It’s all new…

I am variously invited to comment on how the coalition is operating.  In the context of Parliament, it is a little early to say.  We are in a unique situation.  We have had coalition governments before (most recently 1940-45), we have had substantial structural or procedural reform in the Commons following an election (1979), and we have had a major turnover of MPs (1945, 1997), but this is the first time we have had all three together.   The situation is exacerbated by the operation of IPSA, meaning that many MPs have still not got their offices fully functioning.  The Commons returns briefly in  September and both Houses in October.  Only then we will be able to see how realtionships are developing.

We are also in a unique situation in the Lords.  From the time of Pitt the Younger through to 1999, there was a Tory preponderance in the House.  That changed with the House of Lords Act, with no party enjoying a majority over the other parties in the House, and with an acceptance that this should remain the case.  As the research of Meg Russell reveals, the balance of power was held in effect by the Liberal Democrats. We now have a coalition that enjoys a clear majority over the only organised opposition party.   The Government is vulnerable to defeat only if there is a large turnour of cross-benchers and they split heavily against the Government – and there are some abstentions on the Coalition benches.  That has actually happened twice already, but whether it happens again on any significant basis remains to be seen – and may be crucial in determining how the Lords is seen by the public.

About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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3 Responses to It’s all new…

  1. ladytizzy says:

    “…but this is the first time we have had all three together.” Is the definition of a coalition gvt in the UK, since none before have been described as such? In particular, the war-time gvt is known as the National Government.

    Now you mention it, I can see how the the current Commons set-up might fracture via an unelected Lords; the blame would be unevenly shared, though.

  2. Lord Norton says:

    ladytizzy: A coalition exists when two or more parties form the Government, though it often exists under the name of a National Government. In the twentieth century, there was coalition government for a total of 21 years, though in eighteen of those the Conservatives could have governed as a single majority party. Coalition government was never the product of bargaining dictated by the uncertain outcome of a general election.

  3. Frank W. Summers III says:

    Lord Norton,
    I think one difference is that although Labour is clearly both a well established and authentic British party there was something New Disestablishmentarian at least about the Blair administration. The only party with significant gains in this recent election was the Conservative party and the one which suffered by far the most significant loss was Labour. The need for a majority mandated the coalition between Cons & Lib-Dems. However, I think another story is there too. Subtract the Dems for a moment and you have the Tories and the Liberals trying to reconstruct and work out how the great traditional British parliamentary traditions can work themselves out in reference to a situation in which Labour is a major player. I am not sure that particular bit of work could be done outside of this coalition.

    Along these party sensitive lines I would point out that the You Tube channel for Parliament is fairly nonpartisan as reads the House of Lords and Tours of the Palace Playlists however my guess is that the Commons and Parliament Education Playlists really represent Labour values in some areas and do not well represent the new government’s views of questions addressed. Perhaps that is something your Lordship could mention or pass on to someone — who of course may disagree with my assessment. I cannot link to the entirety of two lists but here is a link to one video on one list:

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