Danny Alexander, George Osborne and who ‘commissioned’ welfare cuts proposals – an object lesson in how to be economical with the actualité

I just heard Mr. George Osborne once again peddling his line that the documents revealed by his former Treasury buddy Danny Alexander were in fact “commissioned by the Chief Secretary himself”. This make it sound like Alexander was actually responsible for the proposals for draconian welfare cuts which he says came from Tories. It has worked enough to be repeated by plenty of journalists. Continue reading

“The Fixed Term Parliament Act has absolved all the players from any duty to respect constitutional conventions rather than the letter of the law.” Senior Officer of Parliament

[This post has been modified to remove some comments which colleagues found unnecessarily combative. I have apologised and removed them. I have also taken the opportunity to clarify one or two small points].

I have posted three blogs that have attracted a lot of attention from the media and other commentators – see for example this from Mark Elliott. You can find mine here, here and here (in chronological order of posting). And here’s another contribution from Canada.

I have been criticized for conflating issues of Government and Parliament and law and convention. This is not the case. Continue reading

The Fixed Term Parliament Act was designed to protect the (Coalition) Government: don’t be surprised when it protects a Labour one too

Some people have criticised the analysis of the impact on the FTP Act on the power of the executive and accused me of being confused. I am afraid it is they who are confused. Most of their criticism seems to boil down to clinging to old notions of ‘confidence and supply’ and ‘confidence of the House’, notions superseded by the FTP Act.

Lets recall the political circumstances and purposes of the FTP Act. It was conceived by a coalition Government intent on implementing what could be very unpopular austerity policies. They wanted to ensure that they “hung together” lest they “hang separately” for as long as possible – the five years allowed between elections.

They wanted it to be as difficult as possible for (a) them to be turfed out of office and (b) a new election to be forced upon them before their five years was up. Continue reading

Who Governs Britain After May 7th?

The media is rife with speculation about who will do deals with whom after May 7th and what the possibilities are. What is obvious is that most of them are working on old assumptions about how Governments are formed which predate the Fixed Term Parliament Act 2011 (FTPA), which has fundamentally changed the way these things work.
Continue reading

Who ‘wins’ British Elections?

The usually erudite and accurate William Keegan published an article in the Observer entitled ‘Elections pick losers, not winners. Cameron deserves to lose.’ I’ll leave the second sentence and concentrate on the first, because in the article Bill goes on to say:

“Memories of prewar unemployment and the social insensitivity of the Tories were enough to drive Churchill out in 1945. But in 1951, having achieved much in a period when austerity was necessary and not a political stratagem, the Attlee government was tired and it was “time for a change”.” (my emphasis added).

I have lost count of the number of times I have seen this statement, or something very much like it, in the past – and it’s wrong. Continue reading

Could the SNP block a Labour Budget? No.

The SNP are claiming they can ‘block Labour budgets’, ‘end austerity’ and ‘stop Trident’. Their problem however is simple – most of what they say is based on assuming that Westminster works the same way as Holyrood does for budgeting – and it doesn’t. There are huge ‘constitutional’ and practical obstacles to implementing the sort of radical challenges to Government tax and spend decisions that the SNP and others seem to be mooting. The first set of problems is that in the Westminster parliament only the Government can propose taxation or spending measures. These can be defeated, or amended, but only by cutting spending or lowering or removing taxes – not by increasing either. Continue reading