“Underpromise and overdeliver” is one of the simple maxims of business and all other walks of life that is often the hardest to grasp as Nick Clegg demonstrated today, promising the “biggest shake-up of our democracy” since 1832.
Setting aside the populist chaff of scrapping ID cards, biometric passports, CCTV cameras and the DNA database, what this amounted to was:
- A five year fixed term parliament;
- An elected House of Lords and;
- A referendum on changing the voting system.
Hardly revolutionary and I’m not sure he can even deliver on the first promise, at least not a cast iron guarantee. As I understand it, it just means that a government can’t be turfed out unless 55% of MPs back a vote of no confidence. No matter how unlikely that might be, it is still a possibility.
As for promise two, I’m all for doing away with hereditary peerages, but replacing them with elected Lords sounds like they want to bind the upper house to tighter political control, making Westminster more of a congress and senate. Coupled with promise one, the inevitable outcome would be a presidential system and while this chimes with my republican sympathies, I’d rather have that debate in full now, not foisted on us in stages.
And the last promise isn’t much of a promise at all, just a definite maybe. We will get to vote on a convoluted electoral system that people won’t understand or care about and we already know the Tories will campaign against it. Labour are not likely to support it either and the chances are it will fizzle out with a cough and a splutter.
So, is today’s announcement truly the greatest shake-up in our democracy since 1832? Greater than the 1867 Reform Act that doubled the eligible electorate and enfranchised the industrial cities? Greater than the Act of 1884 than extended the new voting freedoms to the countryside? Greater than the Representation of the People Act of 1918 that gave the majority of men and some women the vote? Or 1928 when all women over the age of 21 were enfranchised?
No, I don’t think so, but it is the sort of guff delivered with great style and spin that we’re getting used to. Again. A timely quotation then:
There was no end to the somersaults this man could turn. They stared, stupefied, as he somersaulted nearer and nearer, each somersault higher than the last, until he landed upright on his two feet in front of them and with his hands clamped firmly around their throats.
– Jack Pulman, Private Schultz
He was referring to Adolf Hitler, of course, not Tony Blair.