Does the 55% Rule rule out democracy?

With everything that's been going on this week in the wake of the election and the Cameron/Clegg marriage, the proposed 55% rule hasn't had even half the impact it would at any other time. However, it's certainly sent waves through Parliament, with even veteran MP Richard Ottaway, a prospective chair of the powerful Tory 1922 Committee, entering the row by warning the move could end the "primacy of Parliament."

The happy couple...but for how long?

In short, the rule will mean that for Parliament to be dissolved prior to the end of the newly fixed five year terms, at least 55% of MPs must vote in favour, rather than 51% as has previously been the case. David Cameron agreed the rule with his new Liberal Democrat friends to reassure them that his party will not back out of the coalition deal should his party achieve opinion poll success and call a General Election safe in the knowledge that the Conservatives could gain sufficient MPs to form a majority.

You might be thinking that this seems unusually altruistic, and you'd be correct: from Cameron's point of view, it also has the valuable side-effect of meaning that, should the coalition fail - as many supporters and activists of both parties believe it ultimately will, with many MPs in all likelihood secretly thinking the same thing - it means that the opposition, be it Labour or a future Labour-LibDem coalition, would find it very difficult to garner enough support to call for Parliament to be dissolved prior to the end of the five year term. This means that, should the pact fail, the Conservatives would be able to continue as the ruling party even without a majority - almost a guarantee that they could stay in power despite their failure to win last week's election.

Christopher Chope, Conservative MP for Southampton Itchen between 1983 and 1992 and Christchurch since 1997, warns: "If the present government was to lose its majority in Parliament and wasn't able to operate as a minority government because it didn't enjoy the confidence of a sufficient number of MPs, then what is being suggested is that it would carry on."

"It is not the duty of Parliament to prop up this coalition," says Charles Walker, the Tory MP for Broxbourne in Hertfordshire (really nice Chinese restaurant called Sky City at the Tower Centre by the way, folks). He continues, "This is a matter of convenience, because clearly the leader of our party, David Cameron, wants a five year Parliament and the Liberal Democrats want fixed terms and they don't want there to be a General Election along the way. But if Parliament and the nation lose confidence in this coalition government, there should be a General Election, whether that is in two years or three years or four years."

Richard Ottaway, who like Mr. Chope has had a break from Parliament for just five years since 1983 after he lost his Nottingham North seat to Labour before winning Croydon South in 1992, calls the rule "constitutionally incoherent."

Cameron, naturally, defends the concept, claiming to be "the first Prime Minister in British history to give up the right unilaterally to ask the Queen to dissolve Parliament. This is a big change on our system, it is a big giving-up of power."

Is Cameron one of the many who privately expects the coalition to fail? You can choose to believe he's doing this to give more power to MPs of all parties and to reassure the LibDems or you can choose to believe that he's seeking a way in which he can guarantee himself a full five year term even if the nation wants him and his party out of power, but you'd have to be a very committed DavCam fan indeed if you didn't think he had a bigger smile on his smug face when Nick Clegg put this one on the debating table than he does when his butler whips the cloche off a silver platter piled high with lobsters, white truffles and Beluga.

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