not of inclination; and what sort of reason is that, in which the determination precedes the discussion; in which one set of men deliberate, and another decide; and where those who form the conclusion are perhaps three hundred miles distant from those who hear the arguments?

Indeed, the authentic Burkean voice from the College Historical Society of Trinity College, Dublin (founded 21st March 1770), of which — much later, and far less oratorically polished — Malcolm’s alter ego was once a minor officer.

Richards’ Big Thing amounts to this:

The current parliament is already nearing the end of its natural life. Symptoms of mortality take many forms. In terms of policy Cameron has made waves recently with two big announcements. Both apply to the next parliament and not this one. His proposals for a referendum on Europe and high speed rail take effect after the next election. The more immediate agenda in the Commons is of little significance compared with those post-election policies and the near revolutionary measures placed before MPs in the Coalition’s early unprecedented flurry of reforming zeal.

In other words, the health of the body politic depends on a renewal of the parliamentary mandate in the short term, not in May 2015.

Yet, as he makes clear, with little to do, and at a time when MPs should be honing their knives for re-election, it’s all gone deadly, flatly dull. The death of the Bill to change boundaries was the last straw, which is why (even after Clegg slit its throat) the Bill was kept in suspended animation while all kinds of pressures were brought to bear:

  • Over the weekend, were the DUP really told they could exempt Northern Ireland, if only …
  • Why does James Kirkup (who should know better) and other susceptible post-adolescents keep afloat the notion that the Bill can be revived?

And, for the Satan’s Blood (“800,000 Scoville units”) in your political chilli, muse on what MPs get up to, when otherwise not exerted. Why, they plot, of course! Or, as Richards renders it:

There will be no election in 2014. After the next 12 months there will be another whole year before the election moves fully into view. There is still plenty of time to be disloyal, to speak up for principled conviction, to plot and plan against a leader. This has some danger for Clegg. But Cameron is the main victim as news surfaces of a plot to install a successor … if he loses the election. Such plots happen for many reasons. One is that Conservative MPs have time on their hands, lots of it. They will rally round next year, but not this. The fixed-term has made prime ministerial life less secure rather than more.

Even so, Malcolm has another gripe with Richards’ piece, particularly so in the rest of that final paragraph:

Constitutional reform only happens if it suits the interests of those implementing it. Presumably Cameron thought that in the unusual circumstances of a Coalition a fixed-term would bring stability. But most fixed-terms in other countries last a maximum of four years. Five years is far too long. And of those five this is much the most dangerous for leaders hoping to flourish when the still distant election finally arrives.

As Malcolm recalls, the LibDems, suspicious that Cameron and Osborne would dump them were an electoral opportunity to open, inserted the time element in the coalition agreement. Now, what could possibly have provoked that partisan fear into the pre-nup?

Second, Richards is absolutely correct. Five years was, is and always will be too long. Malcolm’s Pert Young Piece had considerable difficulty in  explicating the five-year term, at the Anzac Cove gathering, 2012, to a band of highly-dubious antipodean democrats. It’s also been commonly accepted, nearer home, ever since the Fixed Term Parliaments Bill was first out there in the wild. Anyway, consider:

  • The “ones-we’re-bound to lose” (Macmillan-Home in 1959-64; Wilson-Callaghan in 1974-79, Major in 1992-97; Blair-Brown in 2005-10) went into a fifth year;
  • To which might be added the “one we miraculously didn’t lose” (Major, 1992) which also went to the wire.

Versus:

  • the ones “we can win” (Thatcher in 1983, 1987; Blair in 2001, 2005) which took advantage of the opportunistic electoral windows.

On that basis alone, the 2010-15 government had given away its main electoral advantage: the chance for any prime minister to exploit a particular moment, one when the economic and electoral cycles could be matched. So, a Malcolmian prediction, when the next parliament assembles, if there’s a majority government, the 2011 Act will be repealed in short order and shall hear no more of fixed -terms.

In short, there’s that gross misunderstanding: in the unusual circumstances of a Coalition a fixed-term would bring stability. Richards, wisely predicates that with the weaselly “presumably”. Consider the normality of UK politics: in the forty years from Wilson to Cameron we will have had just three governments defenestrated — in 1979, 1997 and 2010. The success of Gordon Brown was that the expected Tory take-over didn’t happen (and, in Malcolm’s book, history will be very much kinder to Brown than current poison has it).

Burke, whom we had above, had the Fixed Term Parliaments Act bang to rights, and as far back as 1780:

Bad laws are the worst sort of tyranny. In such a country as this they are of all bad things the worst, worse by far than anywhere else; and they derive a particular malignity even from the wisdom and soundness of the rest of our institutions

Let’s add a word to the wise:

The people can recognise them. And resent them

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Filed under Conservative Party policy., Daily Telegraph, David Cameron, Edmund Burke, History, Independent, Lib Dems, Nick Clegg, politics, Quotations, reading, Steve Richards, Tories., Trinity College Dublin

Saying “different things”, South Antrim

Hair of the DogmaThere was a brief note on ConHome:

Boundary changes blow

“David Cameron’s slim hopes of pushing through boundary changes that would deliver the Tories 20 extra safe seats have been dealt a blow by the Ulster Unionists.” – The Times (£)

 Malcolm hadn’t seen this elsewhere, apart from below the fold on page 17. So he thinks The Times pay-wall should give way:

Unionists deal blow to Tory boundary plan

Roland Watson Political Editor

David Cameron’s slim hopes of pushing through boundary changes that would deliver the Tories 20 extra safe seats have been dealt a blow by the Ulster Unionists.

