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Rolling coalition thoughts

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Some of the “give and take” in this marriage.

For instance fixed term Parliaments, we now have the next election scheduled in for May 2015. What happens if there are recriminations within the coalition before then? How can the House of Commons assert itself if the government is seen to be acting against the will and wishes of the people? If there were a large split would the government be forced to carry on in a minority if it lost a confidence motion?

Sorry, I don’t like this. I’ve never been that keen on our governments tinkering with our constitution and I see little wrong in allowing our Prime Ministers the power to ask the Sovereign to dissolve Parliament and call for a general election at a time of their choosing, perhaps Gordon Brown regrets stretching his government out as long as possible now. The great advantage in having this ability is that Prime Ministers can put themselves to the ultimate test at times of political difficulty and national crisis, or use their judgement to determine the public mood on an important issue which has Parliament at an impasse.

I dread to think what will happen now if a future government loses the confidence of the House of Commons.

Electing the second chamber – well I guess this has been coming for some time now and it is another area fraught with difficulties. I can see some benefit if we have fixed term Parliaments and the second chamber is elected at the mid term point of the primary chamber, but please NOT both together, it would be rather pointless having a reviewing chamber of exactly the same political colour as the executive. The whole point of the second chamber is to provide additional scrutiny and give the important checks and balances that restrain the powers of government. The current and the old House of Lords had their faults and their benefits, it was  right to remove the hereditary Peers and if we are to have the equivalent of a Supreme Court it is right to remove the Judges too, there is great merit in preserving the separation of powers. However my worry now is in the quality and expertise of the members of the second house to be effective reviewers of legislation, we already have a chamber rapidly filling with the political appointees of Prime Ministers and insufficient numbers of people from other walks of life. One of the small benefits of previous constitutions of the Lords was that on any given subject one could find a smattering of acknowledged experts on the subject of debate, either because of their outside interests or because of the way in which some life peerages were appointed, this pool of talent is gradually being dissipated and I worry that it may be further weakened by an influx of politically motivated elected representatives. As a further modification of the second chamber it is probably right to propose that it’s name be changed to the House of Peers rather than the House of Lords.

A Bill to have a referendum on the Alternative Voting method – it is right to put this matter to the people, although it is not a system of proportional representation as such, it does at least offer two strong points for the future, it will give MPs greater legitimacy by ensuring that they achieve more than 50% of the votes cast in their constituencies and it further strengthens the link between a small geographic area (the constituency) and its representative. The downside is that many MPs may be regarded as “second choice” and will probably initially result in greater numbers of Liberal Democrats, this may not be a lasting effect, of course, as political parties and policies evolve, we must remember that the whole notion of proportional representation is supported by smaller parties who seem to think they have some sort of entitlement to seats and feel hard done to by our current first past the post system, yet history proves that  third parties can come through the middle to supplant those in second place – the Labour Party was a great example. A great benefit of the first past the post system is that it is direct, easy to understand, easy to administer, and generally produces quick results, it works far better when constituencies are of equal size and thus relies on bodies such as the Boundaries Commission to keep a balanced formula. It does not work so well when three parties all decide to sit in the middle of the road and fight over “the centre ground” – real choice is what we need most to make it work.

The commission to review party funding is important too and will be very interesting to see what it recommends. I have often wondered over the years what the average man in the street really thinks about large individual donations going to political parties, or large union or corporate donations for that matter. I do know of some who object to their union operating a political levy when the members have no choice over which party the levy goes to, and on the other hand  there will be many who object to a company such as Unilever donating to the Conservative Party, but does it stop them buying particular brands of washing powder? I’d love to get to a situation closer to that in the USA where Barack Obama and Ron Paul stood out for their ability to harness the internet and raise bucket loads of cash from millions of small donors, I’d love too to see a large rise in party memberships, which would be a great help in financing politics, but it will need our politicians and their parties at local level to get back to engaging more effectively with their local communities. What I DO NOT want to see is the public purse being used to finance political parties.

£6bn of cuts in this financial year – simply not enough, period! (£50bn of reductions would take our public spending back down to the levels of 2007-08 adjusted for inflation, I’m pretty sure we could manage at that level).

Raising tax thresholds above £1000 – I’m fully in favour of and wish the Conservatives had been bold enough to put this in their own manifesto, after all a low tax economy is supposed to be one of the pillars of Conservative economic thought. This move will help many low paid families and could easily be financed if George Osborne can convince the less than convincing Vince Cable to cut departmental budgets even further.

Nuclear deterrent – The Lib Dems have apparently agreed that we need to maintain our nuclear deterrent, but does this mean that we need to maintain Trident, or will the coalition go for a slightly cheaper air based system or just reduce the number of missiles or ageing submarines?

Freedom Bill – one of the most important legislative tasks of the new Parliament will be a Great Repeal Act to sweep away many of the authoritarian edicts of the Blair/Brown years introduced mainly after 9/11 and designed to keep us all under surveillance and control look after our safety. The National ID Card scheme will be scrapped for starters and it is to be hoped that many other Liberal reforms will appeal to the Conservative right. Let us hope that the dismantling of the database state and intrusive surveillance is a huge priority for the new Home Secretary. The state should be afraid of its people, the people should not be afraid of the state.

These are interesting times folks and the biggest interest to me right now is what happens at the end of this Parliament, if this coalition is a success will it fight on, or will the parties find too many idealogical grounds and go their own separate ways again? If it is a success or indeed if it proves to be vastly unpopular, which party, Conservative or Liberal Democrats, will reap the rewards or brick bats?

You would like to think that we are heading back to a golden age of Disraeli and Gladstone reform all in the “national interest”, but at some stage political interest will have to emerge, and I suspect that David Cameron and Nick Clegg are hoping to build a new two party system that might just put the Labour Party back in the position of third place, much of that will depend upon who wins the leadership battle, the Blairite David Miliband from South Shields, his brother Ed, or perhaps a figure from the left. Much also will depend upon the most important task of all, reducing the debt, balancing the budget, and moving the economy firmly into growth to produce wealth and jobs with the promise of an eventual lower tax base.

Update 13:49

This new government of David Cameron is full of surprises, Theresa May as Home Secretary, and Vince Cable NOT going to the Treasury as Chief Secretary, that post has been given to David Laws (Cable becomes Business Secretary instead), another surprise is Ken Clarke as Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary, the return of Iain Duncan Smith is no surprise after his achievements in the social welfare field. Think I’ll keep my predictions to myself for the rest of the day.

For those wanting to read the first analytical, but personal, full scale deconstruction of the Conservative campaign during the general election Tim Montgomerie has it here, he also had it in the Guardian and aired his thoughts on radio this morning, a sure sign that Conservative bloggers will not be able to be relied upon to be as sycophantic as their Labour rivals were.

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