Is a UK minority government good for a progressive agenda and good for governance?

By Felix Dodds and Mark Jones 

(First published on Liberal Democrat Voice web site)

Most political commentators believe that the chances are that after the next election no party will have a majority. As we approach the election some people are suggesting that perhaps a new coalition government isn’t the best answer to promote progressive policies. The experiences of the Con-Lib Coalition, and to a lesser extent the Lab/Plaid coalition that ran Wales from 2007-2011 have shown that a left leaning party has to make too many compromises when in a coalition.

Some people are actively discussing that perhaps a new coalition government isn’t the best answer to promote progressive policies. The experience of the Con-Lib Coalition has shown that a left leaning party has to make too many compromises when in a coalition with a right of center party.

This has resulted in an increasing discussion on the left that perhaps a minority government, as in Scotland from 2007-2011, might be a better chance for a progressive agenda.  One positive outcome of this approach could be the re-establishment of a positive relationship between the general public and parliament. A minority government could strengthen parliament. Why do we say this? After having had a budget agreed, a minority government would have to create coalitions for every policy issue. This would enable real debate on issues and the possibility of creating a progressive agenda across political boundaries.

The two authors of this article are members of two different parties the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru. We are proposing in this article that a minority government is in fact good for progressive policies.  We would like to suggest where there might be a common set of policies where progressives across parties on the left and even some supporters on the centre right might work together on. We would like to start that debate before the election is called and would like to suggest ten areas which to start a national discussion. These ten are:
  1. Economy: To introduce a New Deal approach to renew infrastructure create jobs and deal with the deficit. Regulation on the financial sector
  2. Defence: Cancel Trident and move towards a nuclear free Britain.
  3. Health: To expand community health services and preventative health actions
  4. Education: Respective parliaments to review the possibility to take away tuition fees completely
  5. Local Government: to instigate policies towards transitional towns – that balance environment-social and economic needs
  6. Business and Industry: Set up a Royal Commission to look at the emerging disruptive industries and their impact on jobs and wellbeing in the UK
  7. Justice: To introduce PR and make it mandatory to vote in all elections and move to a  fully Federal Britain
  8. Environment: Set up a Sustainable Development Goals Commission made up of government and stakeholders to develop a UK strategy for achieving the UN targets to be agreed in September 2015.
  9. Climate Change: To achieve the CO2 reductions needed 
  10. Overseas Development: To make it a legal requirement to deliver 0.7% ODA
These policies will do a number of critical things for our democracy it will enable the agreement for a fairer voting system and require it to be the responsibility of every citizen to participate in the democratic process. With citizenship should come responsibilities!
On the economy we embrace the approach by the great Liberal Economist John Maynard Keynes and echoed by economists such as Paul Krugman (Nobel Prize winner).This is to enable people to work with dignity and help build an infrastructure for the 21st century and do it in an environmentally friendly way. Austerity has just brought unemployment, an increase in inequality and lost output. The problems of the 2008 crash have still not been regulated fully and a new Minority government should break up the banks separating retailing and casino sides. Directors should be held accountable for the decisions they take and no bank or company should be too big to fail. 
Above all a parliament with no majority government will free debate on how Britain is governed, operates and perceives itself. Moving to a fully federal system, with the Commons becoming an English Parliament and the Lords an upper house with representatives of the constituent nations resolving disputes and shaping policy in non-devolved areas, will ease the tensions emerging over 2 speed devolution and resolve the problems inherent in the failed devolution model.
Central to resolving the deficit issue is a re thinking of what Britain is and how it functions in the 21st century. Moving to a federal system should help kill off the 19th century “Britannia rules the waves” mentality which still infects Westminster government. Spending billions on a weapon system that cannot be used and vanity projects such as HS2 are no longer affordable. By scrapping them and spending money on infrastructure projects which will produce long term revenue savings are vital. A substantial social housing programme will produce huge savings in the housing benefit bill as families currently paying extortionate rents to private landlords can move to more appropriate housing.
There should be sufficient resources available, to all the respective parliaments, to discuss the abolition of tuition fees seriously and to decide if this is the best use of scarce financial resources.
Acknowledge the emerging concensus across all three parliaments of the need for a more community focused health service which is able to treat patients rather than illnesses.
On defence there is no need for the UK to retain Trident but should use the funds saved to build a relevant defence for the 21st century and one help fund the elimination of Tuition Fees so the country is investing in the next generation and not putting them in debt.
If we thought that the world was changing too quick we have seen nothing yet. The emerging technologies so many fields will have an impact on jobs and wellbeing in the next 15 years with:
  • Emerging Biotechnologies: synthetic biology, bioinformatics, tissue engineering
  • Emerging Nanotechnologies: Nanomaterials, nanodevices and nanosensors, nanotechnology for energy
  • Emerging Neuroscience Technologies: Naurostimulation, brain-computer interface
  • Emerging Digital Technologies: Artificial intelligence, robotics  
The world is changing even faster than it has in the last ten years what we need a Royal Commission to be set up to help the country plan for these changes and to inform politicians and the public what is coming.

The next parliament will either move this country in the right direction or fail a generation to prepare them for the challenges ahead. We believe the best way to achieve the right changes is through a minority government where all policies will require a majority of parliamentarians to assent to them. 

It could be the rebirth of the UK as a great parliamentary democracy.




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