Unlock Democracy’s Peter Facey’s bizarre support for enhanced monarchy

Supporters of fixed term parliaments, like Unlock Democracy director Peter Facey (formally Charter 88), have been quick to claim that those of us opposed to raising the bar for a parliamentary dissolution vote are misguided. We fail to understand the 55 per cent lock-in is necessary to guarantee fixed-term parliaments; in fact, it should be higher. They call this an ‘enhanced majority’. It is also a proposal for an enhanced monarchy; bizarrely leading democracy campaigners seem okay with that.

They point out that the Scottish Parliament requires a two-thirds majority. This is true. But it is also true that the Scottish Parliament has 28 days to select a First Minister or be dissolved. Moreover, the First Minister cannot succeed to office without securing a simple majority of Members of the Scottish Parliament; it would be possible for a simple, but determined, majority of MSPs to force a dissolution.

This flags up an important difference between the UK and Scottish parliaments. The Scottish Parliament appoints the First Minster, but the Prime Minster is appointed by the Queen.

If the current coalition were to fail, either because the Lib Dems pulled out or were sacked by David Cameron using powers reserved to him, the 55 per cent rule would protect the new minority Conservative government from dissolution. A simple majority of MPs could pass a vote of no confidence in that administration, but it is unclear what effect that would have.

The danger to our democracy is that the Queen would be forced to decide on Cameron’s successor and that this process would lead to a politicisation of the monarchy.

Amazingly, Peter Facey is unconcerned by the unintended consequence of rushing through poorly thought out legislation for fixed term parliaments without consultation. By text he writes; ‘Under convention the person she feels can command support in the House. This what nearly happened in Canada last year. I agree we need better rules, but you don’t get them by doing nothing.’

But bad legislation may not be better than nothing, especially when 55 percent would often be too low to stop the PM at the head of a majority government from dissolving parliament to suit party interest. That the Tories have 47 percent of the seats in parliament, just enough to block dissolution, is especially suspicious and makes this look like legislation designed with just this election result in mind.

By email Peter Facey says:

‘Stephen
We have already proposed prior to the election along with organisations like Democratic Audit that the PM should be elected by Parliament rather than use the Queens Speech as the way of confirming a government.
What you are pointing out is the difficulty of our unwritten constitution that depends on convention.
Peter’

This is a so what. The current proposal appears not to include a reduced role for the monarch and a PM elected by parliament. It is unlikely the Conservatives would support a move against the monarchy.

Removing incumbent Prime Ministers’ ability to call an election at a time to suit themselves is desirable, but we must be alert to the unintended consequences of such a move. A politicised monarchy is too high a price to pay. Given that neither our upper chamber nor head of state are elected, it appears we simply don’t have the democratic infrastructure to support fixed term parliaments.

8 thoughts on “Unlock Democracy’s Peter Facey’s bizarre support for enhanced monarchy

  1. You appear to misunderstand the difference between a Government resigning and parliament being dissolved.

    The proposals would only work if on a no confidence vote (50%+1) the government was forced to immediately resign.

    A new government could only be formed if it commanded confidence of the house at 50%+1.

    This leaves no possibility of a so called “zombie government” existing which does not command confidence of the house at 50%+1

  2. The time is however essential for the instance where a parliament cannot produce a government but also refuses to dissolve itself with an enhanced majority.

    It’s worth pointing out that a majority of 50%+1 could in theory overturn any of this simply by passing a new law.

    However presumably the government (if there was one) could obstruct this being done by the opposition.

  3. Far from confusing dissolution and confidence votes, this piece makes a clear distinction: ‘A simple majority of MPs could pass a vote of no confidence in that administration, but it is unclear what effect that would have.’

    If anything, Giles, you have confused the two with your claim that, ‘A new government could only be formed if it commanded confidence of the house at 50%+1’.

    This is not the case at all. If the coalition government resigned, either because the Lib Dems withdrew or Cameron sacked them (as he is free to do), Cameron would be free to form a new minority government. That government might not survive a confidence vote, in which case the Queen would be expected to appoint someone else… but who?

    And so we go around in circles.

  4. Stephen,

    It’s not at all “unclear what effect a no confidence vote would have”. It would mean the government is defeated. This has been confirmed on numerous occasions.

    The only thing needed to ensure this works is a 28 day limit to form a new government that can command 50%+1 – that avoids a constitutional crisis where parliament votes a government out but fails to form a new one.

    I’m really finding the scaremongering on this pathetic. There is a very clear model of how to make this work in the Scots system – all we have to do is ensure the same safeguard of a 28 day limit applies.

  5. “Cameron would be free to form a new minority government. That government might not survive a confidence vote, in which case the Queen would be expected to appoint someone else… but who?”

    No, in which case a 28 day limit would guillotine the situation and lead to an emergency election.

  6. Sorry Thalia, but no. The Queen appointed Cameron, not parliament. If the Lib Dems leave or are sacked he’s still PM. Convention is he remains PM until the Queen is able to appoint a successor. If the Queen can’t find a successor he remains in place.

    Unlike in Scotland, at not time is the country left without a PM. There is no 28 day guillotine.

  7. Stephen,

    “Sorry Thalia, but no. The Queen appointed Cameron, not parliament. If the Lib Dems leave or are sacked he’s still PM. Convention is he remains PM until the Queen is able to appoint a successor. If the Queen can’t find a successor he remains in place.”

    Yes, under purdah rules until a new government is formed. Fussing about this is like making a big deal over the fact that the rules allowed Brown to stay on after the election and potentially go to a Queen’s Speech. In theory yes, but in practise there is no point.

    “Unlike in Scotland, at not time is the country left without a PM. There is no 28 day guillotine.”

    There has been one sentence on this in a coaltion agreement, which has inspired one of the silliest hysterias I can remember. That isn’t the whole legislation, which is yet to be written and debated. It seems eminently sensible to assume it will have some kind of guillotine rather than risk a constituional crisis and putting the Queen in that kind of bind (especially as the immediate precedent, drawn up by Labour, for the Scots parliament does have this). *If* it doesn’t then it is worth concerned about this possible impasse.

    I know everyone wants to spot the evil Tory plot, but this is an example of a progressive reform (fixed terms) in which the PM gives up the (conferred) power of dissolution and passes it to parliament. All the silly scenarios in which it is claimed Cameron could run a minority government having lost a vote of no confidence are just scare storires.

  8. Oh, and don’t forget fixed terms were in the Labour manifesto. Are you suggesting they wouldn’t have made some provision for dissolution following a no confidence vote – because leaving the power with the PM is clearly no solution.

    If you want to make sense, maybe you should campaign for the exact system Labour gave the Scots – 4 year terms, and 66% dissolution threshold.

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