David Cameron’s Conservatives and Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats have set forth a seven-page outline agreement on policies that will be fleshed out in the days ahead.
Deficit reduction is priority one. Agreement to cut £6 billion from non-frontline services in the current fiscal year, less than one percent of the estimated deficit, is only a token. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne is to present an emergency budget within 50 days that specifies short- and long-term reduction plans. The document hints at the timing of reductions: “Credibility depends on its long-term deliverability, not just the depth of immediate cuts.” Translation? No large immediate cuts. Indeed, the agreement promises to increase real spending on the National Health Service, provide new funding for disadvantaged pupils, maintain Britain’s strategic deterrent, and heighten guarantees for public sector pensions. Agreed-upon tax measures amount to offsetting increases and decreases in taxation with little impact on the deficit. We will have to wait until early July to judge if the coalition’s commitment to deficit reduction is serious.
Political reform has the potential to profoundly change British politics. The document states that the House of Lords will become largely or wholly elected on the basis of proportional representation in accordance with each party’s share of the total vote. A single, long term is envisaged, which will turn over the new House of Lords (or Senate if renamed) every six or eight years depending on the chosen term. Current peers can remain in the Lords but no new peers will serve unless they are among the winning members in a party’s candidate list. When (and if, if the coalition collapses before 2011) the reform becomes law, it will end over 600 years of tradition. Appointment to a lordship will become purely titular with no political position in Parliament.
Reform of the House of Commons is less clear. The coalition has agreed to have a referendum on an alternative system of voting in place of the current first-past-the-post regime. Precise details on a new voting system are not specified in the agreement.