Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Clegg's hypocrisy over weakness of Parliament

Writing in The Independent today, Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg returns to the theme of the quality of our democratic system, in particular the weakness of Parliament to hold the government to account.

Clegg argues that Parliament has been 'castrated' and is virtually powerless to influence government decisions, pointing out that "in 11 years, there have been only three defeats for the Government in votes by MPs."

Talking of this being "the record of a system in crisis" in which "the legislature dances to the tune of the executive", Clegg laments "a spineless abdication of scrutiny and accountability at the heart of our Government."

"The mother of all Parliaments has become the eunuch of all Parliaments," he concludes.

Important themes indeed. And in many ways what he says is true. But coming from Nick Clegg, such complaints amount to massive hypocrisy.

Accountability squandered

A mere two months ago, Clegg had an opportunity to defeat a government plan to ditch their clear manifesto promise of a referendum on the EU Constitution - recently revived and re-named as the Lisbon Treaty.

By voting in Parliament in support of a referendum along with the Conservatives, and ensuring Parliament held the government to their manifesto promise, Clegg would also have been upholding an identical promise made at the last election by his own party.

So did he take this opportunity? No. In fact, he deliberately fluffed it.

Instructing his MPs to abtain at the crucial vote on the question of a referendum, he allowed the government to get away with it.

Despite apparently being concerned that voters are losing faith with a system that doesn't represent them, he didn't just fail to represent those who voted for his own party, but also those Labour voters whose expectations of a referendum were being thwarted by the government.

And now that the treaty has moved on to the House of Lords, Lib Dem peers are actually planning to vote with the government against the referendum that both parties promised.

Taking people for fools

So who does Nick Clegg now think he's fooling by rather tragically trying to re-invent himself and his party as a champion of Parliament and of holding the government to account?

One of the biggest problems afflicting faith in our democracy today arises from politicians imagining that people have no memory beyond what they happen to be saying that particular day.

Hypocrisy - taking people for fools - is fast becoming the norm, whether politicians are talking about post offices, NHS service closures or the EU. Just like The Independent in their accompanying report about Clegg's article, the national media seem almost too embarrassed to point out the increasingly glaring inconsistencies between the words and actions of our politicians.

Or if the media's problem is not embarrassment, then it is more serious - one of competence.

If actions really do speak louder than words, then far from being likely to offer a solution, Nick Clegg has so recently and so clearly shown himself to be one of the main causes of the problem.

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