Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.

The beginning of the end of the UK coalition

by Gary J Wed Aug 8th, 2012 at 03:47:03 AM EST

I do not think that the events of today [Aug 6] will immediately end the coalition. They may however be the start of a slow loosening of ties, which may break up the coalition towards the end of next year.

Nick Clegg has today made a statement confirming that House of Lords reform is to be dropped, due to the opposition of Conservative backbenchers and the opportunism of Labour.

The failure of Conservatives to support House of Lords reform is condemned as a breach of the coalition agreement. As a result Liberal Democrat MPs (including ministers) will vote against the implementation of the Parliamentary boundary review. The boundary commissions are due to report by October 2013, so the vote on the Orders in Council to give legal effect to the changes would be expected to take place in late 2013 or early 2014.

If a majority of the House of Commons votes against the boundary changes, the existing boundaries will be left unchanged. This did happen once before. In the late 1960s the Labour government did not want to implement a boundary review. Home Secretary, James Callaghan, complied with the legal obligation to present the Orders in Council for Parliamentary approval, but asked Labour MPs to vote against. The 1970 election was held on the boundaries in force since 1955, with the new boundaries finally being introduced by the Heath government, with effect from the February 1974 general election.

Continued after the fold.

front-paged by afew

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House of Lords Reform

by Gary J Fri Jun 29th, 2012 at 08:08:28 AM EST

The UK is launching itself on another experiment in constitutional reform - only one hundred and one years after starting reform of the House of Lords.

Edited highlights - previously on Westminster, a story about lawmaking folk ...

In 1911 the House of Lords, then composed of hereditary peers and a few Law Life Peers (the Lords Temporal) and some Church of England Archbishops and Bishops (the Lords Spiritual), lost its equality of legislative power with the House of Commons. Now if the House of Commons passed the same law in three successive sessions it became law even if the Lords did not consent (or even in one session if the dispute was over a money bill).

In 1949 a Labour government reduced the Lords delaying power to two sessions.

Various schemes, over the decades, were proposed to make the Lords more representative. Few changes were made (life peers 1958, seats for all Scottish peers and  female hereditary peeresses and power to disclaim unwanted peerages 1963).

The House of Lords Act 1999 removed most hereditary peers (leaving only 91 representatives of the old order). This ended the traditional overwhelming Conservative majority, but did nothing to make the House more democratic.

See after the fold for the latest instalment - an actual government bill introduced today! Could anything be more exciting?

front-paged by afew

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Reapportionment - The UK Way

by Gary J Sat Mar 5th, 2011 at 05:59:51 AM EST

Since my diary Electoral Reform - The UK Way, the Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Act 2011 has emerged from Parliament. Royal assent was granted on 16 February 2011.

For the first time in British history we now have something resembling a fair system for apportioning Parliamentary seats.

The number of House of Common single member constituencies is to be reduced from 650, at the 2010 general election, to 600. Apart from a small number of special cases, seats are to be allocated to the four parts of the United Kingdom using the Saint-Lague method (using successive divisors of 1, 3, 5 etc). This is an innovation for the UK as allocating list seats proportionately, as in British European elections, has used the D'Hondt method (successive divisors of 1, 2, 3 etc).

The Boundary Commissions (one for each nation in the UK) have agreed the apportionment. This is based on the number of registered electors.

The special cases include the two groups of Scottish Islands, with preserved constituencies, the Western Isles (held by the Scottish National Party) and Orkney & Shetland (a Liberal/Liberal Democrat seat since 1950). During the course of Parliamentary passage the Isle of Wight (off the coast of southern England) was allowed two seats within its boundaries, to avoid having to attach part of the island to the mainland for Parliamentary purposes. The current single member for the Isle of Wight is a Conservative. The four seats will have smaller electorates than standard.

The apportionment for the seats is England 500 (plus the two for the Isle of Wight, total 502 (minus 31 from 2010); Northern Ireland 16 (a drop of two); Scotland 50 (plus the two island seats), total 52 (minus seven from the current total); and Wales 30 (a reduction of ten).

The 596 standard new constituencies are to have an average electorate (the UK quota) of 76,641. A 5 per cent plus or minus variation is permitted, so each seat must have between 72,816 and 80,473 voters.

The English Boundary Commission is suggesting producing an apportionment based on the nine European Parliament electoral regions rather than, as has been the case since the thirteenth century, on counties and boroughs.

The suggested regional apportionment, using the same method as for the division between the four parts of the UK; is Eastern 56, East Midlands 44, London 68, North East 26, North West 68, South East 81 (plus 2 for the Isle of Wight), South West 53, West Midlands 54 and Yorkshire & the Humber 50.

