Outside the marginals

a commentary on the politics that followed the UK 2010 & 2015 elections


verb (used with object), finagled, finagling.
to trick, swindle, or cheat (a person) (often followed by out of):
He finagled the backers out of a fortune.
to get or achieve (something) by guile, trickery, or manipulation:
to finagle an assignment to the Membership Committee.
dictionary.com | fenagling

So who is finagling and who is being finagled?

1. Short Money

This week the government will formally announce final plans to slash public funding for opposition parties in Parliament.

According to the Independent today, the formula for calculating how the money is given to parties with fewer than six MPs will be ‘reworked’ – in other words, their money will be disproportionately cut.  We think it’s an incredibly backwards step.

UKIP received nearly four million votes last year, but ended up with only one MP. The Greens received over a million votes and likewise ended up with just one MP. Slashing their funding is an affront to those millions of voters who were not fairly represented.

Currently, Short money – allocated in large part on the basis of number of votes rather than just seats – partially compensates for our woefully disproportionate voting system. Making it less proportional is hugely regressive given that we are now a pluralistic, multi-party democracy, with a need for a strong and diverse opposition.
Electoral Reform Society, 21 March 2016 | Short-changing voters

But the government has a parliamentary majority – based on the support of 24% of the electorate – and can push this through.

2. Trade Union Bill

The bill will change the way trade unionists pay into their union political fund, meaning that each union member will have to agree in writing every five years to opt into paying the political levy, as opposed to opting out via the current system.

Labour has estimated that this could result in the party losing up to £8m a year in funding. It has argued that the change means the trade union bill is in effect party funding legislation and goes against the long-established understanding that such reforms should be done on a cross-party basis.

The report [by the UN International Labour Organisation] said the committee has raised other issues in a “request addressed directly to the government” and that it has asked for a detailed reply before the end of the year.
The Guardian, 14 February 2016 | UN labour body calls on government to review parts of trade union bill

Again the Conservatives have a parliamentary majority – based on the support of 24% of the electorate – and can push this through.

Commenting on the report, the shadow business secretary, Angela Eagle, said it was becoming increasingly clear that the Conservative government had drawn up the bill “for reasons of political self-interest and vindictive spite” and that it was time the proposals were dropped altogether.

“The trade union bill is a divisive and partisan piece of legislation which Labour opposes in its entirety,” she said. “Not only is it an attack on the rights of working people across the UK, it is also an attempt to sneak through partial party funding reform through the back door, in a move that will hit the Labour party hard while leaving the Tories’ own funding base untouched.”
The Guardian, ibid

3. Constituency Boundary Re-form

Whilst an equalisation of constituency sizes is expected to be to the overall advantage to the Tories (with large rural seats) over Labour (with small urban ones), abolishing that many seats before the next election leaves sitting MPs facing a game of musical chairs which, inevitably, fifty of them would lose.

This not only aggravates a troublesome chunk of Tory MPs but also the Government’s only possible allies: neither of the two Northern Irish unionist parties wants a boundary review, for fear that it would (as the last seemed to) benefit the Nationalist parties. …

Meanwhile the Liberal Democrats risk losing half their remaining seats and being wiped out in London and the East of England, according to further analysis for the Times by Lewis Baston.
Conservative Home, 26 May 2015 | Cameron should abandon his bid to cut constituencies

This example may be more gerrymandering than finagling. But Cameron and Osborne have a parliamentary majority – based on the support of 24% of the electorate – and can push this through.

4. Restricting the Power of the Lords

Government plans to remove the House of Lords’ ability to veto some draft laws would “tilt the balance of power… towards government”, peers have said.

A review of the Lords’ powers was set up after peers voted down planned tax credits cuts – later axed by ministers.

But its scope has been criticised by two Lords committees who say its proposals would “damage” Parliament’s role and should be shelved.

Unlike in the Commons, the Tories do not have a majority in the of Lords.

The review, carried out by ex-Lords leader [Conservative] Lord Strathclyde, recommended taking away the absolute veto the Lords had over statutory instruments – a form of legislation implemented without Parliament having to pass an Act – and instead limiting them to sending the secondary (or delegated) legislation back to the Commons to “think again”.

They would only be allowed to do this once, enabling the Commons to have the final say and push through its agenda even if the Lords disagreed.
BBC News Website, 23 March 2016 | Lords curbs will tilt balance of power towards government, say peers

Whether the Lords should be reformed is a different question. These proposals arose after the Lords stopped the government sneaking cuts to tax credits through via secondary legislation.

The Lords may not be “democratic” but its members have an acute sense of what is right and they did not believe that a government elected with the support of 24% of the electorate should not be allowed to make this change to tax credits.

But the government has a parliamentary majority – based on the support of 24% of the electorate – and can push this through.

5. Stuffing the Lords with Conservative Cronies?

Prime Minster Cameron with his parliamentary majority – based on the support of 24% of the electorate – can utilise patronage and push this through.


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