57 LibDem MPs were elected in 2010; 57 signed a personal pledge before the election to vote against rises in tuition fees. Yesterday 21 voted against rises in tuition fees and 6 abstained. The rest voted for the rise. What is the point of elections?
The LibDem arguments put forward by the likes of Vince Cable to justify the betrayal are thin to the point of transparency. To argue that their pledges only applied if they obtained an overall majority is absurd, because no LibDem candidate could have rationally believed that their party would achieve such a result , their party having never obtained more than 62 seats in a Parliament of 650. Moreover, during the election their party leader spoke only in terms of being part of a coalition, vide his commitment to speaking first to whichever of the Tories or Labour gained the most seats.
The argument that as part of a coalition they had to compromise would be feeble if they had not signed a personal pledge and would merely illustrate the cheat on electors which is any coalition government. With a personal pledge it holds no water at all. It is also probable that they could have made it a condition of the coalition that fees were not raised, for Cameron gave away a good deal of ground in the coalition agreement. That and the fact that the amount saved on tuition fees was comparatively minor in the context of the overall government spending and deficit, suggests that the LibDem leadership were at worst content to go along with Tory wishes and at best positively in agreement with the policy .
As for claiming that the extent of the financial difficulties was not known before the election, this is simple nonsense because the Brown Government published estimates of the shortfall between tax raised and money spent for this financial year and future years which have not been radically revised since the election. Nor was the present Euro fiasco a post-election event.
The tuition fee betrayal is a symptom of a general castration of British democracy. Vast swathes of policy – immigration, agriculture, fishing, trade treaties, competition policy – have been passed wholesale to the EU and many other areas such as social policy, health and safety and justice are partially lost to the British Parliament. Add in the trade treaties the EU commits Britain to and the multifarious bilateral treaties Britain has such as those relating to the UN and Kyoto, and the amount which any British political party can sincerely offer the electorate is already severely limited with estimates of Westminster legislation deriving from the EU ranging between 40-80%.
Add coalition government to this emasculated British political situation and any meaningful democratic control has gone for all any coalition does is use the excuse that they cannot implement their election manifesto because they do not have an overall majority. That allows them to make any promise before an election and renege on it afterwards. That might not matter too much in Britain where coalitions are rare under first past the post, but if the Alternative Vote (AV) referendum is won next year, what is happening now is a taste of what will become the norm because coalition is the most likely outcome under AV.
If elections are to have any meaning and electors are to exercise any control over governments, there needs to be a requirement for candidates before an election to commit to a position on all the major issues and to be held to that position after the election, with electors having the power of recall if a pledge is broken. This would break the pernicious power of whips. As for governments, if a government wants to introduce a policy which is not in their manifesto there should be a requirement for a referendum. If a government is a coalition, a policy would need to be in both manifestoes to go ahead without a referendum.
As for the EU and other treaty restrictions, there should be a requirement that any policy adopted or not adopted because of treaty restrictions should be publicly acknowledged by politicians to alert British voters to exactly how much sovereignty has been lost. There should also be a mechanism to force politicians making claims which are patently false because of our treaty obligations, for example, Gordon Brown’s “British jobs for British workers” and claims that immigration can be controlled while we are in the EU, admit their falsehood.
Britain is also in dire need of a written constitution which underwrites the necessary conditions for a meaningful democracy, especially the need for free expression which is under ever increasing attack.