What rules do other countries use to apportion legislative seats to different geographical areas?

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Constitutional change the UK way (part 2)

by Gary J Tue Sep 28th, 2010 at 10:27:58 AM EST

The next installment of constitutional change, coming down the Westminster cart track, is the ''Fixed-term Parliaments Bill". The bill was introduced on 22 July 2010 and was approved, on 2nd reading, on 13 September 2010. It awaits the committee stage, before a committee of the whole house (of Commons).

(For details see below)

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Electoral Reform - The UK Way

by Gary J Fri Aug 27th, 2010 at 08:41:41 AM EST

The coalition government has published the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill, to give effect to the relevant parts of the coalition agreement. The text of the bill is on the Parliamentary website, but it is difficult to follow as it mostly makes detailed amendments to earlier legislation.

Continued below the fold.

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Canadian Federal Election of 2008

by Gary J Wed Oct 15th, 2008 at 09:55:21 AM EST

Update - the provisional results

The Conservative Party of Canada secured 143 seats for 37.63% of the popular. This was an increase of 19 seats and 1.37% since the 2006 election. However the party is still short of the 155 seats needed for an overall majority. The Conservative minority government will continue, with a somewhat stronger minority.

The Liberal Party of Canada retained official opposition status. It elected 76 MPs for 26.24% of the vote. This is a decrease of 27 seats and 4% of the popular vote. It seems likely that a new leader will be needed.

The Bloc Quebecois went down to 50 seats from 51 at the last election. They polled 9.97% of the national vote, which was a reduction of 0.5%.

The New Democratic Party (NDP) had its second best result ever, winning 37 seats which was an increase of 8. The vote was 18.2%, an increase of 0.79%. One interesting point is that for the first time ever the party took a Quebec riding, in a general election.

Two Independents were elected, but no Green Party candidate won. The Green Party did however poll 6.8% of the national vote, an increase of 2.47% and can hope for continued growth.

The result was not enormously different from that in 2006. This was the second time in Canadian history that three successive general elections produced minority governments. Presumably if Canadians continue to fill almost a third of Parliamentary seats from outside the two leading parties, future majority governments will be rare.

I have set out, after the fold, some brief notes about history, politics and the election.

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Nominations for Euro Warship Names

by Gary J Tue Jul 15th, 2008 at 07:25:12 AM EST

In the diary about the Polish shipyards, I came up with the spur of the moment suggestion of building a European Navy to keep the continents shipyards busy, to construct a military industrial complex to rival that of the US and to generate campaign contributions and "commissions" for Euro politicians.

I suggested EUS Jan Sobieski for the Polish contribution to the aircraft carrier mountain. Presumably this name would appeal to the Poles and Lithuanians he ruled over as well as the Austrians he saved from the Turks.

Perhaps for England we could go for something like the EUS Alfred the Great.

Does anyone else want to suggest national heroes to name a Jan Sobieski class aircraft carrier after?

Perhaps the names of Admirals and Generals, who were not monarchs, could be reserved for the cruisers.

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Corruption in British Politics - Then and Now

by Gary J Sat Jan 12th, 2008 at 06:15:52 PM EST

The British, during the twentieth century, prided themselves on having one of the cleanest and least corrupt political systems in the world.

Clement Attlee (Labour Prime Minister 1945-51), reacted very firmly in 1948, when one of his ministers was accused of influence peddling at the Board of Trade (the then government department which dealt with commerce and industry). John Belcher, the junior minister involved, was required to resign from the government whilst the allegations were investigated.

A tribunal of inquiry (the Lynskey Tribunal on Bribery of Ministers of the Crown) was appointed, not as a means of whitewashing things but as a determined investigation. After it reported in 1949, John Belcher resigned his seat in Parliament.

Now we have a modern example of possible wrongdoing, by a minister in office. One Peter Hain, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (and Wales), is in trouble because of what he did to fund his recent campaign for the deputy leadership of the Labour Party.

In addition to the interesting question of why he needed to raise more than £100,000 to finish fifth in an internal election, where the other candidates seem to have raised about a fifth as much, Hain has explained he was too busy with his day job to realise that this money needed to be publicly declared. After all it was just a legal requirement, under a law the Labour government itself had passed.

As added irony the money seems to have come mostly from a South African diamond dealer (who is alleged to be interested in obtaining British government contracts), with past links to the apartheid era National Party government. Hain first came to public notice as an anti-apartheid campaigner.

An extract from the Wikipedia article on Peter Hain gives more details and some sources for information about the rapidly growing scandal.

