Amanda Ramsay sees unspeakable contempt for the unwritten constitution

There is no overarching mandate for any one party’s electoral pledges.  Which raises difficult constitutional questions for the coalition. Realising that it is on a sticky wicket, the government fears being bowled out, on any given parliamentary vote, if their fragile coalition starts to fragment.  Hence their plans to bolster their precarious position by abolishing the simple majority vote of no confidence and fixing Parliamentary terms, with nothing less than legislative super-glue.

The old lie: “lies, damn lies and statistics” has never seemed more appropriate than while the sticky mathematics of this hung Parliament betray our new political masters’ contempt for the constitutional rule book.

Erskine May must be turning in his grave. To deny Parliament the safeguard of a vote of no confidence with a simple majority, half of the votes plus one being traditionally enough to drag a government back to the polls at any time not of its choosing, is both a con and a travesty.  Constitutional safeguards exist for good reasons. If a government is too extreme, ineffective or totally irresponsible, what greater protection than the ability to oblige the government of the day to face the electorate and seek a new mandate?

At a time of recession and austerity, the coalition should be focussed on delivering decent public services and managing the public purse, not dismantling highly valued and ancient traditions. Fixed term Parliaments are much the same. Rigidly fixing five year parliaments effectively castrates the democratic process and gives the sitting Prime Minister an autocratic, get out of jail free card, safe in the knowledge they can sit pretty for five whole years, without anyone or anything able to budge them.

Harold Wilson famously declared: “A week is a long time in politics,” but imagine how long 260 of them would feel? Hundreds of weeks or five long years, with the government untouchable and immune from the challenge of real opposition by them removing the threat of dissolution, which currently exists courtesy of the vote of no confidence, with a simple majority of half plus one.

We already have maximum term parliaments of five years and a month anyway, with the option to seek dissolution before that if circumstances so require. Do we really want a system that would tie us into suffering a dictator, without proper recourse to eject him or her at any stage in a five year term?

The current executive talks of a “new politics”, but quite disgracefully wants to leave us saddled with them or any future failing government for five whole years, come what may.  For, once enshrined in law, the rule is absolute.

These and many of the anti-conservative changes David Cameron’s coalition proposes did not feature in either the Conservative or the Liberal Democrat manifestos.  Which brings us to the Salisbury Convention, another constitutional issue ready to cause problems. Under the convention, the House of Lords agrees not to oppose second or third readings of any government legislation, as promised in their election manifesto, which includes the desistance to table wrecking amendments designed to destroy a bill.

But without a manifesto voted for by the majority of British voters, where does this leave the agenda of our upper house? In the words of Irving Berlin: “There may be trouble ahead.”

If ever a government appeared weak, it must be this one. Propped-up by a man so hell bent on self-promotion and vainglory, Cameron’s Conservatives are eagerly standing by the Parliamentary shredder, waiting to discard democratic safe-guards that have protected our democracy and the rule of law for hundreds of years, for nothing other than the short-term benefit of Mr Cameron and his new bedfellow Mr Clegg.

AmandaRamsay is on Twitter

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3 Responses to “Amanda Ramsay sees unspeakable contempt for the unwritten constitution”

  1. Mark Pack says:

    Curious about your reference to requiring more than a simple majority to call an election being “a con and a travesty”.

    Requiring more than just a simple majority is what Labour introduced for the Scottish Parliament, with its fixed-term Parliaments, and of course Labour also had a commitment to fixed-term Parliaments for Westminster in its 2010 general election manifesto.

    By their very nature, fixed-term Parliaments have to require more than a simple majority to call an election else there’s nothing fixed about the fixed-term, yet I can’t recall any opposition within Labour either when it introduced the rules in Scotland or when the commitment was put in the manifesto.

    So how come now opposition such as the one in your post; is it that people like yourself didn’t pay much attention to the previous Labour support for fixed-term Parliaments, or that people have changed their minds, or…?

  2. A Pedant says:

    We don’t have an unwritten constitution.. we have an uncodified one.

    After all everything significant is written down somewhere… and plenty of written constitutions leave things out (eg where in the US constition does it specify FPTP?)

    Ho hum

  3. Mozza says:

    It is amazing that the Tories are so weak as to allow Clegg to beg and win.

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