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Clegg announces fixed term parliaments, equalisation of constituency size and a May 2011 vote on AV

Screen shot 2010-07-05 at 15.33.04 Sat alongside David Cameron, Nick Clegg has just confirmed that the referendum on changing Britain's voting system to AV will be next May. His main announcements were:

  • Broad political reform: These reforms are part of a wider political reform programme that includes the power to recall ethically questionable MPs; electing the Upper House; giving the public the power to shape parliamentary business; and transparency of the lobbying industry.
  • Fixed term parliaments: Parliamentary terms will be fixed at five years meaning that the next General Election will be on 7th May 2015.
  • 55% rule surpassed: Arguing that there is a difference between a vote of confidence in a government and a vote to dissolve a parliament he said that, under Coalition proposals, a government would still be brought down by a simple majority of MPs but that parliament could only be dissolved by 2/3rds of MPs. [It appears that the 55% threshold has been surpassed]. If, after a vote of no confidence, a new government could not be formed within 14 days there would be a General Election.
  • Equalisation of constituency size: There would be a review of constituency boundaries which will see the number of MPs cut from 650 to 600 MPs as part of an effort to equalise constituency size. This reduction in the number of MPs will save the taxpayer £12m per year. [ConservativeHome launched a campaign for Fair-Sized Seats in January 2008 and we're delighted to see this part of Mr Clegg's announcement].
  • AV referendum on May 2011: The public will vote next May on whether to change the electoral system to Alternative Vote. The Electoral Commission will test the wording of referendum. It is taking place on the same day as Scottish, Welsh, N Irish and English local elections to keep costs as low as possible. This will save £17m. The 2015 election will be held under system and with new boundaries. Orkney & Shetland (Libdem) and Western Isles (SNP) will be exempted from boundaries review. [Protests from the Isle of Wight's Tory MP Andrew Turner had to be silenced at this point by the Speaker].

Highlights of responses:

  • Jack Straw, speaking for the Labour frontbench, said the reduction in the number of MPs amounted to "gerrymandering". The abandonment of the 55% rule was, he said, the Coalition's first major U-turn.
  • Screen shot 2010-07-05 at 15.54.11 Tory MP Eleanor Laing said that there should be a referendum participation threshold of 40% of voters and only if this was passed should the electoral system be changed.
  • The Conservative Christopher Chope and Labour's Chris Bryant agreed that if there was to be a reduction in the number of MPs there should also be a reduction in the number of ministers if the relative power of the Commons was not to be diluted.
  • David Davis, Peter Bone, Gavin Barwell and Conor Burns objected to having the AV vote on the same day as other elections.  Mr Bone said that the referendum should have its own day so it could be properly debated. Mr Barwell warned of a "skewed" result if the vote took place in Scotland when important parliamentary elections were taking place on the same day in London, where no voting is taking place.
  • Tory Oliver Heald, long a campaigner for fairer-sized seats, said the Clegg plan for constituency equalisation would produce more proportionate election results.
  • A number of Labour MPs, including Frank Dobson, called for the problem of the 3.5 million people not on the electoral register to be addressed before any boundary review.
  • Answering a question from LibDem Mike Hancock, the Deputy Prime Minister said that a draft Bill on Lords reform should be published by the end of the year.
  • Conservative MP Mark Reckless said that he would only support the AV referendum bill if it included a vote on UK membership of the EU.
  • Mr Clegg told LibDem MP Dan Rogerson that equalisation of constituency size would be the primary consideration for the Boundary Commission - above and beyond considerations of historical boundaries.

It was notable that Tory MP after Tory MP raised questions of detail about the referendum plans.

Tim Montgomerie


Johnson Boris Copenhagen Contrary to a report in The Times (£) (followed up by The Spectator) I can confirm that Boris Johnson still supports the First Past The Post electoral system.

The reports seem to be based on two things: (1) Boris' rejection of the idea that he should lead the anti-AV campaign and (2) His admission that the recent election result was not FPTP's finest hour. As Mayor of London it would clearly be far too diverting for him to run the referendum campaign but I understand that he is eager to play a full part in making the case against AV. His belief in FPTP - vigorously made earlier this year in a debate against Alan Johnson - is because he believes it is still the best way of ejecting unpopular governments.

The Times' Sam Coates tweets that the Mayor's office did brief him as reported.


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