Whatever happened to those smoke-filled rooms?

That is, of course, metaphorically smoke-filled rooms now that smoking indoors is banned.   One of the commonest arguments of those opposed to any form of PR is that  key decisions would be made in “smoke-filled rooms”, by which they mean private meetings between coalition partners out of the public ken.   This, they argue, would reduce democracy. 

This is utter nonsense.  The precise opposite is the case; in our traditional elective dictatorship too many decisions are taken by the ruling clique of the governing party with little public discussion or illumination  Coalition politics is forcing this process out into the light of day as a revealing interlude from Radio 4’s Today shows  (begins at 2:26:30).   Evan Davis asked the BBC’s political editor, Nick Robinson, to comment on a brief interview he had just done with David Cameron which touched on the vexed issue of capital gains tax rates.   Part of NR’s reply was as follows.

More broadly, Evan, you had a sense of a Prime Minister who knows really that he’s having to have all his arguments in public.  Previous Prime Ministers with majorities hope, at least to begin with, to have their arguments around the Cabinet table, with their backbenchers in private, but on tax he’s been forced out because the Coalition Agreement forced him to change his tax policy in public in a negotiation with the Lib Dems.  Now, in public, his backbenchers try to get it changed back again and this is going to be true for political reform where Nick Clegg will push for a very ambitious package and others will push against and finally today on welfare reform where Ian Duncan Smith  has got a massively ambitious package (it reminds me of Frank Field all those years ago at the beginning of Tony Blair’s government) and again that argument will happen in public.

It’s not going to be easy.

Indeed it’s not and that is entirely a good thing – the outcome will be far better for the open and public debate that is now happening.  For the first time in years there is a reasonable chance that the Commons will hold the Executive to account. 

What’s not to like?


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