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Parliament Government

by Gary J Sun Dec 30th, 2007 at 11:25:28 AM EST

I have noticed recently that some Americans were wondering if a Parliamentary system would be better than the Presidential/Congressional system they are used to.

I wonder if they have really understood how a Parliamentary system works.

In general terms, a Prime Minister with a disciplined and loyal majority in Parliament is far more powerful than a US President. The very reason why traditional British commentators, like Walter Bagehot in the nineteenth century, preferred the Parliamentary system was that it united the executive and legislative powers of government.

In a Parliament with no or less disciplined political parties, the executive probably is more responsive to Parliamentary opinion. This may be a good thing, but can lead to the sort of kaleidoscopic changes of Ministry you got during most of the history of the French Third and Fourth Republics.

Another point is that the way a political system works in one country may not be identical to the way the same rules operate in another society.

A United States, which has decided upon enormous institutional change and moved to a Parliamentary system, would probably still be a society with two not entirely satisfactory major parties. Parliamentary systems promote partisanship rather than co-operation between parties. That is because everything in the system is subordinated to the need to obtain and retain a Parliamentary majority. It is winner takes all, for a Parliamentary term. There are no rival centres of power, so the checks and balances are political and electoral rather than institutional and judicial.

What do you think is the ideal system of government?

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Australian House Election - Final Results

by Gary J Fri Dec 21st, 2007 at 05:00:27 PM EST

Following the recent general election it rapidly became apparent that Labor had won. However all the results were not formally declared until today.

In the detailed count a few seats which ALP (Labor) seemed to have taken narrowly on election night ended up remaining Liberal, however former PM John Howard still lost his seat at Bennelong.

The first preference vote totals (for the more important parties) were:-

ALP 5,388,147 (43.38%)

Liberal 4,506,236 (36.28%)

Nationals 682,424 (5.49%)

Greens 967,781 (7.79%)

The current two party preferred totals (where some more counting may take place) were:-

Liberal-Nationals Coalition 5,849,820 (47.44%)

ALP 6,482,460 (52.56%)

This is a 5.31% swing to Labor.

The seat totals (which are final, subject to challenges before a Court of Disputed Returns):-

ALP 83, Coalition 65 (Liberal 55, Nationals 10), Independents 2.

The reason why the Nationals won 10 seats on a lower vote than got the Greens none, is that Nationals support is concentrated in a small number of electorates whereas the Greens support is spread fairly evenly over the whole country.

The Senate count in Victoria is still pending, but it looks like the equal split between left and right, anticipated on election night, will arise. However until the new senators take office on 1st July 2008, the coalition is still dominant in the Senate.

It has been suggested by some Australians that the Rudd government wants the Senate to defeat the repeal of the controversial Workchoices legislation, which made the Howard government so unpopular. If this happens there would be a deadlock between the two houses and that would allow PM Rudd to request a double dissolution of both houses. In such an election all the Senate seats would be at stake. Labor could hope to increase their House majority and eliminate the chance for the coalition alone (or with the one Family First Senator) to block government bills.

Update [2007-12-22 10:55:18 by Gary J]: If you want to look at the results, in enormous detail, the Australian Electoral Commission has an excellent Virtual Tally Room at http://vtr.aec.gov.au/

Comments >> (8 comments)

Australian Federal Election, 2007

by Gary J Sat Nov 24th, 2007 at 10:13:46 AM EST

Provisional results (as at 3.20 am, Sydney time) for the House of Reptresentatives. Things may shift a little, when the final figures are known, but the basic picture is clear. This is the result as predicted by ABC.


Australian Labor Party (43.5% of primary vote) 86 seats (+24 from estimated 2004 results on these boundaries)



Liberal (36.5%) 52 seats (-21)

Nationals (5.5%) 10 seats (-3)


Combined Liberal/Nationals coalition (42%) 62 seats (-24)

Greens (7.8%) no seats in the House (no change)

Others (6.7%) 2 Independent seats (no change)


Update [2007-11-24 10:13:46 by Migeru]: Bumped on election day. See comments for election results.

Diary rescue by Migeru

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A better way to run US elections

by Gary J Tue Nov 13th, 2007 at 03:15:27 PM EST

I was looking through Daily Kos, when I came upon a thread about Michigan's attempt to move its Presidential primary into January.

Looking at US elections it seems to me that one of the causes of problems is the need to have both a primary and a general election.

Looking at the US Constitution, Congress has the power to legislate a uniform scheme for House and Senate elections. Arguably it could also determine how Presidential elections should be conducted, without needing a constitutional amendment, although the basis for this might not be upheld by the courts.

I would suggest that a proportional representation system for the House and Senate (such as the Single Transferable Vote or an unordered party list) would improve how state delegations to the House were selected. However as Americans do not seem sufficiently interested in this change I am proposing to address the problem of filling single places.