The Tories need support from across the minor parties if they are to see through the changes after Nick Clegg said he would no longer support them following the defeat last summer of his plans to reform the House of Lords.

But William McCrea, the DUP MP for South Antrim, said he would not back the changes, which would cut the number of MPs from 650 to 600, and in Northern Ireland from 18 to 16.

Mr McCrea also told The Times that the boundary review process should be halted quickly to prevent public money being wasted.

Government sources who have tried to canvass support from the DUP said that “different Unionists say different things”.

The Tories would need all of the eight DUP MPs and six SNP MPs to have the chance of overhauling the 312 combined tally of Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs.

Mr Cameron had been pressed by the 1922 Committee to force boundary changes through before the election, thus boosting Tory hopes. But Labour and Liberal Democrat peers are expected to win a vote today that would delay any changes until 2018.

William-McCrea-291x275Dr McCrea may have the dogma, even if the hair has AWOLed over the years. Explaining the abstruse connection must await the end of this post.

The devil is in the numerical detail

Anyone with half a wit knew that, once Clegg had pulled the plug, the baby was out with the bath-water. Subsequently Paul Goodman came up on ConHome to regurgitate his calculations, which amount to 320 for the Tory gerrymander and 321 against. His punch-line acknowledges potentially-defaulting Nadines:

On the darker side, the biggest Commons obstacle to the new boundaries could be Conservative MPs themselves.  More gain than lose from the changes, but not all losers can be guaranteed to vote for their likely or certain removal from the next Parliament.

Doing the maths while minding mice at the crossroads? [See The Hair of the Dogma, page 171, and all is apparent.]

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Filed under Britain, ConHome, David Cameron, DUP, Elections, Flann O'Brian, Nick Clegg, Northern Ireland, Northern Irish politics, Times, Tories.

The political cavy

Guinea pigTwo years back, when Cameron shimmied off for the half-term break, we all had a moment of mirth:

Asked if he was in charge of the nation, Mr Clegg told Metro: ‘Yeah, I suppose I am. I forgot about that.’

Later that year, in August, Clegg was once again ‘in charge’:

London’s in flames and the economy’s going up in smoke . . . but don’t worry, I’m in charge, says calamity Clegg as Cameron and Osborne stay on holiday

Nick Clegg today insisted the Government was still working ‘very effectively’ despite David Cameron and George Osborne remaining abroad.

The Deputy Prime Minister rejected criticism over the three most powerful men in Westminster taking a holiday at the same time after returning to work.

He said: ‘I reject completely this notion that somehow this Government hasn’t been functioning very effectively indeed last week and this week.

‘I have been speaking to members of the Government. I spoke to the Prime Minister this morning, to the Chancellor last night, to the Home Secretary yesterday, to the Business Secretary, to the Energy Secretary, to the Foreign Secretary; we are in constant contact with each other and we are working effectively together as a team this week as we do every week of the year.’

The Pert Young Piece of Redfellow Hovel shrewdly noted that Clegg’s days of deputising seem to have been curtailed.

She made a comparison with the infant who was entrusted with the weekend care of the classroom guinea pig — but only the once.

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Filed under Britain, Daily Mail, David Cameron, Nick Clegg, politics, schools

Now for the missing words round …

The Guardian website appends a word-cloud for the ConDem mid-term review:

Coalition mid-term wordle

What’s missing? Well, three that jump to mind are:

  • Deficit. Is it there? Has it gone away? Actually, no: it is the very first section of the published document, where the word gets the grand total of just six uses, one of which is the section title. Clearly the message is: “Nothing to see here. Move along now!”.
  • Unemployment. Even though the the Office for Budget responsibility are reckoning on the numbers increasing by 200,000 in 2013, it also seems to have been vanished. Again, not quite: the word gets three outings in the Jobs and Welfare section (nice conjunction of two very different ideas, but it tells us where we’re being driven). Two of those uses are specifically in connection with “youth unemployment”, the third is the mantra about “making work pay” for those “stuck in unemployment and poverty traps.”
  • Labour. The previous government is no longer responsible for the mythical mess? Perhaps that one’s unfair: even the ConDems seem to have recognised “That was then. This is now.” Otherwise we are expected to decode “the previous administration”: the meerkats no longer mention by name the dreaded mongoose.

Malcolm has resolved not to suffer much further: Andrew Sparrow’s observation [@ 3:23 pm] was:

I’m glad I don’t have to turn that into a splash. I haven’t had time to read the mid-term review yet, but colleagues who have taken a look are saying it is pitifully thin. And we did not learn a great deal from the press conference either, although Cameron and Clegg did a reasonable job quashing speculation that the coalition may collapse before 2015.

Guido Fawkes‘s shouts and claps out-voice the deep mouth’d sea normally precede any major Tory effusion. On this occasion the mighty whiffler was subdued:

It reads an awful lot like the Coalition Academy letter in Private Eye…

In connection with Staines-by-name-and-by-nature reading such a turgid document so fast, Dr Johnson’s comparison of Quaker women preaching comes to mind: it —

 … is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.

With a deep sigh, Malcolm recognises that, short of the Crossrail excavation setting off a major volcano under Canary Wharf (a consummation devoutly to be wish’d), overnight large quantities of newsprint will be expended this non-event. And we’re no longer allowed to recycle the waste for useful fish-and-chip wrapper *.

* Memo to self: where did that expression originate?

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Filed under David Cameron, Guardian, Guido Fawkes, Lib Dems, Literature, Nick Clegg, Tories.