J. Alan Smith looks at ways in which the Conservative government can ensure its survival
In the month, weeks, days and hours leading up to the close of the poll for the General Election on 7 May 2015, opinion polls were predicting a hung Parliament. Pundits were considering the possible combinations of parties that could form the new government: a National government based on the Conservatives, including or supported by Liberal Democrats, Democratic Unionists and UKIP; a Popular Front government based on the Labour Party, including or supported by the Liberal Democrats, the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the SDLP; perhaps, even a grand coalition of the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat Parties. Then, at the stroke of 10pm, came the exit poll figures predicting that the Conservatives were close to an overall majority.
Majority of 12
In the end, the Conservatives won an overall majority of 12. In their initial euphoria of gaining their first overall majority since 1992, despite the opinion polls, they must soon have realized that a majority of 12 would be rather low to maintain their government through five years of attrition through by-elections. In this article I look at the approaches they could make to secure their survival.
My first recommendation is to abolish the fixed, five-year term for Parliaments. It may have been necessary in order to hold the coalition partners together in the crisis of 2010, but the last year or so of constant electioneering should disbar it from being a permanent feature. To avoid giving too much power to the Prime Minister I suggest the following changes. First, establish a convention that a Prime Minister who is leader of his party should not be removed from the leadership without losing a vote of confidence in the House of Commons, where the names of those voting are recorded. Secondly, Parliament should not be dissolved without an affirmative motion to that effect being passed in the House of Commons. Thus a majority party could remove its leader without that leader having the sole power to bring about the dissolution of Parliament; in addition, the monarch would be protected from the dilemma of choosing either to allow a Prime Minister who had been defeated in the House of Commons from having a general election or else to select someone else to form a government from the existing House of Commons.
The EU and Scotland
The major policy area in the next few years is our membership of the European Union. The government must balance the threats of multinational corporations to relocate from the UK if we were to leave the EU against the one-way direction of change within the EU. If the EU were to have a ‘national’ flower, it should be the Venus Fly-Trap: easy to enter but almost impossible to leave.
The next problem area is the Scottish Question. As W.C. Sellar and R.J. Yeatman might have put it: ‘Cameron spent his second term trying to guess the answer to the Scottish question; unfortunately, whenever he was getting warm, the Scots secretly changed the question.’ I should like to make two suggestions. First, set up a Constitutional Convention to examine the question of devolution throughout the UK: devising schemes of devolution in different areas of the UK has led us to where we are today. Secondly, examine the feasibility of a rail tunnel between Scotland and Northern Ireland: such a development could stimulate economic growth, not only in Scotland, but also in the North of England, Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.
There is a view that the Liberal Democrats have been ill-rewarded for their work in the coalition. Had they fought the election as a coalition with the Conservatives they might have fared better. However, choosing to fight the election separately with a view to forming a coalition either with the Conservatives or else with Labour, they ran the risk of both parties fighting hard against them. Nevertheless, it would be prudent for the new Conservative government to listen to the Liberal Democrats, adopting their ideas when they seemed useful.
NHS and benefits
At the next General Election the Labour Party will probably attack the Conservative government on two main issues: the National Health Service and benefit payments. The government should be wary of giving the impression that they would damage the NHS. Similarly, talk of large but unspecified cuts in benefit payments could tempt Labour to build up an image of the Conservative leaders as rich people who probably don’t know any poor people and who regard benefit payments as something that doesn’t affect ‘people like us’. It would be far better for the government to continue with plans to remove disincentives to work from benefit recipients, as a result of which the cost of benefit payments would reduce naturally.
In conclusion there is the subject that was hardly mentioned during the election campaign: defence. Conservatives should remember that the origin of the Tory Party can be found in the parliamentary divisions over ship-money when Charles I levied increased taxes to pay for the defence of the realm. ND