Thursday, 29 June 2017

When ye lay doon wi the De'il...

Yesterday (Wednesday) there was a division on the Queen's Speech (translation from Westminsterese - a vote on the Government's legislative programme) on getting rid of the pay cap on public sector workers.  It was good, sensible stuff, good opposition from Corbyn's team before they went back to fighting each other today (sacked for rebelling against Corbyn - that irony meter is going to have your eye out) and it nearly worked.  Theresa May's Government squeaked a win by 14 votes, including her 12 newbies from Scotland.

Twelve new Tory MPs in seats taken from the SNP thanks, in part, to a dodgy agreement between Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems that the SNP was the enemy in this election.  Incredibly, the one Labour MP at the time was reported in the Labour in-house magazine "The Granwad" thusly -
Labour’s sole surviving MP, Ian Murray, said he supported tactical voting to defeat the SNP
 Kez Dugdale, leader of the Scottish branch of Labour, said something similar, too, encouraging people to vote Labour where they were second place to the SNP and Tory where they were in second place.  The glorious revolution was celebrated at Labour HQ as they cheered Tory victories in Scotland.

Imagine if they had done the reverse and encouraged the electorate to vote tactically to defeat the Tories rather than the SNP, imagine if Labour and the Lib Dems had done a deal with the SNP to beat the Tories instead of the SNP - 12 votes away from the Tory Government and 12 more votes for the progressive side of the chamber; the 14 of a majority overturned.

Ach weel, Labour, when ye lay doon wi the De'il mind ye micht rise in the De'ils hoose...

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Did Cameron Save May's Bacon?

EVEL raises its head
David Cameron may have saved Theresa May's Government.  I'd been wondering why she was so fixated on getting a deal with the DUP that gave her confidence and supply but no other support and why she wasn't looking around for other options.  It made even less sense when you consider John Major's intervention noting that the DUP wouldn't bring her down while Corbyn was leading Labour - he knows a thing or two about tight majorities and how the DUP votes.  It might well be, though, that she doesn't need any other options, just support in any confidence motion and votes to get her Money Bills through, and she needs that tied up for any future sticky situation.  She might be in that strange situation and saved from oblivion thanks to a change that David Cameron brought in when he was Prime Minister.

Cameron needed to quiet his backbenchers who were harrumphing over more powers being vested in Holyrood and he introduced English Votes for English Laws (EVEL) which, in essence, stops Scots MPs, Welsh MPs and Northern Ireland MPs from voting on matters which only affect England.  Specifically, the Speaker issues a certificate on each piece of legislation that determines whether EVEL applies and, where it does apply, MPs who don't represent an English seat can't vote on it (there is a very simple explanation of the process on the UK Parliament website here if you fancy reading a bit about it).  This means that for great wodges of legislation the Prime Minister only needs a majority of English MPs to support it and she has a majority of 61 among English MPs and that's a working majority.  Where the EVEL certification is England and Wales she's in a tighter spot because the opposition has a 24 seat majority over the Tories in Wales - but that still leaves her with a 37 seat majority for England and Wales.

Confidence, supply and reserved powers
That means that Theresa May needs cover for matters which won't be EVEL certified - the most important of which are votes of confidence and getting budgets passed (without cover here her Government is always vulnerable - emptied if it loses a confidence motion and unable to function properly if it can't pass a budget) so the DUP covers her back on those.  That leaves the items in Schedule 5 of the Scotland Act 1998 which you can see here or get a rough idea of from the Scotland Office guidance from 2013 (but note that it hasn't been updates as powers transferred to Holyrood) or you can get an idea from the Scottish Parliament website (which also needs a wee update as powers transfer).  You get the general gist, though.

If you look through that list you'll see that Theresa May won't be worrying about much of it.  Defence?  The big issue is Trident and Labour is hand-in-glove with the Tories on this - Labour will vote to renew, and even made the commitment in the manifesto where it said "Labour supports the renewal of the Trident nuclear deterrent."

Immigration?  Remember Labour's immigration mug?
The manifesto has moved a little from a blunt closing of the gates but it's still in territory the Tories will feel comfortable with.  It's not so much "do this differently" as "we could do with different paint on the walls".

The constitution (they keep it unwritten, you know, much better that way) - on Scotland being able to take a decision on its constitutional direction of travel, Labour and Tories are dancing to the same tune, as the recent election showed.  On Brexit there is less difference between the positions of Labour and the Tories than there is considered thought in Boris Johnson's impromptu musings.

Foreign policy?  Long gone are the days when Labour ever aspired to an ethical foreign policy - the manifesto mentions it four times - three on page 116 where it says, repeatedly, that foreign policy should be guided by good intentions and once on page 122 where it says the same thing.  It's a conversation that goes "What's our policy on bad things?" " We're against them." "What about good things?" "We're for them."  In actual debate, though, you can't spot any real divergence between Labour and the Tories on foreign policy.

Welfare benefits is one area you would imagine there would be massive differences between Labour and the Tories but the evidence suggests otherwise - in July 2015 184 Labour MPs stood back and refused to oppose the Tories' welfare cuts - and claimed that it was fine because they'd said they were against it.  That wasn't the first time, either; two years earlier Labour MPs stood back and let the Tories and the Lib Dems change the law to avoid complying with a court order to give benefits claimants money that was withheld from them when they were sanctioned unfairly.  Earlier this year Labour Lords did the same thing on cuts to the benefits paid to disabled people, standing back and letting the Tories off the hook while passing a motion that said "we disapprove".

Nuclear energy?  Labour's manifesto has them supporting new nuclear power stations - just like the Tories.  On trade the Labour manifesto mimics current Tory policy, on employment there's little in the Labour manifesto (the Tory manifesto actually offers more action on employment than the Labour one), on broadcasting, consumer rights and data protection there's no remarkable difference between them.  They are, as the saying goes, like twa cheeks o the same bum!

Labour saves the Tories
So Labour will prop up the Tories on the issues which won't be EVEL certified, the Tories have a working majority on any issues which will get EVEL certified and all that's left to cover is confidence and supply.  Enter the DUP...

I don't know whether David Cameron likes Theresa May or what she's doing in government but I think he saved her bacon when he changed the rules and the irony is that it's Labour that will be saving the Tory Government where EVEL doesn't.  If you're waiting for another General Election you may be waiting for quite some time, unfortunately, and you may have to watch the Tories tap-dance through a whole parliament while Labour has to try to maintain discipline.  The wonders of an unwritten constitution, eh?  This may be excruciating.