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How To Control Your Government  

1) Green Energy - How to not use it
2) Railways - History and Future
3) A Silly Story
4) Cinderella
5) Croess
6) The House
7) How to Control Your Government
8) After Expenses: Is it time to abolish the House of Commons?
9) Say "Yes" to the EU
10) Dihydrogen Monoxide - An Appeal
11) The Train Operator's Guide to Getting Students Drunk in a Brewery
12) The Well
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Controlling Governments is great fun and something which everyone should get involved in. The basic method involves voting in elections. It is cheaper than voting for people in reality TV shows, and the series tend to last for much longer. The contestants tend to fall out in various interesting ways, have stupid ideas and do things which grab the headlines. If you think that Government is irrelevant then you should go out and vote in a way which will produce an interesting result while if you think that Government is important then it is a general duty to vote in elections for whichever party you want to win (be it the Government or the Official Monster Raving Looney Party). If enough people vote for them then they win the seat. It is always annoying when someone fails to win because 50 people didn't think that their opinions mattered.

Your opinion will tend to matter more and have a greater effect if you vote for one of the major parties (Conservative, Labour and Lib-Dem in England, with Plaid Cymru added in Wales and the Scottish National Party in Scotland. Northern Ireland has its own set of parties, of which the main ones are Sinn Fein (who don't take their seats) and the Democratic Unionist Party). If you live in a constituency held by the party which is in Government and vote for that party then you are expressing support for your MP and their response to Government policy. If you vote for a different party then you are saying that you don't like Government policy and going for whichever party seems to represent the best way out. The rough positions of each party are listed here:

  • Labour: Spend money to get out of problems
  • Tory: Don't spend money to get out of problems
  • Lib-Dem: The Government should have acted sooner
  • Plaid Cymru: Wales will solve its problems by leaving the UK
  • Scots Nats: Scotland will solve its problems by leaving the UK
  • Democratic Unionists: Northern Ireland will be fine in the UK
  • Sinn Fein: Northern Ireland would be better off in EIRE
  • UK Independence: The EU causes all our problems
  • British National: Immigrants cause all our problems
  • Green: Global warming causes all our problems
  • Monster Raving Looney: Moo.

Once you have voted for your MP, all the votes will be taken in and counted up. The person with the most votes for your area, or seat, wins and pootles off to Parliament, where they either sit on the left (if they are a Government MP) or on the right (if they aren't)

If your MP does not belong to the governing party then they will have very little power and have difficulty being heard. If they belong to the governing party then they will have virtually no power at all and be unable to express any grievances which they may have with the Government.

Each week the Government is brought to account in Prime Minister's Questions. Members of the House of Commons ask the Prime Minister Questions, alternating from side to side of the House. As a rule, questions from the party of Government will be slightly fawning and questions not from the party of Government will be irritable. The Prime Minister reads out a list of stock answers which occasionally refer in passing to the topic which he has been asked about; on rare occasions the Prime Minister may even address the issue to the satisfaction of the person asking the question then and there.

Although the Government is theoretically held to account in the Commons, the top brass of the Government all sit there and so can also ensure that the Commons does what it's told. The rule on Prime Ministers is that they must be able to command a majority in the Commons and so if it is possible to actually defeat a Prime Minister on hare-brained ideas then it may be time for an election. All the opposition parties can do is vote against schemes as a general gesture of disapproval - in the final years of a Government this may be enough to kill a scheme. Currently just over 30 Labour MPs need to rebel and join all MPs on the opposition benches to stop the Government from passing a measure through the House of Commons.

The Government is therefore more frequently held to account in the House of Lords. Until 1999 controversial measures were frequently dusted through with a wave of a tired lordly hand. Reform of the House of Lords means that the people there now have had to pay good money for the privilege, and so are very keen on taking advantage of their titles. This means that, curiously, although Labour now has more Lords than anyone else, they cannot actually guarantee that they will get anything through. Instead things get bounced back to the Commons with monotonous regularity, where they are examined, changed back to their original form and despatched back to the Lords in the hope that some more favourable Lords will have turned up to vote the second time round.

The Government also has the benefit that it can do various things (like declare wars) without the consent of Parliament. However, Parliament controls the purse strings and the Budget has to be voted on each year to decide how much money can be spent on hospitals, schools, new runways, wars, bankers, etc. The most efficient way of holding the Government to account, therefore, would be to stage a revolt against the Budget; if it were to fail to pass the Commons it would:

a) be unprecedented
b) require a vote of confidence in the Government.

