"You are right actually about previous Parliaments and you might be right about future Parliaments but this arrangement was made for this Parliament, to guarantee the stability that was required for this Parliament".
That was the astonishing statement by Lord Rennard on Newsnight about the Coalition governments proposal to require 55% of MPs to dissolve the House of Commons, billed as the introduction of fixed term Parliaments. The frank contributions from Rennard and LibDem negotiator Andrew Stunnell blew to pieces argument that critics have misunderstood the proposal to require 55% of MPs to dissolve the House.
But we now know that changing the consequences of a no confidence vote against a Conservative minority is precisely why the rule was agreed in the coalition talks.
Wasn't it most suspicious to propose a 'fixed term Parliament' which gives the current coalition (57% of seats) the ability to dissolve the Parliament, while giving the Conservative party (47%) the ability to block a dissolution if the coalition collapses?
Well, it isn't the least bit suspicious any more.
"It prevents a surprise attack on the Conservatives by everybody else: it is as simple as that", as LibDem negotiator Andrew Stunnell told Newsnight, admitting that it was to protect a minority party on 47% of the House from a future majority.
Has either party ever proposed 55% threshold? No.
Can either point to a 55% threshold anywhere else in the world?
In fact, it has also been reported that the LibDems proposed a 60% threshold and the Conservatives insisted on the 55% which gave them a single-party veto over dissolutions in a House of Commons in which they have a minority of the seats.
Stunnell then disingenuously said "I think we are getting really into the realms of hypothetical stuff" when asked about the very specific hypothetical (a no confidence vote, the LibDems leaving the government and wanting to join a majority for a new election) which he had just said that the Con-LibDem scheme was actively designed to disrupt.
It has been claimed that this is simply a sensible way to introduce fixed term Parliaments, which has nothing to do with the impact of no confidence votes. If that were true, the Coalition would happily protect no confidence votes by including the proposal for example that a no confidence vote leads to a dissolution within (say) a fortnight if a new government can not actively secure the confidence of the House on a new vote in a short timescale. A time-limited mechanism exists in the Scottish Assembly, at 28 days for a new First Minister to be elected to office under the Scottish rules.
Rennard even referred to a governing party losing multiple votes of confidence then having to realise it was in their interests to go:
"In practice, if the Conservatives could not get their legislation through Parliament, if they went into a minority, if they could not get a budget through, if they are losing votes of confidence, then they themselves would want a General Election, and those are exceptional circumstances".
Lord Rennard acknowledged that the 55% "fixed term Parliament" proposal was in fact designed to allow the Coalition to decide to dissolve the House without non-governing parties, since this "may be necessary" but simply for neither party to be able to do so "unilaterally". (Of course, nobody can do so unilaterally under the current rules: they need a majority of the whole House, which no party has, but no minority party has a veto either). Again, this is nakedly an arrangement in the interests of the two governing parties, disguised as a constitutional reform proposal.
Rennard seemed to imply that being in favour of a written Constitution in future gives the LibDems carte blanche to engage in any partisan political gerrymandering they like in the meantime. This is the new politics out of St Augustine.
We shall also see this argument used to pack the House of Lords.
The new government is keen to invite everybody to engage in its reform agenda, and is particularly promoting public consultation and online
This major 'new politics' reform is surely the first important issue on which they will want to put that into practice.