Sunday, May 16, 2010

Possible new U.K. rules?

Apparently it is part of the Coalition deal that it will not be possible to dissolve Parliament unless there is at least a 55% vote in the Commons in favour of doing so. Critics of the plan seem to confuse it with confidence votes.

The first signs of dissent surfaced over the coalition’s proposals to change the way parliament can vote to remove a government if it proves unpopular during its five-year term.

Under the plan, Britain would have fixed-term parliaments, ending the prime minister’s right to decide the timing of an election. Any vote on dissolving a parliament mid-term would need the support of at least 55 percent of lawmakers.

Critics say the change is unconstitutional and would give the coalition too strong a grip on power as it has 56 percent of the seats in parliament.

The number of lawmakers opposed to the plan was unclear, but those who went public said they wanted any vote to be decided by a simple majority.

“This is nothing less than a stitch-up,” former interior minister David Blunkett told the Guardian. “It’d be impossible, even if every opposition MP united against this coalition, for the (lower) house to express its lack of confidence in it.”

The proposal seems to be that after a confidence vote, which the coalition government might lose by 50% + 1 (just like any government in a parlliamentary system can lose a confidence vote), there is no automatic dissolution/election--even if the PM happens to want one, finds the timing good for an election, or whatever. Rather, a "super-majority" of the House would have to be willing to dissolve and face an election. If the government has lost a confidence vote, it may be possible for the same PM to present a different budget or other proposal that will win a confidence vote; or put together a slightly different coalition. Or: a different party leader might try to put together a coalition and avoid an election.

The principle that is being attacked is that a PM, once he/she has won a confidence vote, can trigger an election whenever he/she wants. Both Cameron and Clegg, the PM and Deputy PM, seem to want the new Parliament to last five years. With fixed election dates in Ottawa, but the understanding still in place that losing a confidence vote leads to an election, in theory it is actually the Opposition, not the Government, that can trigger an election--by voting non-confidence in a government that was planning to stick around for a while. Of course Harper has indicated that as long as he has a minority, rather than a majority, he plans to retain the prerogative to trigger an election when he wants.

If the Coalition lasts five years, it will be interesting to see if the two parties choose not to run candidates against each other, at least in swing ridings, or choose to run Coalition candidates. If some kind of Alternative Voting has been introduced, it will be possible for voters to rank one of the Coalition parties first, the other one second, so that the Coalition could get a lot of combined first and second votes.

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