The Government could then be allowed to pass the vote of confidence with a narrow majority. Votes of confidence are very exciting and allow Parliament to take the success of the Government as a whole into account, but are not necessarily popular with the electorate. The Opposition get presented as pushy and vicious. Losing the Budget (and therefore being unable to charge taxes if an emergency replacement cannot be rustled up quickly enough) would be a sufficient rap over the knuckles (it has not happened since the Lords found that bringing down Budgets was jolly fun in the early 20th Century. This led to them being rapped over the knuckles and stripped of their status). Should the Government lose the vote of no confidence the Prime Minister would be obliged to resign and call an election; inconvenient if none of the parties are ready for one yet. It has not been explained since 1832 (the last Great Reform of the Commons) as to what would happen if the governing party were to win the ensuing election. Such an event would therefore allow all the constitutional lawyers to do very well out of discussing what should happen next.

This of course brings us back to where we started - voting in an election for MPs to go to the House of Commons.

It is also possible to try to hold the Government to account by bringing a case against them in the law courts. This can be very beneficial - at least, it can be if you are one of the lucky lawyers involved in the case. If the Government loses, it will appeal. If it keeps losing, it will simply change the law so that it isn't losing any more. If it finds that it is still losing, then it simply tells the press that it is not in the Public Interest for them to mention that their glorious Government has done something wrong. The reason for this is explained in Yes Minister:
Jim Hacker: Well, it's not in my interest for it to get out. And I represent the public, so it's not in the public interest.
If the worst comes to the worst, the Government will simply have to unveil a glorious new project which is in the public interest on the day of the judgement, or hope that it coincides with a terrorist attack. The problem with the glorious new project is that it may be remembered by the public as much as the smear would have been, and then the Government will have to do something about it.

People have been known to object about their treatment on the basis of something called the "European Convention on Human Rights". This was neatly sidestepped by successive Tory and Labour Governments by not actually passing a law which incorporated it into the British legal system, thus ensuring that despite Winston Churchill's great enthusiasm for Europe to have a legally binding document on human rights the United Kingdom was not actually obliged to offer any of them. Even Winston Churchill spent his premiership not passing the Convention into law. The courts were asked to use it but they said that Parliament was very keen for it to not be used and so they would leave it to one side, rather than "incorporate the Convention by the back door". Tony Blair, when he was still young and fresh and didn't understand how Government worked, incorporated most of said Convention as the Human Rights Act but realised a few years later that this might have been a bit stupid. He went on record as saying that he might get rid of it, but never remembered to do so - making do instead with removing rights not explicitly included in the Act. This means that people could object on the basis of human rights violations; however, the rights are now read very carefully and only apply to the guilty party. We all know this, because it is regularly repeated by very reliable right-wing newspapers. Whichever side the rights are normally offered to, however, what is clear is that there are not nearly enough of them to protect us from future Tory Governments. We all know this, because it is regularly repeated by very reliable left-wing newspapers.

There are three other methods of controlling the Government. One is to be a big business employing lots of people and with very effective feelers able to find suitable Government ministers. You can then persuade them to talk total tosh on your behalf, getting you lots of money and a Prime Minister who does what you tell him like a hypnotised poodle.

The second is to appeal to the European Court of Justice because the Government has broken some bit of EU legislation. This has been known to have a very slight effect on certain occasions. Whatever the result of your case, it will be held up by some as a display of the brilliance of the EU and by others as a good reason to leave the EU immediately. The same people will be on the same side of the argument regardless of the result.

The third is to fill the cellars under the Palace of Westminster with gunpowder and blow the place up, causing considerable damage to the imposing architecture and ruining the fossil collection. This has been tried, but it didn't work. The gunpowder was damp and the plotters were executed. However, the introduction of human rights to the UK in 1998 means that you are now spared the risk of execution. There is also the benefit that those responsible for guarding the Palace of Westminster are mostly engaged in questionning photographers, removing protestors and arresting MPs, which ensures that they will be too busy to notice someone delivering three tons of gunpowder. There are, however, a couple of issues - namely that the high-up members of Government tend not to be there much and that, nowadays, the result would probably be a panic, draconian anti-terrorist legislation and a series of by-elections. By contrast, when Airey Neave was blown up in the House of Commons car park no legislation was passed at all.

So, that's controlling Governments sorted out. Next time - why railway companies used to be more fun than politics.

The author disclaims all responsibility for any inferences made, crimes committed or indiscretions perpetrated as a result of any person, being or object reading, studying or considering any idea contained within this or similar articles.

Last modified 14/03/11

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