Showing posts with label Higher Education. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Higher Education. Show all posts

Saturday 11 December 2010

The Tution Fee Vote - How did it get this close?

Well, the motion to raise University Tuition fees from about £3500 to £6000-9000 a year passed.  For once I get to actually see how accurate one of my predictions was (which you can see in full just below this article).

I suggested there would be 296 Conservatives and 24 Lib Dems in favour giving 296+24=320 votes for.  And that there would be 8 Conservatives, 18 Lib Dems and everyone else voting against giving 281+8+18=307 votes against.

The actual result was 297+28=325 for and 277+21+6=304 against.  Pretty close.  I was almost exactly right on the number of Conservatives voting for, and everyone else voting against (no big surprise there), I underestimated how many lib dems would actually vote rather than abstain, but by about the same amount on each side, and a couple of Conservatives abstained rather than voting against, making the government's majority slightly larger than I predicted.  Still, not bad, not bad at all.  On the other hand since this was pretty much all using information that was easily in the public domain, I won't apply for my soothsayer's licence quite yet.

The government won.  But this was certainly the tightest vote since the Coalition began 6 months ago and offers a fascinating look at the truly unique parliamentary mechanics of this most unusual of British political organisations.  So, How did it get so close but still pass?  And, how did the government end up in this tricky situation on this of all issues?

In a normal government with a decent working majority the only way the government can lose is if the leadership propose to do something that runs so counter to either their parties natural instincts, or public opinion in general, to outrage a significant enough number of their MP's into rising out of their customary sheep-like slumber to vote against their own party, or just refuse to turn up to vote at all.

This basically only occurs when the party leadership gets so delusionally out of touch with either public opinion or their own party that they lose all sense of perspective and propose something completely barmy.

The reason this ever happens is in a usual one-party government in Britain what you generally have is a core group in around the leadership, generally those MP's in the government itself, that is thinking up plans and solutions and trying to drive the country in a certain direction, usually with one eye on what is pragmatically possible, one eye on what would be politically popular, and only their peripheral vision on  whatever their party might actually think about it.

You then, however, have all the mass of backbench MP's who actually give the government its majority, but have little other obvious purpose.  These simple creatures are kind of like a large inertial mass.  They sit around dozily content with whatever ideology and prejudices their party generally holds to, certain of their superior righteousness and intellect. Only rousing themselves to occasionally wave their order papers at the opposition at PMQ's and be herded by the government through the correct voting lobbies as needed.  They are generally a docile and unconcerned bunch but they do have two features that mean they can at times cause trouble for the leadership.

The first is that they are generally closer to ordinary party activists, particularly in terms of their prejudices and their beliefs, than the party leadership, who are generally an out of touch bunch with their heads more or less in the clouds, whatever the party.  This is probably a good thing, it means that meritocracy actually exists, and political parties generally choose their elite to lead them.  But elites, as night follows day, are generally distinct from the majority in most ways, not just their particular skill.  The other thing is that whereas a party leadership are generally insulated from public opinion by both their important ministerial jobs, which mean they have more important things to deal with, very important one might say, and by the fact they have generally found their way into very safe seats, which means they don't have to particularly worry about getting unelected.  Backbenchers on the other hand are often in marginal seats, and have little else to do but worry about their re-election.  These together mean that, however crudely, backbenchers are normally, as a mass, more concerned, in touch with, and likely to act upon public opinion, and more likely to want to act in accordance with their party's general beliefs and ideas.

This means that the dynamic of a government, as far as votes goes, is a struggle between the party leadership who are constantly trying to branch out in strange, new, and hopefully effective and vote-winning directions, and their mass of MP's, who want to sit around doing things that are either (or preferably both) popular and in accordance with their party's core ideas.  The MP's can generally be herded, as the leadership wants, through a mix of encouragement, threats, and motivational partisan slogans.  Sometimes though, as I've said, the leadership gets sufficiently delusional and/or out-of-touch that even their own MP's refuse to vote for their proposal and they are defeated in the Commons.

So that is the way things usually go in a one party government.  In the Coalition though things are different.  We have a leadership who are more or less coherent as a group with a plan, and then not one but two inertial masses of backbenchers with quite different underlying beliefs and prejudices: the Conservative backbenchers and the Lib Dems, both who are needed to make the government's majority.

MP's getting the Coalition up the mark and then the mass of 57 Lib Dem MP's pushing them comfortably over it.

The obvious problem though is that this mass of MP's is really made of two separate parts, coming from very different directions.  One would think that the surprising thing would be that this has not happened already.  The problem of coalitions according to the traditional wisdom then is that the government cannot afford to do anything that sufficiently annoys either part, or its majority will fail, and hence it is more hamstrung than a single party government.  Forced to stick to the lowest common denominator of policy.  The remarkable thing about this Coalition though is that this has not happened.

Thursday 9 December 2010

The Tuition Fees vote. - It's getting bloody close!

It's less than 5 hours to go and it's getting bloody close.

Today's the day for the Big Tuition Fee vote, the closest and most difficult vote since the Coalition was formed.  The Lib Dems managed to get themselves in a right bloody mess and today we get to see what they're going to do about it.

Everyone still expects the fees to pass, but it is going to be bloody close.

The government theoretically has 363 votes to everyone else's 281.  Easy.
Even without the Lib Dems though there are 306 Conservatives to an opposition of 281.  If the Lib Dems all abstain then the motion will pass.
If the Lib Dems all vote against it then it will fail 306 votes to 338.
But most Lib Dem ministers will vote for it, because they have drawn up the policy and have to as part of the government.  That gives 306+16=322 to 322 votes.  A tie.

If then any more Lib Dems asbtain rather than voting against the measure there are 322 votes for and fewer votes against.  The motion passes.  Given 16 Lib Dems voting for, perhaps 16 voting against and the rest abstaining the motion passes about 306+16=322 against 281+16=297 and it passes.

But that's all theory.  What reality are we facing?  Not all Conservatives will vote for it.  As many as 5 have already declared themselves against it and perhaps as many as 8 will vote it down.  Among the Lib Dems about 18 have declared they'll vote no.  That gives around 281+8+18=307 against.

The rest of the Conservatives will vote for it and the 17 or so Lib Dem ministers will vote for it as well as perhaps 8 backbenchers.  Nick Clegg expect 24 Lib Dem MP's to vote for it, the Conservatives expect at least 296 MP's to vote for it.  That's 296+24=320 votes for.

The fees should pass, as long as Nick Clegg has convinced as many of his colleagues to "walk through the fire together" as he thinks, and as long as more Conservatives do not vote against the government.  Of course whether you think that is a good thing or not will vary, to say the least.