The new constitution
Slowly, we are going to get a new constitution. There is no mention of a consolidated constitution in the current agreement between the two parties of government, but there is provision for several major reforms. Obviously the move to an AV referendum is one; but fixed-term parliaments and the 55% dissolution threshold are almost as significant.
There’s a lot of debate about the 55% dissolution threshold, and we should be concerned about it. I can see why it’s there – it’s to lock the LibDems into the coalition for the duration, and that might not be such a bad thing. There is clearly a risk that at any time, the LibDems could flounce, once the honeymoon is over. A tricky decision – a tax rise or a major spending cut, probably, say over student fees (although they are allowed to abstain on that one), accompanied by a breakdown of the Clageron love-in, could trigger a walk-out, a motion of no-confidence and the collapse of the stout party. But this could not trigger a General Election. Instead, the Tories would have to soldier on in a minorityuntil the end of the fixed term, unable to pass any significant legislation. Chances are that in that case, they’d choose to put an end to their misery themselves.
But everyone who’s getting worried about the 55% rule needs to reflect: with the sort of majorities FPTP gives in most cases, but not in May 2010, it’s academic. No-confidence votes are always rare; they only happen when the governing party is in meltdown anyway. With today’s Parliament, with the Tories having 47% of the vote, it wouldn’t take much of a backbench rebellion to reach the 55% threshold, even if Cameron decided he wanted to hang on.