Clegg: Commons no confidence powers “unchanged”

Nick Clegg sought to draw a line under the debate about the rules for a dissolution of parliament in his first speech as deputy prime minister today.

Nick Clegg sought to draw a line under the debate about the rules for a dissolution of parliament in his first speech as deputy prime minister today. After weeks of confusion, debate and dissent from Conservative backbenchers such as David Davis, Mr Clegg insisted the coalition’s proposals were “not taking away parliament’s right to throw out government”.

He said:

“It’s just wrong that governments can play politics with something as important as a general election; cynically picking the date to maximise their own advantage. So this government has already set the date we think the next election should be: May 7th 2015 – no matter who is where in the polls.

“That is unless parliament votes to dissolve itself first. As we legislate to fix parliamentary terms the details will of course need to be worked out; but we believe that the support of 55% of MPs or more should be required for parliament to opt for an early dissolution. That is a much lower threshold than the two thirds required in the Scottish Parliament…

“This is a new right for Parliament, additional to the existing unchanged powers of no confidence. We’re not taking away parliament’s right to throw out government; we’re taking away government’s right to throw out parliament.”

Yet, by not opting for a two-thirds majority, as in Holyrood, it remains possible for a future prime minister with 55 per cent of seats in the Commons to do precisely what Mr Clegg abhors: namely to “play politics” by “cynically picking the date” of future elections. As the graph below shows, on eight occasions since the war, a government has achieved this threshold, while on no occasion has it had 66 per cent of seats.

The proposed changes, if implemented, will have done nothing to curtail the powers of Attlee, MacMillan, Wilson, Thatcher (twice) and Blair (three times) to call an election at the time of their choosing – the most powerful post-war prime ministers would have been free to carry on as they pleased and ask the Queen for a dissolution whenever they felt, subject to their MPs voting with the whip.

12 Responses to “Clegg: Commons no confidence powers “unchanged””

  1. John Baxter

    RT @leftfootfwd: Clegg: Commons no confidence powers "unchanged": http://bit.ly/aaoP4s

  2. Duncan Stott

    Good article… Nice graph 🙂

    I’ve yet to hear (but may have missed) a coalition MP justify 55%, rather than 66% (or any other %age).

  3. Shamik Das

    They should've cleared it up ages ago! RT @leftfootfwd: Clegg: Commons no confidence powers "unchanged": http://bit.ly/aaoP4s

  4. Thalia

    I agree 66% would be better than 55% (and might also help to make it more clear that this is a completely separate issue to no confidence). Would prefer 4 year terms also.

    However, one thing which might impinge on this – if the emergency election is an additional election and the subsequent scheduled one goes ahead anyway (eg calling a 2013 election doesn’t allow you to postpone the 2015 to 2018) then the incentive for the ruling majority to call an early election is greatly reduced, if not removed completely. At 55% a party would have a comfortable working majority, so not much point risking an election merely to increase the majority (whereas a party with just over 50% would have this incentive, which is a good argument against making the threshold 50%+1.)

    I’m not absolutely sure of how the Scots rules work, but to me it looks as though this is the system there. Fixed election dates and if parliament dissolves itself an extra emergency election.

    Also they should make it clear that the rules will include a 28 day guillotine as per Scotland to clear up the paranoia about a minority Tory government continuing to rule after losing a confidence vote (which is of course not feasible).

    Thanks also for prodicing a sane voice in the midst of a whirlwind of hysteria on this topic.

  5. The Parallax Brief

    Sorry, but this is absurd. What happens when the political parties are deadlocked over a specific issue? The legislative process will grind to a halt. The idea that being shackled to a fixed term will force them to compromise, or will lead to better government, is a fantasy, as California has shown over the last 18 months. The people should be given the opportunity to break the deadlock in situations where the government has lost the de facto confidence of the house. It shouldn’t be left to a choice between legislative constipation or deals in smoke-filled rooms.

    This increases the likelihood of unaccountable politicking, rather than diminishing it.

  6. Modicum

    @Thalia:

    I agree. If that rule were adopted for the UK Parliament there might be no need for a 55% rule.

    In Sweden the Riksdag has a fixed four year term. This means an “ordinary” election must happen every four years. The government can hold an early “special election” if it wants but that won’t have any effect on the date of the next ordinary election.

    This means that the government has very little incentive to call an early election, and in practice in Sweden early dissolutions are very rare. There is no need for a supermajority requirement to dissolve parliament.

    I think the same rule applies in Scotland: an early general election doesn’t change the date of the next regularly scheduled election.

  7. Great Reform Act? Have I missed something? « My Political Ramblings

    […] it would still not promote an ideal of ‘new politics’. Left Foot Forward have an interesting blog on this, where they state: “Yet, by not opting for a two-thirds majority, as in Holyrood, it […]

  8. John Nor

    Via @leftfootfwd http://bit.ly/aaoP4s Explanation of why the 55% mentioned in #Clegg speech isn't really a great idea #noto55

  9. Joe Cassels

    RT @JohnNor: Via @leftfootfwd http://bit.ly/aaoP4s Explanation of why the 55% mentioned in #Clegg speech isn't really a great idea #noto55

  10. Joe Cassels

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  11. Politics Summary: Tuesday, June 8th | Left Foot Forward

    […] confidence, as he had insisted in his speech on ‘new politics’ on May 19, reported by Left Foot Forward. The Times, however, cautions that: “One issue yet to be resolved is whether the 55 per cent […]

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