Can’t be in two places at the same time…

Next Wednesday, the Deputy Prime Minister is giving evidence to the Constitution Committee in the Lords on the government’s constitutional reform agenda.  It’s the one Wednesday of the year that I cannot be in Westminster.  I have to be in Hull for a degree ceremony.   In over thirty years, I have never missed a degree ceremony, so I’m afraid the Deputy PM will have to miss my probing questions. 

I know some colleagues on the committee will be pursuing the questions I would have asked.   It is likely to be televised, so should be well worth watching.

About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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26 Responses to Can’t be in two places at the same time…

  1. Carl.H says:

    Giving evidence or theorising ? There is a vast difference, at least to me.

  2. Teithiwr says:

    An argument in favour of full time Members of the Upper House?

    • Lord Norton says:

      Teithiwr: Not really, as MPs have the same problem, arguably more so – attendance at select committees in the Commons can be poor whereas it rarely is at select committees in the Lords.

  3. Croft says:

    Did I really just hear Lord McNally, answering a question in the house, say that the 2010 general election cost 50% more than the 2005? Even allowing for compound inflation and the last government’s casual attitude to fiscal rectitude is there some explanation for the rise – postal voting and/or anti fraud checks?

    • Lord Norton says:

      Croft: You did indeed. He said expenditure on the 2010 general election was £73.2 million compared with £47 million in 2005. I suspect one reason is the cost of handling postal votes, but even so it does seem a remarkable increase. I may pursue it to try to discover the reasons.

      • Croft says:

        Is it the Lords’ format that no one could pose a supplementary because I’m sure many people listening – and please some of those in the chamber! – did a double take at hearing the figures!

      • Croft says:

        Carl: I imagine that is why they choose the local government elections to hold AV vote. Most areas are already holding elections so the additional cost is limited.

      • Lord Norton says:

        Croft: Lord McNally’s response was the last one to several supplementaries and as soon as he had said it time for the Question was completed. There was thus no opportunity for anyone to pursue him on the matter.

    • Carl.H says:

      As mentioned elsewhere, my thoughts turn to the cost of a referendum at a time of deep cuts.

  4. Carl.H says:

    “Most areas are already holding elections so the additional cost is limited.”

    That`s a bit like saying whilst you`re at your desk do tomorrows paperwork for nothing. The funding for both arguments, for and against AV, will be plenty and the extra work for the counters which may possibly be more than the local elections ballots has to be paid too.

    I do not believe the extra costs will be minimal and I await to hear an actual costing of the proposed referendum at a time when the public are concerned that essential services will suffer due to cuts.

    • ladytizzy says:

      I agree, Carl, that while the cost of democracy is seen in the same light as a rounding error, the absolute costs are not insignificant, no matter how much we have been conditioned to think in billions.

    • Croft says:

      Carl I rather think a better analogy is while preparing a financial report with average write down costs being asked to find the median cost. You’ve already had to get the data out and work though it. Yes it takes additional time but far less then independently finding the same value.

  5. ladytizzy says:

    I very much approve of your priorities, Prof. Norton, and thanks for the alert.

    Thanks also to Croft for a) the gobsmacking cost of the GE, and b) not putting it on LotB. I suspect a certain commenter would be making some interesting comparisons between the costs of the GE and a wine cellar.

  6. Carl.H says:


    This Government were bought to power on the promise of cutting non-essential spending in Government administration. They have stated clearly that essential services will feel the cuts yet propose a costly referendum on something, certainly from my circles, that the public does not feel as urgent or a necessity.

    A referendum in itself does not mean the system will change or that at present anyone could state the outcome. It is at best a costly meaningless exercise.

    With the figure of £73.2 million for the last election, knowing we have years of cutbacks to get out of this black hole, how much extra will AV be to implement ?

    If we are to have the AV system will the EU also be on the ballot sheet or is there no democratic choice there ? The man in the street would like a referendum on EU membership more than a system of voting.

    • Chris K says:

      “If we are to have the AV system will the EU also be on the ballot sheet or is there no democratic choice there ? The man in the street would like a referendum on EU membership more than a system of voting.”

      You’re absolutely right.

      I think Mark Reckless and Douglas Carswell have both raised this to Nick Clegg and David Cameron respectively. Reckless said (rough paraphrase) “Many of us in this House will not be able to vote in favour of a bill to give a referendum on AV, which was not in either Party’s manifesto, unless we can also have a referendum on the EU, which was”.

      Sadly neither PM nor DPM gave an adequate response.

  7. Croft says:

    Chris K: It’s hardly past anyone’s notice that referendums are held only on those issues the political class want and/or support not on those issues that the public want. That’s the problem with the present situation in that we have ad hoc referendums with all the power in the hands of the political class and none for the voters. Unless or until there is a mechanism for the public to force a referendum to be held against the wishes of politicians they will continue to be an abuse.

    PS Oh dear I’ve just heard the statement on libel reform. It might not be the rough but it’s not the fairway.

    • Lord Norton says:

      Croft: You are quite right. Referendums tend to be held on issues that a regime is fairly confident it can win. This is derived from study of national referendums. I will probably do a post on the generalisations drawn from Butler and Ranney’s dated but comprehensive study.

      • Croft says:

        LN: Of course there is no problem in referendums being held that politicians think they can win if the sine qua non is that on those issues they don’t think they can win they don’t proceed. We have the intolerable position that referendums are held primarily to rubber stamp decisions made but politicians block unwinnable referendums and and simply legislate the issue into law anyway.

  8. Carl.H says:


    Para 1) Absolutely.

    Para 2) One of the complaints I have made in the LotB forum, which is yet to show, is that bloggers are no longer interacting with us the public on ongoing bills. All bloggers seem caught up in is reform which concerns mostly them.

    One of the major pluses last term of Parliament was how the Lords were involving the public in current issues. It seem`s they only want our view on the one at present.

    Today saw the Dog Control Bill and the Defamation Bill, just how Lords took the time to involve us or even do a short post on those issues ?

    • Lord Norton says:

      Carl.H: Apart from the Private Members’ Bills considered today, there is very little legislation on which to report. Government Bills in the Lords: two. Government Bills in the Commons: one. It is a consequence of the distinctive features of a post-election coalition.

      • Carl.H says:

        Point taken but there is still the little. Also up and coming legislation that could be debated perhaps altering a peers opinion or questions before a bill arrives.

      • Lord Norton says:

        Carl.H; We are rather waiting to hear what Nick Clegg has to say next week. The Government plans to introduce its Reform Bill before the summer recess. We are keen to get some flesh on the bones.

  9. macarthursmutterings says:

    and that is why your students love you

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