While David Cameron and Nick Clegg were having their love-in in the Downing Street rose garden yesterday, details emerged of the terms upon which their coalition was founded.
Most of the document represented a mix of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat policies outlined in their manifesto. Some of those – like immigration caps – are patently daft. Others are a true blend of Con-Lib policy positions – tax policy, for example. But the one issue which appears to be raising some genuine debate on blogs and Twitter this morning is the following passage on political reform:
The parties agree to the establishment of five year fixed-term parliaments. A Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government will put a binding motion before the House of Commons in the first days following this agreement stating that the next general election will be held on the first Thursday of May 2015. Following this motion, legislation will be brought forward to make provision for fixed term parliaments of five years. This legislation will also provide for dissolution if 55% or more of the House votes in favour.
Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition agreement (emphasis added)
This 55% threshold would have the effect of allowing a Conservative minority administration to continue even if the coalition broke down – taking into account the fact Sinn Fein don’t take up their seats in Parliament, the Conservatives account for 47% of MPs in Parliament. This appears cynical, and out of kilter with the image of “new politics” being portrayed currently.
However, my understanding is that this rule could be amended by a simply majority in Parliament (assuming opposition parties could force a vote on the issue). So if the Government lost the confidence of a simply majority of MPs in Parliament, they may well be able to force an election, but it would require (1) a vote on the issue of the threshold required to result in a dissolution of Parliament and (2) a vote of Confidence. Simply put – it doesn’t guarantee a full fixed term, but makes it harder for opposition parties to force a minority Conservative administration from power (and even if they remained in power, they might find it hard to introduce any primary legislation).
So, while it looks bad on the face of it, I’m not quite sure what its practical impact would be.