The main reform proposal which Americans seem interested in is Instant Runoff Voting. This seems to mean that all candidates except the first two (or the lead candidate of the first two parties on the list of first preference votes) are eliminated before preferences of the eliminated candidates voters are consulted to determine the final winner. This seems unfair to the candidates eliminated, who might conceivably have broader acceptability than the two who make it to the runoff stage (Chirac and Le Pen say in a comparable European example or crook Edwin Edwards and white supremacist David Duke in a Louisiana gubernatorial runoff).

Extracts from the US constitution and my suggestion is after the fold.

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The UK cabinet - a spatial analysis

by Gary J Tue Jul 3rd, 2007 at 05:20:13 AM EST

Historically it has not been very important which part of the UK a minister comes from. However in the new age of devolution and regional ministers the spatial dimension may become more important.

I have analysed the newly appointed Brown cabinet. It should be noted that in the UK it is not unusual for an MP to represent an area they do not come from originally. In particular politicians of the left from southern England have long migrated north to get a safe seat in Parliament. However for present purposes MPs will be attributed to the region in which their constituency is located. Peers are associated with the area the long form of their title refers to (ie Baroness Ashton of Upholland 'of St. Albans in the County of Hertford').

For details see below the fold. However to summarise the position.

  1. East of England: 13 Labour MPs out of 56. One peer and no MPs in cabinet.
  2. East Midlands: 25 MPs out of 44. 1 cabinet member.
  3. London: 44 MPs out of 74. 1 cabinet member (the elected Deputy Leader of the party).
  4. North East England: 28 MPs out of 30. 1 cabinet member.
  5. North West of England: 61 out of 76 MPs. 7 members of the cabinet.
  6. South East of England: 19 Labour MPs out of 83. 1 member of the cabinet.
  7. South West of England: 13 MPs out of 51. No member of the cabinet.
  8. West Midlands: 39 out of 59 MPs. 1 cabinet member.
  9. Yorkshire and the Humber: 44 out of 56. 4 members of the cabinet.
A. (England as a whole 286 Labour MPs out of 529. 17 cabinet members.)
B. Northern Ireland: 0 out of 18 MPs. Not surprisingly no members of the cabinet.
C. Scotland: 41 out of 59 members. 4 members of the cabinet (including Prime Minister Brown).
D. Wales: 29 MPs out of 40. 1 member of the cabinet.

Overall the representation is biased towards northern England and Scotland. In particular the two largest English cities, London and Birmingham (in West Midlands region) although returning many Labour MPs seem to be under-represented in cabinet. There also seems to be no attempt to build up leaders in Labour's weaker regions in southern and eastern England.

From the diaries by afew

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New Politics by Gordon Brown

by Gary J Fri Jun 22nd, 2007 at 08:56:57 AM EST

Gordon Brown has demonstrated either low political cunning or a genuine commitment to a new politics (the jury is out on which) by offering places in his government to certain Liberal Democrat peers, most notably Paddy Ashdown.

The story seems to be that last Monday Brown had a meeting with LibDem leader Ming Campbell. During this meeting the suggestion was made that such LibDem luminaries as Paddy Ashdown and Rabbi Julia Neuberger might be given jobs as Ministers of State (second rank ministers) outside the cabinet. Ming said he would think about this (in British terms) remarkable proposition.

A meeting of LibDem MPs on Wednesday decisively rejected the offer.

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An English local election count

by Gary J Fri May 4th, 2007 at 12:26:19 PM EST

Rather overshadowed by the Scottish and Welsh results, a lot of English local government elections took place on 3rd May 2007.

I took part in the election in the Borough of Slough (west of Heathrow Airport for those not familiar with the geography). Slough elects a third of its 41 councillors for four year terms, in three of a four year cycle (the other year is for county council elections, but Slough is a unitary authority so we do not have that type of election).

One seat in each of the 14 wards was up for election this year, using first past the post voting (the candidate with the most votes wins, even if that is a minority of all the votes cast).

I was the Liberal Democrat candidate in Central ward, which is a Labour/Conservative marginal to the north and east of the town centre. I was what we call a paper candidate (ie I was just a name on the ballot paper). I was actively working in the campaign for another ward where we retained the seat.

Below the fold I will explain what happened at the count, so those who are unfamiliar with such displays of British style democracy can look upon our works and despair.

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Drawing UK Parliamentary Boundaries

by Gary J Sun Feb 25th, 2007 at 07:34:04 AM EST

After reading edwin's interesting diary about electoral reform in Ontario, I have been thinking about the apportionment of legislative seats in a first past the post electoral system. The UK system for this is little known so I thought a diary about it might be useful.

