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Reviewed by:
  • The Palgrave Review of British Politics 2005
  • Byron Criddle
The Palgrave Review of British Politics 2005. Edited by Michael Rush and Philip Giddings. Basingstoke: Palgrave. 2006. xiv, 285 pp. £50.00. ISBN 139780230002586.

This co-edited book - intended as the first in an annual series - involving contributions from 26 people, offers a review a developments in British politics during 2005 under the headings: the Conservative party, the constitution, elections and public opinion, parties and party systems, pressure politics, government and administration, the citizen and administration, the house of commons, the house of lords, law and politics, public policy, devolution, local government, foreign policy, Britian and Europe, politics and the media, and a conclusion entitled 'Turning Point or Staging Post?'. A statistical appendix contains electoral and other data. The difficulty with [End Page 428] such a book is attempting to divine trends and identify significance in events over a mere calendar year. As it happens, the year in question saw a general election in which the Labour party's previously bloated majority was slashed to 65 and on an historically low electorate share of 22 per cent. The books suggests the reduced majority did not materially change Labour backbench habits of dissidence displayed in the 2001 House, notably over the Iraq war but also over civil liberties and public sector retreat. Indeed there were two large revolts involving 49 and 50 rebels in November 2005 which inflicted the government's first defeats since 1997. These revolts, however, as is conceded, were exacerbated by bad party management and in subsequent divisions over contentious measures during 2006 Labour M.P.s rebelled in decidedly smaller numbers except when it was clear that the Conservatives were intending to vote with the government. Thus by late 2006, almost a year after this book went to press, it seemed Labour M.P.s were in more chastened mood than before the 2005 election, a significant number of them having only survived the election by the skin of their teeth, and with more time to identify trends the view might be formed that the pattern of P.L.P. revolts post 1997 might be taking on the shape of a bell curve, rather than to see continued turbulence. Meanwhile constitutional changes are prudently judged as a post-1997 'process of selective incrementalism', and not as part of some grand design, unless (as one might be perfectly entitled to) one sees in devolution to Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland parliaments, the creation of a London Assembly and an attempt to set up a regional assembly in the North East, and the installation of proportional voting systems in the new bodies, the hidden hand of Europhiles anxious to balkanise the United Kingdom. The reality is more prosaic, with devolution to Scotland originating in the Labour party's anxiety to stop the Scottish Nationalists threatening the upwards of 50 seats on which Labour had (before 1997) habitually depended for majorities atWestminster. The further tinkering with Welsh devolution during 2005 was merely a consequence of opening the Pandora's box of regional assertion in the first place, and where - in Wales - there had never been anything more than slight and geographically very specific demand for it. About Lords' reform too there were grounds for scepticism over grand design, as Labour had moved to curb Conservative weight in that House by removing the hereditary peers, beyond whose removal the government lost the will to proceed further. Nor was there evidence in 2005, following the second low turnout in successive elections, of any head given to the compulsory voting lobby's call to punish absent voters by the threat of jail sentences in order to assuage the wounded vanity of politicians justly disliked and ignored. In 2005 also the condition of the two party system appeared robust - notwithstanding the attack on it from proportional representation in the devolved assemblies - with 68 per cent of the voters voting Labour or conservative, with minor party voting fairly static, and with the Liberal Democrats' four per cent increase the (temporary?) result of an opportunistic pitch for Iraq war-dislodged Labour defectors. Nor should the second victory for Dr Richard Taylor as an 'independent' M...


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pp. 428-430
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Archived 2008
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