Tory proposals are designed to fatally wound Labour by 2015

February 18, 2010 10:21 am

Rose

The Paul Richards Column

I have this friend. For the sake of the story, let us call her Jo. She has a conviction that at the very top of politics, there is no such thing as happenstance or coincidence. Every move is a calculation, there’s a motive behind every utterance, and no one just does stuff. It’s all part of a plan. In short: there are no cock-ups, only conspiracies. For Jo, the pleasure of politics is in working out who’s playing who, and why. The scary thing is that most of the time, she’s right. Not every conspiracy works, and of course there is more than one going on at any one time. But if you view the actions of senior politicians through this lens, it explains an awful lot of seemingly random actions.

Take three recent announcements by the Conservative Party on what they would do in their first term in office, should such a calamity befall the nation.

The first is David Cameron’s firm pledge to introduce a system where only MPs in English seats vote on legislation affecting England. Scottish, Welsh and Ulster MPs would be banned from voting on these issues. This idea has been bubbling away inside the Conservative Party since devolution to Scotland and Wales a decade ago, as their answer to the thirty-year old West Lothian question. Then-leader William Hague said in 1999 that “people will become increasingly resentful that decisions are being made in England by people from other parts of the UK on matters that that English people did not have a say on elsewhere.” The situation was exacerbated in 2004 when 40 Scottish MPs helped the government push through the highly controversial bill introducing university tuition fees for England.

In 2008 Ken Clarke MP, then chair of the Tories’ ‘democracy taskforce’ published a proposal for restrictions on non-English seat MPs voting on some of the stages of bills which affect England. David Cameron said recently: “for English-only legislation, we would have a sort of English Grand Committee. That is our intention and what is likely to go in the manifesto.”

Such a move would endanger the Union, and create a two-tier Westminster Parliament, and so the Tories’ policy should be opposed on principle. But it would also massively favour the Conservative Party, because if it is in a position to enact its plans after the 2010 election, it will have won scores of new seats in England. English votes for English laws in effect means Tory votes for English laws.

The second announcement is Cameron’s plan to cut the size of the House of Commons by around 60 MPs. Speaking to the Financial Times in January, Cameron said “I think the House of Commons could do the job that it does with 10% fewer MPs without any trouble at all.” He said the Tories could legislate in their first term for an urgent boundary review so that all seats had roughly the same number of electors in time for the general election that followed. Cameron will propose this in the general context of anti-Parliamentary feeling in the country. I pity those who might have to oppose the idea – arguing for the status quo against such a seemingly radical policy. Cameron’s spin doctors have since confirmed that this would be a “first-term priority”. But where would the axe fall? On Wales, and the English cities, where Labour would have most of its MPs, even after a Conservative win. That means Cameron would fix the system by abolishing Labour seats in the first term to make it easier to win a second term. Analysis by John Curtice at Strathclyde University suggests a smaller Commons would exaggerate swings, and “would improve the Tory chances of winning”.

The third announcement appeared in the Telegraph last week, and it concerned Cameron’s desire to reform party funding. Since the cross-party talks on party funding reforms broke down in 2006, Cameron has made it clear that the Tories will legislate to cap all donations to parties (£50,000 is the latest figure). That means any individual or institution can only give up to £50,000. It makes sense if your party is funded by rich people and companies. If your party is funded by trade unions, it sounds a death knell. Cameron’s point-man on the negotiations Andrew Tyrie MP made union funding the sticking point, and the casus belli for the Tories breaking up the talks. The Labour Party is now reliant on the big four trade unions, not just for election posters and leaflets, but to pay the staff wages and utilities bills at head office. If each union could only give £50,000, Labour would cease to exist as a functioning organisation.

Taken on face value, each of these proposals, which will appear in the Tories’ manifesto in a few weeks’ time, sound reasonable. None will upset the electorate, or even attract too much controversy in the campaign. But each is carefully calibrated to undermine Labour’s effectiveness in Parliament, and fatally wound our chances of winning the election after next. They add up to a concerted attempt to kill off the Labour Party by a series of fixes and fiddles. It may just be a happenstance that the Tory policies have as their by-product a series of lethal blows to Labour.

Unless you believe there’s no such thing as coincidence in politics…

Comments are closed

Latest

  • Comment Labour could lose out by not making it’s stance on Trident clear

    Labour could lose out by not making it’s stance on Trident clear

    Cutting Trident will be the price of support in a hung parliament. That’s the news reported from a meeting of the SNP, Plaid Cymru and Green leaders this week. With Labour’s slim lead and the SNP and Green vote threatening to impact on its share, this is a serious issue. Labour’s policy clearly states, ‘Labour has said that we are committed to a minimum, credible independent nuclear deterrent, delivered through a Continuous At-Sea Deterrent. It would require a clear body […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Featured Is Cameron “frit” of TV debates? Let’s try the empty chair threat

    Is Cameron “frit” of TV debates? Let’s try the empty chair threat

    Lord Ashcroft has told him he shouldn’t have done it in 2010. Lynton Crosby has told him not to do it in 2015. It’s no surprise that David Cameron is trying to wriggle out of televised leader debates during the General Election – even though he has said he is willing to take part “in principle”. Time perhaps to dust off one of Margaret Thatcher’s favourite barbs “He’s frit.” Neil Kinnock tried it in 1992 to try to goad John Major into […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Flexibility makes for good work, strong families and thriving communities

    Flexibility makes for good work, strong families and thriving communities

    By Stephen Timms MP and Ian Murray MP The Christmas period reminds us that modern life can be busy, hurried and demanding. The pressures of work, demands of family life and hectic Christmas schedules can prove stretching as we juggle competing demands. Increasingly the need for flexible work is driven by the complex shape of people’s lives; as parents go to work, struggle to make ends meet, perform career roles, take their children to school and activities and try and carve […]

    Read more →
  • News Labour MP questions campaigning roles of publicly funded advisers

    Labour MP questions campaigning roles of publicly funded advisers

    As the start of the long campaign begins today, curbing the amount of money parties can spend between now and May 7th, Labour MP Jon Ashworth has sought to clarify what precautions are being taken to ensure publicly-funded government advisers are not using their time campaigning. Ashworth has sent a letter to senior civil servant Jeremy Heywood, asking him to answer a number of questions about what kind of campaigning activity was permitted and undertaken by special advisers (SpAds) in […]

    Read more →
  • News Berger asks Twitter to do more to stop use of racist words

    Berger asks Twitter to do more to stop use of racist words

    Luciana Berger, Shadow Minister for Public Health, has called on Twitter to do more the stop racist terms being used on the site. Berger has herself faced a large amount of anti-semitic abuse on the site, and in October Garron Helm  was jailed for sending her a torrent of anti-semitic messages. Berger told the Telegraph (£): “At the height of the abuse, the police said I was the subject of 2,500 hate messages in the space of three days using […]

    Read more →