As Americans, with extensive experience of partisan gerrymandering, will know the outcome of elections is often determined by how the boundaries are drawn. Even if the boundary drawing is non-partisan the decisions made will have a political effect.

The House of Commons currently contains 646 members, each elected from a single member constituency. There are 529 MPs from England, 40 from Wales, 59 from Scotland and 18 from Northern Ireland. After the next general election, due some time before 2010, it is expected there will be 650 members with the additional four representing England. The rest of this diary is about how those seats were apportioned.

In the United Kingdom, Parliament has created four Boundary Commissions (one for each of the four parts of the UK - England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland). These are genuinely non partisan bodies. The responsibility for parliamentary boundary revisions is to pass to the Electoral Commission when the current general review is completed later this year, but the system will essentially remain the same.

Each Boundary Commission is responsible for applying the rules laid down in legislation, so as to produce a report recommending a new set of Parliamentary boundaries in its area. The UK government is required to submit a draft order in council  to Parliament. This draft order is required to include the recommended proposals, with or without amendments (although the power to make amendments exists it is not in practice used). The Queen and the Privy Council make the order when the draft is approved by Parliament. The new boundaries then come into force at the next general election. (For more details see below)

From the diaries -- whataboutbob

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Three Hundred Years and Counting for Great Britain

by Gary J Tue Jan 16th, 2007 at 05:27:37 AM EST

Today is the 300th anniversary of the passage by the Scottish Parliament of the Act of Union, which was a crucial stage in the construction of a United Kingdom of Great Britain.

The English version of the Act of Union received royal assent on 6 March 1707 and the union came into existence on 1 May 1707.

It is interesting how little fuss is being made about this tercentenary. The union was described at the time as a marriage of convenience and little patriotic enthusiasm has been invested in it.

The BBC has done some opinion polling and concluded that about three quarters of the English and just over half the Scots support the union. These are not overwhelming numbers for the foundation of the UK government.

I do not seem able to produce a hyperlink, but this is the link to the BBC website.


For the modern political situation in Scotland and England see after the fold. Update Simon Jenkins in The Guardian has some thoughts on devolution. Something is stirring in the undergrowth of British politics. It ,ay come to nothing, but it may cause big structural changes in the next few years.


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Tenure of Office as PM in the UK

by Gary J Sat Dec 16th, 2006 at 11:48:57 AM EST

The last three British Prime Ministers have served continuously for more than five years each. This tenure extended over more than one Parliament. It seems to me this is a convenient division between short and long terms, for the modern period.

The Parliament Act, 1910 reduced the maximum term of a Parliament from seven to five years (although the Parliament which passed that law was actually extended until 1918 due to the First World War).  Apart from the 1935-1945 Parliament all the post-1918 Parliaments have remained subject to the five year maximum limit.

See my analysis after the fold and try my poll about how long it takes for the average Prime Minister to go mad.

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Worst British Prime Minister ever?

by Gary J Thu Dec 7th, 2006 at 05:07:59 AM EST

from the diaries. Jérôme

A comment on DKos that Tony Blair was the worst Prime Minister ever got me thinking.

It is a commonplace, at least at DKos that George W. Bush is the worst US President ever. Thinking about why leads me to conclude that there are two dimensions of worstness - bad policy (like Iraq) and incompetent execution of policy (again Iraq, but perhaps Hurricane Katrina is the better example).

Looking at bad British Prime Ministers I see some as weak figures, being led by a more determined person (the monarch, a theoretical subordinate member of the cabinet or George W. Bush) into bad policy and then feeling compelled to support it. Others were simply incompetent to hold the job of Prime Minister. Still others (Neville Chamberlain in particular) were strong willed and pursued their own policy, which proved to be mistaken.

The one British Prime Minister I would most compare with George W. Bush is not Tony Blair but Sir Anthony Eden.

Who do you think was the worst Prime Minister ever?

I have copied my post on DKos after the fold.

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Live blogging State Opening of UK Parliament

by Gary J Wed Nov 15th, 2006 at 06:17:33 AM EST

The State Opening of Parliament is about to start.

This is something like the State of the Union speech in the United States, but much grander (in a Ruritanian sense). Essentialy the Queen reads a speech written by her Ministers listing the legislative programme for the next year.

The Queen is approaching Parliament in the Australian State Coach (horse drawn with cavalry escort).

There is an innovation this year as the Lord Speaker (new office) is going to greet the Queen instead of the Lord Chancellor who used to preside over the Lords.

11.15 National anthem being played as coach arrives.  

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