Friday, 14 May 2010

The 55 percent rule

My curiosity lies in discovering who inspired this curious piece of potential legislation.

My political bias suggests the naivety and apparent unworkability of the 55% rule places it squarely as a Liberal Democrat concoction. But who knows? In true consensual coalition form, it seems intended to provide equal protection to both parties from a presumptive dissolution of parliament.

Many observers have declared that an artificial bar to parliament being subject to re-election, after a majority of MPs have voted a lack of confidence in the government, is simply unconstitutional.

More to the point, as Christopher Chope MP has pointed out, the 55% rule is unworkable and therefore meaningless.

If the situation arose that either governing party pulled out of the coalition, a minority Conservative government would be unable to resist the subsequent majority overturning the 55% rule. This would then enable a vote of confidence to defeat the government causing immediate dissolution of parliament and a new general election.

If Cameron and Clegg choose to resist objections and force this new rule through parliament, they may believe its very existence will act as resistance to ever testing its principles in practice.

However, starting a new era of political reform with legislation regarded as both unconstitutional and unworkable is not a good advertisement for the political process or for the new form of government.

Put simply, sticking to the 55% rule doesn't add up.


Sir George Young, justifying the rule, refers to the Scottish parliament requiring a 2/3 majority to achieve a dissolution. This type of measure is required, apparently, to manage the increased political stresses that arise within coalition government.

That is as may be. But this is more than just a simple supply and confidence measure. Together with fixed term parliaments, it has the strong flavour of European style government—where coalitions are the norm, governments appear to change but people and policies stay the same, and no-one can ever kick the bu––ers out.


The more this issue is discussed and attempts are made to explain it, the clearer it seems that the root lies in the determination to establish [a] fixed term parliament[s].

Few people seem to consider a fixed term parliament as controversial or unwarranted. Yet, as we see, nothing is so straightforward or without constitutional consequences.

The 55% dissolution rule gives politicians the chance to cobble together an alternative coalition government if the existing coalition partnership fails. In the present Con–LibDem case, this would actually enable the LibDems to seek to join a coalition with Labour and others if the present coalition failed. (Or Conservatives might join with Labour, of course!)

All of this would take place without reference to the electorate—and would be enabled by the determination not to dissolve parliament within the timeframe of a fixed term parliament.

Consider fixed terms as the actual democratic problem and it presents the issue in a different light.

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