A Hung Parliament leaves Nick Clegg with a nasty choice. His campaign promised a new start, a different way of doing things and a fresh choice. But one way or another, he has to install one or other of the old politicians. Back Cameron, and his left-leaning supporters will desert him. Back the party that just lost, and floating voters will lynch him. Force a new election, and everybody will hate him.
But what if there was another way? What if, instead of an arrangement between a Conservative PM and the Liberal Democrats, Clegg could arrange for an arrangement between a Conservative PM and the entire House of Commons?
Under the current system, there would be no such thing. A British Prime Minister and his inner circle has enormous power of patronage, a tight grip over what legislation considered by the House of Commons and a lock on the national wallet. Whatever promises he might extract, the real power would live with whatever individual he supported in a confidence vote. The MPs hardly get a look-in.
But some people think there should be another way. Many of those people are in the Conservative Party. Libertarian right-wingers Daniel Hannan and Douglas Carswell advocate slashing the powers of the executive – while lamenting that once lodged in government, Cameron may go the way of Jim Hacker.
And some of these ideas – in a watered-down form – are official Conservative policy.
Clegg should take it further. He should set, as the only condition for allowing Cameron to form a government, a massive transfer of power from the Prime Minister and the cabinet to the House of Commons. For example:
- Take the formulation of laws away from the ministers, and give it to balanced all-party parliamentary select committees.
- Let committees control the legislation of the departments they oversee.
- Give powers exercised by cabinet ministers back to the Commons.
- Reduce the control of the whips.
- Give parliament a veto over quango appointments.
- Change the procedural rules to make it easier to pass legislation that the government disapproves of.
- Do that all-party committee on the public finances they were talking about.
A request like this would be very hard for Cameron to resist. It would appeal to floating voters, who by definition aren’t attached to one of the parties and like the idea of everyone having grown-up discussions rather than locking the losing party out. It gives power to all MPs not just the LibDems, so it doesn’t sound as self-seeking as insisting on PR. And allows the occasional Lib/Lab alliance to assert itself on a few chosen high-profile issues, keeping their mutual tactical-voting flame alive.
Neuter the executive, and empower the legislature. A legislature which still – by the skin of its teeth – has a centre-left majority.
Thanks to jsfl at politicalbetting.com for pointing out the Carswell/Hannan connection.
Update: Carswell blogs:
Yet over the past three days we’ve seen a tiny handful of people meeting in private to determine the shape of the next government.
This is wrong.
Rather than cutting secret deals behind closed doors in Whitehall, should we not be having these debates on the floor of the Commons, led by the people’s tribunes?