You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘Constitution’ tag.

Some people say that if you can’t beat them, join them. I say that’s rubbish: if you can’t beat them, cheat.

Before I get charged with opportunism, I’ve always been an advocate of voting reform- some kind of AV system would probably do the job best- but the problem with voting reform is that the minute a party gets a majority, the minute voting reform is ditched.

So, given that experience of the last 30 years probably demonstrates that thumping majorities don’t do the parties that have them any good, perhaps it’s time to bring voting reform back onto the agenda?


Amongst all the talk of overthrowing Gordon Brown the Tories have said that if Labour ‘forces another unelected Prime Minister’ on the country they’ll try and force an election. I’m not a constitutional expert, but two points stand out here:

1. Prime Ministers don’t have to be elected- they only need to be able to command a majority in the House of Commons

2. Related to 1, as long as any Labour Leader commands a majority in the Commons, how can the Tories win a vote of no confidence?

Now whilst it can be argued that the person of Prime Minister is integral to the identity of government (therefore favouring a poll every time that a new Prime Minister kisses hands) this argument is often made by the same people who decry the presidential nature of the premiership. In short, the critics can’t have it both ways.

Whether the public would wear another change of leader without a poll entirely depends on the circumstances: indeed, there were (Tory) people who said Gordon Brown shouldn’t hold a poll last autumn precisely because he would have won and this would have been a manipulation of the public sentiment. To sum up, there is no constitutional reason why there should be an election if the leadership changes: indeed, the only people who’ll be calling for one will be those who think they can win…

It’s from a few weeks ago, but this article by John Rentoul in the Independent is interesting all the same. Whilst a hung parliament is likely on current polling information, what is less likely is which party will benefit out of it. Rentoul suggests that David Cameron has been speaking to Prof Vernon Bogdanor, a fellow at my college, and the thinking is that the Conservatives would expect to form a government even if they were smaller than Labour in a hung parliament.

The precedent is supposedly the first Labour Government which took office in 1924. After the 1924 election, Stanley Baldwin commanded more seats in the Commons than Labour but could not command the confidence of the House. It is essentially this event that Prof Bogdanor argues creates a precedent for a hung parliament being a political problem rather than a consitutional one. However, I don’t think that it’s as easy to brush aside the constitutional implications: in the event of a hung parliament, the prime movers are the Queen’s Private Secretary and the Cabinet Secretary.

The political issue is of course which party the Liberal Democrats would assent to having confidence in (or at least abstain in a confidence debate) but the fact remains that a political decision would have to be taken by the two Secretaries, with the tacit approval of the Monarch, as to how long any party would have to try and cobble together a deal that could secure a Government with the confidence of the House. That this political decision would have to be taken by people without the constitutional privilege of making political decisions, underlies, I think a broader constitutional problem. Should one party fail to command the confidence of the House should the other be given the chance? What if dissolution and fresh elections would specifically benefit one party? Should a dissolution be granted anyway? I’m not saying I have the answers but trying to deny the constitutional problems of a hung parliament helps nobody.