Fred frets

FORMER Camden Lib Dem councillor Fred Carver (former as of last week) is fretting. His name signs off a worried  message on – who else’s – Lynne Featherstone’s blog about the Strange Bedfellows in the cabinet. Fred’s done the maths and the proposed 55 percent MP rule over the dissolution of Parliament is the chief concern. He has a point that must have crossed a few Lib Dem minds this week:

The change in the number of MPs needed to dissolve parliament concerns me. In effect we’ve lowered the number of MPs you need to form a stable government to 294 – in other words we’ve given the Tories an outright majority. Now I’m not saying this is likely but what if we pass this law and then the Tories renege on everything else in the deal, sack all our cabinet members and throw us out of government on our heel?

What recourse would we have? Having effectively given away our position as custodians of the balance of power and having signed an effective Tory majority into law we would be entirely superfluous to requirements – there would be nothing to stop this.

And whilst what I describe is a worst case scenario, on a much more pragmatic level, having signed away our major bargaining chip – the only thing the Tories actually need us for – how can we hope to influence them or get them to listen to us?

3 Comments on Fred frets

  1. Fred Carver // May 16, 2010 at 12:53 pm //

    Hi Richard,

    Not sure “former backbencher embarks upon hypothetical thought experiment due to tragicly high level of interest in the nuances of constitutional law” is quite a stop press but if anyone is interested there’s a longer debate here:

    In which I think I state the nature of my concern more clearly:

    “I’m a little unclear and I think the journos are too – unless I’m very much mistaken nobody here is an independent expert on constitutional law, and I think as a party we could do with taking advice from such a person. My uninformed reading is that whilst it’s still 50% +1 for confidence (no change) and the 55% percent relates to the new power for dissolution this may have concerning knock on effects for our unwritten constitution.

    Normal custom and practice was that whilst a serving PM didn’t have to resign when they lost a motion of no confidence they always do – we’re 11 for 11 on that front. I see someone mentioned the 1924 Kings speech earlier, but in fact that led to Baldwin resigning the next day . My fear is that the new law on dissolution will shift that expectation. Supposing the PM now loses a vote of confidence, they don’t have to resign (as before) but there is now a mechanism to remove them – but it hasn’t been triggered. This may cause the PM to feel that they do not need to resign. Cameron could argue that there is a new political reality, and a new mechanism for dealing with these issues, and as such the old unwritten rules no longer apply.

    It’s like the referral system in Cricket. If you know you’re out and there is no referral system the expectation is you walk – there’s nothing to make you but you do. But bring in the referral system and the expectation changes. A batsman thinks, “I know I got an edge there, but if they want me to walk then it’s up to them to refer me.” So he stays at the crease even though prior to the referral system he would have walked. And if the bowling side can’t or don’t refer then he keeps his wicket when prior to the referral system he would have lost it.

    Of course with the Tories having 47% of MPs we, the other parties, in effect have no referrals.

    The only example I can think of where a leader has lost a confidence vote but won (or not faced) a dissolution vote is Alun Michael in Wales in 2000. But he was having a tough time of it anyway and appeared delighted to go. Cameron might prove more limpet like. In fact I seem to remember Blair was taken by surprise by Michael’s resignation – an indication that it was perhaps not Blair’s understanding that loss of confidence would instantly lead to resignation in the new Welsh political reality.

    I’d like to hear a constitutional expert’s view on whether this shifts expectations on what the PM would do if they lost a confidence vote.”

    To be clear I’m not particularly worried about the 55%, I just think it needs more research. I’m mostly very pleased with the coalition agreement, particularly the ending of the barbaric practice of detaining asylum seeker children – that was one of the causes that got me into politics in the first place. I have grave concerns about the cap on immigration but frankly I don’t think it’s workable and expect it to be dropped. I understand that many people on the left have concerns about the coalition, motivated I have to say in a large part by outdated tribalism, but I think I, and many of my generation, will never be able to see Labour as anything other than social conservatives who were corporately responsible for a brutal war crime. I don’t miss them.

  2. Richard Osley // May 16, 2010 at 10:47 pm //

    Thanks Fred.. You’re right not stop press front page news, but interesting points well worthy of debate. Interesting cricket analogy too..

  3. Peter Brayshaw // May 17, 2010 at 1:03 am //

    I share many of Fred Carver’s concerns about the implications of the new Con-Lib approach to constitutional issues (as well, of course, abhorance of the Lib Dems propping up a Tory Government)

    As proud to be a newly-elected St Pancras and Somers Town Labour Councillor, I am delighted that Labour won over 50% of the Ward vote, therefore more than the other three parties (including Fred himself) added together!

    From my own recent canvassing in Haverstock, I think some people’s dalliance with the Lib Dems is already falling away in disgust at the national coalition. Perhaps genuine and progresive Lib Dems may now think of hoining the thousands coming to Labour Party membership

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